Gov’s race: Dems doubt Kemp’s claim of ‘insurmountable lead’
By KATE BRUMBACK and BILL BARROW
Thursday, November 15
ATLANTA (AP) — As Democrats ratcheted up their attacks on Georgia Republican Brian Kemp, he claimed Wednesday that results certified by county election officials confirm he has an “insurmountable lead” in the governor’s race.
At a news conference, Georgia Democrats cast doubt on the legitimacy of any election count that ends with the former secretary of state being certified as the winner of a fiercely fought election against Stacey Abrams, who’s seeking to become the first black woman elected governor in the U.S.
“We believe that Brian Kemp mismanaged this election to sway it in his favor,” said Abrams’ campaign manager Lauren Groh-Wargo, surrounded by Democratic lawmakers at the Georgia Capitol.
Democrats beyond Georgia have started to echo the notion that a Kemp victory would be illegitimate. Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown said Wednesday that if Abrams loses it’s because Republicans stole the election.
“If Stacey Abrams doesn’t win in Georgia, they stole it. I say that publicly, it’s clear,” Brown, speaking at a briefing for the National Action Network.
Kemp’s campaign, which has repeatedly called on Abrams to concede, repeated that call Wednesday, saying Abrams and her supporters have used “fake vote totals,” ”desperate press conferences” and “dangerous lawsuits” to try to steal the election.
“After all of the theatrics, the math remains the same,” Kemp campaign spokesman Cody Hall said in an email. “Abrams lost and Brian Kemp won. This election is over.”
Since he declared himself governor last week and resigned as secretary of state, Kemp’s lead has narrowed as counties have tabulated more ballots. And the numbers could change again as federal courts issue new guidance on counting certain provisional and absentee ballots.
Groh-Wargo said Tuesday that the Abrams campaign believes she needs a net gain of 17,759 votes to pull Kemp below a majority threshold and force a Dec. 4 runoff. Kemp’s campaign said even if every vote that Abrams campaign is arguing for is granted by the courts and counted for her, she cannot overcome his lead or force a runoff.
The Associated Press has not called the race.
Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge Steve Jones on Wednesday ruled that the secretary of state must not certify the state election results without confirming that each county’s vote tally includes absentee ballots on which the voter’s date of birth is missing or incorrect.
The order stems from a request in a lawsuit filed Sunday by the Abrams campaign. But Jones also rejected the campaign’s other requests.
He declined to extend the period during which evidence could be submitted to prove the eligibility of voters who cast provisional ballots. He also declined to order that provisional ballots cast by voters who went to a precinct in the wrong county be counted.
The lawsuit was one of several election-related complaints filed before multiple federal judges.
U.S. District Judge Leigh May ordered Gwinnett County election officials Tuesday not to reject absentee ballots just because the voter’s birth year is missing or wrong. She also ordered the county to delay certification of its election results until those ballots have been counted.
Jones’ ruling effectively extended May’s order to the other 158 counties in Georgia.
U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg late Monday ordered state officials not to do their final certification of election results before 5 p.m. Friday.
State law sets a Nov. 20 deadline, but secretary of state’s office elections director Chris Harvey testified last week that the state had planned to certify the election results Wednesday, a day after the deadline for counties to certify their results. He said that would allow preparations to begin for any runoff contests, including those already projected in the races for secretary of state and a Public Service Commission seat.
Totenberg’s order left untouched the county certification deadline. Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for secretary of state’s office, said Wednesday that all counties but Gwinnett have certified their totals.
Totenberg ordered the secretary of state’s office to establish and publicize a hotline or website enabling voters to check whether their provisional ballots were counted and, if not, why not. And she ordered the secretary of state’s office to review or have county election authorities review the eligibility of voters who had to cast provisional ballots because of registration issues.
With state lawmakers gathered at the Georgia Capitol Tuesday for the start of a special legislative session, dozens of protesters gathered in statehouse rotunda, loudly chanting “Count every vote!” and waving signs with the same slogan. Police arrested 15 people, including state Sen. Nikema Williams, an Atlanta Democrat.
Police zip-tied Williams’ hands behind her back and led her to one of two vans holding other arrested protesters.
She gave a tearful speech on the Senate floor Wednesday, saying she was booked and strip-searched at the Fulton County jail and held for five hours. She said her 3-year-old son heard news of her arrest on the radio and told a baby sitter: “That’s mommy.”
“I didn’t do anything to obstruct anyone from doing their job or their business on the floor,” Williams said. “What I did was I stood with my constituents as they wanted their voices to be heard.”
The Georgia Constitution says legislators “shall be free from arrest during sessions of the General Assembly … except for treason, felony, or breach of the peace.”
Four Democratic lawmakers delivered remarks in the Senate condemning Williams’ arrest. No Republican senators stood to address Williams’ arrest.
GOP Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle asked the Republican chairman of the Senate Public Safety Committee to meet with authorities “to look at the facts surrounding this issue and see if we can bring some kind of resolve to the matter at hand.”
Associated Press writer Russ Bynum in Atlanta and Juana Summers in Washington contributed to this report.
Follow Barrow and Brumback on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BillBarrowAP and https://twitter.com/katebrumback .
Point: Students Miss Out When Religious Debate is Banished from Classroom
By Derryck Green
Teachers should absolutely discuss religion with their students. A comprehensive education necessarily includes learning and discussing issues of faith.
This is not an easy process when rules keeping religion off school grounds are rigidly enforced.
The underlying question that really seems to be driving the religious education debate is whether teachers should discuss Christianity with their students. The answer should be “yes,” provided that discussion does not seek to persuade or discourage students from further academic or personal consideration.
The reality is that the majority of people on the planet are religious. The majority of people in human history have been religious. Even most Americans are still religious, though the number is declining. Thus American students should be exposed to religion (or religions), if for no other reason than to have a functional knowledge of faith and principles such as doctrine, dogma, religious practice and spirituality. Students should understand religious influences on human ideas, thoughts, attitudes and behaviors — even if they decide not to follow any specific religion.
Knowledge about religion has incredible value. Religion can impart wisdom, morality, civility and mutuality. If done correctly, it regulates human impulses and bad behavior. It distinguishes between the sacred and the profane, and encourages charity and good behavior. Those who study religion will learn how others relate to the divine (or deities) through faith, and on the flip side, they can see the practical consequences of bad religion.
These virtues nonetheless encounter pushback from those uncomfortable with discussing faith or religion in schools. Some think — specifically with respect to Christianity — that teaching religion always equals proselytization and conversion.
This irrational fear has been so reinforced that the public educational system rejects the discussion or instruction of religion altogether. In fact, this irrationality is a form of anti-Christian religious bigotry.
The resulting unfamiliarity with religion has done a tremendous educational disservice to generations of schoolchildren. Separating religious instruction from school has suppressed intellectual curiosity and exploration — reinforcing ignorance about the significance of religious effect on human progress, the rise of civilizations and overall global development.
Limiting exposure to religion leaves too few with a functional knowledge of it. Such inexperience has detrimental consequences later in life. Zealous prevention of religious instruction also creates and reinforces hysteria regarding people who take religion seriously.
As a result, religious ignorance permeates our culture.
New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet, trying to understand how Donald Trump won the 2016 election with the help of religious voters, acknowledged in an interview that his paper and other major media outlets simply don’t understand religion. He said: “Media powerhouses don’t quite get religion. … We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives. And I think we can do much, much better.”
So here’s a top editor at one of the world’s most influential news outlets openly acknowledging neither he nor his institution understands the importance of religion in people’s lives.
To make his case, consider a 2014 Times print article discussing Israeli tourism that labeled the Church of the Holy Sepulcher as the place where many Christians believe Jesus is buried. The online version was later corrected to “was,” but did not inform readers of the Christian significance of the resurrection as the reason for the editorial correction. A year earlier, the Times claimed “Easter is the celebration of the resurrection into heaven of Jesus.” Easter is the celebration of Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, not his ascension into heaven.
Proving it’s not just the Times with this problem, Jennifer Shutt — a writer for the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call — claimed in 2016 that, during a meeting of Republican lawmakers, a Bible passage was read that “calls for the death of homosexuals.” Shutt, referring to Romans 1:18-32, either intentionally or unintentionally misinterpreted Paul’s words. An informed journalist would understand that what Shutt saw as a blanket condemnation of homosexuals actually represents the Bible’s condemnation of all those who reject God in favor of self-glorification.
