"The spirit of stimulus"
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The North Adams Transcript
Thursday, February 5, 2009
Politicians in favor of passing a huge stimulus bill don't understand the marvelous powers of private capital. From Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill, they salivate over expansions of government revenue and spending schemes that are ultimately corrosive of human well-being.
Higher gas taxes, bigger "bailouts," salvation by casinos and other government money-grabs, aimed at transferring private wealth to public collectors all suffer from the same fatal flaw: They undermine the free movement and formation of capital, on which all economic growth depends.
The political appetites on display in Washington and Boston are not truly about economic growth but about government growth. A "stimulus" plan stuffed with pork and propelled by new spending will mostly stimulate the growth of government agencies, bureaucracies and dependencies, while it diminishes the opportunities of the ultimate source of economic growth -- human capital.
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas addressed the Manhattan Institute last year and said this: "The self-indulgent 'me' generation has had a profound effect on much around us. Rarely do we hear a message of sacrifice -- unless it's a justification for more taxation and transfers of wealth to others.
"Nor do we hear from leaders or politicians the message that there is something larger and more important than the government providing for all of our needs and wants ... as I have traveled across the country, I have been astounded just how many of our fellow citizens feel strongly about their constitutional rights but have no idea what they are."
Chief among those rights is the right to property. Stimulus-hungry Democrats can quickly twist the growth and stewardship of an individual's private property into a manifestation of greed, but the opposite is true. The cultivation of private property and its protection from government confiscation is the heart of human liberty and is the well-spring of resources that meet human need.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, pushing the Democrat's version of economic stimulus, embraced the bill's inclusion of federally-funded contraception because it would "reduce costs to the states and to the federal government" that would be engendered by new human lives.
The ultimate irony is apparently lost on Pelosi. In the early days, the American people were ravaged by a multiplicity of misfortunes no longer known, but despite rampaging shortages, dangers, diseases and uncertainties, the ideal of the day was to have lots of children. Today's newborn baby -- by historical standards arriving into unprecedented wealth and care -- is now identified by Pelosi as a liability instead of a new source of growth and possibility.
If only today's Congress were led by the late economist Julian Simon, who taught that people are not resource drainers but are instead the "ultimate resource." They invent new technologies, new economic breakthroughs and new sources of revenue, energy and productivity. Rich Karlgaard, publisher of Forbes magazine, makes Simon's point again when he says, "the most valuable natural resource in the 21st century is brains."
This is the critical insight separating those who want to tax and redistribute capital (and call it "stimulus") from those who want to produce it.
Forget for a moment about asking a politician whether he is a liberal of a conservative. Instead, ask him if, in an either-or scenario, he favors the current stimulus bill or an immediate reduction in the capital gains tax. Choosing the latter demonstrates a favorable orientation toward the economic importance of private property and private capital as the drivers of all other measurements of economic health, including the maintenance of appropriately-funded government treasuries and the expansion of charitable endeavors driven by private donations.
In 1819, Chief Justice John Marshall wrote in McCulloch v. Maryland that "the power to tax involves the power to destroy." Destroy what? Productivity. Incentive. Profit. Even life.
Economic stimulus is provided by human capital -- human life -- which freely engenders and directs other capital -- private property -- in the pursuit of productive and profitable aims. Fueled by the inexhaustible human capacity for innovation and creativity, this is the engine of all economic growth and health.
When this engine runs unimpeded, economic miracles occur. The first commercial computer, UNIVAC, built in 1951, weighed 29,000 pounds. It had tape drives that were 6 feet high and 3 feet wide. Today, a computer I can wear on my belt clip is more powerful than a city filled with UNIVACs. Researchers are on the verge of producing computers with 32 nanometer transistors, only six times the width of a DNA strand -- infinitesimally small but able to do very big things, like reshape the economic world as we know it.
Reshaping the economic world as we know it through the creative and innovative power of human capital: That's the spirit of stimulus.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript.
"Governor Patrick channels the Bee Gees"
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The North Adams Transcript, Thursday, February 19, 2009
Forty years ago, the Bee Gees prophetically harmonized about how "the lights all went down in Massachusetts." As if to forestall the frame of mind engendered by mental images of fast-fading luminescence, people began to sing "All Hail to Massachusetts" as the commonwealth's state song, and it was officially codified as such by the Legislature in 1981.
Appropriately, it's full of strong, bright Reaganesque lyrics speaking of "the flag we love to wave" in "a land of opportunity" where "people come to stay."
If only. Unfortunately, the Bee Gees' bottom line more accurately summarizes Massachusetts' story: the negative demographic phenomenon the U.S. Bureau of Census calls "net domestic migration."
Picture 550,000 people turning out the lights and walking into the sunset, and you've got a handle on the recent Massachusetts experience -- a vast disappearance in the past 20 years of families, companies, entrepreneurs, young people, inventions, jobs and revenue, lured by the competitive attractions of other states.
Among the 50 states, Massachusetts has earned the 49th worst ranking, being surpassed only by New York. New York, by the way, is where politicians in the world's greatest city celebrate the idea of taxing plastic garbage bags as a bold new civic accomplishment. All hail taxes on plastic bags! And see ya later!
Some politicians hear about craziness like that and resolve not to repeat it. (They tend to be concentrated in states with growing populations.) Other politicians are tempted to one-up their tax-happy colleagues next door. This provides an explanation for Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick's recently-announced brainstorm to raise the gasoline tax by 27 cents per gallon, making Massachusetts the most expensive state in the country for a fill-up, with 50.5 cents added to the cost of every gallon, outpacing even tax-crazed New York at 41.3 cents per gallon.
Just to make sure everyone gets the point that Gov. Patrick is serious about making Massachusetts No. 1 in this category, the new tax would also be indexed to the Consumer Price Index beginning in 2011 (one year after the next gubernatorial election!), insuring that the gas tax would automatically escalate even further in coming years.
That's just the beginning. When the 2011 automatic-gas-tax-hike increaser kicks in, Massachusetts will only be three years away from chip-implanted vehicle inspection stickers -- giving the state the ability to track and compute the travels of every Massachusetts driver.
The Registry of Motor Vehicles will administer this new VMT program ("vehicle miles traveled"), and automobile inspection charges will increase by $10 to cover "RMV modernization," a euphemism meaning "we know where you drove today, we're keeping track, and we're going to charge you."
Apparently, you shouldn't mind. The projected impact on your wallet is "less than the cost of two small Dunkin' Donuts coffees per week," said Massachusetts Transportation Secretary James Aloisi. He also referred to the price of his recently-purchased turkey sandwich as a benchmark for what taxpayers shouldn't mind coughing up.
In other words, eat, drink and merrily pay double in taxes for the privilege of living here. The governor is even considering new tolls at the state border to charge drivers who want to enter "the grand old Bay State." All hail to Massachusetts!
"I am not going to ask people to pay more money for the status quo," Gov. Patrick said while defending his proposals that would increase the cost and decrease the freedom of living in the commonwealth. According to him, this is "all about how much reform we're prepared to pay for."
The corrosive economic effect of this approach is incalculable. Seeking capital expansion through endless manipulations of tolls, tax hikes, driver tracking and border-entry penalties completely ignores the importance of attracting human capital. Human capital -- the most powerful, indispensable generator of real revenue growth -- is the resource Massachusetts continues to chase away.
Proving they can't catch a clue, Massachusetts Democrats, addicted to spending, are also angling for ever-bigger revenue caches, casting for their share of federal "stimulus" funds while simultaneously preparing to land the gambling industry. "How much reform we're prepared to pay for" sounds more and more like a refrain of the socialistic mega-phenomenon under way in Washington -- a systematic drowning of free enterprise and its essential energies in the tax-and-spend tsunami of "stimulus."
Economist Arthur Laffer, analyzing the net effect of our national bailout and high-tax binge, warned that "the age of prosperity is over." All hail sanity! If Massachusetts has any left, it will quickly start driving in the opposite direction of its governor's proposals.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript.
"The road to serfdom, revisited"
By Matt Kinnaman, The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, Thursday, February 26, 2009
Friedrich August von Hayek, leader of the "Austrian School" of economics, was a pioneer in explaining how free human action and choice create economic growth.
Hayek taught that: "If we wish to preserve a free society, it is essential that we recognize that the desirability of a particular object is not sufficient justification for the use of coercion." When considering the various coercion techniques available to government, taxation is the first and primary method, and the most comprehensively employed as a means to additional coercive government objectives.
In one of the ever-multiplying ironies of history, Hayek was a professor at the University of Chicago and profoundly influenced the "Chicago School" of economics, famous for its libertarian, free market focus, an influence which, by all evidence, has had no discernible effect on Barack Obama, despite his politically formative years spent in that city.
As if to refute everything taught by the pioneers of free market thinking, on the 21st day of his presidency, in his first presidential news conference, Barack Obama said: "The federal government is the only entity left with the resources to jolt our economy back into life." With this pronouncement, the new president was instantly at odds with the very nature of free enterprise and all of its associated miracles.
The only resource the federal government actually has is the resources provided to it by free people engaged in free enterprise. Centralized "stimulus" planning is the opposite of this dynamism.
The classic liberal economist Henry Hazlitt wrote that "the art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act of policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups. Nine tenths of the economic fallacies that are working such dreadful harm in the world today are the result of ignoring this lesson."
Obama is ignoring it
Popular economist Steven Landsburg, who earned his Ph.D.. from the University of Chicago and teaches economics at the University of Rochester, authored "The Armchair Economist," a treatise designed to make it all make sense in everyday life. Here's Landsburg's bottom line: "Most of economics can be summarized in four words: 'People respond to incentives.' The rest is commentary."
The immediate commentary on Obama's economic program is that it diminishes incentives and promotes coercion. In that first news conference on Feb. 9, he referred to a "profound economic emergency," a condition which, by unprecedented spending and plans to increase taxes on capital, he is intent on worsening.
Grover Norquist, founder of Americans for Tax Reform and a promoter of incentives, published his own commentary this week outlining the extent of Obama's anti-incentive economic initiatives, which continue the headlong rush over the spending cliff that began under President Bush last fall.
Norquist writes: "Since 2007, the federal government has managed to increase spending by 50 percent." This puts total spending at 30 percent of Gross Domestic Product, a level 33 percent higher than the average since 1945.
Chief among Obama's economic fallacies is that, by printing money and raising taxes, the federal government can manufacture prosperity. Nothing is further from the truth. The only road to prosperity is through incentivizing profit. People power profits, and people are powered by incentives. The same is true of corporations, because ultimately, corporations are people.
People and corporations are likewise commonly and negatively affected by punitive economic policies based on coercion and penalties. Commenting on this, Hazlitt pointed out that, "when a corporation loses a hundred cents of every dollar it loses, and is permitted to keep only 52 cents of every dollar it gains," it avoids the risks required for robust profit. The economy suffers, and human life suffers.
"The result in the long run," said Hazlitt, "is that consumers are prevented from getting better and cheaper products to the extent that they otherwise would."
Add it all up, and Obama's economic program equals a planned violation of the energies of economic growth. Taxes up, incentives down, productivity discouraged, and profits damped.
Norquist's voice in the wilderness cries out: Progressing steadily down the Obama policy pipeline, scheduled to kick in only 22 months from now, are multiple coercions, penalties and disincentives that destroy economic performance. Profits on small-business taxes will rise by 12 percent. Capital gains taxes will rise by 33 percent. Taxes on dividends will rise 164 percent. And Americans who die after building an estate for their families of $1 million or more will see the federal government demand 55 percent of it back.
This may be change. It is also the antithesis of economic wisdom.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript.
"Coach Calhoun upends Obamanomics"
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The North Adams Transcript, March 5, 2009
On Feb. 21, three days before President Obama's address to a joint session of Congress, a much briefer and more effective presentation on economics was conducted by Jim Calhoun, head coach of the University of Connecticut men's basketball team.
Connecticut, a perennial national basketball powerhouse, had just finished off Southern Florida, 64-50, to improve its record to 25-2. Calhoun was confronted at the post-game press conference by a questioner who inferred that, since the coach is a Connecticut state employee, he should return some of his $1.6 million salary to reduce Connecticut's budget troubles: "Considering that you're the highest paid state employee, and there's a two billion dollar budget deficit, do you think --?"
"Not a dime back," Calhoun retorted.
The questioner persisted: "You don't think 1.6 million is enough?" after which Coach Calhoun cranked up the volume and closed the case with a spirited recitation of some simple math -- Connecticut's men's basketball program generates $12 million annually for the university, many times more revenue than it spends on its coach. It's a profitable arrangement. Calhoun makes no apologies.
But the coach actually left some calculations out. He didn't mention the immeasurable value to the university -- and to the state -- created by the year-in and year-out national prominence and exposure generated by a nationally-ranked major collegiate home team.
He didn't mention that, in this era of 24-hour HD sports coverage on multiple television networks, the upside of achieving the nation's top ranking in the nation's most popular college sport is not measurable by basketball-generated dollars alone. What about its positive effects on competitive student recruitment? What about its influence on alumni donations? What about the charitable endeavors it engenders?
Jim Calhoun has coached Connecticut to nine times as many NCAA post-season victories as all 16 previous UConn men's basketball coaches combined. His teams have won two national championships. This season, Calhoun's Huskies are poised for their 16th NCAA Tournament bid in 20 years. Under Calhoun, Connecticut has won 16 Big East Conference titles in 22 seasons. Calhoun's team is currently ranked No. 1 in the nation. It played on national television six times in February alone.
The premise feebly floated by Calhoun's press conference antagonist -- that the failure of Connecticut's state Legislature and governor to deliver the state's tax-paying citizens a balanced budget requires of the state's most successful employee the coerced surrender of his lawfully-earned property -- would be laughable if it didn't also seriously represent what passes for acceptable reasoning in the current political climate.
Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell inexplicably weighed in: "I think if Coach Calhoun had the opportunity right now, he would welcome a do-over and not have that embarrassing display from last week."
Two Connecticut state legislators, Sen. Mary Ann Handley and Rep. Roberta Willis, went further, urging the university to take "appropriate disciplinary action" against Calhoun, whose energetic defense of his salary they found objectionable.
Unlike electoral politics, big-time, big-money athletics holds its top coaches brutally accountable for success. You are only as good as your most recent measurable performance, and top-tier coaches who don't deliver winning seasons are summarily fired.
What is truly remarkable about this entire episode is -- nearly two weeks and a thousand news stories later -- that anyone considered the accusatory news conference question worthy of serious attention in the first place. If it was, why aren't Gov. Rell, Sen. Handley, and Rep. Willis offering a portion of their salaries back to the state? After all, the blame for Connecticut's budget shortfall belongs with them and their colleagues, not Jim Calhoun.
Connecticut's lawmakers ought to issue a proclamation in honor of Jim Calhoun, affirming hard work, competitive success and merit pay, instead of pursuing penalties and recriminations against individuals who are guilty of nothing more than quantifiable high performance and its commensurate financial rewards.
Significantly, Calhoun's treatment in Connecticut eerily resembles something bigger -- the Obama economic philosophy of limiting and punishing success. Obama's early assaults on economic incentives include salary caps on individuals, punitive income taxes on those who in the government's estimation make too much money, disincentives for charitable giving and higher costs on the energy production that fuels growth -- alongside a seemingly endless series of unprecedented wealth transfers from private earners to federal budget-busting spending programs.
Here's the important lesson: Coach Calhoun's financial rewards pale in comparison to the value he creates for others. That's the way it's supposed to be. Calhoun was right to stand up in defense of basic economic freedom and common sense.
