Associated Press

Excerpts from recent editorials in the United States and abroad: Aug. 28 Tulsa World on the $572 million verdict in Oklahoma's opioid case against health care giant Johnson & Johnson: Oklahoma has won a judgment of more than $572 million against corporate health care giant Johnson & Johnson after showing that the company's role in the state's opioid crisis created a public nuisance that "compromised the health and safety of thousands of Oklahomans." The company says Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman's verdict is wrong and has promised an appeal. But for now, we'll take the court's decision on its face, and declare it another significant victory for the state and Attorney General Mike Hunter. Combined with two previous settlements with opioid manufacturers, the state looks to get more than $900 million in justified compensation from big drug companies. A judgment of $572 million is big by any standard, but it's a lot less than the $17 billion the state had asked for. The larger number anticipated the many years it would take for the state to recover from the opioid crisis. Balkman's judgment says his number covers only one year's costs for the state, and future orders are a possibility. Hunter's decision to pursue Oklahoma's opioid cases independently of the multistate case pending in Ohio was brave. If he had lost, he risked being blamed for the state absorbing all the opioid crisis costs. His boldness and his success means the state won't have to split compensation with other litigants and has less risk of losing some or all of its settlements if a drug company declares bankruptcy. The temptation of a $572 million windfall is to celebrate, and it certainly beats losing. But we haven't lost sight of the fact that the money is compensation for the state's costs in a horrific crisis. Both sides agreed that some 2,100 Oklahomans died of unintentional prescription opioid overdoses from 2011-2015; that more than 326 million opioid pills were dispensed in the state in 2015 alone, equivalent to 110 pills for every adult Oklahoman; and that, in 2017, 4.2% of babies covered by the state's Medicaid program were born with withdrawal conditions associated with drug exposure in the womb. Such human tragedy puts Monday's justice in perspective and is the mark of shame forever upon those responsible. Online: https://www.tulsaworld.com/ Aug. 27 The Washington Post on Israel's role in escalating Iran-related tensions across the Middle East: A French attempt to jump-start talks between the United States and Iran got plenty of attention over the weekend at the Group of Seven summit, but it might have been less serious than it seemed. Though President Trump agreed with French President Emmanuel Macron that a meeting with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani could happen within weeks, Iran's foreign minister dismissed the prospect on Tuesday as "unimaginable." Meanwhile, the hype over a possible diplomatic breakthrough obscured a much more ominous development: another escalation in Iran-related tensions across the Middle East, this time driven by Israel. Since July, Israel has quietly expanded its air campaign against Iranian assets and allied militias from Syria to Iraq, with potentially far-reaching consequences for U.S. forces in the region. U.S. officials have said a July 19 airstrike on a weapons depot north of Baghdad was carried out by Israel, which has launched hundreds of strikes in Syria in recent years but had not targeted Iraq since 1981. Three other recent attacks on arms storehouses controlled by Iranian-linked militias are also believed to have been Israeli operations. On Sunday, a drone attack on a Shiite militia convoy in western Iraq reportedly killed a senior commander and up to eight others. The previous night, an Israeli air raid in Syria killed two operatives of the Lebanese group Hezbollah, which also blamed Israel for a drone that crashed near its media center south of Beirut. The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed credit only for the Syria operation, saying it had preempted an Iranian-directed drone attack on multiple military and civilian targets inside Israel. Israel clearly has a right to defend itself from Iranian attacks, and there should be no objection to its action in Syria, a lawless country where Tehran and its allies operate with impunity. But the expansion of what has been a mostly measured and covert Israeli campaign to Iraq comes with considerable risks including for the United States. Some 5,000 U.S. troops are still based in the country and could be targets for Iranian reprisals; at the same time, the Iraqi government, which remains allied with Washington, is highly vulnerable to pressure from the Shiite militia groups, which among other things control a large bloc in parliament. That faction reacted to the attack on the militia convoy Sunday by blaming both Israel and the United States and calling for U.S. forces to leave the country. The Pentagon's response was notable: A statement strongly denied any involvement in the convoy or arms depot attacks and went on to condemn "any potential actions by external actors inciting violence in Iraq." That would certainly appear to include air raids by Israel. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, was working to prevent an escalation between Lebanon and Israel; according to Lebanese reports, he offered the government assurances that Israel did not intend to rupture a de facto cease-fire with Hezbollah. Mr. Netanyahu faces a tough election next month, and he has been a staunch opponent of any U.S.-Iranian rapprochement. He might consider this a good moment to escalate with Iran; he may also believe that Mr. Trump will not object, even if the result is damage to U.S. interests in Iraq and a greater risk of a full-scale war. Unfortunately, on the latter point, he's probably right. Online: https://www.washingtonpost.com/ Aug. 27 The Boston Herald on the possibility of President Donald Trump nominating a justice to the U.S. Supreme Court: If a seat on the United States Supreme Court opens up, President Trump must nominate a judge and the GOP-majority Senate must, if the nominee is qualified, confirm him or her. Undoubtedly, there will be a loud and raucous chorus of voices decrying such a maneuver and we are already hearing warnings of monumental chaos if the president and the Senate majority leader were to move forward. As the Herald's Rick Sobey and Sean Philip Cotter reported, political prognosticators fear the worst. "Both sides would be fighting it out as if it's Armageddon," pollster John Zogby said Sunday. "Democrats would be saying, 'This is the end of the world and the end of