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Opinion Roundup: Burr gives out fidget spinners; jail not safer with repairs; insurers invest in pharmaceuticals; and more.

Posted January 24, 2020 9:12 a.m. EST
Updated January 24, 2020 9:20 a.m. EST

FILE -- Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, May 14, 2019. As President Donald Trump amplifies unsubstantiated claims of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, the Senate Intelligence Committee reaffirmed on Oct. 8 that Russian operatives engaged in a widespread social media campaign to improve his chances in the race. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

Friday, Jan. 24, 2020 -- A round up of opinion, commentary and analysis on: Fidget spinners and stress balls; repairs may not make jail safe; reducing drunk driving; mean cats; and more.


TRUMP IMPEACHMENT TRIAL
MATTHEW DALY: Trial highlights: Conspiracy theories and fidget spinners (AP reports) -- Democrats argued that President Donald Trump sought a phony investigation of a political rival and pursued a discredited conspiracy theory about Ukraine, while restless senators played with a new toy Thursday during Trump's impeachment trial.

JUSTINE COLEMAN: GOP senator provides fidget spinners to Senate colleagues at lunch (The Hill reports) -- Sen. Richard Burr provided fidget spinner toys to his Senate colleagues for use during the lengthy impeachment trial. A spokesperson from Burr’s office confirmed to The Hill that he gave out the items and other fidget toys, including stress balls, to his fellow senators. Burr handed out the toys while he hosted the weekly lunch for Republican senators. During the impeachment trial, senators are under strict no-talking and no-electronics rules so they can listen and focus on the case laid out by House managers and the defense of the president's counsel. Some lawmakers to have been spotted pacing in the chamber, standing behind their desks and doing numerous stretches as the trial extends for hours. Several reporters have spotted the spinners on senators' desks during Thursday's proceedings.

Sen. Richard Burr Gives Out Fidget Spinners During Impeachment Trial (Late Night with Seth Meyers) -- In his nightly monologue, host Seth Meyers gives his thoughts on Sen. Richard Burr giving out spinners and stress balls to his colleagues to help them focus during the impeachment trial.

DAVID BAUDER: Impeachment trial not ready for broadcast prime time (AP reports) -- The first night of arguments in favor of President Donald Trump's impeachment before the U.S. Senate was judged not ready for prime time by many of the nation's television executives. ABC, CBS and NBC all stuck with regularly scheduled programs like “Chicago Med,” “Criminal Minds” and “Modern Family” Wednesday evening instead of showing the House managers' evening session at the impeachment trial. That lasted about two hours, 15 minutes. CNN and MSNBC carried the trial in full. Fox News Channel, after showing Rep. Adam Schiff speak for about a half hour, interrupted for a story about a child support case involving former Vice President Joe Biden's son Hunter, and never returned.

OLIVIA DARCY: Instead of airing the impeachment trial, Fox News fed viewers pro-Trump opinion in prime time (CNN Business reports) -- Executives at Fox News shielded the channel's audience on Wednesday night from the impeachment trial proceedings playing out in the U.S. Senate, instead choosing to air its regular bloc of opinion programming which is strongly supportive of President Donald Trump. The editorial choice was remarkable, given it is only the 3rd time a sitting President has faced a trial in the Senate that could potentially end with his being removed from office, though it is almost certain that will not happen.

CAMPAIGN 2020
KATE MARTIN: NC Senate candidate faces domestic violence order, allegedly said women shouldn't hold office (Carolina Public Press reports) -- Wife of Johnston County Republican says he gave her eight pages on "how to be a submissive wife." With a redrawn district and the retirement of Sen. Rick Horner, R-Nash, at the end of the current term, the District 11 race has attracted five major-party candidates, including three Republicans, making for the biggest field and the largest Republican primary in any state Senate race this year. One of Nielsen’s primary opponents, state Rep. Lisa Stone Barnes , R-Nash, told Carolina Public Press that Nielsen has said she was not qualified to hold the office because she is a woman. Barnes currently represents portions of Nash and Franklin counties in House District 7.

POLICY & POLITICS
ADAM OWENS: Sheriff says repairs at Nash County jail might not be enough to make it safe (WRAL-TV reports) -- About 100 Nash County inmates still cannot return to the Nash County jail despite improvements the county is making to the building. Sheriff Keith Stone says the jail won't be safe until even bigger changes are made.

BRIAN STELTER: Longtime PBS NewsHour anchor Jim Lehrer dead at 85 (CNN Business reports) -- Jim Lehrer, the legendary debate moderator and former anchor of the "NewsHour" television program, died Thursday. He was 85. Lehrer anchored the "NewsHour," the flagship newscast on public television in the United States, for 36 years. He retired in 2011.