Jim Calhoun doesn't need to be disciplined. He needs to be appointed Barack Obama's chief economic advisor.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript.
"Fairness is a poor substitute for freedom"
By Matt Kinnaman, The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, 3/19/2009
Awakened by economic alarm bells, the currently popular political response -- to supersede and suspend market forces by government dictate -- is precisely opposed to the natural dynamics that make freedom and enterprise successful.
Should this not set off additional alarms?
It is accepted contemporary wisdom to say that politics and religion don't mix. The problem is, if we don't -- at a very essential level -- inform politics with a metaphysical (essentially religious) belief in unalienable rights endowed to each person by the Creator of those rights, the institutions of the state eventually become sacramental keepers of political doctrines bearing little or no resemblance to the original American idea of those very rights themselves.
Recent political actions and intentions emanating from the White House and, when its assistance is needed, a compliant Congress (and these actions are legion: TARP I, TARP II, Omnibus I, assorted specialized industry bailouts, erosion of the benefits of charitable activity, pay caps, seized bonuses) represent, as parts and in total, a shift away from the very essence of individual liberty.
In every case, these actions comprise a consistent and relentless attack on the most critical element of prosperity: individual economic incentive. And in attacking incentive, these state-directed interventions undermine the natural and necessary antecedent of both incentive and prosperity: private property.
As John Locke, a weighty and wise influence on the American founding, observed, governments lack legitimate authority in the realm of individual conscience. In arguing persuasively for this, Locke also identified the most basic exercise of the unalienable right to private property. What, after all, is more completely and purely private, and possessed by only one person to the exclusion of everyone else, than that person's conscience? Conscience -- comprised in life itself -- is the essential private property. It is inviolate.
The implications of this revolutionary civil-liberties insight resound in Locke's observation that each individual "hath by nature a power" that guarantees each person the right "to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men."
Locke's identification of "life, liberty, and estate" as the essence of freedom blazed the path to the bright horizons opened in 1776 by our own Declaration of Independence, which proclaimed "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness" among the unalienable rights endowed by our Creator.
A Constitution based on these rights, and guaranteeing their protection, soon followed, expanding individual liberty far beyond any previous advancement.
But the continued full enjoyment and preservation of those rights depends on a clear understanding of their constitutional bedrock. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas remarked last year that:
"The self-indulgent ‘me' generation has had a profound effect on much around us. Rarely do we hear a message of sacrifice -- unless it's a justification for more taxation and transfers of wealth to others. Nor do we hear from leaders or politicians the message that there is something larger and more important than the government providing for all of our needs and wants. ... As I have traveled across the country, I have been astounded at just how many of our fellow citizens feel strongly about their constitutional rights but have no idea what they are "
By indicting the "justification for more taxation and transfers of wealth to others" Thomas rightly raises a red flag at the primary activity of the Obama administration -- massive transfers of private property to government allocators via new spending and taxation directives. It's a program ultimately incompatible with the full protection of the rights of life, liberty and property.
In the Wall Street Journal last week, Daniel Henninger identified retribution as Obama's motivation for "fairness," saying Obama's presidential priority is made clear in "A New Era of Responsibility: Renewing America's Promise. The President's Budget and Fiscal Preview." The document states, "There's nothing wrong with making money, but there is something wrong when we allow the playing field to be tilted so far in the favor of so few. ... It's a legacy of irresponsibility, and it is our duty to change it."
This proclamation, that it is the government's "duty" to "change" the amount of money some people make so that centrally-planned bureaucratic fiats can be fulfilled, is antithetical to the free exercise of Lockean and Jeffersonian and American property rights and is an affront to freedom itself.
Libertarian economics analyst Llewellyn Rockwell speaks of "the political violence that characterizes all central planning, whether in Germany, the Soviet Union or the United States."
In other words, when it becomes government's "duty" to "change" the allocation of property among its citizens, this is a form of coercion at war with the premises for which freedom was first won and has always been defended.
But most nefariously, it puts us at war with ourselves.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript.
Getting it right
"Other people's money: It's fun while it lasts"
By Matt Kinnaman, The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, 4/2/2009
Alex Rodriguez, the highest paid employee in professional baseball, will not play in the first game at the new Yankee Stadium when it opens on April 16. He will be recovering from hip surgery. As he sits on the sidelines, he will collect a salary of nearly $90,000 a day.
Under his current contract, which pays him $32 million a year, this compensation continues every day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, whether he plays or not. And he makes this much money from the New York Yankees alone, excluding independent endorsement deals.
Construction of the new Yankee Stadium cost approximately $1.5 billion. To complete the project, the Yankees received nearly $1 billion in funding from tax-exempt bonds, often referred to as "public funds."
The idea behind this financing vehicle is that in the long run, it pays off for everyone involved. As New York's Mayor Bloomberg said, "The deal leverages a federal program and will result in New York City getting back more tax revenue than it will cost and the South Bronx getting thousands of new jobs and more than $1 billion in private investment."
Whether it pays off or not, it does raise the question of whether Congress, to be consistent with its decision to apply a 90-percent retroactive tax on the bonuses of executives from firms receiving bailout money, must also go after other individuals whose compensation -- in the judgment of Congress -- is too high. If the government can seize bonuses, limit pay and force the firing of executives at companies receiving one form of federal aid, why not apply the principle everywhere, to every form of federal assistance or involvement?
If it's legitimate for the federal government, at the whims of the legislative or executive branches, to monitor, mandate and manipulate the pay of people working for businesses that benefit from federal funding measures, will Congress or the Obama administration next take aim at A-Rod? Or at the entire Yankee roster? Or you?
During the recent off-season, the New York Yankees executed salary contracts with total commitments of more than $420 million for just three players (C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira). Prior to these moves, the Yankees total payroll -- the highest in baseball -- was already at least 50 percent higher than those of its next closest competitors, the Tigers, Mets and Red Sox. The average annual salary on the Yankees roster in 2008 was nearly $7 million. In today's climate, does Congress consider this reasonable -- or fair or not excessive?
Commentator Byron York's DC Examiner inquiry into the current pay-pouncing initiatives of Congress uncovers the pitfalls of their policy overreach, specifically in the Grayson-Himes Pay for Performance Act of 2009, a piece of legislation written "to prohibit unreasonable and excessive compensation and compensation not based on performance standards" at companies receiving bailout money. Already approved by the House Financial Services Committee, passage of the bill in the House is expected as early as this week.
As York explains, "the legislation gives Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner extraordinary power to determine the pay of thousands of employees of American companies," including "the authority to decide what pay is ‘unreasonable' or ‘excessive.' And it directs the Treasury Department to come up with a method to evaluate ‘the performance of the individual executive or employee to whom the payment relates.'"
In 1802, Thomas Jefferson wrote, "If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy." Jefferson, who established "the pursuit of happiness" in the Declaration of Independence as inalterably tied to the unalienable right to private property, knew what he was talking about.
The same quality is not evident among those members of Congress convinced it is their constitutional duty to determine how much money Americans are allowed to make, while it empowers the Treasury -- an agency of the executive branch -- to issue job evaluations of privately employed citizens.
Meanwhile, Congress closed out 2008 by paying out bonuses to its own staffers that were "among the highest in years," according to a Wall Street Journal analysis released on April 1. According to the report, Barney Frank, the chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, which oversaw the approval of the Grayson-Himes bill, paid out bonuses to "dozens of aides."
Consider the irony: Those congressional bonuses were 100 percent paid by taxpayers, to reward government employees whose success was measured by how well they could machinate the confiscation of those same taxpayers' property.
But as Margaret Thatcher understood, "The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money."
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript. Feedback is welcome.
"Is marriage a civil right?"
The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, By Matt Kinnaman, 4/9/2009
On April 7, when its legislature overrode Gov. Jim Douglas's veto, Vermont became the first state in America to legislatively legalize same-sex marriage. It also became the fourth state (so far) to amend the definition of marriage, joining Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa -- states where the change was mandated by the courts.
In Massachusetts, the first state to legalize same-sex marriage, the argument in favor was focused on civil rights, with the state's Supreme Judicial Court famously declaring that the traditional definition of marriage creates second-class citizens out of those who don't fit its parameters.
"First-class v. second-class" reasoning continues to define the debate. But it also raises critical questions about the nature of law itself, which are not being answered. This much is clear: Under the law and as a matter of legal principle, we routinely define the parameters of institutions in manners that deny membership to others, with the understanding that we are not infringing their civil rights.
For instance, the Vermont Legislature is an institution, and membership in it is not a civil right. Membership in the Legislature is only available to those who satisfy particular criteria. It's not open to everyone who has opinions on legislative matters and would like a chance to vote on pending bills. By definition, the Vermont Legislature is a closed, exclusionary institution. Is the exclusion of those who would love to be senators or representatives from membership in the Vermont House or Senate a violation of their civil rights?
If the answer is yes, then it makes sense to remove all barriers to exclusion, including elections, allowing anyone who wants to be a member of the Legislature to join. But, if the answer is no, then our definition of "civil rights" must be independent of our right to membership in institutions.
But what about the comparison of achieving "marriage equality" with the American fight to end slavery or other forms of oppression? Are the Vermont legislators and the Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa judges today's historical compatriots of those who stood against slavery and totalitarianism?
If so, we are considering not only a redefinition of marriage but also a redefinition of civil rights. These rights, as defined in the American founding, are unalienable. They can neither be given by government nor rightfully taken away.
Free speech, the free exercise of religion, a free press, the right to peaceably assemble, the right to vote, to be free from unlawful intrusions of government on their persons or property and the right to fair and equal treatment under the law in all other matters mentioned in the Constitution and its amendments -- these are the rights which define the constitutional framework of civil liberties.
Whether intentionally or not, the redefinition of marriage to accommodate arrangements other than one man and one woman confuses civil rights with something very different -- the redesigning of history's preeminent and most enduring cultural and legal institution in a manner that creates an unending confusion over the ability of assign meaningful legal parameters to institutions and interpersonal contracts at all.
In a philosophical foreshadowing of this progression, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the words commonly referred to as the "mystery passage" in the 1992 majority opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey: "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life."
Those who agree with Justice Kennedy that liberty is largely, and finally, self-measured, and those who embrace the expansion of marriage's definition as a civil right must contend with additional questions. Is graduation from school a civil right? Is a government job? How about being a son, or a daughter, an uncle, or an aunt? What about the right to a graduate degree? Or employment, housing and a specific salary? Is obtaining a driver's license a civil right? Membership in the National Organization of Women? The NBA? The priesthood?
Just as it is with these institutions and definitions, so it is with marriage -- each one is defined with exclusions in place, and once it becomes anything we want it to be, it actually becomes nothing at all. Marriage is not a measurement of first- or second-class citizenship. First-class citizenship is an inviolate constitutional guarantee. The full protection of property and persons under the law for all is required and right. But this does not logically require nor recommend a redefinition of marriage.
In the end, marriage either has an enduring, unchanging definition, or ultimately, it has no definition at all.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript.
"The first 100 days: Sullenberger says it all"
By Matt Kinnaman, The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, 4/23/2009
Reflecting on a week in which the president of the United States has pursued penance in the presence of dictators, while hinting he may endorse prosecution of those whose legal actions helped protect Americans from a repetition of 9/11, it's timely to reflect on actions far more heartening and inspiring -- actions approaching a 100-day milestone of their own.
On Jan. 15, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 took off from LaGuardia Airport, piloted by Capt. Chesley Sullenberger III. Moments later, airborne over New York City with a plane full of passengers and both engines knocked dead by a mid-air bird strike, Sullenberger saved 155 lives by doing what was considered a near-impossibility in commercial aviation: successfully crash-landing in the water.
The radio communications between New York Tracon air traffic control and Capt. Sullenberger are sparse, yet speak volumes, including their continual mix-up of the flight number.
Sullenberger: This is Cactus 1539. Hit birds. We lost thrust in both engines. We're turning back towards LaGuardia.
(29 seconds later)
Tracon: Cactus 1529, if we can get it to you, do you want to try to land runway one three?
Sullenberger: We're unable. We may end up in the Hudson.
(18 more seconds pass.)
Tracon: Alright Cactus 1549, it's going to be left traffic to runway three one.
Tracon: Okay, what do you need to land?
... Air traffic control suggests runway four.
The ethereally calm Sullenberger, as if reading a bedtime story to his child, says, "I'm not sure we can make any runway. What's over to our right? Anything in New Jersey, maybe Teterboro?"
In less than half-a-minute, Tracon has Flight 1549 cleared to land on runway one at Teterboro.
Tracon: Cactus 1529, turn right two eight zero, you can land runway one at Teterboro.
Sullenberger: We can't do it.
Tracon: OK, which runway would you like at Teterboro?
Sullenberger: We're gonna be in the Hudson.
There were no more transmissions from the cockpit of Flight 1549. Unknown for several more minutes to air traffic control, Sullenberger had landed his passenger-chocked plane on the 36-degree Fahrenheit surface of the Hudson River, upright, intact and escapable. He then walked the airplane aisle twice, searching for anyone left behind, before escaping with his own life.
Amazingly, in the vise-grip of an almost unthinkable crisis, Capt. Sullenberger never once asked air traffic control what to do. His only question in the entire episode was whether the Teterboro Airport was on his right. Supplied with the required information, he took independent action. Deciding he couldn't make Teterboro, he ditched in the Hudson. It was American individualism at its best.
Spring epitomizes hope, a characteristic highlighted by the beginning of the baseball season, when, according to an exceptionally American thread of thought, all things seem possible. Amplifying this sentiment, Capt. Sullenberger was back in the spotlight to throw out the first pitch of the season for the San Francisco Giants home opener on April 7.
Standing on the field of the Giants' AT&T Park, inundated by cheers, he himself appeared as the giant. The number on his jersey was 155. Three thousand miles from the scene of his hero's landing, Sullenberger's heroism symbolically spanned the nation, from coast to coast.
As formidable as the man Sullenberger is, the fans at AT&T Park were cheering more than a man. They were also cheering the spirit that makes great actions possible. As Americans, we know it when we see it. Sullenberger epitomizes it. When it shows up, it shines remarkably, untainted by politics. It is simply and straightforwardly recognized for what it is: greatness.
The spirit of Sullenberger is kindred with the spirit that conceived our Constitution, enabled the preservation of the Union, built the most powerful and generous economy in history, sparked the innovations that have extended and enriched every measurement of human well-being beyond the wildest imaginations of our ancestors and carried us to victories against fascism, Nazism, communism -- and now, we must determine, terrorism.
It's a spirit that makes San Francisco, New York and everyone in between cheer wildly for the same person and the same actions. It's the spirit that Hugo Chavez, Daniel Ortega and the Castro brothers seek to bind and repress, and thus all the more, it's the spirit that every American president ought to stand up and proclaim at every opportunity.
Doing the opposite on the international stage -- accepting the disparagement of America as President Obama did in the company of these tyrants -- silences this spirit, and with it, the essential greatness of America.
Next time, let's send Sullenberger.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript. Feedback is welcome.
"Reducing Sully to G.I. Joe"
By Benno Friedman, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, Friday, May 8, 2009
In a recent CBS/The New York Times poll, Americans (68 percent) approved of the president's first 100 days in office. Yet conservative talk radio hosts and the defiantly unapologetic remains of the Republican Party have been unwilling to give Obama the break he has earned and that the office of president deserves. Matt Kinnaman's recent op-ed ("Flight 1549: 100 days later") is a case in point.
