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    U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren spoke to a crowd of young black Christian voters Saturday morning as part of the Black Church PAC Presidential Forum. The Democratic presidential candidates discussed white nationalism, gun violence, student loan debt and other issues at the front of voters’ minds with Rev. Michael McBride and Rev. Leah Daughtry, the political group’s co-founders. PREVIOUSLY | Presidential hopefuls pitch plans to religious black voters in Atlanta Election 2020: Georgia Presidential candidate visit tracker Warren, who was raised in the Methodist church, leaned into the faith aspect of the program, telling the crowd her favorite Bible verse, Matthew 25:31, is a “guiding principle” in her life and policy. “The Lord calls us to act. To feed the hungry, to give water to the thirsty, to visit those in prison,” Warren said. Both candidates discussed how their policies would benefit African-Americans and combat problems particularly affecting them, including unaffordable prescription drugs and a disproportionately high rate of black women dying during childbirth. Sanders said his Medicare for All plan would drastically reduce the cost of insulin, which diabetics need on a daily basis and which cost an average of $450 a month in 2016, according to the Health Care Cost Institute. Diabetes is disproportionately prevalent in the African-American community. Asked about black maternal mortality — black women die in childbirth three times as often as white women — Warren emphatically pledged further funding for research, doctors and hospitals. Sanders and Warren also condemned white nationalism and white supremacy. Warren described the ideology as a “terrorist threat,” and said the U.S. Department of Justice should treat it as such. Sanders, who is Jewish, told the crowd he understood the threat white supremacy presents because much of his extended family died in the Holocaust. Sanders’ father immigrated to the United States from Poland in 1921. “We will go to war with white supremacy and white nationalism in every aspect of our lives,” Sanders said. The frank discussion was welcome to some in the audience. Clarice Burton, 38, said the increased visibility of white nationalism makes many young black people nervous. Hearing Sanders and Warren speak made her feel like she could “trust the system again.” Burton, a Maryland resident, has not decided who to throw her support behind in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary, but was pleased with the topics of discussion Saturday morning. The student debt burden on people of color is an issue she is particularly concerned about; even if young black people graduate from college and obtain advanced degrees, they can be held back by the cost of repaying student loans, she said. Both Warren and Sanders support tuition-free college and canceling student loan debt. Warren outlined how her proposed wealth tax for those with at least $50 million in assets would not only make tuition-free college and student debt cancellation possible, but also provide $50 billion in funding for historically black colleges and universities. Warren and Sanders made up the second day of the forum; U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro and Mayor Pete Buttegieg spoke Friday. The forum was hosted as part of the Young Leaders Conference, a multi-day event for young black Christians. Saturday’s event with the candidates was bookended by sessions about the fundamentals of preaching and preparing young men to be good husbands. This is the second campaign stop in Georgia for both Sanders and Warren. Warren held a rally in Lawrenceville in February and Sanders visited Augusta in May. Like AJC on Facebook | Follow us on Twitter
  • Voters who want paper ballots filled out by hand asked a federal judge late Friday to prevent Georgia from using the $107 million voting system the state just bought. The request comes a day after the judge ruled that voters must use some type of paper ballots next year, but her decision didn’t address the legality of the state’s new voting system. Election officials plan to replace Georgia's 17-year-old electronic voting machines with a system that combines touchscreens with paper ballots. Voters will pick their candidates on a 21.5-inch tablet that’s connected to a ballot printer starting with the March 24 presidential primary. The lawsuit, filed by voters and election integrity advocates, alleges the new voting machines will remain vulnerable to hacking, malware, bugs and misconfiguration. But state election officials have said that paper ballots will ensure the accuracy of results during recounts and audits. In addition, the lawsuit said the printed ballots aren’t truly verifiable. Although voters will be able to review ballots before casting them, the ballots embed voters’ choices in bar codes that are only readable by scanning machines. “No elector can visually review and confirm whether the bar code accurately conveys their intended selections,” according to the amended complaint. Ballots will also include the text of each vote, which election officials can use to correct potential discrepancies. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger has said Georgia’s elections are secure, and the addition of a printed-out paper ballot will give voters confidence. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg on Thursday ruled that Georgia election officials must sunset the state’s old voting machines after municipal and special elections scheduled for this November. That was the state’s plan anyway, but Totenberg’s order said election officials can’t use the outdated voting equipment as a backup if the new system isn’t ready by March’s elections. She said the state must create a contingency plan that relies on hand-marked paper ballots. Totenberg denied a motion from the plaintiffs to immediately require paper ballots bubbled in by pen during this year’s elections, saying it would be too disruptive.
  • Highway lanes and entrance ramps are closed. Local roads are blocked. Detours route traffic away from the direction motorists want to travel. Welcome to one of the most congested stretches of highway in the country, which now doubles as one of the biggest road construction projects in Georgia history. The Georgia Department of Transportation is rebuilding the junction of I-285 and Ga. 400 in Sandy Springs — ramp by ramp, lane by lane. When it’s finished, state officials say it will make life better for hundreds of thousands of commuters. And it will serve as the linchpin of the region’s growing network of toll lanes. But don’t expect traffic relief any time soon — construction will continue through the end of next year. And traffic may get worse in coming months as the work reaches its peak. That’s bad news for commuters such as Laurie Stone of Milton, who works in Atlanta. “It’s kind of like exercise,” she said of the construction. “There’s a reason why you’re doing it, and the end product will be desirable. But right now, it’s brutal.” GDOT is spending $800 million to rebuild the interchange. The current structure was designed to accommodate 100,000 vehicles a day, but now about 420,000 vehicles pass through each day. That’s a recipe for traffic headaches. An environmental assessment of the interchange found “rush hour” at I-285 and Ga. 400 often lasts three to four hours each in the morning and afternoon. Even in the middle of the day, congestion is common on both highways. The new design will add a network of collector-distributor lanes and flyover ramps that will carry more vehicles and eliminate some traffic weaving. The construction extends 4.3 miles along the Perimeter and 6.2 miles along Ga. 400. GDOT broke ground on the project nearly three years ago. Major construction began in 2017. But recently the pillars and beams that will support the new interchange have begun rising from the red Georgia clay. For the first time, motorists can glimpse the colossal scale of the structure — it will be almost as big as Spaghetti Junction, where I-285 meets I-85 northeast of Atlanta. “We’re approaching the peak of construction,” said Marlo Clowers, the GDOT manager overseeing the project. “I don’t think we’re quite there. But we’re very, very close.” When it’s done, GDOT says the interchange will save commuters precious time. For example, rush-hour travel time on Ga. 400 from Northridge Road through the interchange may decrease up to 10 minutes. But for now the area is a maze of construction barrels, detours and lane closures. Much of the work is done at night and on weekends. But daytime traffic sometimes crawls through the area. Just ask Stone. The Milton resident saw her 24-mile commute grow to an hour and a half one way in recent years. Now it’s even worse, so she works from home as much as she can. When she can’t, she rises at 5:30 a.m. to beat the traffic. “Right now, it’s awful,” Stone said. “I want to get out of their way and let them do their work.” Kevin Lewis of Sandy Springs commutes to Midtown. On his return home, he usually gets off Ga. 400 at Glenridge Drive and takes back roads the rest of the way. Now traffic on Ga. 400 is so bad he exits at Lenox Road – nearly five miles sooner. “It’s added 10 to 15 minutes to my evening commute, and I don’t even have to drive through (the construction),” Lewis said. GDOT tries to give motorists the information they need to avoid the worst congestion. In recent days it has issued a flurry of alerts about nighttime lane closures on various parts of the Perimeter and Ga. 400. It also has warned of the overnight closure of a section of Peachtree Dunwoody Road and detours at various highway ramps. “A project of this magnitude, it’s a massive amount of work, and a big push to keep people informed,” GDOT’s Clowers said. But traffic alerts can only help so much. Until construction ends in late 2020, motorists can expect delays. In the meantime, GDOT wants commuters to remember the payoff that will come when construction ends. “When we live through the pain of construction,” Clowers said, “we’re going to have a very efficient facility that helps with mobility in this region and the state of Georgia.”
  • State lawmakers have seldom seen a tax cut they didn’t vote for, but legislators will be asked during the 2020 session to approve a reduction in the top income tax rate that a new report says will do very little for most Georgians. Lawmakers will be voting on whether to reduce the state’s top income tax rate from 5.75% to 5.5%. That may not sound like much, but it will cut state revenue — and save Georgians — about $550 million a year, according to a new report by the Georgia Budget & Policy Institute think tank. Most of those who will save enough to buy groceries for a week will be in households earning well over $100,000 a year, according to the institute. The cut will be the second one in two years: lawmakers voted last year to reduce the top rate from 6% to 5.75%. In the same legislation, it set up the 2020 vote. “If you were to enact this second phase of tax cuts, the median taxpayer would get about $42,” said Danny Kanso, an analyst for the institute who last year worked on the tax legislation the General Assembly passed while serving as an aide to Republican Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. Households earning more than $500,000 a year, he said, would on average get almost $2,800 a year from the cut. “This actually would not be a true tax cut for most people,” Kanso said. “It would be a very minor change that the state can’t afford.” But 2020 is an election year, and the Republican majority in both chambers will almost certainly push for the tax cut. “I think there would have to be some extenuating circumstances not to,” said House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn. Something like another Great Recession. Which he doesn’t see happening in 2020. “I do think we are going to have a slump,” England said, “but I don’t see anything nearly like what we had.” However, the Legislature could decide to delay implementation of the cut if the economy turns sour. The vote will come at a time when Gov. Brian Kemp is already calling on state agencies to cut spending to pay for some of his priorities, including another pay hike for teachers. Kemp got lawmakers to agree last session to budget a $3,000 pay raise for teachers — a big first step toward keeping his campaign pledge to raise educator pay by $5,000. But the governor has also dealt with an uneven revenue picture. Tax collections fell, rose and stalled at various times during the first six months of 2019. The administration was worried enough that it decided to take a month off paying into the state health insurance program for teachers, state employees and retirees to make sure the state remained in the black for fiscal 2019, which ended June 30. The move saved the state and local school districts about $235 million. Kemp administration officials say they have already factored the yet-to-be-approved 2020 tax cut into their budget and revenue plans. The legislation last year was in reaction to the federal income tax measure that Congress passed in 2017. While Congress’ bill cut federal income taxes, it had the potential to raise state income taxes because it limited or eliminated some of the deductions Georgians used when figuring their state taxes and made it far more likely that taxpayers would use the standard federal deduction, rather than lowering their state taxable income using itemized deductions. Without taking action, it would have produced a windfall for the state. Kanso’s report said the measure passed by Congress will save Georgians about $43 billion between 2020 and 2025, a vast majority of which will go to households in the top 20% of income. That’s not surprising since most of the time the government cuts top rates, the biggest beneficiaries are the wealthiest because, at least in some cases, they pay the most taxes. In reacting to the federal law, the General Assembly decided to double the standard deduction and reduce the top state income tax rate from 6% to 5.75%, and then 5.5% next year if lawmakers approve a resolution. Kanso’s report said a less costly and fairer way to cut taxes would be to approve a nonrefundable earned income tax credit, which would reduce taxes on those in households earning below about $55,000 a year. Most of those Georgians get little from cutting the top rate, Kanso said. Legislation has already been filed to create such a tax credit, which the institute said would cost about $130 million, versus the $550 million it would cost to cut the rate for all Georgians. “If your goal is to cut taxes for people who aren’t receiving a tax cut, or to grow the middle class, or to make the tax cut more fair, you are not going to achieve any of those goals by just cutting the top income tax rate,” Kanso said. Still, Kyle Wingfield, the president of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said he would be surprised to see the General Assembly turn down a chance to cut the top tax rate, especially after lawmakers pretty much promised to do so in 2018. He also doesn’t see Kemp’s call for budget cuts changing the equation. “The cuts they are doing are more about reflecting their priorities about how they want to govern,” Wingfield said. “My understanding is he is going on the expectation that the Legislature will follow though on the promises they made to lower the top income tax rate and keep the state competitive.” But state Rep. David Wilkerson, D-Austell, a member of the House Budget and Fiscal Oversight Committee, said he can’t see a lot of Democrats backing the push to lower rates again, not with the state needing funding for a wide range of things, from education to environmental protection. “There is no excuse for us to pass it,” Wilkerson said. “It’s not like we would be raising taxes. … It would be leaving it the way it is. We don’t have to make massive budget cuts, we keep education (funding) the way it is, we keep environmental protection from being cut. I think it would be reckless for us to do it.”
  • After President Donald Trump called for the federal government to give judges the ability to confiscate the weapons of people who pose a threat to themselves or others, a Georgia lawmaker said it’s time for the state Legislature to consider his similar proposal. Trump on Monday said he was encouraging Congress to pass a “red flag” gun law after high-profile mass shootings in Texas and Ohio over the weekend left more than 30 people dead. Trump said the law would address keeping firearms out of the hands of those with mental health issues. Georgia does not have any similar laws on the books, but in February, state Rep. Matthew Wilson, a Brookhaven Democrat, filed House Bill 435 to allow state residents and law enforcement officers to ask a superior court judge to determine whether someone is a threat. Similar laws have been enacted in 15 states, including Florida, and Washington, D.C. “Family members and work colleagues are going to see the threatening behavior before law enforcement necessarily will, and they’re going to see it early enough to where preventative actions can be taken,” Wilson said. Gun rights activists in Georgia flatly rejected the proposal. “It’s going to deprive me of my constitutional right to due process before the government deprives me of my property, and it’s not going to do anything,” Georgia Carry Executive Director Jerry Henry said. “There’s never been a life saved by one of those laws.” Federal law prohibits those who have been involuntarily hospitalized for mental health treatment from purchasing guns, but Georgia law requires the state to purge records of those hospitalizations after five years. Lawmakers in recent years have introduced bills to rid the state of that law, but those bills have gotten little traction. Under Wilson’s proposed legislation, if a judge finds “clear and convincing evidence” someone is a threat, he or she would be banned from possessing or purchasing any weapons or ammunition and have to surrender what they had for up to a year. The bill asks judges to hold a hearing evaluating a person’s fitness, considering things such as threatening behavior in the workplace, previous violent acts or “serious mental illness.” Senate Bill 150, sponsored by Atlanta Democratic state Sen. Jen Jordan, would let a judge ban those convicted of family violence or placed under a family violence protective order from owning weapons. The legislation, which stalled before it could reach the Georgia Senate floor last session, is not considered a “red flag” law because it does not specify how courts would take weapons away. “This bill simply empowers the judge to do what’s necessary,” Jordan said.
  • Georgia officials awarded a contract for 30,000 new voting machines to Dominion Voting on Monday, scrapping the state’s 17-year-old electronic voting equipment and replacing it with touchscreens that print out paper ballots. The $107 million contract will switch Georgia from its longtime elections company, Election Systems & Software, following complaints about malfunctioning machines and unverifiable results during the November midterm election. The announcement is a defining moment for Georgia’s elections, reintroducing paper ballots to Election Day voting for the first time since the state converted to electronic ballots in 2002 following the controversial presidential election between Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore. Dominion, a Denver-based company, won the contract in large part because it offered Georgia the lowest-cost system among three companies that submitted bids, according to evaluation score sheets. Though ES&S scored higher on the government’s criteria for a replacement voting system, Dominion came out on top when the price of its system was taken into account. Election officials now must quickly install the voting technology before its first statewide test during the March 24 presidential preference primary. The new voting system is expected to be quickly challenged in court by voters who say it remains vulnerable to hacking and tampering, despite the addition of paper ballots. >> Related: Judge considers requiring paper ballots for Georgia elections >> Related: Feds look at risks of voting machines, including those coming to Georgia >> Related: Feds warned Georgia about potential threats before election Like Georgia’s existing machines, voters will make their choices on touchscreen machines. But after picking their candidates, instead of tapping a button that says “cast ballot,” they’ll click on a button that says “print your ballot.” The printer attached to the machine will then print a ballot on a full sheet of paper, which voters can then review for accuracy before inserting into a scanner for tabulation. The paper ballots will be locked in a ballot box for retrieval as needed for audits or recounts. Before the contract was awarded, some voters speculated that the state would continue doing business with its current elections company, ES&S, which has close ties to Gov. Brian Kemp’s administration. Dominion has connections, as well. One of Dominion’s lobbyists, Jared Thomas, has worked on Kemp’s political campaigns since he first won a state Senate seat in 2002. He also worked previously for Kemp in the Secretary of State’s Office. Another Dominion lobbyist, Barry Herron, was vice president of Diebold Election Systems, the company that originally sold Georgia its electronic voting machines in 2002. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger said Dominion’s voting system will protect Georgia voters. “Elections security is my top priority,” Raffensperger said in a statement. “We look forward to working with national and local elections security experts to institute best practices and continue to safeguard all aspects of physical and cybersecurity in an ever-changing threat environment.” Critics of these new voting machines, called ballot-marking devices, said they fail to guarantee that votes are counted correctly. They prefer paper ballots filled out with a pen, not by a computer printer. “Voter intent is best captured by a person marking on paper who they want to vote for,” said Joy Wasson, a concerned Atlanta voter. >> Related: Georgia governor inks law to replace voting machines >> Related: Georgia officials set presidential primary date for March 24 >> Related: How to hack elections on Georgia’s electronic voting machines Printed-out ballots will include the text of voters’ choices, but scanning machines will read computerized bar codes to count ballots. Dominion said paper ballots will help ensure that computerized tabulations are accurate. Tabulation machines will also create a scanned image of each paper ballot as another way for election officials to verify that they’re correctly counted. “Election officials and voters alike can be assured they are using the most modern, accessible and security-focused system on the market today, with paper ballots for every vote cast to ease auditing and ensure confidence in results,” Dominion CEO John Poulous said. Georgia, one of a handful of states that uses uniform voting equipment, will be the first where ballot-marking devices will be rolled out for every Election Day voter. Dominion also provides similar voting systems in states including California, Colorado, Illinois, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania. Dominion’s election management system will run on Windows 10, mitigating concerns from election security advocates about voting systems that use Windows 7, an operating system that Microsoft will stop supporting with security patches starting in January. The U.S. Election Assistance Commission certified this version of Dominion’s voting system for federal elections in September. Some of the fiercest opponents of Georgia’s elections had a modest reaction to Dominion’s selection. They were pleased that the contract didn’t go to ES&S but remained wary of computerized voting systems. “The choice by the state is not as bad is it could have been,” said Lauren Groh-Wargo, the CEO of Fair Fight Action, which is suing the state over problems in the 2018 election. “Today’s announcement, however, does nothing to change the fact that hand-marked paper ballots are more secure than elections by machines.” Democrats who were critical of Republicans’ votes this year to buy new voting machines were also relatively subdued Monday. “We have seen how fragile our digital voting system is. The replacement of ES&S is a critical step toward creating greater transparency and security in our elections,” said state Sen. Gloria Butler, a Democrat from Stone Mountain. “I cannot overemphasize the importance of providing complete public education about the new machines. There needs to be sufficient time for voters to see, touch and operate the machines.” During the fall election, some voters reported that Georgia’s old touchscreens recorded their ballots incorrectly. Voting equipment broke down. And the Georgia Supreme Court is reviewing a case alleging that tens of thousands of votes vanished in the race for lieutenant governor between Republican Geoff Duncan and Democrat Sarah Riggs Amico. Voting integrity advocates urged state legislators to switch to paper ballots filled in with a pen rather than by a computer, but lawmakers said machine-marked ballots would be more accurate, familiar and accessible to voters with disabilities. The General Assembly passed a bill this year that called for the state to replace its aging voting system with technology that creates a paper-trail backup. Legislators appropriated $150 million for the new voting system, launching the competitive bidding process that ended with Monday’s contract award for Dominion. Dominion’s $107 million, 10-year voting system comes in lower than the state’s budgeted amount. The state can renew the contract for an additional 10 years afterward. The initial cost of the contract will be $89 million. The new voting system will see its first trial run in November during local elections in up to six counties before it’s used statewide in the presidential primary the following spring.
  • As Georgia election officials selected a new voting system Monday, a federal judge is wrestling with whether to immediately require paper ballots before the state’s current electronic voting machines are set to be used for the last time in this fall’s elections. U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg will decide whether Georgia’s existing touchscreen voting system is too insecure to continue using, a decision that could affect 310 elections planned in cities and counties this fall. Starting with next year’s presidential primary election, voters will use new voting equipment that combines touchscreens and printed-out paper ballots. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger announced Monday that Dominion Voting won the state’s $107 million contract. Totenberg said in court Friday that Georgians could be “sitting ducks” because of hacking vulnerabilities in the state’s current electronic voting system, which lacks a paper ballot that could be used for audits and recounts. She didn’t immediately issue a ruling Friday after two days of testimony from voters, election officials, computer science experts and cybersecurity contractors. But Totenberg appeared reluctant to throw out the state’s 17-year-old voting machines this close to November’s elections. She said “it might be extra challenging” to change to hand-marked paper ballots, then go through another transition to the state’s new voting system before the presidential primary election March 24. “These are very difficult issues,” Totenberg said at the close of Friday’s hearing. “I’ll wrestle with them the best that I can, but these are not simple issues.” In addition, Totenberg is weighing whether Georgia election officials intentionally destroyed evidence. Lawyers for election integrity advocates alleged in a court filing last week that election officials erased Kennesaw State University servers after a security hole exposed voters’ information. The Secretary of State’s Office has denied the allegations. Totenberg said the decision by the General Assembly this year to purchase a replacement voting system showed the state was willing to make improvements. She had written in an order last fall that officials “had buried their heads in the sand” about vulnerabilities with the state’s direct-recording electronic voting machines. “They obviously knew they can’t stick with the DRE,” Totenberg said Friday. “It is a system that was allowed to grow way too old and archaic.” Attorneys for the plaintiffs argued that legislators fell far short of addressing Totenberg’s concerns. Witnesses listed a variety of ways Georgia’s election system remains compromised:Malware could alter elections on a statewide scale if Georgia’s elections system were penetrated at the Secretary of State’s Office. Websites of the Secretary of State’s Office were penetrated by a cybersecurity company, which obtained administrator rights and system configurations. The office, which hired the company to identify risks, implemented protections to address vulnerabilities, according to testimony from state election officials. Contractors for the state’s elections company, Election Systems & Software, create and code Georgia’s electronic ballots from their homes. The Secretary of State’s Office then loads those ballots into election computers and distributes them across the state. “The vulnerabilities go way beyond what we thought before,” said David Cross, an attorney for a group of voters who are plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “Their defense is to keep saying, ‘There’s no evidence of a hack.’ They just haven’t looked.” Four county election administrators said in court they remain confident in Georgia’s 27,000 electronic voting machines. “The DREs worked extremely well,” Chatham County Elections Supervisor Russell Bridges said. “We’ve never lost any votes.” While election administrators said they could make a quick switch to paper ballots if Totenberg ordered them to, it would be difficult. Counties would need to find money from their local governments to buy optical scanning machines and paper ballots. They’d have to scramble to go through government procurement processes in time. They’d have to train poll workers and educate voters. But the plaintiffs said they’ve proved that voters face an unreasonable burden on their constitutional right to vote. Election results could be altered, and no one would ever know because there’s no paper ballot record. The state’s election system could become contaminated by malware through USB drives that election officials move from internet-connected computers to disconnected election servers, computing experts said in court. Security precautions, such as reformatting USB drives to remove potentially dangerous files, wouldn’t necessarily remove sophisticated malware. Even after Georgia installs its new voting system, the plaintiffs will allege that it remains unsafe because it still puts touchscreen computers between voters and their ballots. But attorneys for the Secretary of State’s Office said audits of paper ballots will ensure that the voting system is producing accurate results. Totenberg didn’t say when she will make a ruling in the case. Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at www.ajc.com/politics.
