Racializing the Corona Virus Disease is Not Helpful

Over the past week, President Trump has repeatedly referred to COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus.” The virus, first reported in China in November, has now spread to every continent. Today, most reported cases are outside of China.

Mr. Trump has denied accusations of racism. Instead, he claims he is countering a disinformation campaign promoted by Chinese officials that the U.S. military was the source of the outbreak, but this assertion has not been confirmed.

Key Trump allies, including Senator Tom Cotton, Republican of Arkansas, have begun spreading the discredited hypothesis that the virus may have originated from a Chinese government laboratory.

When statements like these, coming from top government officials, get uncritically reproduced in some media outlets, they fuel the narrative that a single ethnic group, the Chinese, are to blame for this unfortunate pandemic.

In doing so, they fan the flames of ethnic hatred. Mainstream news outlets have documented multiple reports of individuals of Asian descent being harassed and attacked as likely carriers of the virus. In addition, small Chinese businesses saw their number of customers plummet even before social distancing rules were established in the U.S.

Blaming immigrants and ethnic minorities for health outbreaks is an age-old trope. Medical historian Howard Merkel has described how tuberculosis, bubonic plague, trachoma, typhus, cholera, and AIDS were all attributed to specific immigrant groups.

The scapegoats have changed over time. While the Chinese were accused of spreading bubonic plague in the early 1900’s, Eastern Europeans were blamed for trachoma, a dreaded eye infection that continues to rob millions of people of their sight each year. More recently, AIDS was initially considered a “Haitian” import.

On the basis of these misguided views, officials came up with ethnic-based public policies that harmed these communities and often made things worse. Some Eastern European immigrants contracted trachoma at the hands of the very U.S. health officials in Ellis Island in charge of examining them.

Similarly, when a Chinese immigrant came down with bubonic plague in 1900, the city of San Francisco quarantined its Chinatown. Since the plague was considered a “Chinese” disease, Whites were able to enter or leave. Authorities inspected every building in Chinatown and burned property suspected of harboring filth. Some concerned Chinese residents reacted by hiding sick residents. These measures were not only discriminatory, but they also failed to contain the disease.

It’s important that we recognize and keep this history in mind as we respond to the novel coronavirus. As history has shown time and again, microbes are quite egalitarian in their mode of attack. Rather than accentuating ethnic cleavages, what we need are community-wide solutions.

In my own research, I document the power that political elites, like Mr. Trump, have via their public statements to shape how the general public reacts to immigrants. I found that exposure to Mr. Trump’s derogatory statements about immigrants hardened the expressed immigration views of respondents, particularly among Republicans and individuals without college degrees. Though the effect of these statements was short-lived, Mr. Trump is known for doubling-down on his divisive rhetoric to keep his base excited.

Major health outbreaks require a global, unified response. Instead of exacerbating social divisions, as Mr. Trump is currently doing, our leaders should try to bring people together behind sound public health solutions like social distancing. Many lives may depend on it.

Emotions and Politics: Our Role to Undo Damage of Hateful Politics

Photo Credit: Common Sense Media

When I first read the news about four Congresswomen being told by the President of this nation to go back to the countries they came from, my heart sunk and I had a huge knot in my stomach. The image of every kid I have ever worked with and still work with and children I know, immediately with came to my mind—US born kids of color, kids who are immigrants —who could internalize the President’s comments as not belonging or deserving to be in this country. Those whose self-esteem, self-worth and sense of self could be damaged as well as the kids and adults who could replicate the President’s behavior and become bullies at school, work or their communities, something we have seen since he took center stage during the 2016 election cycle.

The night I heard a group of people at one of Trump’s rally chant “send her back,” referring to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, I thought of a group of kids between 6 and 12 years old who were part of a mental health psychoeducation group I co-led, who during the 2016 election cycle had displayed symptoms of anxiety and depression over what they were hearing the new President could do to their families.

I vividly remembered the fear they expressed after President Trump had been elected, of their parents being sent home. I wondered what these children would think and feel if they heard those comments to the Congresswomen by the President and by the chanters. I wanted them to know they belong, they are loved, they matter, our diversity matters and there are many more people who love them and welcome them than others who may not.

For many of us who have been told to “go back to your country or where you belong,” there has been incredible pain we have had to overcome over feelings of not belonging, feelings of confusion, frustration, isolation, and insecurity, among others.