America as we know it.' It would be a battle royal." David Axelrod, who was senior adviser to President Obama, tweeted: "If there is a SCOTUS vacancy next year and @senatemajldr carries through on his extraordinary promise to fill it despite his own previous precedent in blocking Garland it will tear this country apart." Pundits expect the GOP Senate would ignore its own 2016 precedent thereby "enraging Democrats and many moderate independents," said Larry Sabato of the Center for Politics at University of Virginia. Both parties would use the issue as a rallying cry at the polls and we could expect horrible behavior on the part of politicians and the media as we saw during the Kavanaugh hearings. One point of contention will be perceived hypocrisy on the part of Senate Majority Mitch McConnell, who blocked the nomination of Obama nominee Merrick Garland in 2016. At the time, McConnell released a statement, reading, "The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president." Already, McConnell has said publicly that if a seat were to open up next year he'd fill it. He sidesteps accusations of hypocrisy by noting that the president and the Senate belonged to two different political parties in 2016 and that would not be the case in 2020. "You have to go back to 1880 to find the last time a vacancy created in a presidential election year on the Supreme Court was confirmed by a Senate of a different party than the president," McConnell told Fox news last October. And of course, even if the Senate had chosen to hold a vote on Merrick Garland, the exercise would have been a mere formality, as there is virtually no chance Republican senators would have placed him on the court, with the impending possibility of an alternative, more Scalia-esque nominee just a few months away. In the case of a hypothetical 2020 vacancy, assuming President Trump were to nominate a credible jurist, as he has so far, the Republican Senate majority (which expanded in 2018) is unlikely to have the same qualms about his nominee as they did about Garland. Such is the nature of politics under a system of divided government. Certainly if the House of Representatives is given the power to open Articles of Impeachment against the president, the Senate has the power to decide whether or not to hold confirmation hearings for a Supreme Court nominee. Americans should in fact celebrate these checks on the power of the executive branch, especially those Americans who profess concerns about authoritarianism. Online: https://www.bostonherald.com/ Aug. 27 The Seattle Times on proposed reforms to the Electoral College: The controversial way America elects presidents is barreling toward a crisis point. A federal court ruling has spotlighted the confounding nature of the system, which twice in the last five elections put presidents into office against the wishes of the majority of American voters. Under the Constitution, the voters who select a president every four years are, in fact, picking a party-chosen slate of electors pledged to that candidate. The presidential candidate who wins a state's popular vote gets all its electors except in Nebraska and Maine, which split the electors by Congressional districts. These electors formally select the president after Election Day passes. This mechanism solved two problems of 1789's America that no longer plague the nation. Mass, instant communication of news, commentary and campaign rhetoric means voters have no need to designate others to make informed choices, which was the argument Alexander Hamilton made in support of the Electoral College. The system also induced Southern slave states to join the union by giving them power at a time when the more populous north would have dominated a national popular election. Today, the Electoral College turns every presidential election into a contest for the same handful of closely divided battleground states. Voters in Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and the upper Midwest hold the power and get candidates' focus. Deviating from this priority list, as Hillary Clinton did in 2016, means courting electoral doom. A decade ago, Washington joined states working to modernize the system with the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. It takes effect only if enough states join to control the 270 Electoral College votes required to elect a president. Each state's Electoral College votes would then be awarded to the winner of the national popular vote. But only 15 states and the District of Columbia have joined the agreement, giving it just 73% of the electors needed. While legislatures in other states debate signing on, an alarming confluence of events has thrown Washington law into conflict with a federal court ruling. In the 2016 election, a handful of electors schemed to game the College to block Donald Trump from office. They traded votes to push the selection for president into the then-Republican controlled House of Representatives. It failed, but repercussions are playing out anyway. Washington fines its "faithless electors" and under a new state law, will cancel and replace their votes, joining nine states that already had such laws on the books. But the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals this month found removing an elector's vote illegal, reading the Constitution to say Electoral College voters can vote as they please. If the ruling withstands U.S. Supreme Court review, states would lose the Electoral College's accountability mechanism and all electors would have carte blanche to ignore the people's will. From time to time, members of Congress attempt to abolish the Electoral College, but few get far. (Hillary Clinton promised to join this fight when she joined the U.S. Senate after the disputed 2000 presidential election, but never filed legislation.) Congress should step up to modernize the system. A place to start is to build on the Electoral College, which is enshrined in the Constitution and would be difficult to toss entirely. Instead, it should reflect the national popular vote. Until then, Washington must champion the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact to other states so every vote in America can count the same. Washington has several nationally influential leaders in government; Gov. Jay Inslee has chaired the Democratic Governors Association, and Secretary of State Kim Wyman has chaired the Republican Secretaries of State Committee. Both should urge their peers to fight for the popular vote compact. Online: https://www.seattletimes.com/ Aug. 26 The Toronto Star on world leaders' reaction to fires in the Amazon rainforest: Kudos are in order for world leaders who reacted quickly to forest fires in the Amazon