US Census Bureau recruiting door-to-door workers in Raleigh (WRAL-TV reports) -- A bus parked in Raleigh will recruit people to work for the U.S. Census Bureau for the first half of 2020. The jobs are temporary, ending in July, but provide "excellent pay, flexible hours and paid training," according to a press release. More than 2,200 census jobs remain in Wake County. Many of the jobs would involve going door-to-door to collect surveys, although the census said a variety of positions are available.

EDUCATION
NC teachers want info before responding to pay impasse (AP reports) -- N.C.'s chief lobbying group for teachers is seeking additional input from members before determining a response to the extended state budget stalemate, with a walkout among potential options.

State panel starts long process of addressing public school needs in response to court order (WRAL-TV reports) -- Two days after a state judge called for a concrete plan to adequately fund public schools across N.C., a panel appointed by Gov. Roy Cooper met in Raleigh to discuss what that plan might look like.

Scholarship honors young adult fiction author Angie Thomas (AP reports) -- A university is creating scholarships to honor one of its graduates who is the author of bestselling young adult novels.

Former ECU chancellor gets into consulting (AP reports) -- Dan Gerlach, ousted last fall as interim chancellor of East Carolina University, has former state Sen. Tom Apodaca as an initial client. Gerlach said he's not doing any lobbying – yet. He said he'll work on public policy issues with a focus on economic and rural development, and that Apodaca is one of a few clients. Business N.C. was the first to report the connection.

AMANDA MAGNUS, JOSIE TARIS, FRANK STASIO & JASON DEBRUYN: ‘The Canary In The Coalmine’: North Carolina’s Housing Crisis (WUNC-FM reports) -- Affordable housing is in limited supply in many communities in North Carolina. The problem is particularly acute in Wake and Mecklenburg counties, where the population growth has outpaced that in more rural parts of the state.

MANDY MITCHELL: Fuquay-Varina couple's risk sees great reward in Zambia (WRAL-TV reports) -- Bethany and David Morgan went on a mission trip to Zambia and were left with a feeling of wanting to do more. Instead of just thinking about it, they actually did something. They first took a risk when they decided to try to build a well in Zambia in 2012. The process took a lot of work and planning but they were able to get it done, watching smiling faces as children got clean drinking water for the first time. The couple started a non-profit called "Love Abounds" and was able to build 17 wells since 2012. They then moved on to other issues facing the village. They started a program called "Chicks Empowered," which teaches women about chicken farming.

With golf carts and goggles, NCSU tries to reduce drunk driving (WRAL-TV reports) -- The NCSU police are trying to stop students from driving drunk by giving them a chance to see what drunk driving is really like, although no alcohol is being used. The event uses goggles and virtual reality which mimics the effects of alcohol on the body. Students, and really anyone, crossing the brick yard on Thursday, was given a chance to try out the activities. Most came away with a new appreciation for alternatives to drunk driving.

SARAH LINDENFELD HALL: Durham museum plans sensory friendly 'night under the stars' (WRAL-TV reports) -- The Museum of Life and Science, which bolstered its offerings for kids on the autism spectrum last year, will host a sensory-friendly night under the stars next month.

HEALTH
BRYAN MIMS & MATTHEW BURNS: Frustrated McDougald Terrace residents lash out at Durham leaders (WRAL-TV reports) -- Fed up after living in hotels for much of the past three weeks with no end in sight, McDougald Terrace residents unleashed their frustrations on Durham City Council members. Waving signs saying "Housing is a Human Right" and "Back the Mac," about two dozen people rallied outside City Hall before heading inside for a council work session, demanding that the council address problems at McDougald Terrace and other public housing complexes in Durham.

‘Like we’re in prison.’ Public housing families want out of hotels as evacuation drags on (Durham Herald-Sun reports) -- At one point tenants leader Ashley Canady sat in a cardboard box outside City Hall.

Procedure helps people with brain cancer (The Daily Reflector reports) -- Cancer specialists in Greenville introduced a new procedure that provides radiation treatment for people with brain tumors while eliminating the need for ongoing hospital visits.

6 more die in NC from flu, bringing total deaths to 41 (WRAL-TV reports) -- The flu season appears to be ramping up in North Carolina, with another 11 deaths associated with the virus reported statewide last week.

Sick of high drug prices, insurers join hospitals to make their own generic medications (AP reports) -- Everyone complains about high drug prices. But hospitals — and now insurers — are trying to lower costs by manufacturing their own generic medications. A consortium of seven hospital systems and three philanthropies came together to found Civica Rx in the fall of 2018. The non-profit venture works with generic drug companies to manufacture medications that are in short supply or subject to price spikes. These shortages force hospitals to look for alternative — and at times more expensive — supplies, which can cost them a total of hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Now insurers want in. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, along with 18 independent Blue Cross and Blue Shield insurers, announced Thursday they are pumping $55 million into Civica to form a subsidiary aimed at lowering the price of costly generic drugs consumers buy at pharmacies and through mail order. The subsidiary will initially focus on manufacturing seven to 10 high-priced medications, with the first ones available by early 2022.

