By Robert A. Vella
The first drug manufacturer has been punished for intentionally causing America’s opioid crisis, although the monetary penalty is far less than what Oklahoma prosecutors demanded. The Brazilian government under Trumpish president Jair Bolsonaro has petulantly rejected a financial aid offer from the G-7 meeting to combat the highly destructive fires ravaging the Amazon. Heat deaths from climate change are rising in the U.S. southwest. The Federal Election Commission (FEC) is now prevented from enforcing the nation’s election laws because the Republican-controlled U.S. Senate won’t fill personnel vacancies in that agency; meanwhile, new reports have been released detailing additional election security threats against the swing-state of Florida.
After the New York medical examiner declared Jeffrey Epstein’s death in jail was a suicide, many observers expected conspiracy theories surrounding the incident to fade away. But, new revelations about the billionaire socialite’s demise will surely reignite suspicions because people in very high places might have obvious reasons to keep the details of Epstein’s sex trafficking of underage girls a secret. Anonymous sources have reported that one or more of the surveillance cameras monitoring his jail cell mysteriously failed to record “usable footage” around the time of his death. The Bureau of Prisons, the FBI, the Department of Justice, and the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan are all refusing to comment on the matter. On July 23rd, Epstein was found on the floor of his cell with superficial neck injuries. Authorities suspected a suicide attempt, but Epstein reportedly said that he was attacked. Then, on August 10th, he was apparently found hanging in his cell and shortly afterwards was pronounced dead. Even more curious was that Epstein’s cellmate was transferred away the day before on August 9th and a new cellmate was not assigned even though jail officials knew that he couldn’t be left alone. Epstein’s lawyers and family are not accepting the official ruling of suicide. Are you intrigued yet?
In other news, the Marysville, Michigan candidate who stated that her community should be kept “white” and that she opposed interracial relationships has announced her withdrawal from the city council’s race. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has shutdown an immigration hotline featured in a Netflix program. The Mormon Church (LDS) has tightened its policy against bringing guns onto its premises in response to a Texas law which allows it. I guess at least some conservatives want gun control especially when it is their lives at risk. A New York judge has ruled against religious exemptions for mandatory vaccinations citing overriding public health concerns.
A judge in Oklahoma on Monday ruled that Johnson & Johnson had intentionally played down the dangers and oversold the benefits of opioids, and ordered it to pay the state $572 million in the first trial of a drug manufacturer for the destruction wrought by prescription painkillers.
The amount fell far short of the $17 billion judgment that Oklahoma had sought to pay for addiction treatment, drug courts and other services it said it would need over the next 20 years to repair the damage done by the opioid epidemic.
Still, the decision, by Judge Thad Balkman of Cleveland County District Court, heartened lawyers representing states and cities — plaintiffs in many of the more than 2,000 opioid lawsuits pending across the country — who are pursuing a legal strategy similar to Oklahoma’s. His finding that Johnson & Johnson had breached the state’s “public nuisance” law was a significant aspect of his order.
Brazil rejects aid
Brazil on Monday rejected aid from G7 countries to fight wildfires in the Amazon, with a top official telling French President Emmanuel Macron to take care of “his home and his colonies.”
Nearly 80,000 forest fires have broken out in Brazil since the beginning of the year — just over half of them in the massive Amazon basin that regulates part of Earth’s carbon cycle and climate.
G7 countries made the $20 million aid offer to fight the blazes at the Biarritz summit hosted by Macron, who insisted they should be discussed as a top priority.
Heat deaths rise
In Arizona, the annual number of deaths attributed to heat exposure more than tripled, from 76 deaths in 2014 to 235 in 2017, according to figures obtained from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heat-related deaths in Nevada rose almost fivefold during the same period, from 29 to 139.
Most of those deaths were in the Phoenix and Las Vegas areas, according to state records.
The long-term health effects of rising temperatures and heat waves are expected to be one of the most dangerous consequences of climate change, causing “tens of thousands of additional premature deaths per year across the United States by the end of this century,” according to the federal government’s Global Change Research Program. The effect could be even more severe in other parts of the world, potentially making parts of North Africa and the Middle East “uninhabitable.”
The Federal Election Commission will have just three members following the departure of Matthew Petersen, who announced on Monday that he will resign his commission post August 31. Federal law requires four or more commissioners to approve new rules or take actions to punish those who violate election law.
The six-member commission has not operated at full strength for some time, and it has often deadlocked along partisan lines on important issues, such as donor disclosure.
The agency was already “dysfunctional,” Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California at Irvine, wrote on Twitter. “But given the threat of foreign intervention in the 2020 elections, the inability of the FEC to act on an emergency basis is BAD NEWS.”
Florida’s record as a vital swing state made it a target for meddling in the 2016 election when Russians breached two county voting systems and a software vendor and now concerns are being raised about voting security in the state for the 2020 ballot, say election and cyber security experts, federal reports and Democrats.
With FBI director Christopher Wray and other intelligence officials predicting more Russian and possibly other foreign interference in the next elections, experts say Florida is again a likely target for Russian hackers, or others bent on disrupting voting, which potentially could alter tallies and create other problems.
“Obviously, Florida will be a critical state in 2020 and Florida election officials should assume they will be targeted again,” said Larry Norden, who runs the election reform program at the Brennan Center for Justice.
New Epstein intrigue
At least one camera in the hallway outside the cell where authorities say registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein hanged himself earlier this month had footage that is unusable, although other, clearer footage was captured in the area, according to three people briefed on the evidence gathered earlier this month.
It was not immediately clear why some video footage outside Epstein’s cell is too flawed for investigators to use or what is visible in the other, usable footage. The incident is being investigated by the FBI and the Justice Department’s inspector general’s office, which are attempting to determine what happened and how to assess whether any policies were violated or crimes committed.
The footage is considered critical to those inquiries, and the revelation of an unusable recording is yet another of the apparent failures inside the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the short-staffed Bureau of Prisons facility in downtown Manhattan that held Epstein.
PORT HURON, Mich. — A Michigan city council candidate whose racist comments have garnered nationwide attention since late last week has formally withdrawn from the race.
Marysville Mayor Dan Damman said Jean Cramer submitted a letter withdrawing Monday — three days after he called for her to do so. City Manager Randy Fernandez said Cramer had first come into city hall to verbally withdraw but was asked to put it in writing.
Cramer, 67, couldn’t be immediately reached for comment Monday afternoon. Her formal one-sentence letter to the city did not include any reasoning behind her withdrawal.
In the seventh season of Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black,” the fictional character, played by Diane Guerrero, had an immigration hearing coming up, but like many immigrants, she didn’t have an attorney. How could she stop her own deportation without help? In the freezer’s secrecy, her incarcerated friends told her not to worry: They had found a group online, Freedom for Immigrants, offering a hotline for detainees in need of a free lawyer to call.
“But you have to be careful, though,” their friend Gloria told Maritza. “Apparently, if they figure out that you’re using the hotline, Big Brother shuts it down.”
This month, less than two weeks after the seventh season of the show premiered, Gloria’s warning has become reality: Real-life U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has shut down the real-life Freedom for Immigrants hotline intended for immigrants who can’t afford attorneys, the group said Friday.
The previous policy called it inappropriate to have weapons on church property. It still includes an exception for law enforcement officers.
The clarification comes one year after a fatal shooting inside one of its churches in rural Nevada and as religions around the country grapple with how to deal with gun violence that has spread to places of worship.
The change went into effect the first week of August and a letter explaining it was first sent to local leaders in Texas and shared with members there, said church spokesman Daniel Woodruff. The impetus was a new Texas law that takes effect soon that makes it clearer in state law that licensed handgun holders can carry weapons in churches, synagogues and other houses of worship.
ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A judge has upheld a New York state law repealing religious exemptions from vaccinations required for children attending school schools and day care programs.
The state Legislature repealed the religious exemption in June amid the nation’s worst measles outbreak in decades. Families who previously held religious exemptions sued, arguing the repeal action was unconstitutional because it violated rights of religious expression.
State Supreme Court Judge Denise Hartman upheld the law Friday, citing extensive legal precedent supporting compulsory vaccination laws. She quoted a 1944 U.S. Supreme Court ruling saying the right to practice religion doesn’t include liberty to expose the community to disease.