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Dr. Michael Forster

New tax cuts may lock in state’s top rank in austerity and poverty

It’s July, and the biggest tax cuts in Mississippi history (passed during the 2016 legislative session) are starting to kick in.  The deceptively dubbed “Taxpayer Pay Raise Act” is a sweet deal for corporations and higher income individual earners, but not nearly so much for low to moderate earners (i.e. most of us working Mississippians).  It’s the culmination of years of sustained, well-funded special interest lobbying intended to make Mississippi “business friendly.”

Though the ostensible aim of the cuts is to attract new business investment to the state – and hence jobs, revenue, and general prosperity – the majority opinion of economists, including state economist Darrin Webb, is that the long-term impact will be a net loss of revenue, something poorly resourced Mississippi can ill afford.

Not a problem, say top tax cut cheerleaders like Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves, the odds-on favorite to succeed Phil Bryant as governor, because the state is skilled at slashing expenditures to align with revenues that fall short of projections.  But accomplishing that alignment already comes at an unbearably high cost in terms of devastating cuts to the “commons”: public education, health, mental health, public safety, and environmental protection among the casualties.

Mississippi’s public agencies are already dangerously underfunded, to the point that their missions are sharply curtailed, if not subverted.  Real people are experiencing real suffering, and tax cuts for corporations and the well-off will only make matters worse.  Austerity begets poverty, which begets more austerity, and onward in a downward spiral.  This is an ugly pig that no amount of lipstick can pretty up.

 

Dr. Michael Forster

Ignore Trump’s Twitter antics; focus on policy agenda

Predictably, President Trump is back in the news with his misogynistic attacks on a cable news host.  “Shocking!” say even members of his own party, “beneath the dignity of the office,” “embarrassing to the nation,” blah, blah.  Really?  Who didn’t know by now that the president is a crude boor, with the ethics of a schoolyard bully and the antics of a professional wrestler?

At the risk of giving the president more credit for political guile than he deserves, I suggest we ignore this latest outburst, and any others that follow (and who doubts for a moment that there will be more?), to stay focused on the far greater danger – the dismantling of what remains of the social safety net and the dismembering of the commons in all its forms – as the very deliberate core component of a corporate-funded right-wing agenda.

Even if the current horrible proposal to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act fails, the gang of neo-liberal kleptocrats will be back in no time with “improved” plans for health care, for the environment, for education, for Medicaid/Medicare/Social Security equally horrible in the long run.  The assault on democracy, and everyone in the nation except the well off, will continue, as Trump, the “insane clown president” in Rolling Stone reporter Matt Talibbi’s telling image, provides tragi-comic distraction.

Our task is threefold: 1. Denounce but waste little time and energy on Trump’s nonsense; 2. Resist regressive policy initiatives; 3. Articulate a new vision of a genuinely democratic solidarity society that will resonate with the vast majority of Americans.

 

Dr. Michael Forster

Obamacare repeal is just the start of a new class war offensive

By now anyone paying any attention to national news knows that if Senate Republicans can muster the votes, Obamacare is history, with massive Medicaid cuts and caps thrown into the bargain.  This is very, very bad news for scores of millions of Americans – vast numbers of poor, disabled, and elderly among them – dependent on Medicaid for health care coverage.  Poor states like Mississippi that currently enjoy high levels of federal cost share will be particularly hard hit.  That miserable prospect alone should serve as a five-alarm call to action for social workers.

But I think there’s much more to this story; health care “reform” is just chapter one.  Should Republicans succeed in zapping Medicaid, next up will likely be Medicare, and after that, Social Security.  As early as the Reagan presidency, Republicans declared war on “entitlements,” along with a long-range goal of dismantling the social safety net that emerged from the New Deal and the Great Society, while cutting taxes for the rich and powerful corporations.  Their moment has arrived, with all three branches of the federal government under virtual control of the political right and their big money backers and kleptocratic partners in crime.

There’s a name for this – oligarchic class war, and we’re in it, even if most of us aren’t yet aware of it.

Dr. Michael Forster

Progressives need a new party to defeat Trumpism

Hand-wringing is the order of the day among mainstream liberals after defeat in Tuesday’s Georgia special election.  There was out-sized hope that the election would be a “referendum” on the first disastrous months of the Trump presidency; a victory for Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff in the red congressional district would point a clear path to more Democratic victories in 2018 and an end to the Trumpian abomination.

No such luck; Republicans retain the seat, and the president is reported to be “very proud.”  But the analysis was flawed from the first.  The election was no referendum, and Ossoff represented no break from a failed Democratic strategy of running cautiously from the “mainstream.”  More than anything, Trump’s shocking victory in November meant that Americans want something radically different than mainstream politics-as-usual, especially as applied to the declining economic fortunes of the broad (so-called) middle class.

Some Dems are now calling for a shake-up in the party leadership (including Bernie Sanders, who has better reason than anyone, having been robbed of the presidential nomination by that same leadership), and the plotting of a new, distinctively progressive policy path.  Can new leadership save the party and point a way to victory in future elections?  Maybe, but I’m skeptical.  Too much (polluted) water has flowed under that rickety bridge.  Progressives – and yes, social workers are (or should be) progressives; they practically invented the word at the beginning of the last century – need a new party, with what’s left of labor and the myriad social movements (some of them new, some of them energized by Trump) at its core.

A new party with new blood offers the best hope to stifle America’s disastrous lurch to the right and get us back on a genuinely democratic (small “d”) track.  Erstwhile Democrats are more than welcome to join up.

 

Dr. Michael Forster

Mounting evidence of irresponsible state leadership

Two stories making news today add to evidence that Mississippi’s political leadership seems hellbent on driving our state down, down, down.  That neither story is really “new” does nothing to soften their subjects’ profound negative impacts.

The first is the quasi-dismantling of the state Department of Health in the face of drastic budget cuts.  Dr. Mary Currier, our long-suffering state health officer, is doing her damnedest to mitigate the damage, but there’s no way that the drastic measures underway – cutting back from nine districts to three regional administrative offices, requiring county offices to make sizable budget cuts of their own, encouraging retirements of seasoned personnel, and eliminating unfilled positions, among them – won’t severely hurt the department, and ultimately threaten the health and well-being of all of us.  Public health crises, such as Mississippi’s current alarming spike in STDs, are already overwhelming existing resources; God help us when the next pandemic hits.

The second is the latest edition of Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT report on child well-being.  Mississippi is once more at the bottom, 50th out of 50 states, for all the usual reasons that we’ve abysmally failed to address – too many kids in poverty, too many kids not getting health care, too many kids getting substandard education (including no pre-K).  While the state has indeed made incremental improvements in some areas (notably in health insurance coverage), the progress is nowhere near enough to move the needle on our national ranking.

Is such bad news the fault of the political leadership?  You bet it is, and that leadership should be held accountable.  Instead of committing to the hard work of human capital development, the linchpins of which are quality education and accessible health care, our leaders enthuse over tax cuts for corporations and boast about “starving-the-beast” of government.  Tax cuts and anti-government rhetoric may make for great electioneering sound bites, but as policy measures they’re nothing but bad.  Starving government means depriving us all of much-needed public services; and without public services, the only way to go is down.