Much of our society’s religious illiteracy can be overcome if teachers are encouraged to engage in unbiased discussions of religion rather than to religiously avoid it.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Derryck Green is a member of Project 21, a National Leadership Network of Black Conservatives; he earned his doctorate in theology and spiritual leadership from Azusa Pacific University. He wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Counterpoint: Don’t Preach, Teach
By Rachel Laser
An elementary school teacher walks around her classroom in Louisiana asking each of her young students what they want to pray for, they bow their heads and she recites a Christian prayer. But not all of her students are Christian. Do they opt out and risk being ostracized?
A coach in Michigan leads his players in prayer on a public high school football field after the games. But not all the kids agree with the coach’s faith, and some are not religious at all. Do they not participate, but then have to worry about the coach retaliating and not letting them play in the next game?
Even as we turn the corner into 2019 in America, debates about the proper role of religion in public schools are widespread. But they shouldn’t be. Too many communities have been torn apart by these contentious fights. There is an answer that should please most people while protecting the rights of young people: Schools should teach, but not preach, religion.
The reason for this becomes clear when you stop and think about the mandate of public education in a pluralistic society. Public schools should give all kids an equal sense of belonging and respect their rights. In the United States, where religious freedom is woven into our cultural and historical DNA, thousands of religions have flourished — and a growing number of Americans choose no faith at all. School boards, principals and teachers must embrace this reality, and this means they must not be in the business of deciding which religious beliefs matter for students, and which don’t. Decisions about when, where, how and if we pray are among the most intimate and personal ones we make. They are for families and individuals to decide.
This issue hits home to me in part because I am Jewish. My parents went to public school, I attended a public school, and I have sent all three of my children to public schools. I shouldn’t have to worry that my kids won’t feel comfortable in their own classrooms because of their religious views. A “my-way-or-the-highway” classroom that assumes one religious path is right, true and good is damaging for kids who are not part of the majority religion.
Preaching in public schools also undermines the unifying role public schools play in our communities. More than 90 percent of our nation’s children attend public schools. Those institutions are open to all students regardless of religion, race or ability; they should be safe spaces that enable all students to learn and grow. Public schools bring us together across our differences, rather than divide us because of them.
The Constitution guarantees each of us religious freedom: the right to believe what you want, or not believe at all. Preaching in public schools undermines that precious right. The first 16 words of the First Amendment are clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Allowing teachers and administrators to pressure or force kids to pray flies in the face of 227 years of American democracy and the fundamental principle of church-state separation.
Some may think that opposing official prayer in public school means that our schools must be “religion-free zones.” But telling teachers and school officials that they can’t preach to their students does not in any way bar our educators from teaching about religion. Preaching and teaching are very different things.
Religion’s effect on humanity and American life in particular is undeniable — and profound. In fact, you simply can’t understand subjects such as history, art, music, literature and even science without grasping how religion has shaped our thinking. So, of course, a public school teacher should have the right to discuss religion with students — as long as it’s part of a legitimate program of instruction.
American society is grounded in religious freedom. We should celebrate, treasure and honor this right and the diversity it fosters. A critical way to do that in the public school arena is to keep our schools focused on education and ensure that decisions about the faith of our children rest where they belong: safely in the hands of America’s families.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Rachel Laser is president and CEO of Americans United for Separation of Church and State (www.au.org). She wrote this for InsideSources.com.
Fine particle air pollution is a public health emergency hiding in plain sight
November 15, 2018
Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, Tufts University
Kevin James Lane
Assistant Professor of Environmental Health, Boston University
Douglas Brugge receives funding from the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Kresge Foundation.
Kevin James Lane receives funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Federal Aviation Administration.
Boston University and Tufts University provide funding as founding partners of The Conversation US.
Ambient air pollution is the largest environmental health problem in the United States and in the world more generally. Fine particulate matter smaller than 2.5 millionths of a meter, known as PM2.5, was the fifth-leading cause of death in the world in 2015, factoring in approximately 4.1 million global deaths annually. In the United States, PM2.5 contributed to about 88,000 deaths in 2015 – more than diabetes, influenza, kidney disease or suicide.
Current evidence suggests that PM2.5 alone causes more deaths and illnesses than all other environmental exposures combined. For that reason, one of us (Douglas Brugge) recently wrote a book to try to spread the word to the broader public.
