Pittsfield — Guns, taxes, energy, the environment and drug abuse dominated a well-attended town hall-style meeting held by Sen. Ed Markey, D-Malden, Sunday night.
On a stormy night at the Barrington Stage Company theater on Union Street, Markey addressed a crowd of about 200 people who peppered him with questions about issues of concern.
Markey, the junior U.S. senator from Massachusetts, was introduced by state Sen. Adams Hinds, D-Pittsfield, whom he characterized as “a rising star.” Hinds was joined onstage by Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright and Berkshire County Sheriff Thomas Bowler, all of whom seemed eager to have their pictures taken with Markey.
Hinds talked about the economic difficulties of his constituents and lamented the fact that “gutting healthcare and going toe to toe with North Korea” seemed to be the top priorities in Washington.
“It’s so critical that we have a fighter in Washington,” Hinds said. “He’s been fighting in Washington for 40 years and taking on things before it was popular–whether it was environmental protection and energy issues, telecommunication issues and protecting net neutrality and nuclear non-proliferation and a long, long list.”
See video below of Hinds introducing Markey, along with some of Markey’s opening remarks:
To much laughter, Markey noted right away that he could sense that his audience was suffering from “PTSD–post Trump stress syndrome. It’s every day. It’s a Trump a day. You don’t know what the issues will be that morning that will upset you, upset the country and upset the world.”
Still, the 71-year-old Markey confessed that he wakes up every morning “the most energized I’ve ever been,” in part because “he [Trump] is, too.”
After an opening statement that ranged from North Korea and possible nuclear war to Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, Markey’s talk quickly turned to opioid addiction and the pervasive grip it has on so many communities across the state and the nation.
“There are 100,000 deaths every two years,” Markey said. “That’s two Vietnam wars every two years.”
Markey was sharply critical of Trump’s recent move to declare the opioid crisis a public health emergency–a positive step, he noted–but without any additional funding to combat the crisis.
“A vision without funding is a hallucination,” Markey said.
On immigration, Markey was critical of Trump’s position on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, which allows minors who entered the country illegally with their parents to receive deferred action on deportation. Markey said cutting back on immigration will adversely affect economic health since immigrants play such a large role in the economy.
Markey described his frustration in not being able to enact meaningful gun control measures after the Las Vegas mass shooting in which 58 people were killed by a sniper in a high-rise hotel–the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.
“You know, 94 percent of Americans want background checks. And we can’t even get a vote on the floor in the House or Senate,” said Markey. “We need to turn the NRA into ‘not relevant anymore.'”
In response to a question about the tension on the Korean peninsula and the possibility of nuclear war, Markey told the audience he and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California, have introduced a bill that would prevent the president from launching a nuclear attack without a declaration of war from the Congress. The legislation would not apply if the U.S. action had been prompted by an attack from another country.
“The president continues to sound dangerously like he wants a conflict with North Korea. This is a very dangerous situation. He has the biscuit,” Markey said, referring to a slang term for the nuclear launch codes.
Markey said he was concerned that rhetoric from Trump could provoke the unpredictable North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Markey visited Korea, Japan and China at the end of the summer.
He is convinced that if a war is started on the Korean peninsula, hundreds of thousands of deaths would occur in the first 48 hours thanks to the tens of thousands of artillery rounds North Korea has massed on the Demilitarized Zone only about 30 miles from Seoul, a metropolitan area of some 20 million people.
On climate change, Markey excoriated the Trump administration and its EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, who have moved aggressively to curtail the agency’s regulatory powers and have questioned whether climate change is caused in any way by humans.
“Climate change is real,” Markey asserted. “President Trump is getting his information, I think, from Trump University. It’s just as bogus as a degree from Trump University.”
Markey added that he had spoken recently to a climate scientist and the man told him, “All throughout his administration, people live in fear. He said fear is rampant.” Again, there was much applause.
See video below of Judy Fox of Lenox asking Markey a question about global warming:
One man from Becket who did not identify himself asked Markey about what could be done to prevent future “fracked gas pipelines” such as the recent Connecticut expansion project of the Tennessee Gas Company through the Otis State Forest. Many think the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s approval of the project through state-owned land was a violation of Article 97 of the Massachusetts constitution.
Markey cited his longstanding opposition to the FERC action, along with fellow U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, but he added that things can only get worse because of the political views of those Trump is putting on FERC. He suggested state Attorney General Maura Healey take legal action against the federal government if it happens again.
“So I think what we’re going to have to do as a state, led by Maura Healey, is suing them every single time they attempt to just run roughshod over the environment and legal sensibilities,” Markey said. “There are state constitutional prerogatives, so again it’s going to be a part of the team effort.”
Markey sounded most happy talking about energy and the movement toward renewables, which he wants to be complete by 2050. In particular, he cited solar and wind power as future drivers of the economy and he questioned why the Trump administration did not see it as a source of jobs for unemployed workers, especially the blue-collar workers Trump purports to represent.
“Jobs are being created at a massive pace,” Markey explained. “This year there are 50,000 coal miners left in the United States. Last year 50,000 new solar workers were hired. By the year 2020, there will be 500,000 people in the wind and solar industry.”
On tax reform, Markey is convinced that Republican efforts to cut healthcare spending stem from the tax cuts they’re proposing: “They want to cut Medicare by $470 billion. They want to cut Medicaid by $1 trillion. And it’s to pay for a tax break for the upper 1 percentile.”
Markey insisted Massachusetts is leading the way on reforms and smart thinking, adding that, “We believe in capitalism but with a conscience … We may be the Bay State but we’re also the brain state.”
See video below of Doc Rhodes of Pittsfield asking Markey a question about pharmaceutical companies and drugs: