Sina-cism: Lawmakers can’t resist stirring the pot

Advocates of marijuana legalization are pleased following agreement last Monday among House and Senate negotiators on Beacon Hill on an implementation package for recreational marijuana sales.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

I understand the short-term euphoria. By July 1, 2018, you will be able to purchase marijuana legally in a state once dominated by Puritan morality and blue laws.

“While we don’t approve of every provision of this bill, we are satisfied that the outcome will serve the interests of Massachusetts residents and allow the Commonwealth to displace the unregulated marijuana market with a system of taxation and regulation,” said Matthew Schweich of the Marijuana Policy Project, an advocacy group behind last November’s ballot initiative.

But will this legislation create a well-regulated marijuana market, suppress illicit drugs, yield reliable state tax revenue in the long term and pass constitutional muster?

More Sina-cism: Why healthcare reform will happen

Sina-cism: Why healthcare reform will happen

Any healthcare reform requires that consumers have sufficient affordable options to induce them to participate voluntarily. There are many paths to that goal, but none of them will be reached so long as crossing the political aisle means committing political suicide.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Upon passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in 2010, conventional wisdom suggested the law would extend medical coverage to many Americans without it, while failing to curb costs.

Seven years later, that prognosis appears to have been largely on target.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the percentage of Americans without healthcare insurance fell from 16 percent in 2010, to just 8.9 percent in the first half of 2016. On the other hand, many Americans were unable to retain the plans and doctors they had, and many have faced sharply higher premiums and deductibles.

And in some states and counties, insurers have withdrawn from participation in public insurance options, leaving some consumers with but a single choice.

In the wake of a Republican electoral victory last November, conventional wisdom suggested the GOP would move quickly to reform or entirely repeal Obamacare. But Republicans have struggled to do so, in part because parts of the law are popular, and in part because GOP senators remain deeply divided on what reform should look like.

But unless Americans are ready for a single-payer system, which I doubt, some kind of Obamacare reform is a near certainty.

Sina-cism: Lobbying stinks — don’t make it worse

Legislative leaders in Massachusetts who are today asking business leaders for money for a conference are the same leaders who next session will be sitting in judgment on legislation affecting those businesses.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Political lobbying is mildly repulsive at best. It is also highly effective.

Businesses and organizations, including state and local governments, often see enormous returns on their lobbying investments. Those who lament the existence of lobbying, like those who lament the existence of big money in politics, should remember that the First Amendment confers broad protections on the activities of lobbyists and donors. Both are permanent fixtures of our politics.

That said, there are both specific rules that govern lobbying and broader principles that should guide our thinking about it. Together, they can help prevent a descent from mildly to thoroughly repulsive.

Just how subtly slippery a slope we face is illustrated by a June 29 report in The Boston Globe detailing how Democratic legislative leaders in Massachusetts are trying to raise $2.2 million to pay for a meeting of the National Conference of State Legislatures, to be held Aug. 5-9 in Boston.

Related opinion: Mariano urges caution when leveling political punches

Sina-cism: A Millbury soldier’s odyssey in the Great War

But did 19-year-old William Higginson really choose the Union Jack, or was he drawn to enlist by youthful ardor, visions of glory, and a simple desire to participate in a drama unlike any the world had ever known?
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

For families across our nation, the spring of 1919 was a time for homecomings. Imperial Germany had been defeated the previous November. With the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in June, the “war to end all wars” would finally be over.

From the wastelands of a devastated France, millions who had served with the American Expeditionary Forces and survived washed away the mud and fatigue, bound up their wounds as best they could, and prepared to resume the interrupted lives of an interrupted generation.

On May 30, Millbury held the largest Memorial Day service the town had ever seen, honoring her returning soldiers and the six men then known to have perished — George Devoe, Edward N. Blanchard and Donald McCaskill, all of whom had been killed in action in France; and Warren T. Harris, Charles F. Minney and Charles H. Demers, who perished from disease.

A month after those observances, on the very day the Treaty of Versailles was signed, a seventh name was added to the list of the fallen when Charles Higginson of West Main Street received letters informing him of the details of his brother William’s death from cholera.

Last week’s Sina-cism: The right slant on the First Amendment

Sina-cism: The right slant on the First Amendment

Although the First Amendment may be back in vogue at The New York Times, at least for now, not everyone agrees with Matal v. Tam.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Last Monday was a very good day for the First Amendment. In Matal v. Tam, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the disparagement clause of the Trademark Act of 1946 is unconstitutional.

The case involved Simon Young, aka Simon Tam, the 36-year-old lead singer of “The Slants,” an all-Asian-American band whose members chose their name as expressive of three things — their views on life, their music, and their desire to reclaim and empower a phrase traditionally seen as derogatory.

After the U.S. Trademark and Patent Office sought to deny the band a trademark on the grounds that its chosen name was offensive, Tam went to federal court and won on appeal. The Supreme Court ruling affirmed that decision.

In the December 2015 appeals court ruling, Judge Kimberly A. Moore wrote: “It is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment that the government may not penalize private speech merely because it disapproves of the message it conveys.”

In the minds of activists and their lawyers, of course, there are always other considerations, including the idea that trademarks are government speech.

Related Sina-cism: Muzzling the First Amendment on campus

Sina-cism: Freud, Worcester and ‘The White Hotel’

While there is much historical information about Freud’s visit, fiction has a role, as author Tim O’Brien puts it, “… for getting at the truth when the truth isn’t sufficient for the truth.”
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

There’s nothing like encountering a reference to Worcester in a novel or film. There’s that flash of recognition of the places, people and events the author is describing. It can be a way of discovering something new about one’s native place through the eyes of an outsider.

