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North Carolina editorial roundup

January 23, 2019

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:

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Jan. 21

The Fayetteville Observer on withdrawing U.S. troops from Syria and Iraq:

Donald Trump and Barack Obama are polar opposites in almost every conceivable way. Other than the fact that both have occupied the Oval Office and presided over the country’s executive branch, there’s little that they share.

Except this: Both men have underestimated the Islamic State terrorist organization so dramatically that it’s hard to imagine what they were thinking. And their almost willful ignorance has cost this country — and several Middle Eastern countries — a terrible price.

Obama once denigrated ISIS as a “JV team” and declared the group’s threat to the world “contained” — and then withdrew most American troops from Iraq. Shortly thereafter, ISIS assembled tens of thousands of well-equipped, disciplined soldiers and seized a swath of territory in Iraq and Syria as big as Great Britain, where it established the brutal “caliphate” that had long been its goal.

On Trump’s watch, American troops were back in Iraq and in Syria as well, battling ISIS directly, and providing advice and support for the Iraqis, Kurds and others who drove ISIS from Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, and contained the remnants of the group in parts of Syria. And then, like Obama, Trump declared ISIS defeated and ordered American troops to withdraw from Syria. Had that gone smoothly, we expect another Iraq withdrawal would have followed.

But it did not go well. Four Americans died in a suicide bombing carried out in the Syrian city of Manbij by ISIS last week. The attack put new emphasis on estimates that there are tens of thousands of ISIS fighters still in Syria and Iraq. Trump had tweeted just weeks before that “ISIS is mostly gone,” and on the day of the bombing, Vice President Mike Pence told a group of U.S. ambassadors meeting at the State Department that, “The caliphate has crumbled and ISIS has been defeated.”

The caliphate did indeed crumble, but ISIS is alive and dangerous. The group was never bound for glory in the creation of its own nation. It governed like a crime syndicate, using extortion, rape and murder to enforce its rules and keep people in line. That was never going to succeed as a long-term strategy. But as a terrorist organization, ISIS is as successful now as it’s ever been, a message that was delivered forcefully in the Manbij bombing.

As much as we’d like to see our friends and neighbors now deployed to Iraq and Syria come home, it’s clear that this is not the time to be pulling out ... The reality is that if we leave Syria, and especially if we leave Iraq too, we’re opening the door to domination of the region by Iran and Russia, both of which have already established a robust presence there and are using Syria as their puppet ...

The president traveled to Dover Air Force Base Saturday and saluted as troops brought home the remains of Scott A. Wirtz, a former Navy SEAL who was working as an operations support specialist for the Defense Intelligence Agency in Syria. Wirtz was one of the four victims of the suicide bomber. We hope that experience will help the president understand why this is not the time to sever our military commitments in that region.

Online: https://www.fayobserver.com/

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Jan. 23

News & Record of Greensboro on the work room for reporters covering the state legislature being moved to a basement:

You may not know much about working conditions for reporters who cover the state legislature in Raleigh.

...

They’ve been consigned to a room in a basement.

Or exiled or banished, depending on how you look at it, from their previous work room directly adjacent to the legislative chambers to one that is barely within commuting distance.

OK, it’s not quite that far-off, but new work space is in the farthest corner of the building from where the state House and Senate conduct their business. And it’s 25 percent smaller.

That means it’s harder for reporters to do their jobs, in a cramped room in the nether regions of state government that accommodates fewer of them.

It’s almost like asking a sports reporter to cover a Duke-Carolina game . from a tent in Krzyzewskiville.

...

“It’s as distant from the action as you can possibly be,” Colin Campbell, editor of the NC Insider, a niche news service that covers the legislature, told WRAL.

What’s up with all this? The Raleigh press corps has attempted to ask, but the man behind the change, Legislative Services Officer Paul Coble, isn’t saying much, declining repeated requests for an interview about the change.

WRAL’s Laura Leslie reported earlier this month that Coble has said he needs the room for additional meeting space, although other nearby meeting rooms are seldom used.

Meanwhile, the most powerful man in the legislature, Senate leader Phil Berger of Rockingham County, says he’s knows nothing. Berger told Leslie that he has delegated the authority to Coble. “I am confident he is listening to all sides and trying to make things work,” Berger said in an interview earlier this month, appearing to barely suppress a smile.

House Speaker Tim Moore said he was equally clueless.

Here’s what we do know: Coble, a nephew of Jesse Helms, is a Republican like Berger and Moore. He is also a former Wake County commissioner who has criticized the media in the past.

Before he shifted their workspace, some members of the media had complained that he was responding sluggishly, if not indifferently, to requests for public records.

To be clear, relations between the media and lawmakers in Raleigh are not nearly as strained as what we’ve seen in Washington in recent months — at least not so far.

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The shift of press facilities to an obscure corner seems petty and vindictive.

It’s not only an affront to the people who attempt to cover the General Assembly for the state’s print and broadcast media, it’s an affront to the public, on whose behalf they do their jobs.

Berger and Moore should put an immediate end to this foolishness.

Online: https://www.greensboro.com/

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Jan. 22

The Charlotte Observer on U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis:

Say hello to Thom Tillis, the centrist. Remember him? He was the candidate who ran for one of North Carolina’s U.S. Senate seats in 2014. He vowed then to be a moderate voice in polarized Washington. That sounded good to N.C. voters, who backed him over Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan.

That Tillis is back — at least in words. Hardly a week goes by now without the Tillis press shop announcing “bipartisan” bills the senator is sponsoring. He also is positioning himself at the center of significant issues, most notably this month with an op-ed in The Hill on immigration and the government shutdown. In it, Tillis called for a 21st century approach to border security that isn’t “a big, literal physical wall.” He called for a merit-based path to citizenship for the DACA population. He decried the “extreme elements on either side of the aisle.”

This editorial board agrees with much of that. We’ve long advocated for comprehensive immigration reform that includes security measures and a path to citizenship not only for immigrants in the DACA program, but at least some undocumented immigrants who’ve been a part of our communities. Most Americans agree.

But when faced with an opportunity to put action behind his words, Tillis is instead getting in line with Republican senators supporting Donald Trump’s “compromise” on immigration and the government shutdown. That compromise, which already has been rejected by Democrats, would only temporarily restore DACA protections the president took away in exchange for $5.7 billion in wall money. It’s an unproductive, political maneuver — just the kind Tillis seemed to lament in his Hill op-ed.

This is the problem with Tillis’s move to the center. He boasts of bipartisanship and files bills with Democrats on smaller-ticket issues, but when the big moments arrive, Tillis doesn’t. At least not as a centrist.

So it is with immigration this week. So it was with a bill last year on protecting Robert Mueller’s investigation — a measure that Tillis introduced but has declined to forcefully pursue. Tillis also has been anything but centrist on significant policies Americans support, such as basic gun control measures and protecting Obamacare. He voted against his party only 1.8 percent of the time last Congress, ranking him 95th among all senators, according to ProPublica.

Most importantly, when his country needed Republican senators to stand up to the president’s reckless statements and policies the past two years, Tillis has too often been quiet. In fact, he said this two weeks ago to the Huffington Post: “I’m going to defer to the president on the best strategy, and I would never vote to override a veto on something that the president didn’t think was the best approach.”

... He has apparently chosen a different strategy: Keep those Trump backers happy, but talk a good centrist game in hopes of grabbing enough moderates to win...

Online: https://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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