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North Carolina editorial roundup

March 21, 2018

Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:


March 17

The Winston-Salem Journal on North Carolina’s film industry:

We could have been a contender.

North Carolina’s film industry has struggled to regain the strong footing it had before the Republican-led state legislature axed the tax credits that once made film production companies feel welcome here. But it will take plenty of work to overcome Hollywood’s concerns, as the Journal’s Richard Craver reported last week.

When it comes to the talent and the locations that draw filmmakers, we’ve got everything it takes to be competitive. But other states, like Georgia, are eating our lunch when it comes to the financial incentives that make a state attractive to the film industry.

The film tax credits created in 2005 and increased in 2009 once drew film and TV productions like “Iron Man 3,” ″The Hunger Games,” ″Sleepy Hollow” and “Eastbound and Down” to North Carolina. And we were rewarded for the investment. From 2007 to 2012, the film industry spent more than $1 billion here, including $58.3 million in tax revenue for the state — even after the tax credit, according to a 2014 study commissioned by the N.C. Motion Picture and Television Industry and several regional film commissions.

The business helped support local folks, too — talented actors, resourceful producers and hard-working cameramen, grips and gaffers. Ancillary businesspeople like caterers, carpenters and hotel owners benefited as well.

But legislators let that credit expire in 2014 and productions began moving away.

Another stumbling block was the 2016 passage of HB2, which gave several industries the impression that our state wouldn’t be receptive to their workers and their customers. Though the bill was largely rescinded in 2017, it’s left a stain. “It only takes one key person saying they’re not comfortable with being in North Carolina to kill our chances at a production,” Guy Gaster, director of the N.C. Film Office, told the Journal.

Currently, the state offers film grants of up to $31 million annually with a 25-percent tax rebate, in hopes of renewing film industry investments. But that’s not enough to restore what we once had.

“People want to come back to North Carolina. The interest is definitely there,” Rebecca Clark, director of the Piedmont Triad Film Commission, told the Journal after a recent trip to Hollywood. But since 2015, “not one project that has filmed in (the Triad) has benefited from the film grant,” she said.

Clark remains optimistic, noting TV commercials, series episodes and reality TV series that have taken advantage of the incentives. And the North Carolina Film Office, along with Visit NC, is working hard to capitalize on the success of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which was shot in large part in western North Carolina. The film has attracted some tourism.

For all the talk about “liberal” Hollywood, the movie and TV industry is run by conservative businesspeople who want to be sure they’ll get a return on their investment. They’re looking for the best deals and they’re looking for states that offer stability. What’s really needed is a restoration of the full tax-credit program that was putting us on the map and creating jobs.

We could get back into the game, but we’re going to need a bigger boat.

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


March 20

The Fayetteville Observer on bipartisan efforts to tackle gun legislation:

We hope a package of “common sense” gun legislation proposed by Democratic North Carolina lawmakers doesn’t have a target on its back. This is one reform effort that needs to be relentlessly bipartisan.

In the past, Republicans in the General Assembly haven’t been friendly to gun-control proposals and have instead gone in the opposite direction, liberalizing the state’s gun laws and making it easier for North Carolinians to get guns and to carry them almost anywhere.

But in many states, the mass shootings in Las Vegas and more recently at a high school in Parkland, Florida, have led to a reappraisal of gun laws and the introduction of some reasonable restrictions that have little impact on the typical gun owner, but may help keep guns out of the hands of people suffering mental illness and violent tendencies.

The proposals, unveiled Monday by five Democratic House and Senate members from urban counties, include:

. Expanding the background checks now required for the purchase of handguns to sales of “assault-style” weapons.

. Raising the minimum age for purchasing those weapons from 18 to 21.

. Allowing the courts to issue orders to take firearms from people who are adjudged a danger to themselves or their community.

. Banning “bump stock” devices that turn semiautomatic weapons into rapid-firing automatic weapons.

. Creating a statewide pilot program in which students could send with their electronic devices anonymous tips about school safety concerns.

Those proposals are similar to ones contained in gun legislation that passed nearly unanimously in the heavily Republican Florida legislature, in reaction to the Parkland shootings that killed 17 people. Some of them might have prevented the Parkland shooter, 19-year-old Nikolas Jacob Cruz, from getting and using the military-style, high-capacity weapon he used.

They are also similar to proposals put forward by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper last week. We hope that partisanship doesn’t doom these reasonable ideas.