Distilling the piece to its essentials, Kinnaman regards our current president as a softy, an appeaser and an apologist when it comes to both confronting dictators and to dealing with terrorism. If only he were made in the mold of Captain Chesley Sullenberger.
No one has basis for questioning either Sullenberger's heroism or his skill. He is truly a brave and accomplished pilot.
However in the American tradition of reducing complex individuals, events and concepts into easily understood, one dimensional folk icons and images (Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, waving fields of wheat etc.), Mr. Kinnaman has transformed an extraordinary story of skill, luck and bravery into an advertisement for a few, good men.
Kinnaman's fable has no room for the less visible factors that were intrinsic to the outcome of this potential calamity, not the least of which is the immeasurable contribution of good fortune, rigorous training and the adherence to ever-evolving regulatory requirements around safety. Additionally, the lack of strong winds and the corresponding waves on the river, the location of the flame-out, over water and in proximity to rescue craft (and media coverage), the design of the airplane allowing it to float for some time, the required regular proficiency training all pilots must take in emergency procedures etc., all played important parts in providing a dramatic and successful conclusion to this highly visible drama.
In spite of Captain Sullenberger's modest protestations that he was simply doing his job, Mr. Kinnaman has reduced him to a convenient sketch, a Superman who "...never once asked air traffic control what to do...he took independent action...It was American individualism at its best."
Kinnaman has replaced a human being with an action toy, a take charge, G.I. Joe, an "I'm the decider..." kind of guy; unnuanced and unencumbered by systems, procedures or complexities. I suspect Matt's ideal hero is solely guided by his (could it be her?) convictions and instincts; when he strides into town, the actual or presumed bad guys take cover along with the rest of the population who fear the associated risks of bullets gone astray. As for the checks and balances of juries, debate, Congress, or The Constitution, they are too measured and indecisive for the made-for-action hero.
Characterizing Obama's recent measured approach at the Summit of the Americas as silencing the spirit and "... the essential greatness of America." Kinnaman suggests that, "Next time, let's send Sullenberger."
I have no idea how Sullenberger might have acted had we sent him as our emissary. I do know that the traditional values associated with heroism: bravery, integrity, honesty, responsibility under demanding if not hazardous conditions are in evidence with each passing day of the current presidency.
The relentless vitriol being directed towards President Obama is shameful and destructive. Kinnaman speaks rapturously of the American spirit, shining "...remarkably, untainted by politics."
Yet what comes from his pen is nothing but politics, divisive and odious, especially in a time of crisis. I imagine Matt on flight 1549, scared and unprepared to die, loudly giving voice to doubt, fear and blame as Captain Sullenberger struggles to bring his craft and passengers down safely.
Benno Friedman is an occasional Eagle contributor.
May 9, 2009
Re: Against the predictable persecution of Matt Kinnaman
I do NOT believe Matt Kinnaman is the political problem for Berkshire County, Massachusetts. He has stood up against the "Good Old Boy" Network that has a narrow and unfair INSIDERS' ONLY sign -- mostly Catholic political hacks and a few token "others" -- on the unwritten walls of City Hall & Beacon Hill. Berkshire County only elects MEN to high political office: see Mayors Ruberto & Barrett, Senators "Luciforo" (who strong-armed two WOMEN candidates out of a 2006 state government election to anoint himself to the $85k per year sinecure) & Downing, see Dan "Bureaucrat" Bosley, Denis "Golddigger" Guyer, William PIGnatelli, & Chris Speranzo...ALL MEN POLITICIANS! Matt Kinnaman has democratically run (& lost) for US Congress and then State Senator with a platform open for the people's review and vote. He is a man with convictions who has the integrity to stand up against the groupthink that has made the Berkshires the #1 place for job loss, high welfare caseloads, teen pregnancy #'s that double the statewide average, political corruption and unfair exclusivity. Most importantly, I have reached out my hand of friendship to Matt Kinnaman and he accepted me with true his Christian spirit of kindness. While I am a Democrat, Matt Kinnaman of Lee, Massachusetts -- like Joe Levasseur of Manchester, New Hampshire -- both Republicans with different views than myself on politics -- I am proud of who Matt Kinnaman is and what he stands for: Democracy, Liberty, Freedom, Justice, Jobs, Families & Children, and Good Governance that serves the people instead of just the special interests.
- Jonathan Melle
Getting it Right
"Merrily we roll along"
By Matt Kinnaman
The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, 6/27/2009
So, what if Obama is really, really wrong about the big stuff like energy, education, the economy, the environment, taxes, spending and health care? We are currently blazing a political path into parts unknown, and millions are lined up wearing smiley faces for the long march.
What am I talking about? OK, one at a time now.
Energy: Obama wants Americans to use less of it, and he wants to tax it to the tune of more than a thousand dollars per family per year. This is a recipe for human disaster on a massive scale. The dividing line between the depths of the dark ages and the bright heights of human progress is drawn by access to affordable and abundant supplies of energy.
It still costs more to generate energy from wind and solar than it's worth. Ronald Reagan reputedly summed up Washington, D.C.'s, guiding economic principle: "If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it." This also sums up Obama's energy policy.
Wind and solar enthusiasts urge us to embrace these "alternative" energy sources. Alternative to what? Profits? Well, yes, but also alternative to meeting the economic needs of the world's poorest people. The only energy supplies that are currently both affordable and abundant are the carbon-based big three -- oil, coal and natural gas. Nuclear provides the real alternative answer. Obama is against all four.
Education: Why does President Obama refuse to support the Washington, D.C., school choice program that minorities are lined up to get into, while his own children attend the expensive Sidwell Friends School? The $28,442 lower school tuition at Sidwell Friends is more than the annual income of some families crying for the continuation of D.C.'s school choice program, which Congressional Democrats are intent on killing, while Obama is silent. Can this be right?
The economy: After capping executive pay, bullying General Motors to accept government terms coddling the union demands that bankrupted the company in the first place, bailing out ne'er-do-wells across the land, castigating the entrepreneurs and capitalists who power economic growth as greed-mongers and calling communist Hugo Chavez "mi amigo," it is clear that in his heart Obama is anti-market. Historically, politically and culturally, anti-market forces are prone to tyranny, repression and all forms of human suffering.
That Obama is a family man and appears to be a nice guy is small comfort. Markets make the world go ‘round. Stop them, hinder them, impede them, punish them, and you also stop, hinder, impede and punish human progress, hope, wealth-generation and peace.
The environment: Just imagine if the human-caused-global-warming theory isn't true. Then what? Not only will an entire generation of American school children graduate with brains crammed with entirely useless propaganda and no real science, but we will have subjected our nation to a U.N. energy-rationing scheme which points us toward poverty and away from progress.
The real issue is not the environment. If it were, an honest Obama would celebrate the increasing population of polar bears and the expanding U.S. forests instead of scaring up disaster stories as covers of Al Gore's greatest hits. The real issue is a nexus of the first three -- limiting energy supplies, limiting choice and limiting economic incentives, all in the name of protecting the environment. Of course, it doesn't come out very well if protecting the environment means lessening the opportunities of people seeking better economic and educational lives. This is not a small concern.
Taxes and spending: On this one, it's hard to know where to start. Michael Jackson died a half-billion dollars in debt. This was after three-quarters of a billion albums sold, so when all was said and done, Michael Jackson was in the hole almost 67 cents per album. Out-of-hand spending overcame the King of Pop, but it apparently has no negative effect on the mind of Obama, whose unprecedented spending spree has already tripled the total deficits of the Bush years.
Printing money to keep up with the dearth of real revenues to cover his binges, the president seems to have faith that this will be the first time in history that overheated printed presses won't drive up inflation and interest rates. If you voted for hope and change, you really need it now. Obama's tax-and-spend program necessitates a hope that the basic laws of economics will change, just for him. I wouldn't bet on it.
Finally, health care: We're kidding about a "government solution" to the "health care crisis," right? The approach that got us something like $50 trillion in unfunded entitlements via Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is now going to suddenly save money and expand choice and efficiency across nearly a fifth of the economy?
The initial price tag for Obama's brand of "health care reform" comes in somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 trillion. As it spirals up, there will be no way to pay for it. There's no way to pay for it now. With bureaucratic health care cost controls in place, the government next needs to become concerned with how many pepperonis are on your Friday night pizza. And your Tuesday night pizza, if the health czar let's you have that one.
Doesn't this sound fun? Here's your smiley face. Keep on marching.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript. Feedback is welcome.
"A basic philosophy of American freedom"
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, July 4, 2009
The Republican Party's prospects for achieving resurgent leadership of American political life depends not on a big tent or a kinder gentler tone, but on a proclamation that freedom is found not in bailouts and mandates, but in life, liberty, and property, and the opportunity to freely protect, increase, improve, and share it, according to the natural incentives that people everywhere respond to with great enthusiasm and ingenuity.
The natural dynamism of a capitalist economy driven by the prospects of individual risk and reward affords the greatest number of people with the greatest possible prosperity. The degree to which government rules, regulations, and financial impositions restrict this dynamism dictates the degree to which the natural benefits of human freedom are eroded.
When the president and the Congress propose increased tax rates on individuals who in the estimation of the government make too much money, they impose penalties on every essential economic performance and on the free movement of capital, and everyone who participates in the economy-both the poor and the well off-ultimately suffers.
When the president and the Congress propose carbon cap-and-trade programs that create a government-controlled market setting artificial charges on carbon dioxide, and limiting the amount of energy produced by commercial enterprises, they impose penalties on the very currency of human progress, and everyone who uses energy-both the poor and the well off-ultimately suffers the higher costs of a hidden, capricious, regressive, and arbitrary tax.
When the president and the Congress propose the universal, government-controlled delivery of health care benefits, they impose penalties and costs on the private choices of citizens, who must now comply with the requirements of bureaucracies and agencies about how much of certain substances your diet must or must not include, and everyone forced to participate in this new system of health care delivery-both the poor and the well off-ultimately suffers the diminishment of their natural rights.
When the president and the Congress propose the continuance of a tax-financed compulsory education system that precludes the right of parents to choose in which schools their taxes can be expended on behalf of their own children, they impose penalties on families who are predominantly poor members of minority groups seeking avenues out of failing schools, and everyone who lacks the financial wherewithal to choose a private or home education suffers the incalculable costs of lost educational opportunities.
The truth that is being obscured by the president and the Congress is that all state impositions on the free multiplication and movement of capital, the market-driven production and distribution of energy, the free exchange of ideas and solutions in education, and the free exercise of economic choice in health care decisions are a direct imposition on the unalienable rights undergirding the American constitutional framework, and the guarantees of the Bill of Rights.
The Constitution does not guarantee any citizen the right to health care, housing, education, or employment, nor does it need to. Free people will seek these things without government guidance or dictate, and they will organize themselves organically into free arrangements defined by contractual agreements of mutual benefit, and in so doing, will create wealth, innovations, efficiencies, and generosities that subsume and supersede the entirety of all the supposed good intentions of every government program ever conceived and implemented.
Last month, George Will reminded America that Alexander de Tocqueville, the great chronicler of the wonders of American liberty, famously foretold the perils of government provision. On Independence Day, it bears repeating: Of leviathan government and its insidious insistence on controlling productive human behaviors, de Tocqueville wrote that "it provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, regulates the descent of property, and subdivides their inheritances: what remains, but to spare them all the care of thinking and all the trouble of living?"
As government's grasp grows, de Tocqueville warned, "it covers the surface of society with a network of small complicated rules, minute and uniform, through which the original minds and the most energetic characters cannot penetrate, to rise above the crowd." Finally, "it does not tyrannize, but it compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people, till each nation is reduced to be nothing better than a flock of timid and industrious animals, of which the government is the shepherd."
When policy initiatives seek guarantees of government-proscribed material distributions, the amelioration of risk, the limitation of reward, and forced participation in programs designed to satisfy the state's conception of the greater good, de Tocqueville's prophecy is fulfilled.
And each American is one step closer to being a cared-for, corralled "timid, industrious animal," a member of the herd.
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional Eagle contributor.
Getting it Right
"Bill Russell and Lou Gehrig: freedom fighters"
By Matt Kinnaman, The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, July 6, 2009
Liberty springs from a certain simple greatness of spirit, captured in truths that are too easy to forget. Ten years ago, Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford told the story of Celtic great Bill Russell, who, in Deford's words was "the greatest team player of all time ... the hub of a Celtics dynasty that ruled its sport as no other team ever has."
Many others agree, but words are not easily arranged to convey the immensity of Russell's championship caliber and the way it made champions of those around him. Deford himself defers to one of Bill Russell's compatriots and teammates.
"Tommy Heinsohn," says Deford, "who played with Russell for nine years and won 10 NBA titles himself, as player and coach, sums it up best: ‘Look, all I know is, the guy won two NCAA championships, 50-some college games in a row, the  Olympics, then he came to Boston and won 11 championships in 13 yearsS '"
Those numbers remain nearly unfathomable. When new, young Celtic Kevin Garnett sat down to talk with Bill Russell in early 2008 for an ESPN segment, Garnett was in the pressurized quest to reestablish the Celtics as world champs. Garnett sought insights into the fire and motivation and meaning in Bill Russell's heart.
The man who won it all over and over again, who remains today the central figure in Celtics' history, who continues to command standing ovations from the Garden home crowd just by walking to his seat to watch the Celtics play, summed it all up for Garnett: "Well, I want to tell you something. I don't think that you will encounter anyone happier than I am S the first thing that I knew, as a human being, was that my mother and father loved me."
When Lou Gehrig stepped to the microphones in Yankee Stadium 70 years ago, he foreshadowed Bill Russell's sentiment. Gehrig had changed baseball forever. Playing in 2,130 consecutive games between 1925 and 1939, he redefined athleticism, toughness and professionalism while winning six World Series titles with the Yankees and hitting .340 for his career.
Attacked suddenly in 1938 by the killing paralysis of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Gehrig's consecutive game streak and baseball career were swiftly cut short by the cruel disease that in subsequent generations would bear his name.
Faltering on the diamond, he took himself out of the Yankees lineup on May 2, 1939. The Mayo Clinic confirmed his ALS diagnosis on May 19, the day Gehrig turned 36. On July 4, only two months after he benched himself, Lou Gehrig Day was held at Yankee Stadium. Reserved and overcome, Gehrig spoke 276 words to the crowd of 60,000. Like Bill Russell's, those words bear repeating:
"Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break. Today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth. I have been in ballparks for 17 years and have never received anything but kindness and encouragement from you fans.
"Look at these grand men. Which of you wouldn't consider it the highlight of his career just to associate with them for even one day? Sure, I'm lucky. Who wouldn't consider it an honor to have known Jacob Ruppert? Also, the builder of baseball's greatest empire, Ed Barrow? To have spent six years with that wonderful little fellow, Miller Huggins? Then to have spent the next nine years with that outstanding leader, that smart student of psychology, the best manager in baseball today, Joe McCarthy? Sure, I'm lucky.
"When the New York Giants, a team you would give your right arm to beat, and vice versa, sends you a gift -- that's something. When everybody down to the groundskeepers and those boys in white coats remember you with trophies -- that's something. When you have a wonderful mother-in-law who takes sides with you in squabbles with her own daughter -- that's something. When you have a father and a mother who work all their lives so you can have an education and build your body -- it's a blessing. When you have a wife who has been a tower of strength and shown more courage than you dreamed existed -- that's the finest I know. So I close in saying that I might have been given a bad break, but I've got an awful lot to live for. Thank you."
