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International
AP
G-7 achievement: Trump declares, 'We got along great'

BIARRITZ, France Never mind his differences with world leaders on China, trade, Russia, Iran and more. President Donald Trump’s takeaway message from the Group of Seven summit in France was “unity.” In fact, “flawless” unity.

During this year’s gathering of leaders of the world’s wealthiest democracies, Trump went to great lengths to portray it as something of a lovefest, papering over significant disagreements on major issues.

“If there was any word for this particular meeting of seven very important countries, it was unity,” Trump said at a news conference Monday closing out the two-day gathering in the French resort of Biarritz.

“We got along great,” he said. “We got along great.”

After Trump disrupted the last two G-7 summits with his erratic behavior, other world leaders seemed determined to play along this year in the interest of keeping any negative drama out of the headlines.

First came the decision by French President Emmanuel Macron, the summit host, to scrap the annual practice of issuing a lengthy joint statement, or communique, at the summit’s conclusion.

The document typically spells out the consensus that leaders have reached on issues on the summit agenda and provides a roadmap for how they plan to tackle them.

Trump roiled the 2017 meeting in Italy over the climate change passage in that summit’s final statement. And he withdrew his signature from the 2018 communique after complaining he had been slighted by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, the host that year.

“I think it’s against that background that Macron decided it’s not worth it” to issue a statement, said Thomas Bernes, a distinguished fellow at the Center for International Governance Innovation in Canada.

Instead, the leaders issued a final “declaration” that began: “The G7 leaders wish to emphasize their great unity and the positive spirit of their debates.”

Macron also sought to play down awkward differences and said that what the G-7 leaders were “really keen on was to convey a positive and joint message following our discussions.”

The French leader stressed that everyone had worked “together, hand in hand, with President Trump over these two days.”

For all of the happy talk, though, Trump came under pressure to end his lengthy trade dispute with China that is hurting other nations as well.

Macron said the dispute had served to “create uncertainty” that is “bad for the world econom y.”

Differences over Russia didn’t stay hidden, either.

Trump, as he had before last year’s summit, said he would like to see Russia re-admitted to the club.

The former G-8 kicked Russia out after President Vladimir Putin annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

While his affinity for Russia has been questioned at home, Trump said Monday he’d prefer Russia be “inside the tent” rather than outside since so many of the issues the leaders discussed involved Russia.

Other members of the Group of Seven besides France, Canada, Italy and the U.S. are Britain, Germany and Japan.

Canada’s Trudeau told reporters he had privately aired his objection to Russian readmittance.

“Russia has yet to change the behavior that led to its expulsion in 2014, and therefore should not be allowed back into the G-7,” he said at a news conference.

For all the courting of Trump by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump wouldn’t adopt Abe’s position that short-range ballistic missile tests by neighboring North Korea violate U.N. resolutions.

Trump insisted that he and Abe were on the “same page” — but he appeared to defend the missile tests by North Korea’s Kim Jong Un by saying a lot of other people were testing missiles, too.

“We’re in the world of missiles, folks, whether you like it or not,” he said.

Trump also claimed that “great unity” existed on Iran, but he largely just restated his long-held views about the country, some of them hardly shared.

France, Germany and other G-7 members are unhappy that Trump withdrew the U.S. from a 2015 international pact that eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for the Iranians agreeing to limit their nuclear program.

Trump said the biggest conclusion the leaders reached was that Iran “can’t have nuclear weapons.” Far from a breakthrough, that has been the world’s position for decades.

Asked about his efforts to ensure that fighters for the Islamic State group be returned to their home countries across Europe rather than housed by the United States, Trump said during a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the G-7 leaders had “a pretty good meeting.” But then he allowed that they had “not reached a total conclusion.”

“It’s unfair for the United States to take them, because they didn’t come from the United States,” he complained.

Macron flicked at the challenges of smoothing over differences by reaching back in history.

Seeking to justify the role of mediator between Iran and the United States that Macron is carving out, the French leader quoted one of his predecessors, World War II hero Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who said: “Diplomacy is trying to hold together broken windows.”


Local
College leadership shares hopes for new semester as UT Tyler, TJC students head back to class

Class is back in session and more than 20,000 students are expected to be enrolled at Tyler area colleges as the fall semester begins.

The University of Texas at Tyler is beginning the new year, expecting another semester of record growth between its campuses in Tyler, Longview, Palestine and Houston.

UT Tyler President Michael Tidwell said the college kicked things off last week with a welcome party for new students on the new Patriot Plaza, which drew more than 800 people.

“The freshmen are alive and spirited, and seeing our sophomores come back at record rates has been great as well,” Tidwell said. “The first week is always a little hurried as students are finalizing schedules, finding classes, moving into residence halls, and so on, but by week two, everything runs pretty smoothly.”

Tidwell also said he was excited to kick off the college’s new Pre-Law and Pre-Med academies, with details about the Pre-Law academy coming soon.

Other areas of excitement include seeing the shifts in student engagement begin to result in positive changes in campus culture, Tidwell said. The move to NCAA Division II athletics, the new plaza acting as an avenue to host bigger and better student events and the launch of a new drum line are ushering changes to build a more vibrant student life experience.

At Tyler Junior College students are watching as a new Cultural Arts District begins to take shape. The college is well into the construction phase of its new Rogers Palmer Performing Arts Center, which will expand Wise Auditorium as well as renovations to its W.C. Windsor Memorial.

