Dr. Michael Forster

Republicans move to strip Mississippi employees of civil service protection

Under a bill working its way through the legislature now, most state employees will lose civil service protections. The rationale advanced is a favorite one of the political right – budget shortfalls require agency leaders to make cuts, and reductions cannot be made “efficiently” without removing all the “bureaucratic red tape.”  Well, yes, procedures of due process do get in the way of managers firing workers at will and generally doing whatever they want without being held accountable; imagine that!

Mississippi social workers, quite a few of whom labor for the state, should be appalled and resist this assault on employee rights where possible. Let’s especially keep in mind two things:

  1. The same leadership that claims extreme measures are necessary to manage the state’s budget crisis created that crisis by tax cuts benefitting corporations and the wealthy.
  2. The budget crisis is more rationalization than rationale. Our state is being run by ideologues and privatization advocates who denigrate the public space, and will take advantage of every opportunity to shrink it, consequences for workers and citizens be damned.
Dr. Michael Forster

Trumpism compels social workers to choose

The best piece out there on social workers reacting to the collective trauma of Trump is probably “Social Work at the Crossroads,” appearing in Huffington Post – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/social-work-at-the-crossroads-how-to-resist-the-politics_us_583f22ade4b0cf3f6455863a/

Authors Hayes, Karpman, and Miller make it crystal clear – both in action and attitude, President Trump and the collection of xenophobes, white supremacists, militarists, misogynists, and heterosexists he has surrounding him are anathema to everything Social Work holds dear.

There are supposed to be over 650,000 Social Work degree holders active in the USA today. Every one of them stands at the “crossroads” and has a choice to make – oppose Trumpism, in word and action, or betray the values and ethics at the heart of the profession.

Dr. Michael Forster

Social Work Colloquium welcome remarks

Welcome.  At 24 years old, the School of Social Work Annual Fall Colloquium is not only the longest running event in the College of Health, but quite possibly the oldest in the university. I’m delighted that here we are again, and even more delighted that you are here in attendance today.

Now, this particular colloquium occurs just three days after a truly historic presidential election, prompting the question on tens of millions of lips across America – What the hell happened?  Only four words, but they pose a deep question, one which, as you know, political analysts of varying perspectives are hard at trying to answer. In the few minutes I have, let me share what I think are three key “take-aways” from the Trump upset:

  1. First, populist anti-“Establishment” rage is real. The ranks of people facing declining economic fortunes – notably low-wage working people and the so-called middle class – has been steadily expanding for decades, with no end in sight.  They don’t like it; they’re afraid, and they’re angry.  They want to hold somebody responsible, and they want something done to reverse their slide and the diminishing prospects for their kids.  Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side was tapping into the same populist anger quite successfully until his campaign was derailed by Clinton, leaving Trump’s right-wing version – xenophobic, misogynistic, Islamophobic, etc. – to romp freely.  Populist rage is real.
  2. Second, political party leadership is out of touch with the electorate they claim to represent. Trump took on the Republican leadership and turned it inside out, upside down.  On the Democratic side, Clinton, with a huge amount of baggage, appeared as the very picture of the elite Establishment, the old guard, inside-the-beltway-business-as-usual.  In broad terms, her defeat (true enough, only in the electoral college, and not in the popular vote) spells the death of a shaky coalition of Wall Street money and so-called “identity politics” – blacks, women, Latinos, post-industrial working class, younger college-educated urbanites and hipsters – who every four years join in fear of a common enemy.  The problem is that that coalition has no organizational base, is therefore unsustainable, and has been close to death for some time now.  Yet Clinton and the Democratic party leadership missed it.  So, one, populist rage is real; and, two, political elites are severely out of touch.
  3. Third, governmental institutions are themselves at their lowest level of legitimacy ever.  Six years of Congressional gridlock, Obama’s kowtowing to Wall Street and failure to deliver on key “change” promises, seemingly endless wars that drain the treasury and wreck lives, and an anemic economic recovery haven’t helped.  Neither has a broad-based perception of widespread government corruption, that “the whole system is rigged” in favor of the fat cats, the bankers and corporate heads who don’t give a damn about workers, and the political insiders.  Let’s remember that a large majority of Americans found both Trump and Clinton as distasteful, didn’t want either one to become president.  But in a general context of revulsion against government, and growing cynicism toward pretty much all voices of authority, the rude/crude tough-talking “outsider,” beholden to no one for money and promising to shake up Washington from top to bottom, comes out the winner.  So, again: populist rage is real; political elites are out of touch; and trust in government and most authoritative institutions is in the toilet.

Well, I’ve used far more time than I should have.  In conclusion, we’re in a bad spot (and not just because we missed a chance to elect the first woman president); we have much to fix; there’s a lot of work to do.  Today’s colloquium topic – racism, and what to do about it – is surely an appropriate place to begin that work.  Again, welcome; enjoy the day.

Dr. Michael Forster

Medical association – “We have a public health crisis here”

Last week, the Mississippi State Medical Association adopted a resolution supporting Medicaid expansion – even though the words themselves, “Medicaid expansion,” were considered too politically incendiary to appear in the document.  That tells you a lot about our condition, both healthwise and politically.

MSMA president Dr. Lee Voulters pithily summed up the health condition – “We have a public health crisis here.”  Along with being the poorest state in the nation, Mississippi ranks as the most unhealthy.  Governor Bryant was even more pithy in his response to the MSMA resolution to expand Medicaid coverage – “No.”

And there’s the rub.  The public officials who need to act to improve health care access won’t.  Indeed, they want to move the state in the opposite direction, toward a progressively smaller government footprint, in line with the “starve the beast” ideology popular on the political right wing.  They are deeply, deeply committed to the notion that government should do less for citizens, not more.  And expanding health care, especially for those least able to pay, would definitely mean doing more.

It’s obvious to the doctors’ association that any form of expanded health care coverage would be a good thing for Mississippi, and saying so was the right thing to do.  But hey, they’re only doctors.  What do they know about public health compared to the governor and the other enlightened leaders of state government?




Dr. Michael Forster

Oh, no! Dobbs to leave post as state epidemiologist

Today’s Clarion-Ledger carries a notice that Dr. Thomas Dobbs is resigning as the state’s epidemiologist.  This is very bad news for Mississippi.

I’m  a huge fan of Dobbs.  Dr. Mary Currier brought him into the critical post of helping defend the state against disease epidemics shortly after she assumed the helm as our state health officer several years ago.  Dr. Dobbs, who formerly served as the health officer for two state health districts, VII and VIII (taking in most of southern Mississippi), is a great friend of Southern Miss and the College of Health.  He’s been an adjunct instructor for our Department of Public Health, and a long-serving member of my advisory Dean’s Council.  Everyone who knows him says you won’t find a more decent and caring individual.

I’ve had no personal correspondence with Dobbs, and the brief news note offers no details, but I feel certain his resignation is tied to the serious budget cuts laid on the state Department of Health.  His entire tenure in the position has been punctuated by cut-cut-cut; now already inadequate resources are shrinking further, with new service reductions and staff layoffs in the offing.  I don’t want to project too much onto Dr. Dobbs, but it’s all too easy to imagine him concluding that enough is enough, it’s time to stop the madness of pretending that all the plates can be kept spinning through ever-greater “efficiency.”

Let’s hope that the doctor’s resignation helps our sometimes myopic guardians of the public purse to see reality more clearly, and move rapidly to reduce the growing risk to the health and welfare of Mississippians.