Developed countries have made progress in reducing particulate air pollution in recent decades, but much remains to be done to further reduce this hazard. And the situation has gotten dramatically worse in many developing countries – most notably, China and India, which have industrialized faster and on vaster scales than ever seen before. According to the World Health Organization, more than 90 percent of the world’s children breathe air so polluted it threatens their health and development.
As environmental health specialists, we believe the problem of fine particulate air pollution deserves much more attention, including in the United States. New research is connecting PM2.5 exposure to an alarming array of health effects. At the same time, the Trump administration’s efforts to support the fossil fuel industry could increase these emissions when the goal should be further reducing them.
Where there’s smoke …
Particulate matter is produced mainly by burning things. In the United States, the majority of PM2.5 emissions come from industrial activities, motor vehicles, cooking and fuel combustion, often including wood. There is a similar suite of sources in developing countries, but often with more industrial production and more burning of solid fuels in homes.
Wildfires are also an important and growing source, and winds can transport wildfire emissions hundreds of miles from fire regions. In August 2018, environmental regulators in Michigan reported that fine particles from wildfires burning in California were impacting their state’s air quality.
Most deaths and many illnesses caused by particulate air pollution are cardiovascular – mainly heart attacks and strokes. Obviously, air pollution affects the lungs because it enters them as we breathe. But once PM enters the lungs, it causes an inflammatory response that sends signals throughout the body, much as a bacterial infection would. Additionally, the smallest particles and fragments of larger particles can leave the lungs and travel through the blood.
Emerging research continues to expand the boundaries of health impacts from PM2.5 exposure. To us, the most notable new concern is that it appears to affect brain development and has adverse cognitive impacts. The smallest particles can even travel directly from the nose into the brain via the olfactory nerve.
There is growing evidence that PM2.5, as well as even smaller particles called ultrafine particles, affect children’s central nervous systems. They also can accelerate the pace of cognitive decline in adults and increase the risk in susceptible adults of developing Alzheimer’s disease.
PM2.5 has received much of the research and policy attention in recent years, but other types of particles also raise concerns. Ultrafines are less studied than PM2.5 and are not yet considered in risk estimates or air pollution regulations. Coarse PM, which is larger and typically comes from physical processes like tire and brake wear, may also pose health risks.
Regulatory push and pull
The progress that developed countries have made in addressing air pollution, especially PM, demonstrates that regulation works. Before the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was established in 1970, air quality in Los Angeles, New York and other major U.S. cities bore a striking resemblance to Beijing and Delhi today. Increasingly stringent air pollution regulations enacted since then have protected public health and undoubtedly saved millions of lives.
But it wasn’t easy. The first regulatory limits on PM2.5 were proposed in the 1990s, after two important studies showed that it had major health impacts. But industry pushback was fierce, and included accusations that the science behind the studies was flawed or even fraudulent. Ultimately federal regulations were enacted, and follow-up studies and reanalysis confirmed the original findings.
Now the Trump administration is working to reduce the role of science in shaping air pollution policy and reverse regulatory decisions by the Obama administration. One new appointee to the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, Robert Phalen, a professor of medicine at the University of California, Irvine, is known for asserting that modern air is actually too clean for optimal health, even though the empirical evidence does not support this argument.
On Oct. 11, 2018, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler disbanded a critical air pollution science advisory group that dealt specifically with PM regulation. Critics called this an effort to limit the role that current scientific evidence plays in establishing national air quality standards that will protect public health with an adequate margin of safety, as required under the Clean Air Act.
Opponents of regulating PM2.5 in the 1990s at least acknowledged that science had a role to play, although they tried to discredit studies that supported the case for regulation. The new approach seems to be to try to cut scientific evidence out of the process entirely.
No time for complacency
In late October 2018, the World Health Organization convened a special conference on global air pollution and health. The agency’s heightened interest appears to be motivated by risk estimates that show air pollution to be a concern of similar magnitude to more traditional public health targets, such as diet and physical activity.
Conferees endorsed a goal of reducing global deaths from air pollution by two-thirds by 2030. This is a highly aspirational target, but it may focus renewed attention on strategies such as reducing economic barriers that make it hard to deploy pollution control technologies in developing countries.
In any case, past and current research clearly show that now is not the time to move away from regulating air pollution that arises largely from burning fossil fuels, in the United States or abroad.