Recent editorials from North Carolina newspapers:
The Fayetteville Observer on how the musical ‘Hamilton’ can be used in education:
In the wake of nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd in May, some protesters have taken to toppling statues of figures from history they say practiced or endorsed slavery or white supremacy. The main targets have been monuments to the Confederacy.
But some protesters have gone further. Statues of Christopher Columbus have come down, and there have been attacks on statues ranging from George Washington to Francis Scott Key, writer of the national anthem, to Union war general and president Ulysses S. Grant.
Donald Trump has seized the opportunity to engage in the culture wars he sees as a main plank in his reelection campaign. On July Fourth, he assailed “anarchists” and “agitators.”
“We will never allow an angry mob to tear down our statues, erase our history, indoctrinate our children,” the president said in a speech on the South Lawn. “And we will protect and preserve (the) American way of life, which began in 1492 when Columbus discovered America.”
But have a large group of Americans really turned against the “American way of life?” As some have pointed out, the same Independence Day weekend of Trump’s fiery speeches at the White House and Mount Rushmore, the most popular quarantine entertainment was … (Revolutionary War drum roll, please) … “Hamilton.”
The Broadway musical about Alexander Hamilton began to stream on Disney Plus last week. Media analyst Apptopia says the channel saw a 74 percent increase in paid subscribers over the previous four weekends, and “Hamilton” was 2020′s biggest content launch, measured by downloads, outpacing “Frozen 2.” You heard that right: the Founders beat “Frozen.”
The production is a movie version of the 2015 musical written by and starring Lin-Manuel Miranda and based on Ron Chernow’s biography. It follows the life of Hamilton, who immigrated from tough circumstances in the Caribbean to become a hero of the American Revolution, a significant figure in the ratification of the Constitution and the first U.S. treasury secretary.
“Hamilton” employs color-blind casting to tell the story with Black and minority actors in the roles of figures like George Washington, James Madison, Aaron Burr, Thomas Jefferson and Lafayette, the French revolutionary for whom Fayetteville is named. The musical’s action is carried along by strong vocal performances and choreography, with the songs ranging from hip-hop to ballads to more traditional show tunes.
We believe, however, that Hamilton is beyond a mere popular entertainment. We believe it should be included as a supplement to school students’ history education across the country. It would make the American story more accessible to an increasingly diverse nation.
“Hamilton” turns the Founders into reachable, relatable men. They are not cast as the perfect heroes too often presented to generations of bored school students - unsmiling, austere figures to be admired on statues in the public square.
The musical is also written as an immigrant story. It is a message that is always timely in a nation of immigrants, but particularly so since the country took a harder line against immigration, legal and illegal, after Trump’s election in 2016.
We do not mean to take credit from those great history teachers who manage to make history and historical figures alive for their students, no matter the era covered. “Hamilton” as an educational supplement can help those teachers who struggle to do so, or who are trying to bridge a cultural divide in their classrooms.
The characters in Hamilton operate not just in the national interest but also out of passions, jealousies and self-interest. In the musical, Hamilton himself must deal with an embarrassing and destructive scandal he brought on himself. In this presentation of diverse humanity, young people can see themselves in the imperfect people depicted - despite the separation of nearly 250 years between them and the men and women in the narrative.
More importantly, youth can clearly see that the ideals of freedom, equality, vision and bravery transcend race, culture or time. They can see that in the great sweep of history, American ideals are more important than those periods when the country’s institutions failed to live up to the ideals.
Martin Luther King Jr. was effective in advancing the cause of equality for Black Americans because he called on the country to do both a simple and hard thing: Believe and practice the words already written in its founding documents.
As King said in his historic 1963 speech, his own dream was “deeply rooted in the American dream.”
“When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.”
The power of former President Barack Obama’s story was that youth of any background could look at his becoming president and say, “I can do that, too.”
“Hamilton” in its own way contains the same, hopeful message.
Winston-Salem Journal on compensating essential workers:
There’s something very wrong when people who have to keep showing up at their jobs despite the dangers of a deadly pandemic are earning less money than those who lost jobs and stayed home.
In its rush to shore up the economy and help the many people thrown out of work when things shut down, Congress forgot to include those who are considered essential and couldn’t choose to stay home.
There’s obviously something wrong when people can make more money by not working. (Maybe they should have been making more when they were working.)
It’s even worse when those who are working and earning less than the unemployed are putting their lives in danger every day.
When government officials finally realized how serious the COVID-19 threat is and shut down the economy, legislators knew that lots of people would struggle without their usual paychecks.
Congress quickly passed temporary emergency relief measures including an extra $600 a week in unemployment benefits. That extra money has made it possible for many individuals and families to stay financially afloat in these challenging times.