Twenty-four years ago, while in high school and after migrating from Honduras, I was told this phrase over and over again. Back then, I didn’t quite understand the charged meaning of that phrase but the manner, and anger the person displayed when she told me to go back said it all and it evoked a feeling of not being welcomed. It didn’t feel good, it felt threatening and I was terrified to go to school.

Luckily, I had a supportive family to go back to, other friends who looked and sounded like me and many others who expressed welcoming feelings, care and kindness. I rose above those comments, made it through high school and by the end of high school the person who had bullied me wrote a kind message on my yearbook noting that she was glad she had gotten to know me. When I was finally able to understand why someone would say something so hurtful, I came to realize that my former classmate had learned that behavior.

To hear this same racist rhetoric, two decades later by no other than the President, a figure who should symbolize a positive role model and exemplify the American values of unity, acceptance, tolerance, collaboration, inclusiveness, was astonishing, disappointing and infuriating.

The President’s Tweets reminded me of the long work we still have ahead to educate communities on topics like our right to protest as an American freedom, our right to advocate and elevate our voices when we disagree on policies, our rights as women to stand up from the sidelines and be a part of political discourse.

We have our work cut out to gain our democracy back, a democracy where we can both love our country and being an American but still denounce policies we disagree with. This election cycle let our fear and anger fuel our fire to fight for a new and inclusive leader, one that welcomes difference of opinion without attacking, bullying, minimizing and threatening those who oppose him, a leader who is not a threat to our democracy and the values we are teaching our children, a leader who we proudly want our kids to emulate.

Now, part of our role is undoing the emotional damage the Presidents politics of hate has created, particularly with our kids who are shaping their views and behaviors based on what they learn at home, school, their environments, and media. Our role is going back to the essential dinner conversations at home to understand what kids are saying, thinking about and how they may be internalizing and interpreting the information they hear in the news. Kids and adolescents depend on us to make sense and meaning out of information. As long as we are having conversations and checking in, we can create opportunities to debunk myths and misinformation.

For the rest of us, it is more important than ever before to be in community; to take to the streets, to advocate and organize when necessary while taking care of our own emotional wellbeing and seeking support from a professional when the politics of hate and division impact our mental health.

Call to Action

This petition is a collaboration between Social Workers United for Immigration and Social Workers Unraveling Racism with contributions by Hope Center for Wellness, Gardner Associates, and the support of Social Work Helper, Latin American Youth Center, American Federation of Teachers, Undocublack Network,  and CASA. The petition was part of a week long campaign of mandated reporters denouncing government child abuse and demanding action.

Please sign and/or share our petition located at http://chng.it/dc2HnCQNT5. Please, take this small step to help us make a difference.

NASW says plan to separate undocumented immigrant children from their parents is malicious and unconscionable

Photo Credit: Reuters

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A “zero tolerance” immigration policy that would prosecute families who attempt to cross the border and forcibly separate children from parents is malicious and unconscionable and the National Association of Social Workers (NASW) will press lawmakers to rescind this egregious action.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions on May 7 announced the zero tolerance policy for immigration into the United States. In announcing the policy, Sessions continued an unacceptable tendency to use language designed to demonize undocumented immigrants. For example, he characterized the parents seeking to escape extreme poverty and violence as “smugglers.” This paints the unfair picture that parents are criminals – not asylum seekers fleeing terrible conditions that include death threats against their families.

The “family separation policy” means that all adults will be referred to criminal court for prosecution and their children will be held in the same facilities as minors who came to the United States without their parents. Also, parents may not know where their children are placed.

This awful Department of Justice policy is fully supported by the White House and Department of Homeland Security (DHS). NASW adamantly disagrees with this approach to border security and urges a policy which strengthens and upholds families regardless of their country of origin.

The decision to separate children from their parents as soon as the parent crosses the border into the United States is both harmful and inexcusable. More concretely, the policy directly imperils the health and safety of immigrants.

It is wholly un-American to weaponize children as a deterrence against immigration. It is telling that officials from the Department of Health and Human Service (HHS) visited four military bases in Texas and Arkansas to determine whether they could be facilities to house immigrant children. This demonstrates the Trump Administration has a large-scale plan to increase prosecutions of adult undocumented immigrants and deliberately separate children from parents.

The government intends to send parents to detention facilities run by DHS while their children would go to holding facilities administered by HHS.

