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.

 

Dr. Michael Forster

Reeling from cuts, MS Dept of Health will charge for HIV testing

Admittedly, the decision is startling.  In the middle of battling (so far without great success) an epidemic of sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, on July 1 the Mississippi Department of Health bill begin charging a $25 fee for all STD and HIV tests at its clinics.

Reaction has not been supportive.  A story in today’s Clarion-Ledger extensively quotes Deja Abdul-Haqq, with the Jackson organization My Brother’s Keeper: “They’re looking at numbers but not considering people…  When 4 in 10 gay and bisexual men are HIV positive, when we are third in the nation for chlamydia, fifth in the nation for gonorrhea and 12th in the nation for syphilis, when syphilis rates have practically tripled, it’s not just an epidemic, it’s an epidemic on fire and your solution is to take away the small cup of water that we actually have to help.”  Charging for testing will of course reduce the number of people tested, cause the state to sink ever further in rankings, and put untold new numbers of citizens at risk.  What is already a public health disaster will only get worse.

I think the vast majority of Mississippi social workers would tend to agree with Mr. Abdul-Haqq’s sentiments of angry disbelief.  But why aim the finger of blame at the Department of Health, and not point it past the department to the state’s political leadership, where I’m strongly inclined to think it more rightly belongs?  Already badly underfunded for its mission, the Department of Health has been operationally devastated by a long series of budget cuts imposed by state leaders more concerned for reducing taxes on businesses and high-end earners than for addressing critical human capital needs.  Where should it turn for funds to continue operations, if not to fees for service?  Castigating the department for imposing charges is much like criticizing colleges and universities for raising student tuition in the face of repeated reductions in state appropriations.

It’s natural to react against those closest to a distasteful decision; but in this case the real blame lies elsewhere.

Dr. Michael Forster

Trump’s budget abandons the poor and working class supporters who helped put him in office

Mississippi social workers, if you had any doubt, lay it aside – Donald Trump doesn’t give a damn about struggling working class people in this state or any other who elected him in hopes of economic relief, let alone millions of truly poor, disabled, sick, and chronically unemployed citizens.  His budget proposal is by the rich, for the rich, and all about making the rich still richer (this includes the president’s proposed military expansion, which fattens further the already obscenely bloated profits of defense contractors and their investors).

While introducing tax reductions for the already under-taxed 1%, Trump’s budget slashes spending on Medicaid, Social Security disability benefits, food stamps, Community Development Block Grants, and just about every other federal program that aids the needy.  This is class war, plain and simple, justified by the same old tired and oft-refuted arguments: (1) Federal assistance (in any form other than tax cuts, apparently) “makes” people dependent and prevents them from joining the labor force, where they belong, earning their own way; (2) tax cuts for the rich will fire up business expansion and job creation, spreading the benefits of economic growth far, wide, and deep.

Promises of prosperity by aiding the rich and denying the poor are pure poppycock, and it’s hard to believe that anyone – even someone as policy history ignorant as our president – can make them with a straight face.  Even economists generally unfriendly to welfare state spending think the projected economic growth is so much wishful thinking.  The real results of a Trump budget?  A lot more extreme inequality, pain, suffering, and needless death, for sure.  Also, hopefully, a non-violent Trumpism resistance movement growing rapidly in both strength and size.  Mississippi social workers need to be part of that movement.

 

Dr. Michael Forster

We have our own swamp to drain in Jackson

By now just about every English-literate person inside and outside Mississippi has heard of state representative Karl Oliver’s Facebook pronouncement that Louisiana leaders removing Confederate monuments from public places should be “lynched.”

It’s hard to imagine a statement more idiotic yet simultaneously more revealing of the base, race-addled mentality underlying so much of what’s wrong with our state.  It’s the same ideologically insensitive mentality responsible for refusing to expand Medicaid to thousands of Mississippi citizens desperate for health care when the opportunity was there, and for repeatedly slashing public health, mental health, and education budgets without apology to those who will suffer the worst consequences.

Social workers, this is what we are up against.  In the current political context, hoping and praying for gradual evolutionary change for the better is delusional.  Petitioning, “lobbying” elected officials in the traditional manner is a dead end.  Forget the Washington nightmare for the moment.  Time to break out the hip boots and ready ourselves to “drain the swamp” in Jackson.