Friday News: Childish distractions

REPUBLICANS PLAY WITH FIDGET SPINNERS DURING IMPEACHMENT, THANKS TO RICHARD BURR: As senators sat through endless hours of arguments on impeachment, they found a new outlet to focus their attention: fidget spinners. Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., handed out the toys to his colleagues before Thursday's trial proceedings began. A fidget spinner is a small toy designed to be spun between the fingers, relieving stress or boredom. The devices and stress balls were on the tables at Burr's "Carolina Cookout" luncheon for senators that included hamburgers, hot dogs, sweet potato fries and ice cream sundaes. Burr was later seen playing with a blue spinner while listening to arguments by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., an impeachment manager. Other senators, including Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., were also seen with spinners on their desks.

DAN GERLACH IS NOW WORKING AS A LOBBYIST (FOR APODACA): Gerlach is stepping out of higher education to work on economic development projects for former state Sen. Tom Apodaca’s Raleigh-based lobbying firm Vista Strategies, Gerlach announced on Twitter on Thursday. “It’s an honor to work with Sen. Apodaca,” Gerlach tweeted with a link to the news from Business North Carolina. “His commitment to excellent public policy to foster a climate for a growing and prosperous NC is strong and unwavering.” Gerlach also retweeted news from Business North Carolina that he has formed an LLC for his economic development projects with Apodaca and other clients. Gerlach resigned from his position as ECU’s interim chancellor in October, after video footage showed he went out drinking at popular student bars near the Greenville campus on Sept. 25 and then later drove off in a car.

JOHN LOCKE FOUNDATION HIRES CLIMATE CHANGE DENIER AS NEW CEO: The new chief executive of North Carolina's leading conservative think tank comes to the John Locke Foundation from a similar organization in Colorado. The foundation announced this week that Amy O. Cooke is now leading the group, which began in 1990 and now has nearly two dozen workers. Cooke worked for 16 years with the Denver-based Independence Institute, serving as executive vice president and director of its Energy and Environmental Policy Center. Her career also has included hosting a radio show. Cooke, who spent her childhood in Wisconsin and Missouri, also will hold the title of publisher of Carolina Journal, the foundation's newspaper. Cooke is the foundation's fourth CEO — with Marc Rotterman, John Hood and Kory Swanson as her predecessors.

THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION IS HEMORRHAGING SCIENTISTS AT AN ALARMING RATE: In the first two years of the Trump administration, more than 1,600 federal scientists left government, according to Office of Personnel Management employment data analyzed by The Washington Post. That represents a 1.5 percent drop, compared with the 8 percent increase during the same period in the Obama administration. One-fifth of the high-level appointee positions in science are vacant — normally filled by experts who shape policy and ensure research integrity. Of those who departed, the numbers were greatest among social scientists, soil conservationists, hydrologists and experts in the physical sciences — chemistry, geology, astronomy and physics. At the Environmental Protection Agency, nearly 700 scientists have left in the past three years, according to The Post analysis. The EPA has hired 350 replacements. “It’s going to take a long time for government science to come back. There’s little doubt about that,” said Birnbaum, who serves as an adjunct professor at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She added that NIH has remained well- insulated because it enjoys bipartisan support in Congress.

CHINA LOCKS DOWN INTERNAL TRAVEL OVER CORONAVIRUS: The authorities on Friday greatly expanded a travel lockdown in central China to include 12 cities near the center of the outbreak, effectively penning in 35 million residents — nearly the population of Canada — in an effort to contain the deadly virus. The new limits — abruptly decreed ahead of the Lunar New Year holiday, China’s busiest travel season — were an extraordinary step that underlined the governing Communist Party’s deepening fears about the outbreak of a little-understood coronavirus. Just one day after China restricted travel in and from the center of the outbreak, Wuhan, a city of 11 million and the capital of Hubei Province, and four nearby towns, the government announced plans to suspend public transportation services covering more than half the population of the province. The rapidly expanding outbreak has overwhelmed the province’s hospitals and fueled fears of a global pandemic. Chinese health officials reported on Friday that there had been 26 deaths from the outbreak and 830 cases of the coronavirus, a sharp increase.