Ultimately, Bill Russell powered his way to championship through the love of his parents. In the end, Lou Gehrig never allowed himself to become a victim.
These champions convey an eternal message at the heart of independence and its continuance. Determination. The love of family. The anchor of home. Faithful use of God-given talent. Appreciation of the greater goodness brought by others. Thankfulness. Undying optimism, even in the face of seemingly unjust and undeserved conditions. These are the themes and currents of American freedom.
And today, despite multiple attacks from within and without, we remain the luckiest people on the face of the earth.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript.
"Getting it Right: Hug a nuke, drill a well, save a tree"
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The North Adams Transcript, 7/12/2009
Why are we abandoning the energy sources that can save humankind? Oilman T. Boone Pickens celebrated his own one-year anniversary of abandoning the oil industry that made him rich by abandoning the wind farm he said would deliver us from oil.
After spending $60 million on advertising to get the American public on board with "The Pickens Plan" last summer, he apparently discovered it didn't work.
That was after he ordered 667 GE windmills at a cost of $2 billion, for a 400,000 acre wind farm in Texas.
Pickens anticipated that costs would increase to somewhere between $10-12 billion, after which the project, presumably, would have a capacity of 4,000 megawatts, enough to light more than a million homes.
That is, if the wind is blowing and there's a grid in place to distribute the electricity, and Congress keeps on redistributing the earnings of American workers to subsidize wind power, which can't compete economically on its own.
Dr. Arthur B. Robinson, president and research professor at the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine, is also publisher of "Access to Energy," a scientific newsletter focused on energy production, the environment, climate change and the economic effects of technology policy.
T. Boone Pickens would have saved a lot of money if he had simply paid $35 for a subscription to "Access to Energy" and then actually read it. He would have been reminded of what he must already know: "Alternative" energy sources don't work well enough to power human activities, either economically or technologically.
Instead of inundating the airwaves with last year's Pickens Plan commercials, T. Boone could have done every citizen a huge favor by purchasing gift subscriptions to "Access to Energy" for everyone. For $10 billion, he could get the newsletter delivered to more than 285 million Americans.
Putting "Access to Energy" in the hands of that many citizens -- 93 percent of the total population -- would have an overwhelming effect on the American electoral landscape in 2010, after which we would be well on our way to energy abundance, economic recovery and political rejuvenation.
How and why? Because readers would be awakened to the political charade underway on Capitol Hill, at the White House and at the G8 Summit, and they would demand that our leaders stop the solar-wind-climate change nonsense and embrace sensible energy and economic policies.
Consider this scientific analysis published by Dr. Robinson regarding the solar energy array at Nevada's Nellis Air Force Base. Installing the solar array required "$100 million worth of energy of various forms to build." As Robinson says, "A large portion of this was in the form of actual electrical energy," which is produced predominantly with carbon-based sources.
You can't even build or deploy "green" energy without depending on fossil fuels. And even then, the costs aren't feasibly recoverable. As Robinson explains, with the current maximum output of the Nellis solar array, it will take 50 years to produce enough energy to recoup the original $100 million worth of capital investment.
"In contrast," writes Robinson, "the Palo Verde (Arizona) nuclear power station S pays back its entire capital investment in six years." Robinson then points out that the predicted lifetime of Palo Verde is 50 years, while the Nellis array is only 30 years. While Palo Verde produces approximately $100 billion in net energy over its 50-year life, the Nellis solar array will never produce any net energy at all, because it is unable to recover its capital costs during its projected 30-year lifespan.
For Americans concerned about open space and environmental stewardship -- and that's nearly all of us -- Robinson delivers the knockout punch: "The solar array at Nellis occupies 140 acres. A similar solar array large enough to duplicate the power output of Palo Verde would cover 125,000 acres, or 200 square miles."
The Pickens Plan would have consumed three times that much land. Palo Verde sits on only six square miles and uses only two.
If I could, I'd pipe Robinson's voice directly into Pickens' ear: "Wind power suffers from the same disadvantage as solar -- very large capital costs for very small amounts of energy. These boutique methods sound fine during televised speeches, but the only methods that actually produce net energy at reasonable cost are hydrocarbon and nuclear."
T. Boone Pickens ignored this message and wasted piles of money, underlining how critical it is for the rest of us to listen up and elect leaders who will promote nuclear and hydrocarbon energy production.
If that happens, it will spark an American economic and political renaissance.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript.
Getting it Right
"Stop enabling Massachusetts Democrats"
By Brian P. Burke and Matt Kinnaman, The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, 7/18/2009
Driving through the Berkshires, or Worcester, or anyplace in between, it's no surprise to come across a bumper sticker with the reminder that "Friends don't let friends vote Republican." Or, even more to the point, one seen in Pittsfield: "The road to hell is paved with Republicans."
In each case, the anti-Republican driver of the plastered car may feel the sentiments are droll or hip, or maybe both, but one thing he evidently doesn't feel is that he's become a political co-dependent and an enabler in a spiral of addiction to unaccountable, self-indulgent, over-spending state government.
With an election year looming just five short months from now, the people of this commonwealth who love their state and are fed up with the expensive excesses of its government have a golden opportunity to do something better than sloganeering against the wrong enemy. In 2010, it's time for some tough love for Massachusetts politicians.
In Worcester, Democratic state Rep. Robert P. Spellane recently ran into trouble via a public verbal altercation with his ex-wife, in front of his son's baseball team, apparently over a mere $20 shoe purchase. This embarrassing run-in provides a dramatization of the public outrages Massachusetts voters have had to endure. If only Spellane and his colleagues on Beacon Hill were as stingy with our tax money.
Just a few days before this incident, Rep. Spellane had sent his constituents a letter apologizing for previous "mistakes in his personal life."
For those familiar with the familial dynamics of addictive persons, this pattern is all too familiar. It's a pattern that's not confined to Spellane's personal life - it extends in an unfortunate arc to the everyday practices on display in the political life of our Massachusetts Democratic legislators.
Holding public office is simply unhealthy for most Massachusetts politicians because unchecked political power acts like a drug. Massachusetts voters, having elected a nearly 9-to-1 Democratic majority on Beacon Hill, must stop delivering the drug directly to the addicts.
The reason that embarrassing scandals, blatant corruption, patronage, indecent assaults, pension abuse, corrupt coziness with lobbyists, stonewalling of the public's will and an insistence on outspending drunken sailors characterize our state government finally must be addressed by the voters themselves.
Look in the mirror, Massachusetts voters. Do you see the telltale signs of an electoral enabler?
Do you ignore scurrilous and unlawful behavior in your public officials because they claim to be sorry and their political party offers token corrective reforms?
Do you excuse your representatives' unacceptable behavior because "everyone on Beacon Hill is doing it?"
Alternatively, do you defend your state representative while proclaiming that it is just all the other politicians on Beacon Hill who need replacing?
Do you rail against the political bosses on Beacon Hill and their far too influential lobbyist friends, but when Election Day rolls around you can't seem to find the time to make it to the polls to vote for the alternative?
Do you hold your nose and re-elect over and over again the same high-tax, big-government, power-protecting state senators and representatives because they promise to bring home the bacon for your community, your business, your union, or your social cause, but refuse to straightforwardly address the overall corruption of our state Legislature?
And finally and most tellingly: Do you elect Democrats out of blind loyalty to their brand, without holding them accountable for their actions?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you may be an enabler of bad government in this commonwealth and the politicians who practice it. Let's wake up. Tough love is required. Without it, the Legislature has proven that it will not change its ways.
Let us be very clear. We are not parodying Al-Anon or the troubled people it serves. Far from it. We applaud the wonderful work this fine organization is doing for addicts and their families. At this low point in our commonwealth's political history, the Al-Anon model for breaking out of the codependency trap is our state's only hope for ending the unaccountable actions of our state government.
But as long as Massachusetts voters keep enabling its politicians, There is only one way to bring recovery. A 9-to-1 super majority is not a recipe for good government. It's a recipe for more of the same, and worse. This time around, spread the word on behalf of those you care for, and on behalf of the state you care about:
Friends, don't let yourselves, or your friends, vote Democrat.
Brian P. Burke is a Worcester attorney and a Republican State Committee member from the Middlesex-Worcester District. Matt Kinnaman's Getting it Right column is published every week in the Transcript. He is a Republican State Committee member for the Berkshire, Hampshire and Franklin District.
Getting it Right
"The road to health care totalitarianism"
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The North Adams Transcript, August 1, 2009
On July 28, 2009, USA Today highlighted an event called "Weight of the Nation," a presentation sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, revealing the findings from a study by government scientists and the non-profit research group RTI International.
The research has heavy implications. "Americans who are 30 or more pounds over a healthy weight cost the country an estimated $147 billion in weight-related medical bills in 2008 -- double the amount a decade ago," says the report. "Obesity now accounts for 9.1 percent of all medical spending, up from 6.5 percent in 1998."
Also this week, The Wall Street Journal released a poll that spells trouble for Obama's health care reform plan. It looks like Americans -- even those who eat too many Twinkies -- don't want it. They'll want it even less when they discover that, under government-run health care, the national health czar and his troops would have a convenient rationale to monitor the food choices of American citizens, under the guise of "cost control." But they may not get the chance.
That's because Obama today finds himself in the same trouble Bill Clinton got into when he tried to engineer a government-run takeover of the entire health insurance system. It's called overreach.
According to the Wall Street Journal poll, only 15 percent of Americans with private health insurance plans -- that's most Americans -- think Obama's plan would improve their coverage. Among all respondents, only two out of 10 believe their health care would improve if Obama's plan is passed.
Congressmen can read these poll results, too, and that's bad news for Obama. But it's good news for liberty. Health care "reform" is not just about cost. It's about freedom. And not just the freedom to choose a plan, a doctor, a treatment or an elective procedure. It's about the most basic definition of the freedom of choice.
Obama's overreaching and overspending has hurt not just his health care plan. It's also hurting the Democratic Party. The confidence of individual Americans in the Democrat's ability to reduce the federal deficit has fallen sharply since 2007, while confidence in the Republican Party's ability to reduce the deficit has remarkably increased. Republicans now lead on this issue. Citizens now trust the Republicans more than Democrats on tax policy -- and by a wide margin -- to control government spending.
In three of these critical categories -- reducing the deficit, dealing with taxes and controlling spending -- Americans favored Democrats in 2007. Now, less than seven months into Obama's presidency, Republicans are in front. The number of Americans who believe Obama will bring "real change" to the country has dropped from 61 percent to 51 percent since the first weeks of his presidency, and an increasing number of voters appear to oppose the "change" he's looking for.
The Obama camp knows it has a problem. The president's uber-adviser David Axelrod spoke 21 words this week that even Republicans can agree with: "People are properly skeptical about any proposals out of Washington that speak to cost because they've been singed by past experience."
Consider a September 2008 National Public Radio report. During the height of the presidential contest, the Obama campaign, when asked what his health care plan would cost, offered an estimate of $60 billion a year. Today, based on the projected $1 trillion over 10 years cost of the plan, the campaign season estimate has already jumped 67 percent. The Obama health care plan itself has become morbidly obese.
For Obama, the problem is fundamental. Americans don't want Washington, D.C., telling them what to do with their health -- and more Americans are recognizing that this is exactly what Obama seeks to do.
Before long, benignly-packaged government intentions lead to furtive skulks down a path of endless laws, prohibitions, rules, complications and costs.
American freedom was conceived in an age when nutrition was worse, work was harder, life was shorter and survival itself was a gift to be cherished. You can bet that the phrase "weight of the nation" never passed their lips, and neither did "government-sponsored health care." The Sons of Liberty were not like that.
When the government pays, the government has the say. Maybe people are better off -- in some ways -- when they're not overweight, but why should a congressman care if his constituent likes Fritos and he likes soy milk? What happens to liberal tolerance for an endless array of lifestyle choices when it comes to junk food? In an era of government-run health care, that tolerance vanishes.
William Dietz directs the CDC's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. "Obesity is not a problem that is going to respond to a silver bullet or a single solution," he said. "Comprehensive policy and environmental changes are needed." That kind of talk sounds more like totalitarianism than tolerance.
And Americans don't like to live that way.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his Getting it Right column every week for the Transcript.
Getting it Right
"Nixon still speaks"
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The North Adams Transcript, 8/8/2009
Tomorrow it will be 35 years since the most remarkable presidential speech in history.
It is remarkable not for its political impact or policy content but because of its piercing illumination of common, dark human conditions, its transcending treatment of universal human hopes and - despite its momentous meaning - its lack of historic status, having been largely lost from our national awareness, hidden beneath the ever-higher mountain of onrushing events.
On August 8, 1974, as his increasingly intense and losing battle against the mounting assault of the Watergate scandal peaked, Richard Nixon appeared before the nation to resign from the presidency.
The crisis had begun two years earlier with what Nixon's press secretary Ron Zeigler quickly dismissed as "a third-rate burglary," a break-in carried out by faceless, nameless political rogues and hack operatives who ransacked an office of the Democratic National Committee at its Washington, D.C., office complex located in the Watergate Hotel.
The scandal would not pass quickly. From 1972 to 1974, Nixon's political water torture proceeded relentlessly. Pit-bull reporting by The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein made Watergate a national news story that intensified daily. High-drama nationally-televised hearings in the Senate caucus room stripped away Nixon's professions of innocence. Carefully-orchestrated counter-attempts by Nixon to free his neck from his tightening political and legal noose failed.
The conclusion was inescapable. When the White House - with Nixon's knowledge - decided early on to cover up the break-in instead of cooperating with its prosecution, a string of crimes multiplied, eventually implicating the president of the United States.
By early August 1974, with impeachment hearings in the House nearing a vote, and with the crumbling of Nixon's last bastions of Republican congressional support, he realized he was finished, that there were no means left by which to contain or deflect his doom.
The work of Nixon's life - and the confidence of the nation that had re-elected him by an historic landslide only 19 months earlier - was destroyed.
Nixon, America's 37th president, addressed the nation from the Oval Office for the 37th time - this time to announce his resignation, effective at noon the following day, August 9th.
On the Friday morning of the 9th, Nixon's staff packed the East Room of the White House, where the president would meet them. Nixon - beaten as no American politician ever had been before, zigzagging now back and forth across the edge of tears as he stood one last time at the presidential podium - spoke from a place of almost incomprehensible defeat.
The sweat on his face and the exhaustion in his soul were clearly visible, even transmitted via his generation's low-def television cameras and screens.
The tension in the East Room that morning was magnified by the sheer singularity of the moment. What does a president say at a time like this? Would he break apart and melt down? Rant and rave? Indulge a third-world-style harangue against his opponents and enemies? Embarrass himself and his family and further embarrass the nation?
He did none of that. Nixon, speaking extemporaneously, chose to cut through the anguish, anger and blame concentrated in the East Room. Although he was already mummified in an historic political death, Nixon reached out to encourage his family, his staff and the nation with a profoundly simple and living hope: that no matter what happens, there is still another day, with other possibilities.
Speaking of Theodore Roosevelt's loss of his wife while still in his 20s, Nixon reflected on Roosevelt's lament that, in the face of his grief, "the light went from my life forever."
Nixon pursued the thought, saying, "We think sometimes when things happen that don't go the right way we think that when someone dear to us dies, we think that when we lose an election, we think that when we suffer a defeat, that all is ended. We think, as T.R. said, that the light had left his life forever. Not true. "It is only a beginning, always. The young must know it, the old must know it, it must always sustain us. Because the greatness comes not when things go always good for you, but the greatness comes when you are really tested, when you take some knocks, some disappointments, when sadness comes."