But what about those people who had to keep going to work because their jobs are considered essential? Doctors, nurses and other medical professionals fell into the essential category. So did police, firefighters and other emergency workers.
And then there are the people in jobs that might not usually be considered essential, or even given much thought at all.
But where would we have been without the truck drivers who keep delivering the things we need, the folks who keep the grocery and drugstore shelves stocked, the cashiers, the people who clean the businesses and service establishments that stayed open, the aides who help out at nursing homes and hospitals?
The list of underappreciated workers we take for granted most of the time goes on. Unfortunately, many of these workers also are underpaid.
The pandemic and widespread shutdowns made these workers’ lives more difficult and expensive. Children were suddenly at home, needing childcare and meals. The price of groceries went up as many items became scarce.
Some who had depended upon public transportation had to find other ways to get around.
But these essential workers were expected to keep showing up for work, putting their health and lives at risk.
In many cases, if they had been laid off and qualified for unemployment benefits, they would have been making more money.
Some companies did pay bonuses or give modest temporary raises to workers who were at risk. Many did not.
Those who are working essential jobs should not begrudge those who are unemployed. Many of those who have lost jobs have yet to start drawing unemployment benefits, and in any case, the extra benefits are set to run out at the end of July.
The real point is that many people are struggling, through no fault of their own, as we deal with this pandemic. Congress was right to help those who were thrown out of work, and now it should make up for having overlooked the plight of essential workers, many of whom are in low-paying jobs.
There are proposals for hazard or “hero” pay to extend help to essential workers too. Something should be approved without more delay.
These workers proved how essential they really are. They need and deserve some extra money to help them keep going.
Heartfelt thanks would be good, too.
The News & Observer and The Charlotte Observer on the cancellation of a major natural gas pipeline project:
At the close of the Fourth of July weekend, Duke Energy and Dominion Energy may have unwittingly declared a new independence - a breakaway from the tyranny of fossil fuels in generating electricity.
On July 5, the two big utilities who had partnered in a plan to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline announced they were giving up on the project. Richmond-based Dominion Energy and Charlotte-based Duke Energy had until recently expressed a strong commitment to the massive project that was becoming increasingly untenable.
The cost of the 600-mile pipeline from the fracking fields of West Virginia through Virginia and North Carolina had climbed from an estimated $5 billion in 2014 to $8 billion and rising. The utilities cited legal objections filed by environmental groups and landowners for the rising costs and the pipeline’s shrinking prospects for being a sensible investment.
Predictably, the Trump administration’s anti-regulatory zealots condemned the pipeline’s opponents for blocking the project by using the law and rules against environmental damage.
U.S. Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said, “The well-funded, obstructionist environmental lobby has successfully killed the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, which would have lowered energy costs for consumers in North Carolina and Virginia by providing them with an affordable, abundant and reliable natural gas supply from the Appalachian region.”
What the “obstructionist environmental lobby” actually did was hold off the pipeline long enough that Dominion and Duke could see it was becoming a boondoggle that would have cost them and their ratepayers dearly. The worldwide economic slowdown caused by the pandemic has created a fossil fuel glut that has rolled back the fracking industry. There is increasing evidence that there would not be enough energy demand or natural gas price stability to justify the volume or the cost of the pipeline.
Those who fought hard against the project deserve the thanks of ratepayers and the utilities. They saved Dominion and Duke from a doomed investment in energy’s past rather than its future.
Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune stressed that point in a statement: “Duke and Dominion did not decide to cancel the Atlantic Coast Pipeline – the people and frontline organizations that led this fight for years forced them into walking away.”
The project’s real obstacle – and the real beneficiary of its collapse – is Mother Nature. On an immediate level, the project threatened to damage pristine forests and waterways and disturb habitats. In the longer term, it would commit utilities to supporting fracking and burning natural gas for decades, even as climate change is accelerating.
Natural gas does burn cleaner than coal – as the utilities emphasize – but leaks during the extracting, storing and transporting of natural gas release large amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is a major contributor to global warming.
Despite their gauzy ads about clean natural gas and their commitment to renewable energy, the utilities’ plan for the pipeline was a plan for a fossil fuels future. It’s urgent that they now pivot toward investment in renewable energy.
Generating electricity from wind, solar and other renewable sources is not only good for the planet, it’s good for ratepayers and utilities. Renewable energy is on a path to be cheaper than energy from fossil fuels and it offers a stronger foundation for utilities’ business model in the 21st century.
The six-year effort to build the Atlantic Coast Pipeline won’t be all folly if it forces Dominion and Duke to embrace a future in which generating electricity and protecting the planet are one and the same.
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