How one NC museum is using art and music to unlock memories in people with dementia (Durham Herald-Sun reports) -- At the Nasher Museum of Art, the Duke Dementia Family Support Program meets monthly for a program called 'Reflections' for both patients and caregivers to engage with works of art together while building a sense of community.

ENERGY & ENVIRONMENT
LISA SORG: Environmental groups, scientists say DEQ’s air monitoring program fails the sniff test (NC Policy Watch reports) -- Because DEQ limited air monitor sites to meet EPA criteria, they were too far from hog farms to accurately measure their emissions.

TONY RICE: Astronomy Days returns to NC Museum of Natural Sciences (CNN Business reports) -- Astronomy Days lands again at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences with something for everyone in the family. The free annual event, a partnership with the museum, Raleigh Astronomy Club and NASA. Visitors can create a rocket, learn about the animals of the constellations, create their own Mars rover and watch researchers use everyday supplies to build a comet. This year’s theme is Earth 2020 and Ocean Worlds, and the moons of Jupiter and Saturn will be a focus of many of the weekend’s talks. These icy satellites contain three ingredients crucial to life: liquid water, organic molecules and energy. Europa, the smallest of the four Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter, contains liquid water ocean, twice as much as Earth’s, sloshing beneath an icy shell several miles thick.

AP Explains: How climate change feeds Africa locust invasion (AP reports) -- Locusts by the millions are nibbling their way across a large part of Africa in the worst outbreak some places have seen in 70 years. Is this another effect of a changing climate? Yes, researchers say. An unprecedented food security crisis may be the result.

...AND MORE
MARC TRACY: Ex-Editor of Daily News to Resuscitate Deadspin (New York Times reports) -- The publisher of irreverent sports website Deadspin tapped a former editor-in-chief of the Daily News to lead rebuilding efforts, nearly three months after a staff exodus over what employees characterized as editorial meddling. Admirers credit Jim Rich, the site’s new editor-in-chief, with revitalizing the Daily News as a sharp liberal counterpoint to its conservative rival, the New York Post. At the Daily News, Rich also presided over an investigation into police evictions that won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

GM to Open Racing R&D Center in North Carolina (Industry Week reports) -- General Motors announced new plans to open a new technical center near Charlotte, North Carolina. The center, which will be located in Concord, North Carolina, less than 10 miles away from the Charlotte Motor Speedway, will focus on racing vehicles and performance with an eye for applying advanced technology to GM’s other vehicles.

BRIE HANDGRAAF: Chamber honors Chick-fil-A’s Proctor: ‘Generous and humble’ leader named Citizen of the Year (The Wilson Times reports) -- Chicken and charity. Those are two words that often come to mind when thinking about Christy Proctor, the 2019 Distinguished Citizen of the Year. “Thank you for this evening. Thank you for this award,” she said. “I am very honored.” The Pikeville native has owned a Chick-fil-A restaurant in Wilson for 25 years and in October, her dream of operating two restaurants came true with the opening of Chick-fil-A’s second Wilson location.

Australia's largest Mexican franchise opens Raleigh location (WRAL-TV reports) -- Zambrero, which is located in the ground-floor of One Glenwood, is also the company's first location in the Southeast. The Angie Thomas Writers Scholarship program will be at Belhaven University, based in Jackson, Mississippi. Thomas wrote “The Hate U Give," about an African American teenager who sees a police officer shoot and kill her best friend, and “On the Come Up," about a young rapper who finds her identity and confronts stereotypes through music. One creative writing major at Belhaven will receive a scholarship to cover all expenses for tuition, room and board for four years, the university said in a news release Thursday. Other top applicants may receive smaller awards.

Animal shelter says "world's worst cat" is up for adoption (AP reports) -- The “world's worst cat” is available for adoption — just ask the Mitchell County Animal Rescue organization. The shelter about 55 miles (89 kilometers) northeast of Asheville is waiving adoption fees in the hope that someone will take the cat named Perdita off their hands. The group says on its Facebook page, “We thought she was sick. Turns out she’s just a jerk.”

GILBERT BAEZ: Historic parish house in Hope Mills to be torn down (WRAL-TV reports) -- Efforts to save the parish house of a historic Hope Mills Church have come to an end. Town leaders voted 3-2 to tear the building down.

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