Nixon closed his remarks and his presidency 35 years ago with a sentence that is timeless for American politics - and for American life: "Always give your best, never get discouraged, never be petty. Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don't win unless you hate them back, and then you destroy yourself." Bob Woodward called it "one of the great spontaneous moments in history." And so it remains.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee writes his column every week for the Transcript.
August 8, 2009
Re: Open letter to Matt Kinnaman - On Richard Nixon
I read your column: www.thetranscript.com/opinion/ci_13018644
and I wanted to share with you my thoughts on President Richard Nixon.
The irony of Nixon's failings is that a great majority of the criticisms against him were borne by the Democratic Administrations of President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. The biggest example is the failed confict in and around Vietnam. Nixon is in the shoes of our current President, Barack Obama, only with the political parties reversed. As Obama inherited Bush's 2 foreign wars and economic recession.
On Watergate, Nixon clearly had the wrong attitude and belief that the President was above the law. However, the persecution of Nixon's breaking the law looks myopic in today's study of the Presidency. Bill Clinton perjured himself about a love affair with his White House intern Monica Lewinsky. George W. Bush started a pre-emptive and illegal war in Iraq that has resulted in over 1 million Iraqi civilian deaths, wire-tapped and illegally spied on millions of Americans, violated the Bill of Rights in judicial proceedings, and his administration outed a CIA Agent for political retaliation to suppress dissenters in the U.S. Government against the War in Iraq. Nixon only said what he believed, while Clinton & Bush hid behind questionable "signing statements", an army of lawyers, and pardons.
I post some of your essays on my Blog page:
Please keep participating in politics, friend.
"International Day of False Peace"
By Matt Kinnaman, The North Adams Transcript (Online), 9/21/2009
Attention: If you are a full-out pacifist greenie with a carbon-neutral footprint and a favorite Che Guevara T-shirt, today is your day. It's the International Day of Peace, thus enshrined by United Nations Resolution 55/282.
According to the official language of the resolution, today provides "an invitation to all nations and people to honour a cessation of hostilities for the duration of the Day." Furthermore, the General Assembly "invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, regional and non-governmental organizations and individuals to commemorate, in an appropriate manner, the International Day of Peace, including through education and public awareness, and to cooperate with the United Nations in the establishment of the global ceasefire."
I think you have to admit that, even if you are a full-out pacifist greenie with a carbon-neutral footprint, a favorite Che Guevara T-shirt and a United Nations Fan Club membership card, the language of the peace resolution is at best dryly polite, bureaucratically boring and not very effective. At worst, it's just plain dangerous in its intent to influence people to believe these resolutions make the world any safer.
The inescapable verdict is already abundantly clear. The United Nations has an inconvenient and blatantly unapologetic track record of doing things which are un-peaceful in the extreme, including the election by secret ballot in 2003 to elevate Libya to leadership of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights (yes, that Libya, the country whose government, under Muammar Gaddafi, ordered the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 and then, still unrepentant, welcomed terrorist Abdel Basset al-Megrahi -- a lead perpetrator of the bombing -- to a hero's homecoming last month).
Beyond rewarding terrorist states by expanding their influence, the United Nations has throughout its history made anti-Israeli bias its most prominent organizing policy principle. This treatment includes the long-term disbarment of Israel from the U.N.'s regional group that Jewish interests ought to be represented in and an unfortunately predictable steady stream of anti-Israel resolutions that have poured out of the General Assembly for decades.
Now, in a violently ironic foreshadowing of the farcical nature of the International Day of Peace, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad launched a diatribe on Sept. 18, proclaiming that the Holocaust -- the historical catalyst for the 1948 establishment of the modern state of Israel -- is a myth. In his unhinged rant, Ahmadinejad dismissed the murder of six million Jewish people as a fable and consigned the Jewish state to annihilation.
"The pretext for the creation of the Zionist regime is false," said Ahmadinejad. "It is a lie based on an unprovable and mythical claim." Speaking to an anti-Israel rally in Tehran, Ahmadinejad called for Israel's obliteration. "Confronting the Zionist regime is a national and religious duty this regime will not last long. Do not tie your fate to it ... This regime has no future. Its life has come to an end."
On the day Ahmadinejad spoke, the Jewish High Holy Days began at sundown. Spanning 10 days from Rosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur, the Jewish High Holy Days coincide with the U.N.'s International Day of Peace and the opening on Wednesday of the 64th session of the United Nations General Assembly.
And guess who headlines the United Nations' speaker line-up? Ahmadinejad. Riding a wave of monomaniacal global defiance as he threatens world war and pursues intercontinental ballistic nuclear weaponry, Ahmadinejad will address the world's population from the General Assembly's platform 48 hours after the United Nations asks the world's population to observe and honor the International Day of Peace.
Ahmadinejad's favorite activities include the full support and promotion of Hezbollah, the anti-Israel terrorist movement led by Lebanon's Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah. Responding to Ahmadinejad's "death to Israel" outrage this week, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah was murderously succinct: "Our belief and creed ... remain that Israel is an illegal entity, a cancerous tumor that must cease to exist." International Day of Peace anyone?
Ahmadinejad isn't the only prominent speaker at this week's U.N. grand opening. Libya's Muammar Gaddafi also speaks on Day One. And so does Barack Obama.
The president of the United States faces a defining moment. Will he fight the deadly despotism and terrorist hate surrounding him, or will he fold? Will he courageously defend America's moral force in blazing a true path to peace? Will he fearlessly defend Israel's existence and the opportunities of its people? Or will he seek to please his audience with global-speak pablum coupled with inoffensive applaud-line platitudes? Obama's brief international record does not inspire confidence.
As Ronald Reagan famously and enduringly said when he made his own political debut, today is "a time for choosing."
Matt Kinnaman, of Lee, writes his column every week for the Transcript.
"Planned Parenthood gets sacked"
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, March 13, 2010
It's been a little more than a month since the Super Bowl. It's a good time for reflection.
In the days leading up to the game you could be forgiven for thinking that football was an afterthought, and that the Tim Tebow "pro-life commercial" was the main event.
Now you really have to wonder: What in the world was that all about? What was it in the Tebow ad that motivated feminist super lawyer Gloria Allred to petition CBS to preemptively pull it? Why did Planned Parenthood make it a top priority to produce a rebuttal commercial, and push CBS to run it? What caused the blogosphere to be filled for weeks with vilifications of CBS, Focus on the Family, and the Tebow family? Good questions, especially in light of what the Tebows said in the commercial. Here's the transcript:
PAM TEBOW: I call him my miracle baby. He almost didn't make it into this world. I remember so many times when I almost lost him. It was so hard. Well he's all grown up now, and I still worry about his health. Everybody treats him like he's different, but to me, he's just my baby. He's my Timmy, and I love him.
TIM TEBOW: Thanks mom. Love you too.
Huh? That's it? Yep, that's it.
Why would anyone want this message blocked from the airwaves? Post-game research by the Barna Group found that 78 percent of Americans felt the ad presented a positive message to viewers, and 75 percent believed it was appropriate to show during the Super Bowl.
Somehow, though, Planned Parenthood found the Tebows' commercial offensive, and produced their own, casting former NFL running back Sean James and Olympic Gold Medalist Al Joyner as their spokesmen.
In the Planned Parenthood ad, Sean James reflects that his mother taught him "only women can make the best decisions about their health and their future." James then concludes his comments: "We're working toward the day where every woman will be valued, where every woman's decision about her health and her family will be respected." Al Joyner punctuates and closes the piece with this: "We celebrate families by supporting our mothers, by supporting our daughters, by trusting women." "Respect and trust? That's what this is about?"
If Planned Parenthood is really guided by respect and trust for all women, why not celebrate the opinions of women whose views run counter to their own? In their opposition to the Tebow commercial, Planned Parenthood proved that the controversy wasn't really about Tim Tebow's faith or political viewpoints, and it wasn't about his mom's decision not to abort her son despite the difficulties she was dealing with at the time. It was really about Planned Parenthood's insistence on blockading important information in the debate about life.
They talked about trust. The real measure of trust is the sharing of information, not the blocking of it. And pro-lifers seem more ready to share than Planned Parenthood does.
Who is against the provision of detailed countervailing medical information and ultrasound images prior to abortion; pro-life activists or Planned Parenthood? Who opposes programs to educate young women about alternatives to abortion, including adoption and other pre- and post-natal support services? How does the pro-choice lobby's stance on these questions sync up with the idea of "trust"? It doesn't The outcry by Planned Parenthood against the Tebow ad and other pro-life initiatives indicates fear within the Planned Parenthood camp that their message is losing ground among the American public, and especially among younger citizens.
Last year, polling by Gallup showed a majority of both women and men nationwide now identify themselves as pro-life, and multiple polls by major outlets including the New York Times, CBS News, and MTV show that younger Americans between 17-29 years old are pro-life in greater percentages than their older fellow citizens.
The free flow of information is making a difference in the abortion debate. In the new world of Web 2.0 communication, full-time Facebook, and full-tilt round-the-clock Tweeting and texting, pro-life sentiments are rising to the top of the conversational pile, and influencing the mindset of the people who were born post-Roe.
The young generation has seen ultrasound images of eight-week olds in utero with beating hearts, and fully-recognizable features just weeks later. Unfettered, non-debatable fully-funded access to abortion? Not so fast, say younger Americans, whose senses and reason tell them that physiological viability outside the womb is not the overriding determinant of personhood.
Instead of questioning whether the Tebow ad was appropriate for Super Bowl Sunday, Planned Parenthood and the anti-information camp ought to ask if they're doing all they can to encourage a full and open airing of the best moral arguments, scientific data, and medical knowledge on both sides of the abortion debate.
That would be a genuine demonstration of respect and trust. And it would be intellectually honest.
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional Eagle contributor.
"Column lacked intellectual honesty"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, March 15, 2010
Matt Kinnaman ends his column in the March 13 Eagle ("Planned Parenthood gets sacked") with a call for "intellectual honest[y]." If only he practiced what he urges on others.
Kinnaman wonders what the fuss was about concerning CBS’s airing of the Focus on the Family ad featuring quarterback Tim Tebow and his mother. That’s an easy one: CBS’s decision represents a sharp break from its established policy and practice of rejecting Super Bowl ads with contentious or controversial messages. In recent years, for example, it has refused ads from PETA, MoveOn.org, and the United Church of Christ.
In the case of the UCC, whose 2004 ad implicitly reached out to gays and lesbians, church officials said CBS cited its refusal of any ad that "touches on and/or takes a position on one side of a current controversial issue of public importance."
Cut to 2009. CBS accepts an ad from a tax-exempt evangelical Christian organization that lobbies for politically conservative causes. The ad is created to express a viewpoint -- however soft-pedaled in the final spot -- on abortion, perhaps the most contentious issue of the day. Hence the fuss.
But wait. The fuss isn’t about the ad at all, says Kinnaman. Rather, the fuss reveals "Planned Parenthood’s insistence on blockading important information in the debate about life." If he abhors such "blockades," why neglect to mention what may be the most important information of all? Namely, that abortion is illegal in the Philippines, where Tim Tebow’s mother gave birth. Namely, that her "decision not to abort her son despite the difficulties she was dealing with," to quote Kinnaman, was not a "decision" at all. She had no choice. There is no (legal and safe) reproductive choice in the Philippines, even for women and girls whose pregnancy is the result of rape and incest, even for women who face threats to their health and life. Abortion is a punishable offense, with prison terms ranging from six months to six years.
No "intellectually honest" debate can occur without context. Yet context is precisely what is lacking in Kinnaman’s account of the Tebow ad and its implications. And context is consistently, willfully, and often viciously lacking in the positions and posturing of those who publicly oppose reproductive choice for women.
Great Barrington, Massachusetts
Getting it Right
"Pass the reform, shred the Constitution"
By Matt Kinnaman, The North Adams Transcript, Op-Ed, March 19, 2010
Today, the American public finds itself caught in the vise grip of the greatest political fraud and malpractice ever perpetrated by the office holders to whom we have entrusted the constitutional privilege of securing "the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity."
Ask yourself a question: If the government controls the definitions, availability and pricing of personal choices affecting your health, how free can you be?
And stop for a moment to think about the lunacy and dishonesty of it all. The "health care reform" language passed by the U.S. Senate, and its distorted twin now poised now for passage in the House, is legislation many legislators haven't even read.
It is jammed with brazen bribes, bald-faced rip-offs and slimy special favors. It is built on budgetary gimmicks that mask its true costs -- costs that are actually impossible to calculate. And it moves American closer to the point at which we will become a nation of net dependents, in which a majority of citizens will live lives funded mostly by federal largesse. But Congress promises to pass it anyway, hailing its "historic" necessity.
Historic necessity? If they believe that, then they have clearly forgotten the heart of American history. They've forgotten the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. They've forgotten about the unalienable rights -- life, liberty, and property -- that establish freedom and keep it strong. Have they looked at our founding documents lately? Do they know the roles of property and prerogative in a free society? Do they recognize the consent of the governed?
Private property, the tangible, measurable evidence of freedom, is essential to freedom's practice and continuance. Private property is rooted in individual conscience, possessed irrevocably by each unique human soul. It is ultimately and irreducibly inviolate. At its essence, the conscience possessed by each of us is our most untouchable possession, our fundamental private property, granted not by government, but by its true giver and author, the Creator. This was the laser-like revelation on which the Founders built the American edifice of liberty.
Armed with this understanding of private conscience, they built a system of laws to protect all other private property and private initiative. They wrote a constitution that made the governed more powerful than the government. They launched a new nation, more generous and more prosperous than any other, built on natural law, self reliance and free enterprise.
Do Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi and President Obama truly want a historic achievement? Do they want to advance the genuinely boundless potential of human promise and fulfillment? If they do, they would immediately abandon what they call "health care reform" and enthusiastically embrace the ideas and insights that gave birth to freedom in America 234 years ago.
In particular, they and every bought-out and paid-for "yes" vote in the House and Senate would join in the original American affirmation that individuals are born to be free. They would fan into flame once again the intellectual and moral revolution that stood directly against the oppressive norms of history. They would use their political positions of trust to revive a revolution of the human spirit like the one that originally launched the nation. Do they even remember what that was?
In the true spirit of the Declaration and the Constitution, Congress could have passed a transparent, succinct 10-page bill that established multi-state competition among insurers and portability for policy holders, price and quality-of-care transparency for consumers, the right for all citizens to purchase coverage with pre-tax dollars, and the state-by-state free formation of appropriate risk pools, so that costs can be controlled with market incentives while citizens can be insured according to their actual health needs. This is the simple and powerful and constitutional direction proposed by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan and supported by others in the House and Senate whose voices were ignored.
Instead, we are now faced with the passage of legislation that increases dependency, destroys markets, rations care, deadens commerce, strangles innovation and creates vast new bureaucracies, while striking at the very heart of private property rights -- those rights which start and end with the possession each person has of his own self.
We need to recognize this: The impending vote in Congress is not actually about health care. It's about something much bigger. It's a vote on giving the federal government mechanisms and mandates to seek control of our consciences through the forced purchase of its proscribed arrangements for the care of our bodies. This rips at every thread of freedom from which the Declaration and the Constitution are woven.
It's a terrible idea.
