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North Carolina editorial roundup

February 7, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Feb. 4

The Fayetteville Observer on reviving the state’s film industry:

A lot of Frances McDormand fans across the country will be holding their breath when it’s time for the Best Actress award on Oscar night. She’s considered a front-runner for her role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which has seven nominations, including for Best Picture. Her performance as a mother trying to prod an investigation of her daughter’s death by posting billboards has already gotten her Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.

And here in North Carolina, the film will have an extra-large cheering section, because it was filmed here, not in Missouri, in 2016. These days, that makes it a rare creature. This state’s once-thriving film and television production industry is a pale shadow of what was once a thriving economic engine. A generous state incentives program turned this state into “Hollywood East,” making it the set of countless films and television series. Wilmington was the epicenter, complete with extensive sound stages and hundreds of well-paid professionals to run them. It became almost routine to see locally produced films and TV presentations in the spotlight at the Oscars and Emmys.

But when Republicans took over the General Assembly, the film incentive program was quickly purged from the budget. Part of it was the deep dislike of conservative ideologues for the liberal Hollywood set, and part came from a general aversion to incentives programs of any kind. But when the plug was pulled, Hollywood East became a memory. The production companies fled to other states — especially Georgia — that quickly ramped up their own film incentives programs to snare the hundreds of millions that the entertainment industry once spent in North Carolina.

Wilmington only had one production in town for 2017, the TNT series “Good Behavior.” So far this year, the city’s Hollywood dance card is empty.

It wasn’t just the cut in incentives that hurt North Carolina’s film fortunes. The “Bathroom Bill” caused a lot of damage too, and a lot of film companies haven’t taken a look at us since, despite the bill’s repeal. “We shot ourselves in the foot for a little bit,” N.C. Film Office director Guy Gaster says. But now, Gaster and leaders of the Wilmington Regional Film Commission have been meeting with West Coast studios to let them know where we stand. “Our message is to remind people we are open for business and we have an incentive,” Gaster says. “Once they do grasp it and understand it, it’s about finding the right project to come in.”

The state has partially restored its incentives program, creating an annual $30 million pool to draw productions back. “Three Billboards” was shot in Sylva in western North Carolina and took advantage of the subsidy program.

And now, people like Gaster are hoping that film’s success will remind the rest of the industry that North Carolina is open for film business again.

This is one of the cases where incentives make sense. The state’s cash contributions to film productions bring back a tremendous return — production money that boosts local economies and even contributes to tourism for a year or two after a film’s release, as people come to town to see the locations where their favorite movie was filmed.

It’s going to take years to build the North Carolina film industry back to what it once was — if that’s even possible. But we hope that the experience will remind our lawmakers that incentives programs like this one make sense and boost the state’s economy and its image as well.

Here’s hoping for a big Oscar night for “Three Billboards” and a resurgence for our film industry.

Online: http://www.fayobserver.com/

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Feb. 5

Winston-Salem Journal on the Interior Department wanting drilling for oil and natural gas off North Carolina’s coast:

The drilling for oil and natural gas off North Carolina’s coast that the Interior Department wants is too risky for our fine shore. Good for Attorney General Josh Stein for helping to lead the charge to stop this wrongheaded and potentially disastrous policy.

Stein has assembled a coalition of attorneys general from a dozen coastal states that want the U.S. Interior Department to cancel the plan announced earlier this month, The Associated Press reported. The AGs warn that expanded offshore drilling threatens their maritime economies and natural resources. “Thousands of North Carolinians and 30 coastal communities have voiced their opposition to drilling off North Carolina’s shores,” Stein said in a press release. “I will do everything I can, including taking legal action, if necessary, to fight on behalf of our people, economy, and natural resources.”

The group, which includes the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Virginia, sent a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Thursday opposing his agency’s proposed five-year oil and gas leasing plan to open new ocean waters. All the AGs are Democrats, the AP reported.

Florida had also been slated for expanded offshore drilling until its Republican governor, Rick Scott, met with Zinke and asked him to exempt the state. Zinke agreed. Gov. Roy Cooper met with Zinke on Saturday, pushing for the same exemption. He said they had a good conversation, but he urged residents to continue to be loud to make sure their opposition is noted. Stein reminded Zinke the state was ready to sue if the Trump administration approves the drilling, the AP reported.

Our state’s coastal tourism industry is responsible for 30,000 jobs and $3 billion in annual revenue, Stein said in the letter, and “Commercial and recreational fishing support an estimated additional 22,500 jobs and $787 million in revenue each year. Visitors to the Tar Heel coast generated an estimated $650 million in wages and tips.”

North Carolinians have spent decades protecting and developing our coast. We’re not going to hand it over now.

Online: http://www.journalnow.com/

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Feb. 5

The News & Observer of Raleigh on U.S. Sen. Richard Burr not commenting on a report released by the House Intelligence Committee:

U.S. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., is a cautious guy. That’s a good trait for the senator leading his chamber’s Intelligence Committee.

In keeping with his deliberate style, Burr hasn’t commented on the report released Friday by the House Intelligence Committee, which is chaired by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. Burr’s staff said Monday he would have no comment, citing his committee’s ongoing investigation. But Burr would serve the country well during this super-heated moment by lending his measured voice to correct some of the inflammatory remarks made by elected officials, especially President Trump.

Some background: FBI agents and prosecutors in October 2016 wanted a judge’s permission to spy on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser who’d stopped advising the campaign near the end of that summer. The Nunes memo says those agents and prosecutors failed to tell a judge that opposition research about Russian election interference was funded by by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

The Nunes memo says that Andrew McCabe, then deputy director of the FBI, said that no surveillance would have been requested without the information from the opposition research. Democrats dispute that characterization.

Trump has used the Nunes report to say that the entire investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 elections is corrupt. “This memo totally vindicates ‘Trump’ in probe,” he tweeted. “The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans....”

If prosecutors did not reveal that the opposition research received funding from Democrats, they should have. But there are a number of facts that show Nunes’ conclusion — that the FBI and top Justice Department officials were “abusing their authority for political purposes” — was overstated:

? Starting in October 2016, judges approved the surveillance of Page four times over the course of a year; each renewal required a separate finding of probable cause.

? Page already was on the FBI’s radar as part of a separate investigation into Russian influence. Page bragged in a 2013 letter that he was an adviser to the Kremlin, Time magazine reported.

? The Nunes memo confirms that the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign began in July 2016, several months before the warrants were sought to spy on Page. The investigation was triggered by information about Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI.

? Among those signing off on the warrants was Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. He’s a Republican. So is FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., warned that “elected officials, including the president, must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows.”

Amen to that. Burr, as chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has a big platform. By urging the loudest partisan voices to pipe down and by re-stating his commitment to a quest for the facts, Burr could help win the confidence of the American people that their leaders are focused on determining the truth, regardless of where it takes them.

Online: http://www.newsobserver.com/

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