  • By now, you probably have an opinion in the Great Grocery Store Debate of 2019. Chances are, it didn’t change as facts of the case unfolded. A Georgia legislator, shopping with her young daughter and expecting another child soon, was ambushed and told to go back where she came from. Or, a guy irritated at someone with too many items in the express lane politely confronted the shopper, lost his temper but quickly left, later to be castigated as a racist villain. The episode ignited the lake of kerosene that is social media, with race and ethnicity ensuring an inferno. State Rep. Erica Thomas is black. “People are getting out of control with this white privilege stuff,” she said at the beginning of a video tearfully giving her account of the encounter. Eric Sparkes, raised by his grandmother who spoke no English, says he has experienced racism and prejudice during his lifetime. “Her words stating on Twitter, and her video, stating I told her she needs to go back where she came from are untrue,” he said of Thomas’ allegations. “I am Cuban.” If any of this made you mad and you’re active on social media, you might have commented or shared a post — and helped construct yet another set of virtual battle lines. » MORE: Dispute builds over Georgia lawmaker’s confrontation at grocery store » MORE: Store video made public in Georgia lawmaker’s confrontation at Publix “Anger is an activating emotion,” said Jonah Berger, a marketing professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and author of “Contagious: Why Things Catch On.” When people mine social media for updates on trending stories, they’re not often on a neutral fact-finding mission but are rather “looking for ammunition that helps them make the point they want to make,” he said. Itai Himelboim, a University of Georgia professor of media analytics, studies viral outrage and the nuanced, more contextual revelations that follow. People prefer interacting on social media with others who share their views, creating silos of information flow, he said. “In these densely interconnected clusters of similar users, misinformation and hoaxes spread fast, with little chance to be corrected or challenged,” he said. “Always be suspicious of stories that tell you exactly what you want to hear.” As with other recent incidents launched into the national debate on the wings of political rancor and then fueled by frenzied social media activity, Thomas v. Sparkes became a political proxy war. U.S. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, one of four congressional Democrats who President Donald Trump tweeted should “go back” to their “totally broken and crime infested countries,” was among the prominent Twitter users to post Thomas’ tearful video giving her account. Tlaib, who was born in Detroit, posted this message in support of Thomas: Presidential candidates Bill de Blasio, Beto O’Rourke and Pete Buttigieg all posted messages linking the matter to the president. Conservatives pounced on Thomas’ subsequent comments clarifying that Sparkes didn’t actually tell her to “go back” and other details. Sparkes is a Democrat who has disparaged Trump’s antics in past social media posts, for example. One grocery store employee who witnessed part of the encounter told a Cobb County police officer she heard Thomas “continuously tell Eric Sparkes to ‘Go back where you came from!’ ” but did not hear Sparkes utter those words to Thomas. Another told the AJC that he didn’t hear Sparkes make racist comments. “I do think he was wrong, but she may not be totally right in this situation,” said Tony Tortorici of Canton, who’s been monitoring the story all week. “I don’t know if it was racist in this case. I’m getting a little tired of it being overused. It could have been a racist situation, but it’s hard to say now.” Many of the lawmaker’s supporters are standing by her. “I know Erica personally. I know that’s not in her character to fabricate a story,” said Dylan Yale Williams, who watched the video as Thomas was streaming live and has since seen updates. “Someone else tagged me on a post. He seemed to be a Republican guy. Of course, that’s going to be the opposite opinion,” Williams said. “If I post my belief and you post your belief, my people are going to follow me and your people are going to follow you.” Even if Sparkes didn’t make the “go back” comment, he admittedly berated a pregnant woman in front of her child. Michael Smith of Lithonia lays the general lack of civility at the president’s feet. “I was upset about how a man was mistreating a woman, and there’s absolutely too much of that going around. It was just very Trumpish,” he said. “The climate is the way it is because of Trump and how he has been totally disrespectful.” Henry Louis Adams of Stone Mountain underscored the undisputed facts of the case. “Could you imagine being called (an expletive) while in the checkout line by a stranger?” he said. “This is not a Democrat issue, this is a human issue. We may never know the whole story, but if someone has it in them to call you (expletive) to your face, then he said something else. And people have a way with words to say stuff without really saying it.” Demetrius Myatt of Atlanta, on the other hand, said he went from feeling sympathetic to suspicious. “When I very first saw the video I was like, ‘Wow.’ My heart really did go out to her. Then I was like, ‘Maybe there’s more to this story,’ ” he said. “When I saw her interviewed with him on the news, I was like, ‘Uh, maybe it didn’t happen this way.’ ” Thomas held her own news conference, repeatedly accusing Sparkes of telling her to “go back.” Then he showed up as she was preparing for an interview with Channel 2 Action News outside the store. While he did acknowledge swearing, he said he never used the phrase “go back.” “I don’t want to say he said, ‘Go back to your country,’ or ‘Go back to where you came from,’ ” Thomas said then. “But he was making those types of references is what I remember.” Thomas later said those remarks were taken out of context and that Sparkes definitively told her to “go back” to where she came from. Recently released video shows Sparkes walking up to Thomas as she was checking out and apparently pointing to the sign for the express lane, which limits the number of items. He quickly retreats as Thomas responds and steps toward him, pointing a finger at him, the video shows. The Cobb County police officer who reviewed the footage wrote that Sparkes “did not appear to be irate” or to have “clenched fists,” as Thomas reported. The officer also wrote that Thomas’ 9-year-old daughter was seen “smiling shortly after.” Thomas said the episode, which lasted less than a minute, left her fearing for her life. Myatt said it seemed more like an attempt at political support. “I think it’s absolutely disgusting. She should be made to resign,” he said. “We already have enough division as it is. We don’t need any more. She’s not unifying our community.” He did stress that he thinks Sparkes was wrong for swearing at Thomas. “Outside of hitting and spitting on a woman, that’s the ultimate disrespect,” Myatt said. “That was