that are so intense soot-darkened skies have turned day into night in Sao Paulo, Brazil's largest city thousands of kilometres away. On Monday, the Group of Seven nations announced a $20 million (U.S.) aid package to help the Amazon countries fight those fires. And Canada, a G7 member, further announced it would commit an additional $15 million to fighting the fires and send water bombers to regions of Brazil and Bolivia to help douse the flames. Those are crucial steps considering the massive forest, often referred to as the Earth's "lungs," provides 20 per cent of the world's oxygen. So far this year there have been over 40,000 forest fires in Brazil's Amazon, a 79 per cent increase over the same period in 2018. Those currently raging must be extinguished. But, sadly, those aid packages won't stop future fires from being lit in a forest that is home to three million species of plants and animals unless world leaders can convince Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, to change his ways. That's because the fires raging across Brazil's rainforest are a result of the actions of loggers, miners and farmers who have received the message loud and clear from Bolsonaro that he supports their business activities over efforts to protect the rainforest. Indeed, the right-wing populist leader was elected in 2018 on a promise to ditch protections for the rainforest and for the one million Indigenous people who live within it. And he has put his money where his mouth is, rolling back protections and reducing the budgets to enforce environmental laws. Critics say that has emboldened businesses, which are now setting the fires to clear the land for farming or mining. Meanwhile, loggers are cutting down trees in previously protected areas. The few protections that are still in place are actually an improvement over Bolsonaro's original plan to completely do away with the environment ministry. That limited course correction wasn't because the Brazilian president suddenly realized the importance of protecting the rainforest. It was a result of pressure from the country's agricultural businesses, which rightly feared that a complete gutting of environmental protections would incite a worldwide boycott of Brazilian products. And by so blatantly putting mining and forestry interests ahead of protecting the rainforest and its inhabitants, Bolsonaro is still leading his country towards a similar end. So far, European Union leaders in France and Ireland have threatened to block a trade deal with Brazil, which was 20 years in the making, if Bolsonaro does not take action to protect the rainforest. And a statement issued at the G7 summit by more than 50 Indigenous groups and environmental organizations calls for governments around the world to strengthen import restrictions on beef, soy, minerals and other products that originate from areas affected by deforestation. Further it asks all governments to conduct due diligence before investing in the Amazon to ensure human rights and environmental protections are not being violated. On Friday, in the face of intense pressure from the G7 leaders, Bolsonaro suddenly reversed course and proclaimed "a profound love and respect for the Amazon." Indeed, he went so far as to say that "protecting the rainforest is our duty," and dispatched the military to help fight forest fires. That's quite a turnaround given all his previous actions. Regardless of the motivations for that, it shows he's not immune to potential boycotts or political pressure. Now all world leaders must continue to hold his feet to the fire to ensure his change of heart results in a permanent change of policy. Online: https://www.thestar.com/ Aug. 25 The Dallas Morning News on the Trump administration's decision to allow federal officials to hold migrant families indefinitely: The Trump administration's migrant policy has been troubling in many respects from Day One. Now, we are concerned that the administration's decision to allow federal officials to hold migrant families indefinitely is another bad policy in the making. Every nation has the right to protect and govern its border, and the U.S. is no different. But we also must remain a nation true to ideals of treating the people who come to us fairly and humanely. Eliminating a time limit on detention does not reach that ideal. Instead, it circumvents a longstanding federal consent decree that provided basic standards for the detention of migrant children. The issue is due process. Existing immigration policy gives the government a set amount of time 20 days to process initial asylum screenings. That ruling signaled that detention was a temporary step as migrants moved through the legal process. The new rule would eliminate the time children and families can be held in detention, effectively allowing the government to house families in any of its detention facilities until they are either granted asylum or deported. The administration says the changes will avert the need to separate families or release them while they wait for their cases to be heard. However, the administration also concedes that its intent is to scare migrants from presenting themselves at the U.S.-Mexico border. Speaking to reporters, the president went so far as to say that the threat would "make it almost impossible for people to come into our country illegally." Law is always written and applied with an element of deterrence in mind. But the law itself must be fair to begin with or the deterrent is unjust. We must conclude that is the case with the threat of indefinite detention. Asylum-seekers deserve a process that is clear and fair and that treats their claims seriously and adjudicates them justly. Not all asylum requests will pass muster with immigration courts, nor should they. The penalty for making an asylum request shouldn't be months of uncertain detention, however. There is room to debate whether 20 days provides enough time for immigration officials to review claims and whether there are better ways to prevent children from being used as pawns along the borders. However, such issues are for Congress and the president to resolve through comprehensive bipartisan commitment to addressing these and other unresolved parts of a broadly dysfunctional immigration system. As a nation, we must secure our borders, block illegal immigration and regulate legal immigration. Temporarily detaining legal migrants without a set timetable for processing is an unjust denial of due process. It should be rejected. Online: https://www.dallasnews.com/ Get the latest local and national breaking news delivered to your inbox. Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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