The 2013 crime drama “American Hustle” offered that, with its scenes outside Union Station, inside the Worcester Art Museum and along Millbury Street.

Another work that references Worcester — less well known, perhaps, but of greater importance — is “The White Hotel,” a 1981 novel by D.M. Thomas. It begins with a series of fictitious letters, the first by Hungarian psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, who accompanied Sigmund Freud on his 1909 visit to the United States and attended his colleague’s lectures at Clark University.

The letter is headed “Standish Hotel, Worcester, Massachusetts, U.S.A. 8 September 1909,” and is addressed to Ferenczi’s wife. He tells her how “Brill and Hall are excellent fellows, and everyone at Clark University has overwhelmed us with kindness and compliments. Freud astonished even me with his masterly skill, by delivering five lectures without any notes …”

For insight into Freud’s 1909 visit, this is a promising start.

Sina-cism: Adieu, Paris accord, you meant so little

Sadly, the media doesn’t focus on the science at all, but almost exclusively on the politics of climate.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Much ink has been spilled and many BTUs of hot air generated since President Trump announced on May 25 that the United States will pull out of the Paris climate accord, but it wasn’t until Worcester Mayor Joseph M. Petty declared his support for the deal — joining dozens of other mayors nationwide — that I realized just how ridiculous the whole thing is.

Look, there is plenty of evidence that climate change, or global warming (or whatever term is in vogue this week) is taking place. I don’t want the Earth’s flora and fauna to die. I have nothing against residents of the Netherlands, 47 percent of whom are threatened by rising sea levels. And while I’ve never been to the South Pacific, I hope the low-lying island nations there do not sink beneath the waves.

But the Paris climate deal was never going to save the planet — and never will — regardless of what the United States does.

Sina-cism: The word on Trumpian truths from Assumption College

As Weiner (himself a former newspaper reporter) notes, “It is the media’s discomfort with objective truth that disqualifies it from being believed when it calls Trump on his violations of objective truth now.”
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

The Spring 2017 issue of National Affairs contains a thought-provoking essay by Greg Weiner, assistant professor of political science at Worcester’s Assumption College, titled “Trump and Truth.”

Weiner lays out, in carefully reasoned prose, exactly why our current president’s difficulties with the truth matter.

His point is not — or not exclusively, anyway — to take issue with this policy or that pronouncement by the 44th occupant of the White House [Grover Cleveland, remember, served as president twice in nonconsecutive terms.]. I am sure that Weiner, like any thinking American (including many who cast ballots for Trump) has a qualm or two (or many) regarding the man’s comportment.

Anti-Trump screeds being as common as inane Twitter posts, however, Weiner wisely takes another, more interesting path. He returns to several touchstone authors of our Western culture — Aristotle, Thucydides, Madison and Orwell among them — to explore the fate of “logos.”

Or, to put it more plainly, the word. Language. And, by extension, political discourse and meaning in present-day America.

You may have guessed that Weiner concludes that language and meaning matter. The interesting part is how he gets there, and the stops along the way.

Sina-cism: From Manchester to Worcester, our common heritage is under assault

The Manchester attack resonates so deeply precisely because when we look into the life and history of that English city and its people, we see so much of ourselves.
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

England — and civilized peoples everywhere — again lament the deaths of innocents. Once more the flowers are piled high, terror alert levels are at maximum, and police raids are underway in search of terrorist accomplices.

In Manchester, England — where at least 22 children and adults were slain during last Monday night’s nail bomb suicide attack at a concert — grief, nervousness and anger abound. The rituals of London, including the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace, have been disrupted with the deployment of British troops on the streets.

And from Whitehall to Washington, the all-too-familiar debates are renewed — debates over immigration, refugees, assimilation, and the violence that seems increasingly to characterize the encounters between “Western” and “radical Islamic” cultures.

No debate will breathe life into the departed. Those who perished in Manchester — children, young adults, parents — have been added to the ever-lengthening lists of terrorism’s victims. For their families, friends and communities, life has been altered beyond recognition. Perhaps beyond endurance.

For now there is only consolation. In the days, weeks and months ahead there will be some measure of healing. For some, time may even bring forgiveness. Or not.

Sina-cism: McGovern peddling Social Security snake oil

Debate often quickly runs aground on the hotly contested question of whether the Social Security Trust Funds are real or an accounting trick. Liberals insist every penny goes where it should. Conservatives argue “there’s no ‘there’ there.”
Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

U.S. Rep. James P. McGovern, D-Worcester, was at the Worcester Senior Center last week with fellow Democratic congressman John Larson of Connecticut to peddle the “Social Security 2100” bill.

Like traveling salesmen, this pair promised the world.

Their bill would increase benefits, hike annual cost-of-living adjustments, help elderly workers, ensure Social Security remains solvent into the 22nd century, and cost individual contributors less than the proverbial cup of coffee each week.

Perhaps they meant kopi luwak, Vietnamese weasel coffee, which is produced by civets ingesting and defecating coffee beans and sells for hundreds of dollars per pound.

In my opinion, Social Security’s solvency can be extended in one of two ways.

One way is by adopting a chained Consumer Price Index, raising the retirement and early retirement ages, investing some of the Social Security Trust Fund in stock indexes, and slowly reducing payroll taxes so younger workers can boost contributions to their 401(k) and IRA plans, which offer higher yields.

The other way is to raise taxes.

The difference is that only the first approach solves Social Security’s problems in the long term.