A plan to temporarily house children on military bases is alarming. However, it is even more concerning when we realize that the Department of Health and Human Services Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) lacks the resources and capacity to safely oversee the influx of children that is sure to result from this ill-advised family separation policy.

HHS and ORR have been criticized in the past for placing children at risk. A 2016 independent investigation found that more than two dozen unaccompanied children had been sent to homes where they were sexually assaulted, starved, or forced to work for little or no pay.

The investigation revealed that HHS did not complete thorough background checks on many adult sponsors, all of which led the Chicago Tribune to describe ORR as the “worst foster parent in the world.”

NASW highlights HHS’s problems to show how the emotional trauma inflicted on children removed from parents for reasons unrelated to abuse or neglect may be further exacerbated by placement in unsafe settings. ORR will now be asked to absorb perhaps tens of thousands more children into its overburdened system. The family separation policy is not only irresponsible but reflects a willful disregard for the safety and well-being of these children.

NASW unambiguously rejects the administration’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy. It is reprehensible that government officials at the highest levels believe that separating parents from their children is acceptable public policy.

More than 700 children have been taken from their parents since October 2017, including more than 100 children under the age of four. There is ample research demonstrating that family separation can cause long-term trauma leading to mental, physical, and educational development problems in children. For this and other reasons, this policy cannot continue.

We agree with members of Congress who have called for immediate hearings to require all heads of the Justice Department, DHS and HHS to explain and justify such an inhumane policy.

NASW also urges Congress use its constitutional authority to insist the Trump Administration rescind this ill-conceived mandate. We encourage all agencies and elected officials seek a safer future for these children by developing policy that protects them from the harms of separation from parents who violate U.S. immigration policy.

The Grand Challenge of Thoughts and Prayers

The snapping sound of my laptop closing echoed in the room as I stared up at the ceiling and shoved it aside along with the glaring screen and endless scroll of ‘thoughts and prayers‘. Realizing that I had a visceral reaction to seeing ‘thoughts and prayers’ tweeted out by well-meaning people for I’m not sure how many thousands of times now. I puzzled over why this time caused more reaction than other similar events. I won’t even bother to name the incident because it will be dated by the time I finish this article.

The endless snark of the social media blame game (this includes me at times, it’s a coping mechanism) and the seeming avoidance of meaningful action post “marking” events like Sandy Hook or Las Vegas in its level of horror was just too much today.

Maybe it’s the stark nothingness that has followed. In the subsequent, daily violence, the blame of outsiders, leadership, anyone but ourselves for taking action that will result in change, is what must change.

What’s my bias, you ask? The lack of action from anyone posting about guns, walls, terror, foreigners or travel bans outside of snide social media posts. I beg everyone to take meaningful action and then share that on your social media.

Let’s start with the pro-gun people.

Individuals who believe we need guns to protect ourselves from a corrupt government or to keep yourself safe from harm.

Your Action: Go take a class on how to be a hero to satisfy your John Wayne fantasies without getting anyone else or yourself, killed in the process.

I’m quite serious under the sarcastic tone. I think it’s 99% fantasy that you are going to contribute to stopping mass shooters, but at least you are doing something. Share about the awesome class you’ve taken, and how you’ve reduced your “freeze time” in reacting to a guy with a semi-automatic weapon pointed at you or family members while at school, church, the local Walmart or while watching the latest Disney movie at the theatre. Practice should certainly help you if you find yourself at a packed outdoor concert with thousands of people. Make sure to take the advanced class at aiming for shooters at 15 plus stories above (also without shooting bystanders or others in the building). Make sure to share with everyone the smoke signals you learned to share with the local law enforcement, who will surely appreciate your well -trained help in the next mass shooting incident.

NRA Defensive Pistol Course

The NRA Defensive Pistol course will focus on the techniques needed to develop a defensive mindset. The goal of the course will be to develop the knowledge, skills, and attitude necessary to carry and use a concealed pistol ethically, responsibly and with confidence… This course is only conducted by NRA certified Advanced Pistol Instructors.

NRA FIRST Steps Rifle Orientation

Firearm Instruction, Responsibility, and Safety Training is the NRA’s response to the American public’s need for a firearm orientation program for new purchasers.

You can even check their ratings on Yelp.

Next, let’s talk with the travel ban people.

Your Action: Get a big paper map

Get yourself a world map- the type that covers your entire wall, old- school style with accessorized colored push- pins. I won’t tell you how to code your travel ban countries but you’ll need to, in 4th-grade style, create a key and chart about the history of mass shootings in the US and make sure we’re covering the right countries. Don’t let phrases like “extra super extreme vetting” confuse you.

Better yet, just list the countries that you believe pose a danger to America based on recent history (I’m trying to be reasonable- perhaps since 2007?). Then look at the travel ban list- how do they match up? If they don’t, there’s your short list of action items. Find out why the “terrorist countries” aren’t on the list then contact your local, state and federal representatives about it. Share that on your social media.

Here’s a link to the Department of State:

For the “Build the Wall” people:

Do you want to build a wall to keep out people who fly here? Who are you trying to keep out? If it’s the Terrorist Catholics from Mexico you’ll need to make that case, but far too many responses to news and social media reports are reactionary to terrorists who flew here on an airplane or actually live here in the US.

Your Action: Check the country of origin for the latest mass shooting or terror attack on the map and compare it to the travel ban list to see if your noise on social media is adding to creating change or confusing the uneducated. If they can’t walk here, surely it’s the latter.

For gun safety or anti-gun people:

Know what “they” have for support and organizing versus what you do. There’s money all around, but being a paid member of a club like the National Rifle Association gives a base of actionable information sharing that those who lack organized structure do not. Gun safety advocates need to reach out to the community and invite them in, not just ask for donations about something they believe is obvious and based on moral outrage. Teach others how to organize- the NRA’s annual meeting has something like 80,000 members present every year. Professor Harie Han wrote about this in “How Organizations Develop Activists” which I stumbled upon while looking for others who think along similar lines.

Using terms like “gun violence prevention” is more useful and descriptive for most arguments (and reflective of almost all Americans) rather than “gun control”. An easy action item is to learn your local and state laws on gun violence prevention and join an already established group like Everytown that is making headway and has coffee meetups for new members. Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Most of all, do rather than say– then share what you’re doing and why. Your focused time will reflect your passion for change and will be more likely to draw others in.

Why We Are Just Learning About Harvey Weinstein?

Photo Credit: People Magazine – Courtney Love and Harvey Weinstein Taylor Hill/FilmMagic; Venturelli/WireImage

Why has it taken almost three decades for Harvey Weinstein’s absurdities and gross sexual misconduct to come to light? He was a champion of women’s rights, an avid supporter of the progressive movement and a sought-after democratic donor. How did the people not know? Was there some oath of silence friends, colleagues, and staff members took which protected this man for so long?

While some may plead the fifth, it is clear that sexual harassment and discrimination against women is commonplace in Hollywood and unfortunately throughout mainstream and greater society, but it still doesn’t answer the question of why it took so damn long for the public to learn about Weinstein’s behavior. Sure there were non-disclosure agreements and possible gag orders that were strategically attached to pitiful sums of money to hush Weinstein’s multiple victims, but even still the question remains, Why?

Some believe that the answer is simple, misogyny. The misogynistic views that have been embedded in the very fabric of this countries DNA and have been allowed to permeate throughout American culture since this nation’s founding is definitely a good starting point. This misogynistic culture has caused many to turn a blind eye when they see it happen or remain silent when they encounter it themselves. The real kicker is that holding misogynistic views isn’t just a male-only issue.

Women perpetuate these views too which is evidenced by how many women voted for Trump despite the Access Hollywood tapes. Not that it is right, but perhaps the culture of misogyny that has persisted over the years has made it okay for both men and women to perpetuate and accept less than ethical and violent behavior against women.

With a long history of disrespect, disregard, and marginalization of women in this country, it would be ludicrous to ignore the influence that this attitude towards women has had within families, communities, and society as a whole. Despite the historical context that helps explain the 20+ years of silence, the question of why still remains. There have been many strides towards inclusion and improved parity for women. Women have continued to evolve and remain outspoken in various efforts to advocate for themselves and close disparity gaps, so again, why was this allowed to continue for so long?

Outside of the obvious cover-up and threat to one’s reputation; undoubtedly there is certain intimidation that comes with “going public” about issues like this, especially when your livelihood, reputation, and in extreme cases, your life, are on the line. A victim is even more subdued when the perpetrator holds clout such as Weinstein, Cosby, and others who have been ousted for similar acts.

