Today's Papers

Smoking Guns

The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times lead with, and the New York Times stuffs, news that a six-person Miami jury ruled against the tobacco industry in a class-action suit. Three smokers representing the class were awarded different amounts, totaling $12.7 million. The same jury will soon decide on punitive damages for the entire class of Florida smokers who suffered cigarette-related illnesses or deaths–estimated to number nearly 500,000. Industry analysts believe the companies might file for bankruptcy if the class damages are as large as expected; the WP guesses $300 billion, for instance. An appeal could drive the companies under too: In Florida, any defendant “who appeals a verdict must post a bond equal to the size of the judgment plus interest” (NYT). Four tobacco states–Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, and North Carolina–have pre-emptively passed bills relaxing similar bond requirements. Legal experts call such new laws unconstitutional, the NYT notes; regardless, they’ll probably buy the smoking industry time. The NYT says tobacco stocks remained stable on Wall Street; the Post says prices were mixed and substantially lower than in July, when the jury’s first ruling against the industry came. The LAT tells us what that ruling was: that smoking caused 20 specific diseases. The NYT notes defense lawyers argued that the plaintiffs were aware of the hazards of smoking but chose to take the risks. This argument seems logical but the LAT has a hint about why it didn’t work: The jury also found in July that the smoking industry lied for decades about smoking’s risks and addictiveness.

The Senate approved a $1.8 billion non-binding budget plan for 2001 yesterday, news the Post and NYT front and the LAT stuffs. As the NYT points out, a Thursday agreement to increase the Pentagon’s allowance by $4 billion cleared the way for the vote, which took place largely along party lines. Among other things, the plan calls for $150 billion over the next five years in tax cuts, a number smaller than George W. wants and larger than President Clinton wants. The next step: reconciling the Senate resolution with a similar one passed by the House.

All the papers front stories about Elián González. The Post says, in its opening paragraph, that the Justice Department will send a team of federal marshals and immigration officers to forcibly remove Elián from the home of his Miami relatives if necessary, according to “people familiar with the situation.” The Post goes on to note, however, that those relatives have said that, though they would not help officials, they will stand aside for them. The Post reports the DOJ is anticipating resistance from a chain of anti-Castro protestors, which implies that governmental force might be needed to take the child from the demonstrators, not the family.

However, the LAT reports that an unnamed high-ranking administration official says Attorney General Janet “Reno has not approved any plan to use force to remove Elián from the Miami home” and that Reno has issued a legal order that the relatives turn Elián over to his dad as early as next week. The NYT does not mention a forcible removal but says Reno both announced she would allow the boy to return to Cuba with his father as early as next week and urged the Miami relatives to cooperate by giving Elián to Dad pronto. This seems like a bit of a contradiction to what the LAT reports but a detail buried in the NYT piece helps clarify: Reno has said that if the relatives do cooperate, she’ll work to get Elián and Dad to stay in the U.S. while the appeals process over Elián’s status continues; if not, the American government won’t try to keep them from returning to Cuba.

The LAT fronts yet another story of police corruption, this time on the West Coast: The key witness in a homicide case that’s awaiting trial signed a declaration for the LAT claiming “that he falsely identified the alleged killer after being coerced by an anti-gang officer and a homicide detective from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Rampart Division.”

Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson makes the Post’s front page by calling for a national moratorium on capital punishment during a symposium yesterday at the College of William and Mary. Years ago, Robertson argued against killing Karla Faye Tucker, a Texan who became a born-again Christian while on death row and was put to death in 1998. Here’s a question: Why do we always use the phrase “put to death” when the government does it and the term “murder” when anyone else does it?