Some Republicans in the General Assembly have already warned that the governor is trying to restrict their Second Amendment rights. But the Second Amendment doesn’t confer absolute rights. This country has long extended reasonable restrictions — the need for adequate training and safety, age limits for ownership, bans on weapons of mass destruction. And there is nothing in the Democratic proposals that will interfere with the right of sane adults to own and use the legal weapons of their choice — including military-style semiautomatic rifles with high-capacity magazines. These restrictions would only keep those weapons out of the hands of unstable and dangerous people, and would prevent teenagers from buying them.

This state’s lawmakers will also begin discussing other safety measures this week as a new House committee today begins looking at school safety in the wake of the Parkland shootings. Rep. David Lewis, a Harnett County Republican and one of the committee’s chairs, says, “We want committee members to absorb as much information as possible prior to a discussion about current law and potential policy procedures.”

Today’s committee meeting will include presentations on physical security at schools and mental health services. It’s clear that we need to improve our standards on both of those issues. While the debate has focused so far on measures to stop active shooters once they get into a school or other public venue, it’s just as important — maybe, in fact, more important — that we talk about prevention. Are our schools too easy for would-be shooters to enter? Have we so gutted our mental health services — in our schools and in our communities — that we have little ability to spot and deal with troubled people like Nikolas Jacob Cruz before they snap?

So far this year, we are averaging one school shooting a week across America. It’s clear that the problem is serious, and may be getting worse. The crusading Parkland kids are right: They should be able to feel safe in their classrooms. And we adults are the ones who can make them safer. North Carolina lawmakers need to check their partisanship at the door and come up with legislation that makes it happen.

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


March 20

The Charlotte Observer on U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis and Cambridge Analytica:

A Facebook data breach. Stolen info from a Russia-linked researcher. And Thom Tillis, U.S. senator from North Carolina.

Has the dark and somewhat creepy world of stolen data and pyschographic voter profiling touched N.C. politics?

A New York Times report Sunday revealed that Tillis and the N.C. Republican Party paid $345,000 years ago to Cambridge Analytica, a data firm now accused of buying stolen private information of more than 50 million Facebook users in 2014. Cambridge Analytica may have used that data, which came from a Russian researcher, to build profiles of prospective voters and target specific campaign messages to them for Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign.

Two years earlier, in 2014, the company helped Tillis narrowly defeat Democrat Kay Hagan for the U.S. Senate.

Did Tillis and the NCGOP do something wrong?

N.C. Democrats are suggesting there’s at least a possibility. “There are too many unanswered questions, too much we don’t know yet,” said Wayne Goodwin, chairman of the N.C. Democratic Party.

Tillis isn’t helping matters. He declined Monday to answer questions from reporters about Cambridge Analytica.

Let’s sort through this.

Invasive as it may seem, companies and campaigns have legally and ethically used statistical models and algorithms to profile voters and target messages long before Donald Trump and Thom Tillis won their 2016 and 2014 races. It’s also no secret that Cambridge Analytica saw itself on the cutting edge of psychographic profiling. A 2015 Bloomberg profile described how in the Tillis race, the company developed a continually updating model that helped identify an issue — Hagan’s shortcomings on ISIS — that would resonate with a “sizable cluster” of N.C. voters.

The company made no secret of its work in North Carolina, boasting about it on its web site.

The problem for Cambridge Analytica is that it apparently has obtained at least some data illegally. There’s no indication, however, that Tillis knew the company used stolen Facebook information in profiling voters. In fact, it’s unlikely the company would expose itself by telling a client that sort of thing — especially when that client is running for U.S. Senate.

Also, given that Cambridge Analytica didn’t purchase the data trove until 2014 — well into the U.S. Senate race — it’s questionable that the data was even used to help Tillis.

Tillis released a statement Tuesday afternoon saying that his “expectation is that all services provided to my campaign are lawful,” McClatchy’s Brian Murphy reports. Still, Tillis would be well-served to be more transparent about the work Cambridge Analytica did. So would the NCGOP, which could start by clarifying why it said Cambridge Analytica performed “direct mail” work in 2014 when records show the party paid the company “microtargeting consulting fees.”

What we’re left with, most likely, is politics. Democrats are happy to add Tillis and the NCGOP to sentences that include Facebook, personal data and Russians. You can be sure that if the roles were reversed, Republicans would gleefully do the same. North Carolinians, in this case, should wait for more evidence before joining in.

Online: http://www.charlotteobserver.com/

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