extremely wrong. It’s just as wrong for her to stretch the truth. The next time this actually will happen to someone, will people actually take it seriously?” To that point, hashtags referencing Jussie Smollett, the actor accused of concocting a racist attack to advance his career, have trended in conjunction with updates in the grocery store dust-up. A tweet Thomas posted in 2015, when Smollett was in Atlanta, resurfaced this week: “Going downtown Atlanta for an event I hope I magically bump into Jussie Smollett #biggestfan.” Charges against Smollett, who claimed that assailants in “Make America Great Again” hats poured bleach on him and hung a noose around his neck, were abruptly dropped to the outrage of then-Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson. “I’m concerned about what this means moving forward for hate crimes,” a furious Johnson said during a news conference. “My concern is that hate crimes will now publicly be met with a level of skepticism that previously didn’t happen.” In the metro Atlanta case, some critics blamed journalists for sending the Thomas story trending. “You’d think after Covington and Smollett the media would wait for some facts to be established before whipping up hate crime hysteria again,” conservative columnist Rita Panahi wrote, referencing another episode that went viral before all the facts were known. Covington Catholic High School student Nick Sandmann has filed multimillion-dollar lawsuits against several media outlets including Atlanta-based CNN following coverage of the Kentucky school group during a trip to Washington. Short video clips showing students wearing “Make America Great Again” hats standing near a tribal elder who was playing a drum ignited a social media firestorm. Sandmann’s legal team posted more complete video content, showing the students being taunted by another group and performing their school chant to drown out the insults. Following the now-famous metro Atlanta grocery store trip, Thomas called for Sparkes to be arrested. “I do believe that was a hate crime,” she said. “We have to make an example out of this man.” The Cobb County Police Department announced no charges would be filed. Thomas’ attorney has called for further investigation, while Sparkes has said he’s pondering a defamation lawsuit. Social psychologist Peter T. Coleman, a professor of psychology and education at Columbia University, researches conflict. “What has been happening in our nation for many decades now but more acutely in the last three or four years with the Trump presidency are these deep chasms we can fall into,” said Coleman, the author of “The Five Percent: Finding Solutions to Seemingly Impossible Conflicts.” “The U.S. has been on about a 40-year trajectory of these cultural, political divides. Trump is both a manifestation of that and reinforces that really acutely.” Coleman did strike a hopeful note, though, pointing to a study titled “The Perception Gap: How False Impressions are Pulling Americans Apart.”  The research, from a group called More in Common, found “Americans’ views are more similar to their political opponents’ than they realize.” The study also found that a voracious appetite for news and social media is associated with what researchers label a perception gap. “People who consume news ‘most of the time’ are almost three times as inaccurate as those who consume it ‘only now and then,’ ” the study’s summary reads. A chapter on media consumption looks at the link between party affiliation and news diets. Networks such as CNN and MSNBC were more popular among Democrat responders while Fox News and conservative talk radio shows were more popular among Republicans. “Consumption of media sources that cut against one’s own ideological bent tends to be associated with more accurate impressions of the other side, while sources that confirm one’s pre-existing views are associated with less accurate impressions,” the study reads. “Furthermore, those who post about politics on social media show a substantially larger perception gap than those who do not.” Coleman noted the study’s term for people who have had it with the viral volcanoes: the exhausted majority. “They’re just fed up with blame, the toxicity, really just fed up,” Coleman said. “They’re looking for something else. That’s a very hopeful thing.”
  • It’s unclear how many Georgians could be affected by a proposed change to food stamp eligibility that the Trump administration says will close a loophole in enrollment that it says would save the federal government billions of dollars. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which manages the country’s food stamp program, proposed a rule this week that would add a step for those who receive minimal assistance through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — also known as welfare — and apply for assistance with groceries. The agency estimates the change would save the federal government about $2.5 billion a year. Currently, those who receive welfare are automatically eligible to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. Under the new rule, recipients who receive TANF benefits would need to go through a different screening process to receive food stamp benefits as well. The USDA said states can classify a household as receiving welfare if it is provided “nominal benefits,” which the agency defines as an informational brochure describing social services or access to hotline numbers. The agency said those benefits are given without requiring a recipient to meet eligibility standards for cash assistance or food stamps. The federal government said 3.1 million people nationally fit that description. Atlanta Community Food Bank President and CEO Kyle Waide called the new proposal concerning, saying it would negatively affect those who are working but still near poverty. “We support a strong food stamp program so that children, seniors and working families can put food on the table when they’re facing tough times,” he said. As of May, there were about 10,000 households receiving welfare benefits in Georgia. At the end of March, there were nearly 1.38 million people receiving food stamps. The Georgia Division of Family and Children Services does not track how many of those who receive welfare are automatically eligible for food stamps. U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, a former Georgia governor, said allowing those who receive welfare to automatically be eligible for food stamps can grant benefits to those who don’t really need them. “It’s our job to ensure the people who truly need food assistance receive what they’re entitled to,” Perdue said. “People need to qualify for SNAP in the same way everyone else must qualify.” Alex Camardelle, a senior analyst with the left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said the proposed changes could “reinforce poverty further.” “These proposed rigid standards will punish those who make modest increases in earnings and disincentivize opportunities for economic mobility by creating a ‘cliff effect,’ where slightly higher wages lead to an overall financial setback,” he said.
