Dr. Michael Forster

It’s time for single-payer universal health care coverage

Social workers – Isn’t it time to recognize that a single-payer universal-coverage health care system is the way to go?  Republicans were right to argue that the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) was and remains a deeply flawed approach to addressing Americans’ health needs. But they were badly off the mark in thinking – as their recent legislative debacle amply demonstrated – that the ACA could be rapidly “repealed and replaced” with something palatable to the American public.

We seem to have turned a big corner on accepting the single payer concept.  In part due to the robust Sanders run for the presidential nomination, in part because of sheer Republican stupidity in trying to strip millions of insurance coverage, while simultaneously capping Medicaid funding and handing the wealthy a handsome tax cut, single-payer is presently enjoying a surge in popularity.  Articles acknowledging its feasibly are popping up with increasing frequency in unlikely places, including The Atlantic Monthly and Harvard Business Review.

A pro-single-payer position will not be popular with Mississippi’s political leadership.  Indeed, no public program perceived to benefit the “undeserving” is likely to ever gain their support.  But that is of minor consequence.  Stereotypes aside, our profession’s commitment is to justice, not mealy-mouthed “niceness.”  Ethically, single-payer universal coverage is far more just than the mess of a pseudo-system that we have now; pragmatically, it is the way of the future.  It’s high time we take a firm stance on the right side of history.

Dr. Michael Forster

Trump will go, then what?

As the Russia connection probes intensify following the first hard evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian disruptors, we can for the first time realistically envision the end of the hateful Trump presidency.  But let’s not break out the champagne just yet.  Three concerns suggest we keep the bubbly corked for the time being.

First, Trump is dangerous on a good day; under pressure of losing the biggest branding prize of his “winner” life, he’s likely to grow increasingly less rational.  A master of creating and manipulating confusion and chaos, as commander in chief he has weapons (literally as well as figuratively) galore at his disposal with which to distract attention from his troubles.

Second, the shocking Trump electoral victory only seemed to come out of nowhere.  In fact, this “insane clown president” (as per journalist Matt Talibbi) is the despicable product of a dysfunctional political system that has grown more detached from the majority of Americans’ interests with each electoral cycle.  As John Ralston Saul has put it, we’ve undergone a “corporate coup d’etat in slow motion.”  Trump’s departure from the White House would in itself do nothing to alter the vicious pro-corporate, pro-rich agenda of the right.

Third, progressives (by which I mean all who believe in and strive to expand democracy and economic/social justice, including social workers) have yet to articulate an alternative agenda capable of capturing the hearts and minds of a majority of citizens.  To be sure there is energetic anti-Trump “resistance” all about, but to date there’s no unifying vision of the world we want to replace the current one with.   We need resistance, yes, but resistance alone is not enough.

Dr. Michael Forster

Social worker Kathryn Rehner is running for the Mississippi House

How many times have you heard it, and maybe said it yourself? “Social workers need to run for political office, with support from other social workers.” Putting social workers in office committed to addressing the needs of all, and not just the elite, helps fulfill our ethical commitment to push for economic and social justice.  It’s our best hope of advancing sound social welfare policy, and protecting what safety net programs we have against mounting threats from the political right.

Well, guess what?  There’s a social worker running right now for the Mississippi House of Representatives, District 102 – the seat vacated by Toby Barker when he became the new mayor of Hattiesburg.  Five candidates have declared candidacy so far for the September 12 special election, but only one social worker, Kathryn Rehner – https://www.facebook.com/KathrynRehner102/.

Time to get busy, social workers, in showing support for one of our own.  Time to walk the walk.

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.