The changes will create a new arts district that cuts a path through campus from the Tyler Museum of Art all the way to the Center for Earth and Space Science Education and the college’s culinary arts facility.

Dr. Linda Gary, dean of humanities, communications and fine arts, said faculty are energized and excited for the new year.

TJC also is expecting another year of record growth between their two campuses in Tyler and branch locations in Lindale, Jacksonville and Rusk.

“There’s a terrific vibrancy to it,” she said. “You can see they’re excited and looking for their classes.”

Faculty members are increasing their presence outside of the classroom, making themselves available to help students get where they need to be and answer questions.

“I think we all hope to do everything that we can, and I know that we will, help each student be successful,” she said.

TJC Campus Police Department Chief Michael Seale said everything seems to be running smoothly, with the usual first day traffic.

The construction on Apache Pass, near the Wise Auditorium renovation is ongoing, but the Tyler Museum of Art is still accessible.

He said the college is working with students to make the first week easy on everyone.

“We’re giving a one week grace period for the students on campus for minor parking and traffic citations,” he said. “It gives everyone time to get in, get their parking pass and get acclimated to campus.”

He said their goal is to educate students on best practices and how to navigate campus.

The TJC police department also has extended its office hours to better serve students.

The main police office will have extended hours this fall and next spring, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Fridays.

Seale said this would make it easier for students to get their student IDs and parking passes, without having to find time between classes.

TWITTER: @TMT_Cory


Business
AP
Oklahoma judge rules against drugmaker, orders $572M payment

NORMAN, Okla. — An Oklahoma judge on Monday found Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiaries helped fuel the state’s opioid crisis and ordered the consumer products giant to pay $572 million to clean up the problem.

Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman’s ruling followed the first state opioid case to make it to trial and could help shape negotiations over roughly 1,500 similar lawsuits filed by state, local and tribal governments consolidated before a federal judge in Ohio.

“The opioid crisis has ravaged the state of Oklahoma,” Balkman said before announcing the verdict. “It must be abated immediately.”

The companies are expected to appeal the ruling to the Oklahoma Supreme Court.

Before Oklahoma’s trial began May 28, Oklahoma reached settlements with two other defendant groups — a $270 million deal with OxyContin-maker Purdue Pharma and an $85 million settlement with Israeli-owned Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd.

Oklahoma argued the companies and their subsidiaries created a public nuisance by launching an aggressive and misleading marketing campaign that overstated how effective the drugs were for treating chronic pain and understated the risk of addiction. Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter says opioid overdoses killed 4,653 people in the state from 2007 to 2017.

Mike Hunter has called Johnson & Johnson a ”kingpin” company that was motivated by greed. He specifically pointed to two former Johnson & Johnson subsidiaries, Noramco and Tasmanian Alkaloids, which produced much of the raw opium used by other manufacturers to produce the drugs.

“They’ve been the principal origin for the active pharmaceutical ingredient in prescription opioids in the country for the last two decades,” Hunter said after the trial ended July 15. “It is one of the most important elements of causation with regard to why the defendants ... are responsible for the epidemic in the country and in Oklahoma.”

Attorneys for the company have maintained they were part of a lawful and heavily regulated industry subject to strict federal oversight, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and the Food and Drug Administration, during every step of the supply chain. Lead attorney Larry Ottaway said during closing arguments that opioid drugs serve a critical health need — to address chronic pain that affects thousands of Oklahomans every day.

“This problem of untreated chronic pain afflicts people here in Oklahoma,” Ottaway said.

Oklahoma pursued the case under the state’s public nuisance statute and presented the judge with a plan to abate the crisis that would cost between $12.6 billion for 20 years and $17.5 billion over 30 years. Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson have said that estimate is wildly inflated.

Also on Monday, the Kentucky Supreme Court declined to review an earlier ruling , making previously secret testimony from former Purdue Pharma President Rickard Sackler and other documents public. The court record was sealed in 2015 as part of a $24 million settlement between Purdue and Kentucky.

The 17 million pages of documents were being shipped Monday from Frankfort to Pike County, where the case originated. The Pike County Circuit Court Clerk’s office could not immediately say how and when they would be available.


Local
Smith County officials to set property tax rate

Smith County officials will vote to set a property tax rate on Tuesday and to set pay scales for various county workers.

The Smith County Commissioners Court will vote at the meeting at 9:30 a.m. in the Smith County Courthouse Annex, 200 E. Ferguson St.

The Commissioners Court has proposed increasing the property tax rate from 33.7311 cents per $100 of property valuation to 34.5 cents and held public hearings on the matter.

While several members of the public as well as the Greater Tyler Association of Realtors and Grassroots America-We The People political action committee have spoken against the increase, members of the Commissioners Court have not signaled whether they will change the proposal.

The corresponding budget for fiscal year 2020, which starts Oct. 1, proposes increased operating spending on the Smith County Sheriff’s Office and Smith County Jail. That includes adding deputies and budgeting for eight new jail detention officers.

There are several one-time spending items that would reduce the county’s reserve ratio, such as spending on vehicle replacement and capital spending information technology.

Another part of the proposed budget would offer cost-of-living increases for Smith County employees and elected officials, excluding the Commissioners Court and county judge, who would receive 0 percent.

The budget proposes $5,000 increases each for the county clerk, district clerk and treasurer. However, the treasurer has filed a grievance seeking more money, and that grievance is scheduled for a decision on Tuesday.

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