Matt Kinnaman of Lee is a frequent Transcript contributor.
"Local GOP seeks to energize towns"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, February 13, 2011
DALTON -- Berkshire County Republicans are seeking to re-energize their local committees on a town-by-town basis, hoping to translate the momentum of last year's elections into increased local presence for the party.
"We have to get people in each town saying, ‘I want to be a committee member for my town,'" said Jim Bronson, chairman of the Berkshire County Republican Association.
Bronson said there are active Republican committees in only one-third of the 32 municipalities in Berkshire County. Increasing those numbers in a grassroots manner, he said, will be key to the party's local growth, and for finding viable candidates for 2012 and beyond.
Bronson made his comments on Saturday in advance of the association's annual Lincoln-Reagan Awards Dinner at the Wahconah Country Club, where U.S. Sen. Scott Brown was the keynote speaker. The dinner was closed to the press.
Always held on Abraham Lincoln's birthday, the association added Ronald Reagan's surname to the title this year to honor the 100th anniversary of his birth.
The dinner was also held little more than a year after Brown was sworn in to the Senate.
Though the GOP managed major gains nationwide in the November 2010 elections, those results were not matched in Massachusetts and Berkshire County. Gov. Deval Patrick, a Democrat, won re-election, while none of the state's U.S. Representatives, all 10 Democrats, lost their seats.
Republicans did pick up 16 State Representative seats after 20 years of losses, though the lone Republican challenger to the Berkshire County delegation, Michael F. Case, lost his bid for the 2nd Berkshire District seat to Democrat Paul W. Mark.
Republicans face a considerable challenge in making inroads in Berkshire County. Only 9.52 percent of voters were registered Republicans as of the November elections, compared to 37.63 percent of voters being registered Democrats. The majority of voters in the county are unenrolled.
The night's honorees included John and Martha Green of Adams, Mary Flannery of Pittsfield, Peter Risatti of Tyringham, and Stephen Cozzaglio of Lee.
To reach Trevor Jones: email@example.com, or (413) 528-3660.
"Mitt Romney's moment"
By Matt Kinnaman, Berkshire Eagle, July 19, 2012
According to President Obama, Mitt Romney is guilty of one great crime. He made money.
Obama's condemnation in vites questions: If making money is the crime, would it be more virtuous of Romney if he lost money? Or was the problem that Romney made too much money, rather than the Goldilocks amount? Is it up to the government to decide for each one of us what's "just right?"
In J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings," Galadriel says "Much that once was is lost, for none now live who remember it." In that sense, the 2012 campaign is a test of our national memory.
Do we remember that dawn of a third-century ago, when Ronald Reagan was inaugurated, and the United States began a strong and steady climb out of the malaise of the ‘70s? During that rise, we watched the "misery index" of the Carter years shrink until it disappeared, while the U.S. soared through a two-decade ascent of economic growth and expanding prosperity.
During this peacetime boom, GDP nearly doubled, 35 million new jobs were created, industrial production increased nearly 80 percent, and the stock market, in which nearly half the nation became investors, appreciated in value by 15 percent annually. This was not a happy accident. It was the consequence of innovative thinking and successful economic policy.
In 1981, a powerful providence of history occurred in the confluence of Reagan's election, and the appearance, from the Berkshire hamlet of Tyringham, of George Gilder's best seller "Wealth and Poverty," in which he explained that greed cannot possibly account for the immense generosity and preemptive sacrifices practiced by entrepreneurs and capitalists. In "Wealth and Poverty," Gilder illuminated the brilliance and amplified the power of supply side economics as no previous work had before, or has since.
Capitalism is not about greed. "The moral core of capitalism," said Gilder "is the essential altruism of enterprise." Entrepreneurs are motivated to create value for others. Only then do they receive value in exchange-but the sacrifice comes first, before any return can possibly be realized. Furthermore, the determination of the returns remains always in the hands of others.
President Reagan understood this, and he embraced it. Reagan's across-the-board tax cuts brought supply-side life to the economy, and his determination to decrease needless regulations and government expansion further accelerated economic incentives and growth.
Reagan was free from the egalitarian encumbrances of "tax fairness" and "income equality." He did not apologize for profits. He celebrated them. He did not encourage class envy. He did the opposite. He encouraged everybody across the economic spectrum to believe they could achieve more.
The 1980s -- the Reagan Decade -- exploded, not with war as his critics had warned it would, but with economic growth and international peace. Today, Reagan would blend in beautifully on Rush more. And Gilder, gladly, continues to write from Tyringham, with a brand new edition of "Wealth and Poverty" arriving in time to influence the upcoming election.
Mitt Romney's opportunity is immense. His monumental transgression in the eyes of President Obama -- the attainment of economic success -- is exactly the virtue we need more of. Romney needs to do what Reagan did. He must make it clear that the way out of our current economic malaise is not to denigrate free enterprise, but to celebrate it, and to liberate it in every possible way.
Romney should not apologize for anything, and especially not for his wealth. He needs to be confident in his success, and in what it means. In their hearts, most Americans know that making more money is something we really need to get better at, both personally and nationally.
Romney has the chance to remind the nation of what made our economy surge and swell one time not that long ago, under a very different brand of presidential leadership and national purpose. Like Ronald Reagan before him, he must shrug off his critics with a smile, and speak straightforwardly of the powerful pro-growth economic ideas that lead to great benefits and increasing opportunities for an ever-greater number of people.
Republican Sen. John McCain, a seasoned veteran of the Reagan years, said last month that Romney is "Reaganesque ... I see in him Ronald Reagan." For Romney, nothing could be better. For Obama, nothing could be worse.
The stage is set for a clear choice between President Obama's campaign of anti-capitalist class envy, and a Romney rally of outright celebration of American enterprise and opportunity. Free market capitalism is at the heart of America's historic greatness. Gilder elucidates it, Reagan got it, and Obama definitely doesn't.
It's Mitt Romney's moment.
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional Eagle contributor.
Matt Kinnaman: "Don't fear the future"
The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, May 6, 2013
We made too many wrong mistakes. -- Yogi Berra
The headline of the April 27 Berkshire Eagle warned of a "Foreboding Future," where our economy and way of life will be wiped out by climate change, that is, by the weather, in approximately 100 years.
It's really hard to be right about a prediction of this scope. To start with, how often are weather forecasts correct? The American Meteorological Society, in its own study, determined that forecasts lose accuracy quickly beyond three days, with a rapid erosion of accuracy across Days 8-14. Forecasts beyond 14 days have virtually no predictive value.
But let's say the Eagle's weather forecast for the year 2100 is correct, and that all of the global warming warnings are true. What then? Do we panic and preemptively shut down our economy? American free-market conservatives say no. And so does Bjorn Lomborg, and he's no American free-market conservative.
Director of the Copenhagen Consensus Center, one of Esquire's "75 most influential people of the 21st century," and one of the UK Guardian's "50 people who could save the planet," Dr. Lomborg is also author of the best-selling books "The skeptical environmentalist," and "Cool it."
Dr. Lomborg, who believes that anthropogenic (man-caused) global warming is real, contends that we are nevertheless making a huge miscalculation with climate-control mandates that cost hundreds of billions of dollars, and yield uncertain results or no results at all. Instead, he says, we could spend far less money, and address needs that are much more crucial, like securing fresh drinking water supplies for millions of people, eradicating malaria, and addressing HIV/AIDS infection rates.
Lomborg explains that the European Union's climate mandates alone have an annual economic cost of $250 billion, and that, even if the models they're based on are correct (an open question), their impact on global temperatures will be immeasurable by the end of this century.
Furthermore, no matter what U.S. and European politicians do, the voracious and expanding economic engines of China and India will consume all the fossil fuels they want, negating any impact U.S. and European carbon dioxide restrictions have, if they would have had any at all.
And how warm is it, really? As reported this spring in The Economist and almost everywhere else, global temperatures have been steady for the last 15 years. NASA climate scientist James Hansen, a global warming pioneer, now says that the absence of anticipated warming may actually be because of increased burning of coal. Uncertainties like these don't lead to accurate 90-year climate forecasts.
Meanwhile, global warming's predicted weather ravages are not happening either. Lomborg points out that wildfires have decreased globally by 15 percent since 1950, that there has been no net change in drought worldwide in the past 60 years, and that measured by total cyclonic energy, hurricane strength has not been this low since the 1970s. Global hurricane damage in dollars, as a percentage of GDP, is falling, not rising.
Instead of wasting trillions of dollars on bound-to-fail carbon-restriction schemes, Lomborg says, we ought to devote even a fraction of that money to energy research, disease eradication initiatives, and clean drinking water for the world's impoverished populations. It's all easily affordable if we stop our out-of-control insistence that we can forcibly control the global climate with an endless tsunami of public spending.
According to Lomborg, we can actually improve human lives by tangible measurements in the immediate and long terms, and simultaneously spend money 500 times more effectively, dollar for dollar. But to do that, we need to reverse course. The prevailing American and European political-emotional atmosphere of climate change fear is taking us in exactly the wrong direction.
Lomborg seems to sense a spark from a larger truth that had long burned bright for free market thinkers: if human ingenuity is free to flourish, the future will be full of surprises. Better put, it's faith that is full of surprises. It's faith in a better future, after all, that drives human creativity, and leads to the eureka moments which spring seemingly from nowhere to unveil new solutions and new ideas, born from human imagination and individual enterprise.
We can't possibly know what the world will look like in 2100. James Hansen of NASA admits he doesn't even know for sure what it looks like right now. But we do know that cutting carbon dioxide emissions has enormous economic costs, and that it does nothing to improve human welfare. In fact, it makes matters worse, because right now, carbon-based energy is absolutely necessary for the maintenance of human progress.
Fear of a "foreboding future" is the wrong strategy. It leads us down paths of wasted opportunity, squandered resources, and increased human suffering. Instead, we need to focus our energies and policies on growth, entrepreneurship, and new discoveries, and on cultivating those upside surprises whose positive economic and human effects are wonderfully unpredictable.
As Yogi might say, to do otherwise is a wrong mistake. One of immense and tragic proportions.
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional Eagle contributor.
"Embrace carbon, embrace life"
By Matt Kinnaman, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 2/8/2014
Do you remember Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s funny line? "Let me tell you something that we Israelis have against Moses. He took us 40 years through the desert in order to bring us to the one spot in the Middle East that has no oil!" But guess what? Israel does have oil. Lots of it. Maybe more than Saudi Arabia. Estimates of Israeli oil recoverable within a decade, as technology advances, are already at 400 billion barrels. On top of that, recently discovered offshore natural gas supplies are turning Israel into a global-scale energy powerhouse. This, in a land long believed to be bereft of key resources. What can we say, except, "surprise!"
And in this, our great ally Israel is a lot like us. Nowhere is the surprise of new hydrocarbon energy supplies bigger than in the United States. This new abundance is reordering -- in our favor -- the political, economic and strategic equations we thought we knew so well.
It’s worth noting that many of us were taught to believe that this was not possible. When I was in seventh grade (c 1972) the ecology movement was just getting seriously underway in American classrooms. I was told we were running out of energy, and American greed was to blame. "We have six percent of the world’s population, but we use 25 percent of its resources," my teacher said.
Forty-years later, with green curricula in full flower in schools everywhere, President Obama echoed my seventh grade teacher’s basic thesis, with a slight variant from the same school of thought: "The problem is we use more than 20 percent of the world’s oil and we only have two percent of the world’s proven oil reserves." Imagine.
But as John Lennon sang, "Well, I tell them there’s no problems, only solutions." Exactly. The U.S. Geological Survey’s now reports that the U.S. has 26 percent of the world’s oil resources (not two percent), and that’s not including our immense stores of oil shale. U.S. oil output has increased 56 percent since 2008, and the U.S. is on track to surpass Saudi Arabia in oil capacity within six years.
How did we not see this coming? Because we never see these things coming. Why not? Because discoveries are always surprises. President Obama’s "two percent of the world’s oil" warning describes conventional oil that had already been discovered. No surprise there. He’s talking about the past. But discoveries are all about the future, about the surprises we can’t see coming, like the ones that have turned our past notions about oil and natural gas supplies upside down.
The impact of horizontal drilling technology? Surprise! Economically attractive oil from tar sands? Surprise! An overflowing supply of natural gas from the fracking revolution? Surprise! Improved seismic imaging technologies that uncover still more hydrocarbon fuels? Surprise! Thanks to these surprises, the U.S. is becoming the global leader in energy assets.
Individual state economies and regions are booming. North Dakota and Pennsylvania are reaping huge rewards. Texas, California, Oklahoma, Wyoming, Louisiana could be next. How about New York? Vermont? Massachusetts? We’ll see. The surprises of the carbon energy revolution are just beginning.
We’ve entered a new and surprising golden era of oil and natural gas riches. This is a cause for celebration, because carbon-based energy means life.
Generating economic opportunities? Helping the poor get richer? Getting better health care? Feeding our families? Running our schools? It requires hydrocarbon fuels. The good news is, our cup runneth over.
And, amazingly, this is almost nothing next to what lies ahead. Have you heard of methane clathrates? Also referred to as "methane hydrates," they are combinations of methane and water stored in underwater and underground ice deposits worldwide. These deposits contain almost immeasurable amounts of hydrocarbon fuel, and the technology to capture this energy could be viable within a decade.
U.S. Geological Survey researchers say that methane hydrates can yield more energy than all previously discovered oil and gas combined. Surprise!
We’re absolutely overwhelmed with energy, both now and for as far as the eye can see. From Israel to the U.S., we are watching the wonderful impact of technological surprises making us rich where we once thought we were poor, in a new age of hydrocarbon energy overflow.
And it’s a good thing, because solar panels and windmills are not our salvation. Solar power provides two-tenths of one percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Wind power provides one and four-tenths percent. "Go green" sounds good, but it’s the path to poverty. Nothing but hydrocarbon fuels can currently power an advanced civilization.
Matt Kinnaman, an occasional Eagle contributor, works in the education publishing business.
"Pipelines and power to prosper"
By Matt Kinnaman, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, 10/04/2014
Three cheers for Pittsfield Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi and his support of the new natural gas pipeline proposed for Western Massachusetts. He is the first major Berkshire politician to publicly recognize the obvious connection between robust energy supplies and a robust economy.
Energy and prosperity go hand in hand. It's a profoundly simple -- and powerful -- relationship. Yet, the Berkshire legislative delegation remains unanimously opposed to the pipeline. Here in the Berkshires, they seem to be saying, we all love the good life, but we're opposed to the energy supplies that make it possible.
Renewables won't do it. Solar power provides two-tenths of one percent of total U.S. energy consumption. Wind power provides one and four-tenths percent. It's not nearly enough, and our legislators know this. Or they ought to.
A political fixation on "sustainability" and being "green" is really just a feel-good strategy that fails economically. The only way to compete and prosper in the state, national and global economies is by pursuing pro-growth energy policies.
But aren't we running out of energy? No. The U.S. is enjoying an historic energy boom. Oil supplies are up more than 25 percent since 2006. We will soon surpass Saudi Arabia in oil capacity. If we persevere, the world will increasingly be turning to America for oil, instead of the volatile Middle East, further boosting our economic growth, and global political stability.
We are not just oil rich. Newly discovered U.S. natural gas supplies are buoying our entire economy. Riding the wave of new drilling technologies, natural gas wells are able to produce more than triple the volume previously possible, and new fields continue to be discovered.