  • Three Georgia lawmakers will question former special counsel Robert Mueller during a hearing Wednesday that could be a defining moment for Donald Trump’s presidency. U.S. Reps. Hank Johnson of Lithonia and Lucy McBath of Marietta are Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, many of whom are expected to home in on potentially obstructive incidents by the president laid out in the text of Mueller’s report. U.S. Rep. Doug Collins of Gainesville, the panel’s senior Republican, is likely to focus his questioning on the origins of Mueller’s probe and the intentions of some of the senior investigators. “What we’re going to find out is the dark underbelly of the corrupt cabal that started it all,” he said during a recent appearance on Fox News. Collins tenaciously defended the president as Mueller conducted and completed his investigation and has accused the Judiciary Committee’s Democrats of endlessly investigating Trump in order to harm his chances of re-election. Staffers for Johnson and McBath would not share specifics about their bosses’ questioning ahead of Wednesday’s hearing, but neither Democrat has joined the more than 90 House members who have publicly backed opening an impeachment inquiry. » Mueller testimony live updates: What time, what channel, livestream “I think it’s not now time for impeachment,” Johnson said last month. “The American people don’t support it, and until they do, I think we should refrain from embarking upon an impeachment inquiry.” Both voted with Democratic leaders last week to kill a symbolic impeachment effort on the House floor, as did U.S. Reps. John Lewis of Atlanta and Sanford Bishop of Albany. The only Georgia Democrat who supported the resolution was U.S. Rep. David Scott of Atlanta, who has refused to publicly elaborate on his thinking. Local Democratic candidates for Congress have been more accepting of an impeachment inquiry, which must originate with the House Judiciary Committee. Some believe Wednesday’s hearing will up the pressure on Democratic leaders to open such proceedings, regardless of what Mueller says. Interviews with more than a dozen Georgia Democrats showed a stark divide over the idea. Some, including Phyllis Hatcher, want party leaders to take a more aggressive and confrontational approach to Trump. “We need to do impeachment proceedings. Why does the president get exempted? He needs to be accountable to the same laws that we are,” said Hatcher, a Rockdale County activist and former state Senate contender. “And the Democratic Party should hold him to account.” Others worried the tactic could backfire. “Impeachment is playing into Trump’s hand. He wants to be the aggrieved. He wants to look like they’re all after him — like he’s been wronged,” John Penn, an educator, said at a recent Conyers town hall meeting. “I don’t think his base is growing,” Penn said, “but you can use that to scare a whole lot of conservative Democrats in battleground states.” The divide has also split Georgia’s two announced Democratic candidates for the U.S. Senate. Ex-Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson has been outspoken in her support for impeachment proceedings, appearing with presidential candidate Tom Steyer at his “Need to Impeach” event in April 2018. Citing the Constitution and “The Federalist Papers,” Tomlinson said Congress has “a duty” to commence with impeachment. “Impeachment is not a tool to redo a prior election or to affect the next election,” she said. “It is to prevent one more day in which an executive can misuse the office and the power that goes along with it.” Her rival, Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, said the party’s focus should be trained on the ballot box. “The American people have all the evidence they need,” he said. “What we’ve seen from the president and Senator (David) Perdue is enough to defeat them in 2020. I’m more interested in defeating them in the election than trying to impeach.” McBath, a first-term Democrat in one of Georgia’s most competitive congressional districts, has tread carefully on the issue. A recent poll conducted by the House GOP’s campaign arm points to why. The survey of 400 voters by the National Republican Congressional Committee — which has committed significant firepower to defeating McBath — found that 60% of voters in her district, which covers parts of Cobb, DeKalb and Fulton counties, oppose impeaching Trump. That includes 56% of independent voters. But Democrats need no poll to remind them of the swingy politics of the 6th District, which had been held by Republicans for decades before McBath’s victory last year. “We need to hear from the witnesses who can give us the truth as to what actually happened. We need to make sure that no entity, and no one person, is above the law,” McBath said last month at a town hall in Dunwoody. “At the end of the day, the chips will fall where they may.” One lawmaker who has been surprisingly silent throughout the impeachment debate has been Lewis, an outspoken Trump critic who has boycotted all the president’s speeches to Congress after saying he didn’t see him as a “legitimate” president. Lewis is a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has tamped down on impeachment talk and urged Democrats to win over public opinion first. He has said he supports her position. “I could be persuaded in attending the meetings and being informed but have not arrived at a decision,” he said in June. “But something must give.”

News

  • According to many polls, Americans – especially those who say they are Democrats -- are not that fond of the Electoral College. Neither are many of the Democratic candidates for president. >> Read more trending news  With just over 14 months until the 2020 presidential election, a movement to change the way electoral votes are awarded and who will be elected president has gained some steam. The National Popular Vote Compact (NPV), which has its roots in the most contested presidential election in U.S. history, sets in state law a policy that awards all a state’s electoral votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote. Under the Electoral College system used today, 48 states have a “winner-take-all” system that awards all the state’s electoral votes to the person who gets a majority of votes in that state. The Electoral College does not take into consideration that national popular vote. Sixteen states, along with the District of Columbia, have passed the NPV agreement. They are California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon and Rhode Island. While legislation has been passed in the 16 states and the District of Columbia, the agreement would not go into effect until states with a collective 270 electoral votes — the number needed to win the presidency — agree to join. Currently, the District of Columbia and the 16 states in the agreement hold a combined total of 196 electoral votes, meaning the pact would need enough new state members to get 74 electoral votes.Supporters say the system would give the person who got the most votes country-wide the presidency he or she deserves. Opponents say states would be forced to hand over electoral votes to a candidate who did not win that state. For instance, in the 2016 election, a state such as Florida, in which President Donald Trump earned more votes, would have had to pledge its 29 electoral votes to Trump’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, who won the national popular vote in the 2016 election. The Electoral College of today was established by the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution which replaced the method for electing the president and vice president provided in Article II, Section 1, Clause 3. Under the system, when voters cast a ballot for president, they are actually choosing members of the Electoral College, called electors, who are pledged to that presidential candidate. Following the election for president, electors then meet to choose the president. Electors almost always vote for their state’s popular vote winner, and some states have laws requiring them to do so. However, electors are not bound by federal law to vote for a specific candidate – for instance, the one who won the popular vote in their state. In 29 states and the District of Columbia, electors are bound by state law or by a pledge they sign to vote for the candidate who won the popular vote of the state they represent. Five men have won the presidency in the Electoral College while not winning the country’s popular vote: John Quincy Adams in 1824, Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, Benjamin Harrison in 1888, George W. Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. The National Popular Vote campaign goes back to Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore's loss to Bush in 2000, according to The Associated Press. Gore won the popular vote but lost the election over a vote count in Florida.
  • Fans of all things Disney are in Anaheim for the D23 Expo. And news of future development for the properties at the Disney Parks around the world has already started being released. Inside the Disney Parks 'Imagining Tomorrow, Today' Pavilion at the 2019 D23 Expo visitors will be able to see what is coming next to the Disney Parks around the world. While there are a lot of cool things to share, in this post we are going to focus on the upcoming additions coming to Walt Disney World! There is an all-new Star Wars vacation experience coming to Walt Disney World!  >> Read more trending news  The Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser will be a new, first-of-its-kind vacation experience where guests will check in for a two-night adventure aboard a glamorous starship called the Halcyon.  Once onboard, guests will interact with characters and become active participants in stories that unfold around them on their galactic journey.  Also in the pavilion is a model of the multi-year transformation of Epcot complete with new experiences, 'that will make the park more Disney, more family, more timeless, and more relevant.' The reinvention of Epcot will include several new additions, and the first one we learned about was a new attraction called Journey of Water which is inspired by 'Moana.' This first-ever attraction based on the Walt Disney Animation Studios film, 'Moana,' will let guests interact with magical, living water in a beautiful and inspiring setting. And this October, guests will be able to visualize all the exciting plans for Epcot at a new experience center in the Odyssey Events Pavilion called Walt Disney Imagineering presents the Epcot Experience. Inside this first-of-its-kind offering within a Disney park, guests will discover engaging and interactive exhibits that allow you to step inside excitement to see some never-before-revealed details driving the future of Epcot during this unprecedented period of transformation. The Disney Parks pavilion also features other upcoming Walt Disney World attractions including TRON Lightcycle Run coming to Magic Kingdom Park as well as Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway coming to Disney's Hollywood Studios. On Sunday, August 25, we'll find out more details on these and other announcements during the Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products presentation at D23 Expo 2019!
  • Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has undergone radiation therapy to treat a malignant tumor discovered during routine blood tests in early July, according to a statement from the court. >> Read more trending news  Ginsburg, 86, began a three-week course of radiation therapy Aug. 5 at New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 'The Justice tolerated treatment well,' Supreme Court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg said in a statement. 'She cancelled her annual summer visit to Santa Fe, but has otherwise maintained an active schedule.' Arberg said doctors noted an abnormality during a routine blood test in early July and that a subsequent biopsy on July 31 confirmed a 'localized malignant tumor' on her pancreas. After Ginsburg underwent treatment, Arberg said, 'There is no evidence of disease elsewhere in the body.' 'Justice Ginsburg will continue to have periodic blood tests and scans,' she said. 'No further treatment is needed at this time.' In January, Ginsburg missed arguments in the Supreme Court for the first time since joining the court in 1993 while recovering from surgery to remove cancerous growths from her left lung. She previously underwent surgery for colorectal cancer in 1999 and pancreatic cancer in 2009, according to the Associated Press. Ginsburg is the eldest person serving on the Supreme Court and leads its liberal wing.
  • A service is set for next week for the three members of a prominent Atlanta family killed in an apparent double murder-suicide.  Marsha Edwards, 58, and her two children, 24-year-old Christopher Edwards II and 20-year-old Erin Edwards, will be remembered during a memorial Wednesday in southwest Atlanta, according to a spokesman for the family.  The service is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. at Cascade United Methodist Church, which is at 3144 Cascade Road.  Investigators believe Marsha, the former wife of surgeon and civic leader Christoper Edwards, shot and killed the couple’s children before turning the gun on herself. Their bodies were found by police Wednesday inside her upscale Vinings townhouse after officers were asked to perform a wellness check. RELATED: Ex-wife of Atlanta Housing chairman killed 2 children, herself, police say Lots of questions remained unanswered Friday. Among them: • Who requested the wellness check? • When did the shootings take place? • What kind of gun was used? • Who is the registered owner of the gun? • What evidence prompted authorities to classify the investigation as a double murder-suicide? It could be weeks before autopsy and toxicology results shed light on those and other questions. “Dr. Edwards, his extended family and friends are in a state of grief and shock, and privacy of the family is paramount as arrangements are being made,” spokesman Jeff Dickerson said Thursday in an emailed statement. A longtime fixture in the Atlanta medical community, Edwards serves on the board of trustees of the Morehouse School of Medicine and was formerly on the board of Grady Memorial Hospital. He is the chairman of the Atlanta Housing Authority board. As news of the deaths spread, condolences poured in from those who knew the family and strangers touched by the tragedy. Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and her husband were among the mourners.  Erin Edwards, a Boston University student, was an intern in the mayor’s communications office last summer. Christopher Edwards II joined the Atlanta film and entertainment office in 2018 as a digital content manager.  Both were Woodward Academy graduates. They were “promising young adults and budding NABJ media professionals,” said Sarah Glover, the former president of the National Association of Black Journalists. Glover said on Twitter she met the siblings at a conference in 2017.  Their mother, a medical equipment provider, was also a member of the organization, which advocates for and supports black journalists.  AJC.com has reached out to Cobb police for additional information about the deaths.  — Please return to AJC.com for updates.
  • Volkswagen AG has issued a recall of 679,000 cars sold in the U.S. since 2011. >> Read more trending news  The recall deals with electrical issues where a driver could take out the key after coming to a stop, even if the car was not in park. Silicate can build up on the shift lever micro switch and cause the problem, Reuters reported. The car will show that it is in park but it is still in gear, CNET reported. The car could then roll away, according to Reuters. The recall involves the following Volkswagen models: Jetta Beetle Beetle Convertible Golf Golf SportsWagen GTI. The cars affected come from various model years, from 2011 to 2019. Dealers will turn off a micro switch, install a different switch outside of the gear lever housing and add a new circuit board, CNET reported. Owners of affected vehicles will be alerted about the issue on or after Oct. 11, according to CNET.
  • Health officials in Illinois said Friday that a person who was hospitalized with lung problems after vaping has died in what might be the first death linked to e-cigarettes and similar devices in the United States. >> Read more trending news  The Illinois Department of Public Health said in a statement that the unidentified individual, who was between 17 and 38 years old, had been hospitalized with a severe respiratory illness shortly after vaping. 'The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous,' Illinois Department of Public Health Director Ngozi Ezike said Friday. In Illinois alone, health officials said at least 22 people between the ages of 17 and 38 have experienced respiratory illnesses after vaping. Officials with the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention arrived Tuesday in Illinois to help state health officials investigate, Ezike said. In a statement released Wednesday, officials with the CDC said that between June 28 and Aug. 20, nearly 150 cases of severe lung illnesses linked to e-cigarettes were reported in 15 states. Health officials continue to investigate the illnesses. According to the CDC, no specific product or compound has been linked to all of the cases and it remained unclear Friday whether the cases shared a common cause. Poison control officials have been concerned about exposure to vaping products, including e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine, in recent years due to the high concentration of nicotine when compared with other tobacco products, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Association officials said that as of July 31, poison control centers have managed 2,439 cases connected to e-cigarette devices and liquid nicotine this year. Last year, officials fielded 2,470 such cases, according to figures from the association.