Editorial roundup

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/