It's no surprise that the two states with the highest percentage job growth over 12 months (as of August 2014) are Texas and North Dakota, the two leading energy states. And the jobs being created in those states are quality, high-wage jobs, relative to the rest of the country.
Meanwhile, health care and energy costs here in Massachusetts continue to rise, scaring businesses away. Companies we wish would come here go south and west instead, where the welcome is more friendly, and the tax structures and regulatory climates are tuned for business growth.
But if we become pro-energy, what about global warming? What about climate change?
There has been no warming in more than 15 years, and there's no explanation for why the computer models got it so wrong. Scientifically, the global warming movement is in disarray. It is now devolving into an outright anti-capitalist crusade. It's current leading text is Naomi Klein's new book, "This Changes Everything: Capitalism v. the Climate."
Klein calls for the U.S. and developed nations to pay global reparations in the trillions of dollars to compensate for the climate damage allegedly done by capitalism. (Klein conveniently ignores the truth that environmental preservation and health is greatest in advanced capitalist nations.)
In sync with Klein anti-capitalism, a recent article from Samuel Alexander of the Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne, calls for economic "degrowth." Alexander says that the world needs a "planned economic contraction" and that "economic growth as conventionally measured is incompatible with climate stability."
Maybe this is well-intentioned, but it's also deadly. What really changes everything for civilization is expanding economies powered by abundant energy supplies, which necessarily must be carbon-based right now. It's either more energy, or more human degradation and decline.
We need to wake up. Curbing carbon footprints and curtailing the consumption of fossil fuels won't save the planet, but it could kill the people who live on it. With a projection of global population growth to 9 billion by 2050, energy supplies need to rise in proportion, or masses of people will remain in poverty or be newly plunged into it.
The U.S. Energy Information Agency projects a 56 percent increase in global energy demand by 2040. This means that, even after decades of building wind mills on our ridge tops and spreading solar cells across our open spaces, 80 percent of world energy supplies will still come from carbon-based fuels.
Growth, prosperity, and human welfare are inextricably tied to abundant energy supplies. This is true on a global scale, and it's also true locally. The Berkshires, the U.S., the developed nations, and most importantly, the world's poor, need more energy all the time.
The good news is, we have it. We simply need to use it. We can start by building the pipeline. And then we can look outward, to becoming pro-energy not only for ourselves, but for the whole world, especially the poor.
Or, as they say: Act locally. Think globally.
Matt Kinnaman works in the education publishing business.
"Right from the Berkshires: Our emerging Republican majority"
By Steven Melito, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 12/11/2014
Barack Obama promised to fundamentally transform the United States. He's succeeded, but not in the way that he intended.
The 44th President also said he wanted to become as consequential as Ronald Reagan. It's taken Obama six years to achieve that goal, but the results aren't what he wanted. Today, the Republican Party controls more state legislative chambers than at any time in its 160-year history. The GOP also holds 110 out of 149 Congressional districts and 28 out of 50 governorships. Even liberal Massachusetts, the bluest of blue states, has an incoming Republican governor.
Here in Berkshire County, Democrats can take solace in knowing that gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakey won 26,077 votes to Charlie Baker's 11,137. The North Adams native ran a lackluster campaign, but she'll always be welcome at the Fall Foliage parade. Here in the bluest of blue counties, the first and the third of the month are when the government checks arrived, and Election Day fell on Nov. 4. Forget about national voting patterns. Berkshire County is an island unto itself.
Here in Adams, it's been said that if you want to find a Republican, you'll have to visit the McKinley Monument. What would it take to break the Democrat stranglehold on our one-party state, town and county? If it weren't for Independent voters, membership in the Democracy (as that party was once known) might rival that of Gorbachev's Russia. This isn't your father's Democratic Party, however, and it isn't even your mother's — unless, of course, your Mom believes that your Dad oppresses women and minorities. As Ronald Reagan once said, "I didn't leave the Democratic Party. The party left me."
Reagan's successor, George H.W. Bush, publicly struggled with "the vision thing." We can do better here in the Berkshires. For starters, local Republicans must reinvent themselves as the working person's party. There is dignity and honor in all labor, and not just white-collar work. Ronald Reagan understood this. Mitt Romney did not. One man served two terms as president. The other serves as an occasional commentator on Fox News. Berkshire County residents who work deserve to keep as much of their hard-earned money as they possible. They know how to spend it wisely. The government does not.
Second, Berkshire Republicans must become a taxpayers' party. We don't resent our friends and neighbors who work for the town, county or state, but we do respectfully remind them that we're paying their salaries. Along these lines, we demand efficiency and accountability. School districts want more money. That's understandable, and good teachers deserve raises. Ineffective teachers and administrators don't deserve rewards, however. As local property taxes continue to rise, local educators and their families are also feeling the pinch. Just ask them.
Unfunded mandates from Boston and Washington, D.C., aren't helping, and they're placed squarely by the Democratic Party on the backs of working people. Our local politicians aren't immune from criticism either. It's not that they've pursued a "tourism-first economy." They're for a "tourism only" economy — and their plans aren't working. While Mass MoCA is gifted millions more dollars, family businesses close downtown. Here in Adams, businesses are told to "get on board" with the Greylock Glen. That project will help Adams, but will it help Park and Summer streets?
The arrogance of power is unmistakable. Our one-party county is out-of-step with the rest of the country, but that's not the main point. If you're tired of things the way that they are, then speak up. Then join up with like-minded citizens. The mainstream media wants you to believe that all Republicans are radicals. But did you find yourself agreeing with what's been written here? Welcome to the emerging Republican majority.
Steve Melito of Adams is on the board of the Berkshire County Republican Association.
"Fracking will lead to peace"
By Matt Kinnaman, The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, January 9, 2015
LEE - For President Jimmy Carter, things started badly in 1979, and ended worse. In the spring, it was long lines, high prices and rationing at U.S. gas pumps. In July, Carter delivered his fateful "malaise" speech describing America's "crisis in confidence." In November, radical Iranian Muslims captured the U.S. embassy in Tehran, grabbed every American in sight and held them hostage. In December, the Soviet Union grabbed Afghanistan. Rising U.S. interest rates and high inflation riddled the nation year-round. And our energy weakness magnified all of these difficulties. Carter never recovered.
Timely as ever, Bob Dylan released an album that year entitled "Slow Train Coming." Rolling Stone publisher Jann S. Wenner suggested it might be Dylan's greatest work ever. The album's title song said it all: "All that foreign oil, controlling American soil, look around you, it's just bound to make you embarrassed. Sheiks walking around like kings, wearing fancy jewels in those rings, deciding America¹s future from Amsterdam and Paris. And there's a slow, slow train coming, up around the bend."
Dylan nailed it. And so it continued for another third of a century of OPEC energy market dominance.
But now, fast-forward to Nov. 27, 2014. That's the day that OPEC announced that it would not curtail its oil production, even though global prices were falling fast. Effectively, OPEC admitted that it no longer controls the world oil market.
What happened? An American energy boom happened, with no end in sight, led by new fracking technologies that free up massive deposits of U.S. oil previously trapped in shale. Faced with new U.S. energy riches, Middle East oil lords have no choice but to keep their own oil flowing too, while crude prices tumble. It's the only way they can hope to protect their suddenly shrinking market position.
Appropriately, OPEC's decision occurred on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., and our celebration continues unabated. Oil prices keep dropping, gasoline keeps getting cheaper, and Dylan's dark lament of US dependency on foreign oil now reminds us of the dangerous days we've thankfully escaped.
"Slow Train Coming" didn't foresee the Big Frack Coming. Nobody did.
"This is something we never expected to see," Carl Larry, president of Oil Outlooks & Opinions LLC in Houston, told Bloomberg News this week. That's how innovation always appears. By surprise.
A NEW WORLD ORDER
US oil production is up almost 70 percent in the last five years, and we're just getting started. Better, more efficient fracking technologies are recovering more U.S. oil all the time. We now import only 43 percent of our oil, the lowest amount in a generation. Meanwhile, U.S. oil exports have reached their highest levels since 1920.
"You look back at 2008, 2009, domestic production was half what it is now," Carl Larry added. "We're not just passing a benchmark in exports, this is going to be a trend going forward."
The big fracking revolution is doing more than giving us cheaper gasoline and a stronger economy. It's changing the world order. As U.S. energy fortunes rise, bad geopolitical actors in Russia and Iran and Venezuela are growing weaker by the day. The world's petro-powered dictators cannot withstand falling global oil prices. The U.S. energy revolution, powered by fracking, has peaceful ramifications on a global scale.
Liberals and left-wing progressives ought to be among fracking's biggest fans. That¹s the case made by James Bloodworth, editor of the blog "Left Foot Forward." Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Bloodworth says "As the American people and companies shift more of their consumption to cheaply produced domestic energy, the geopolitical leverage of oil-rich autocrats diminishes. ... Take that, ayatollah."
Bloodworth continues: "Some of the most vociferous opponents of fracking are liberals, yet the shale revolution has the potential to undermine some of the world's most illiberal regimes, in the process freeing the U.S. from its bondage to Saudi Arabia, as demanded by progressives for decades.
Thuggish governments in Caracas, Moscow and Tehran don't much like shale either, which ought to endear it still further to Democrats."
It's undeniable. The U.S. energy boom is a great force for global good. And we need not fear global warming. Global temperatures have not risen in more than 15 years. Civilization is not being threatened by carbon. It's being enhanced by it.
Does anyone want to go back to the dark days of 1979, or into a new dark age of decreasing energy supplies? Do we really expect shifting winds and the sun's slanting rays to power a growing world of human need and opportunity? Let's embrace our good fortune. The renaissance in U.S. energy leadership and oil production is a cause for human rejoicing across the American political spectrum. And beyond.
Matt Kinnaman, an occasional Eagle contributor, works in the education publishing market.
“Candlelit restaurant shines light on truth”
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, May 29, 2015
"Atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning." C.S. Lewis
LEE - We have finally emerged from an historically hard winter, but whether it's nice outside now or not, our inner worlds are still subjected everyday to an ongoing bombardment of postmodern messages, telling us we live in a random, chaotic universe in which our lives (never mind our politics) are ultimately meaningless. Is it true?
I recall something I saw late last century in the hill town of New Marlborough. There, in the colonial frame and finish of a country restaurant, tucked away along a curve on a road, where on some cold winter nights not a soul crossed the threshold to witness it, a celebration unfolded.
More than once, I entered there, from deep in a Berkshire winter, as if from a frozen, dark, vacant planet, with only the wind against the walls to tell the keepers inside that the earth still turned. And to my surprise, upon entering, life was illumined, and to an extent, explained, as the void was answered, resoundingly, by a fresh tablecloth, a lighted candle, polished silverware, and cut flowers, on table after table after table, in an elegant dining room, with wine waiting in the racks, a warm kitchen, a smiling chef, and the pleasure of newly-prepared recipes scenting the air. This exquisite nightly preparation was made in anticipation of those who might arrive to dine, whether they arrived or not.
These daily acts of creation began when the owners, Joseph and Jessica, arrived from post-war Europe, and one day found a property for sale on a hillside in New Marlborough. They lit the stove, and the fireplace, and hung an American flag where their guests would walk by, and they designed something special. They wrote recipes, made a menu, remodeled the dining room, set out china, and began to spread the word that fine dining could be found on their country road.
But much more than fine dining was found there. In the evening, when Joseph and Jessica stood ready with the solace of candles, the refuge of a hearth, and the fulfillment of a fine meal to all who might come in, even on a wind-weary night when nobody came, they offered a glimpse into the essence of civilization, and into realities higher than self.
Even more than that, their quiet endeavors of culinary and aesthetic excellence in a hidden Berkshire corner provided pictures of unchanging moral truths and meanings to which we can aspire, of measurements of perfection and order not corruptible by the deconstructed and self-centered preoccupations of our narcissistic, nihilistic age.
Some years ago, in the midst of another long Berkshire winter, evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould spoke in Great Barrington, and proclaimed that only blind impersonal forces shaped our universe and our lives. "Nature just is," he said. "There are no moral messages."
If Gould was right, and if we are simply spinning in a purposeless cosmos, without moral messages, then we are left without meaning, without real light, without the possibility of the Divine. In that universe, we can expect only accidents.
But the tangible goodness kept within Joseph and Jessica's lighted entryway was no accident, nor is it an accident that the enjoyment of that goodness brings magnified blessing to our human condition, punctuated as it is by hunger, cold, tiredness, loneliness, and thirst.
Even Darwin himself harbored a disquieting uncertainty about aspects of his thought, as explained most recently by Dr. Stephen C. Meyer in his 2013 book "Darwin's Doubt" (HarperOne), an exploration of the mathematical, geologic, biologic, and scientific challenges that arise when attributing the sudden appearance of complex life on earth to natural selection and random mutation alone. Nature just is? Gould has to be wrong.
If along a solstice-darkened and deserted road there stands a refuge from the cold, with beautifully prepared tables, a well-stocked kitchen, and a waiting hearth, then there is something more in the universe than blind chance and mindless fate. Ultimately, without the existence of divine purpose, we cannot fully account for the beauty of a fine restaurant on a lonely road, or for minds that can know things beautiful and fine.
For those who doubt, and for those who rejoice in the refutation of doubt, reflect on that candlelit restaurant in the hills of New Marlborough, its door open on a dark and freezing evening, hiding flickering hints of truth within its warm confines, reminding those who listen that a still small voice in the wilderness is still the most powerful of all.
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional Eagle contributor. He works in the education publishing and education technology business.
Matt Kinnaman: “'Safe spaces' pose a genuine danger”
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, January 15, 2016
LEE - This column is unsafe, and would not be allowed on many college campuses. Why? Because many students now protest the very existence of divergent viewpoints, and administrators go along. The examples are numerous, and in 2015 they swept across the American academic landscape under the banner of the "safe spaces" movement.
These "safe spaces" are meant to provide protection from confrontation, especially the risk of confrontation with ideas, thoughts, conversations, or any experiences whatsoever that might be uncomfortable or unwelcome. In this new "safe" territory, rational intellectual exploration is off limits. Its risks are unacceptable.
AN INTELLECTUAL SPACE
This arrangement itself creates a confrontation: If higher education is no longer about intellectual exploration, then what's it all about? As one Yale student recently screamed: "It is not about creating an intellectual space... Do you understand that?"
But the college campus has always been, first and foremost, an intellectual space. Engaging with ideas across an array of literary traditions, religious belief systems, sociological and anthropological theories, and cultural mores is essential to a true liberal education.
Getting an education necessarily involves confronting many uncomfortable and unwelcome ideas and opinions. We used to call these "learning opportunities." On today's campus, they're called "microaggressions," they require "trigger warnings," and in "safe spaces" unsettling ideas are prohibited. Freedom of speech, RIP.
Freedom of speech is only the first casualty of the "safe spaces" movement, because free speech does not die alone. It is accompanied by the death of intellectual growth, followed by the demise of individual opportunity. Opportunity — including the opportunity to think creatively — only flourishes in an environment of risk, and it is watered by an appetite for adventure. This has forever been the path to achievement, and it's a path that cannot be navigated from "safe spaces."
Alexis de Tocqueville described this wonderful spirit of exploration and adventure, woven into the early American experience: "Born often under another sky, placed in the middle of an always moving scene, himself driven by the irresistible torrent which draws all about him, the American has no time to tie himself to anything; he grows accustomed only to change, and ends by regarding it as the natural state of man. He feels the need of it, more he loves it; for the instability, instead of meaning disaster to him, seems to give birth only to miracles all about him."
As de Tocqueville's points out, a life of true freedom and achievement is inseparable from uncertainty and surprise, risk and adventure, tumult and change. It is not safe. It is unpredictable, and at its best, full of discovery, exhilaration and energy. The American academic tradition has historically embraced this spirit, and Western thought has nurtured this understanding for centuries in its great universities, unafraid to confront danger in the life of the mind, and in the activities beyond the mind.
One of Western thought's most prolific progenitors, Saint Paul, spoke of this as he spread a brand new school of individually empowering theology into Europe in the first century, promoting a philosophy of freedom that would help shape the next two millennia of political and social progress, a pursuit that definitely wasn't safe.
"We are hard-pressed on every side," he wrote, "but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed..."
Across the ensuing centuries, the Western world was reshaped, through innovation and progress in every arena of human activity and learning, most notably in the achievement of the free, constitutional republic that took the name the United State of America. None of this progress, individual or collective, originated in a safe space.
To insist on intellectual "safety" is to lower ourselves into a world of stasis and decay, a boring and boorish place, closed off not only from free speech and thought, but also from personal growth.
A DEAD PURSUIT
From the quantum state of particles to the macro experiences of life, we are surrounded by uncertainties and unknowns, momentum and change, instability and surprises. It's the only way to live. If higher education is not about intellectual risk and adventure, it is a dead pursuit, and it will leave deadened minds in its wake.
As Arthur Brooks wrote in The New York Times recently, it's now up to us to "cultivate a nation of strong individuals motivated by hope and opportunity, not one dominated by victimhood. But we have a long way to go."
Yes, we have a long way to go, and we'll never get there by huddling in "safe spaces."
Matt Kinnaman works in the education publishing industry and is an occasional contributor to The Eagle.
Matt Kinnaman: “Gov. Baker targets state's GOP faithful”
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/26/2016
LEE - With an unprecedented strong-arm approach, Governor Charlie Baker wants to take control of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee.
A Boston Globe article brought the issue into the open last week, describing how Baker is attempting "to muscle conservatives out of GOP state committee." The piece explains how the governor has targeted dozens of the most faithful and hard-working Republican activists in the state, some of whom were his key allies in getting out the votes that put him over the top in his narrow 2014 victory.
Why is Gov. Baker trying to defeat these loyalists? Could it be to assemble a GOP State Committee that will do whatever he wants it to, won't ask questions, and won't operate as the independent voice it's designed to be? If the Globe article is any indication, the answer is "exactly."
State Committee member Steven W. Aylward's campaign provides an example. Aylward helped lead the successful 2014 fight to repeal automatic increases to the Massachusetts state gas tax, and is widely credited for bringing out conservative and independent voters who might otherwise have stayed home, voters who then voted for Charlie Baker, turning him into Gov. Baker. Subsequently, Baker publicly praised Aylward for mobilizing these votes, aware that without them he might not have been elected.
Now, two years later, the new governor wants to oust Aylward from the Republican State Committee, and has endorsed Aylward's opponent, a 29-year old former Democrat who just recently moved to Massachusetts from New York, and only registered Republican within the past year.
It boggles the mind. As governor, Charlie Baker has a great opportunity to build the unity and energy of his party, and further stoke the motivation to its grassroots activists. But that's not what's happening. The governor is alienating key allies, the very people on whom the party's strength depends. His approach may end up disintegrating the support that got him elected.
The Globe article says that "Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito have endorsed candidates in 52 of the 54 contested GOP races," and warns that "The aggressive attempt to dominate the 80-member state committee by marginalizing the right-leaning conservatives is creating an increasingly angry backlash."
A follow-up Globe article amplified the story: "Christopher Pinto, running in the 1st Worcester District, said he's baffled why Baker is backing someone else. 'If I saw the governor in the grocery store I'd ask him, 'Why, Charlie? I helped you get elected.' I worked my butt off on the gas tax,' said Pinto, who was part of the successful effort to repeal the automatic gas tax. 'Why is he doing this now?' "
The Massachusetts Republican Party has enjoyed a long and strong alliance with its grassroots conservative activists. These conservatives are energetic and loyal. They enthusiastically run for office. They show up at phone banks and at campaign rallies. They mobilize others to vote. And they have always been there in support of the Bay State's Republican governors, even when those governors embraced moderate to liberal views onerous to conservatives.
Massachusetts' conservative Republicans activists have been team players for decades. And now, the same state party they fought for and defended for so long is targeting them for defeat in next Tuesday's election.
RISKS DAMAGING PARTY
Gov. Baker is pursuing a shaky strategy. If he gets his wish on March 1, and his state committee candidates win, it may be at the expense of the support, and the votes, that elected him governor in 2014.
One Baker adviser, quoted in The Globe, said the governor has endorsed state committee candidates who "share his vision of an inclusive Republican Party." But here's what Gov. Baker is missing: For the Massachusetts Republican Party to keep winning gubernatorial elections, inclusiveness must include conservatives.
Otherwise, the party is over.
Matt Kinnaman, an occasional Eagle contributor, is a candidate for Republican State Committee, and is not endorsed by Governor Baker.
Matt Kinnaman: "'Who needs God?' It's our call"
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 9/9/2016
LEE - In crafting the U.S. Constitution, the Founders provided a bedrock basis for religious liberty as an inviolate individual right, precisely so that no government official or apparatus could ever infringe on it, granted as each individual's birthright, one that would forever undergird our larger national life.
George Washington expressed the idea in his farewell address: "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness."
Washington's words were prescient. Consider the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Catholic nuns with a simple mission: to take care of impoverished elderly people. The Little Sisters have a Christian motivation to do this, and within it, they adhere to specific religious principles about the sanctity of life, including carefully reasoned objections to certain methods of birth control.
While implementing the Affordable Care Act, President Obama's Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) told the Little Sisters of the Poor that they had to submit to the birth control mandates of the new law, even though to do so would violate their convictions and conscience. It was as if HHS said to the Sisters, for whom religious faith is at the center of everything, "Who needs God? We'll show you the way it's done."
Although the Obama administration agreed to an accommodation the Little Sisters requested, it came later, when the U.S. Supreme Court rebuffed HHS. Without that intervention, the trampling of the Little Sisters' religious convictions would have moved forward under an executive branch imposing its will and thereby suppressing the traditional religious principles of its citizens, in particular, the Little Sisters.
On the campaign trail last year, Hillary Clinton echoed Obama. Speaking at the Women in the World Summit about access to abortion, and about those who dissent from her particular position on the issue, she demanded that "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases have to be changed." How? By marshaling "resources and political will."
A FUNDAMENTAL RIGHT
It was an astounding statement by a presumptive president, and would drive a stake into the very heart of one's personal freedom to make moral decisions on the big questions of life and death. Is progressivism actually progressive if it seeks the removal of such a basic and fundamental right?
Should society be so eager to declare that the First Amendment no longer protects the religious convictions of Christians and Jews that include traditional concepts of morality? Are believers truly bigots if they refuse to surrender "deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs, and structural biases?" Or is it better for us all to protect and nurture the free exercise of religion in our public life?
As we enter a new era of self-defined existence and self-assigned truth, and as we write new cultural codes, beliefs, and structural biases, would it be wise for us to allow for dissent, for sincere convictions based on ageless wisdom? Are we so sure that everything we formerly believed is wrong?
Holocaust survivor and famed psychotherapist Viktor Frankl reminded us that "If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present him as an automation of reflexes, as a mind machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drive and reactions, as mere product of heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone."
In the century before Frankl's warning, Friedrich Nietzsche wrote "The Parable of a Madman," containing his proclamation that "God is dead." The Madman asks a list of harrowing questions in the aftermath: "Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder?"
If Nietzsche was right, then we have no ultimate escape from the nihilism of which Frankl warns. But if there is more to the story, if the possibility that divine purpose in the universe exists, and if there is a discoverable moral coherence for our lives, then we ought to protect individual freedom of conscience to pursue a life of faith, just as the Founders intended in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
Who needs God? From the serpent's debate with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, to the desert standoffs between Moses and Pharaoh, down to the post-modern times in which we now live, it remains life's paramount question. But it is a question for each person to answer, not the government.
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional contributor to The Eagle.
Matt Kinnaman: “The weary world rejoices”
By Matt Kinnaman, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, December 23, 2016
Lee — On Dec. 9, 1965, "A Charlie Brown Christmas" was broadcast on television for the first time. In that premiere, as the animated plot approached its critical moment, it was good, ol' Charlie Brown himself who yelled out in exasperation, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?"
A half-century later, we're still asking Charlie Brown's question. What is this all about? We've found the answers for almost everything, but we still seek - and even hunger for - answers that satisfy. There's no doubt the whole world needs an answer, and perhaps we feel that way now more than ever.
Alexandr Solzhenitsyn was one of the greatest writers of our times. Solzhenitsyn was born in Russia in 1918. As he came of age, his beloved homeland descended into totalitarianism and an official policy of atheism. Imprisoned and later exiled, he lived in western Europe and eventually the U.S.
Here in America, Solzhenitsyn observed a popular culture endlessly chasing personal pleasure and self-fulfillment, but offering mostly emptiness of soul. Seeing all this, the grand writer of millions of words summed it all up in one 4-word sentence: "Men have forgotten God."
Solzhenitsyn's observation pulls us back toward the light of that ancient Christmas stable, and uncovers a mysterious question: Can the inside ever be bigger than the outside? The thought arises from C.S. Lewis's great work, "The Chronicles of Narnia," in which Queen Lucy, faced with this quandary, reflects that "a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world."
Impossible? Some will say so, and yet that's precisely the overwhelming and nearly inexpressible amazement of Christmas. It's still about faith. We may have turned "Christmas" into a season of apprehending purchased goods that our hands can grab, yet Christmas can only be truly apprehended by faith.
Just as the shepherds saw their dark night illuminated by a bright appearance in Bethlehem that changed everything, by faith Christmas still today bursts with unimaginable brightness into our dreary world, and presents us with the ultimate paradox: a baby who "holds all things together by the word of his power."
Surrounded by our endless appetites for material riches that leave us largely bereft, Christmas is the biggest possible surprise, with a truth that totally transcends this temporal world. Christmas celebrates the birth of God's ultimate, most personal Idea, the Logos, the Word made flesh, Himself dwelling among us, full of grace and truth, making all things new.
Small and resting in a manger, Christmas is One who came to answer, explain, and repair all the conflicts, confusions, weaknesses, despairs, contradictions, tragedies, losses, and disappointments of our lives. One who came to lighten and enliven this weary world.
Charlie Brown is buried in problems, some belonging to him, some to others: Despondency, inferiority, depression, anonymity, irrelevance, too much discouragement on the one hand, too much ego and attitude on the other, even too much dirt. And there's Linus in the middle of it all, with that blanket, unable to let go, sensing all the trepidation and insecurity of this weary world.
When Charlie Brown yells, "Isn't there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?" insecure little Linus is the only one who answers. "Sure Charlie Brown, I'll tell you what Christmas is all about." Linus then reads Luke's account of Christ's birth in Bethlehem.
When he does this, something hidden happens, something almost imperceptible and so easy to miss, despite our more than 50 years of seeing this scene over and over and over and over again. As he reads aloud the account of the birth of Christ, and reaches the biblical words "Fear not" Linus lets go of his security blanket, and it drops away.
It's been a hard year. It's a weary world. How did it get this way? Solzhenitsyn lamented that men have forgotten God. But here's the joyous news at the very heart of Christmas: God has not forgotten us.
So, fear not, my friends. Whatever it is that grips you, Christmas brings freedom. Whatever it is that is too complicated for you to comprehend, Christmas provides a path. Whatever it is that is just too hard for you to handle, Christmas supplies strength. Whatever it is that torments your thoughts and roils your soul, Christmas whispers peace.
That's what it's all about. Merry Christmas!
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional contributor to the Eagle.
Matt Kinnaman: “The Berkshires are losing it, and policy is a root cause”
By Matt Kinnaman, op-ed, The Berkshire Eagle, December 8, 2017
LEE — Happily, here in the Berkshires, we have what lots people want: A beautiful corner of America with striking natural features, terrific accessibility to major markets and talent pools, a rich culture, a welcoming environment for music and the arts, and a notable historic setting that attracts a national and international audience of visitors.
But something's wrong with this picture. We've got everything many people want, but instead of coming in, they're moving out.
Our population has decreased by 4 percent since 2000, and nearly 3 percent between 2010 and 2015 alone. We lose 2.5 persons for every one person gained. According to the US Census Bureau, and as reported in The Eagle, Berkshire County's population has been declining since 1970, and we're currently losing more people at a higher rate than any place else in Massachusetts
Nearly half of those leaving are younger people primed to unleash their creativity, launch new companies, create new jobs, supply their skills, and make a long-term difference in our communities. But instead of doing those amazing things right here in the Berkshires, nearly half say they are going to move out within three years.
Why are they leaving? Because our region lacks career opportunities, and living here is too expensive. Wages are flat, and in 2015, 30 percent more Berkshire residents lived in poverty than in 2000. So, people say goodbye.
Where are they going? They're going to states with higher-paying jobs, states where government policies are more focused on growth than on restrictions, states that frack more, tax less, and regulate sparingly. That's where the engines of economic growth and opportunity are revving the highest. Right-to-work states (there are none in the Northeast) are growing nearly twice as fast as non-right-to-work states, and states with no income tax are growing nearly 2.5 times faster than higher-tax states.
Those types of policies may be anathema here, but It's unfortunately ironic that as we embrace environmental sensitivity and pride ourselves on sustainability, population exodus represents the complete antithesis of our professed values.
Left in the dust
No environment can produce an abundance of human well-being without an abundance of humans to produce it. And no economy is sustainable when with every passing year it has less people to sustain it. Regardless of our party affiliation or political compass point, we can all agree that an anemic economy combined with a declining population, with no turnaround in sight, is not OK.
Let's face it. The U.S. economy is powering forward and leaving Western Massachusetts in the dust. The Berkshires need a full-bore year-round economic jump start. We need fewer sit-ins, and many more visionary entrepreneurs. We need less divestment and anti-development meet-ups, and more hungry start-ups. We need to think less about banning, and think more about creating. Pipeline protests and NIMBY hearings got tons of media coverage this year, but the protest of those who vote with their feet by leaving the area is what really deserves our attention.
What the Berkshires need now is an economic environment that matches the natural strengths of our region, and environment of opportunity that might attract the next Jeff Bezos and the next Weili Dai to the Berkshires. Or...wait. What if they're already here, were born and raised here, are now ready to unleash powerful ideas, and instead, they move out? How do we change their minds? And how do we get the nationwide attention of many more people who might then choose to head our way?
Let's start by asking some simple questions about every public policy proposed: Does this idea help to reverse our population decline? Does this new rule incentivize people to move here? Does this new law or regulation make it easier for companies to do business here? Does this new program inspire entrepreneurs to launch their dreams here? Does this frame of mind make younger people want to stay here?
If the answer is "no" then we're failing one of our most important tests, because as Elon Musk recently reminded us yet again, more people means more opportunity, and less means less. As Professor Julian Simon famously demonstrated, people are "the ultimate resource." That's right. People themselves are the greatest natural resource.
And here in the Berkshires, land of the locally-sourced and grown, rich in the symbols of sustainability, abundantly full of friends of the earth, what do want our lasting legacy to be? We must remember: The greatest resource we have is our population. We can't be content to keep losing it.
Matt Kinnaman is an occasional Eagle contributor.
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