Arguably so, the tolerance for this type of behavior and misconduct is steadily dwindling and is a strong indicator as to why people are just now learning about Weinstein’s gross behavior. Still, look at how long it has taken to get here. The tolerance for this type of behavior has to be high, for goodness sake, Trump was recorded on tape bragging about grabbing women by their meows, yet he was still elected the leader of the free world. This seemingly renewed assault on women has resulted in a call to action for individuals to protect rights that were hard-fought for and losing them would be a detriment.

This new movement of resistance has definitely brought light to the multiple injustices experienced by women as well as exposed several high-powered individuals and corporations for their unscrupulous behavior. However, as with any major change, hitting people in their pockets have always garnered both attention and change when all other forms of advocacy and protesting have been exhausted.

The threat of bad publicity and potential boycotts has been the impetus for many public apologies, forced resignations/terminations, policy changes, and organizational change and perhaps is the reason why we are just learning about Weinstein’s actions. The Weinstein Company has since fired Mr. Weinstein in an effort to save face.

While the power of the purse has definitely seen many individuals stand on the side of “right” and condemn the actions of Weinstein in an effort to save face and maintain their bottom line, many of these same individuals such as Ben Affleck has been ousted for being perpetrators of illicit behavior against women themselves. So not only does the question of why still linger, but the question of what does it really take to resolve these kinds of issues arises as well? Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones. For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to ”

So not only does the question of why these allegations lingered for so long is burned into our minds, but the question of what will it really take to resolve and address these kinds of issues in today’s society remains. Perhaps no one at all really gave a damn about Weinstein’s actions outside of his victims and a small group of their supporters consisting of friends, family, and loved ones.

For those A-list celebrities, writers, and producers who were fortunate to “make it” but were victimized, perhaps some made peace with their new-found success and opportunities and chose to put the Weinstein experience behind them. Either way, it’s good that the skeletons are no longer in the closet.

What if Donald Trump Had Empathy?

Donald Trump has proven over and over that he is incapable of empathy. Being called upon to relate to the pain of another person is like asking a toddler to drive a space shuttle.  He CANNOT do it. For him, every experience is a mirror— he is always, always assessing himself to bolster a very brittle ego. This explains his obsession with the number of people at his inauguration, the popular vote count, etc.

His response to Hurricane Maria made this empathy deficit abundantly clear, and it has done great damage. Below are some actual quotes from Trump, followed by what might have been said by someone capable of empathy:

Trump: “You’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack”

If Trump had empathy: Whatever it takes, Puerto Rico, we are there for you. We will get you the aid you need. We will help you rebuild. Your problems are our problems—you are not alone.

Trump: “I know you appreciate our support because our country has really gone all out to help”

If Trump had empathy: I know you are frustrated. I know you are scared and feel abandoned. But the US looks out for its citizens. My promise to you: we will not let you down. We will get you the food, water, medicines, and other supplies, and we will find a way to reach those who are isolated. We are Americans. We do not abandon our own.

Trump: “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help”

If Trump had empathy: Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz has been fighting for you. She has let me know what you need and I am grateful for that. She will not let you be forgotten. And I promise you this: neither will I.

Trump: “We’ve only heard ‘thank yous’ from the people of Puerto Rico,” he said. “It is something I enjoyed very much today.”

If Trump had empathy: When I look into your eyes, I see strength. I see resilience. This is what will get you through the next difficult months. I cannot take away your pain, but we promise we will help you rebuild. Puerto Rico will emerge stronger than ever.

Trump: “What’s happened in terms of recovery, in terms of saving lives – 16 lives that’s a lot – but if you compare that to the thousands of people who died in other hurricanes that frankly were not nearly as severe”

If Trump had empathy: I mourn with you. I feel your sorrow at the loss of your loved ones. Every life is precious, and this disaster touched each of you in a devastating way. You will recover, but it will be a hard, trying journey, perhaps made easier because you KNOW are not alone. We are with you, Puerto Rico. We are with you.

As we hear of the continued anguish in Puerto Rico, we must demand that other leaders in Washington step up. We cannot leave them without food, water, and the tools needed to rebuild. We must NOT let the suicide rate on this island continue to rise.

We must give them hope. They are a resilient people, but even the strongest among us needs help at times. If our president cannot send this message then we must:

We are with you, Puerto Rico. We are with you.

NASW Puerto Rico Chapter Sends Message Detailing Dire Situation on Island

Photo Credit: @Washington Post

This message from the National Social Work Association (NASW) Puerto Rico Chapter was sent to Mark Nichols, NASW manager of chapter services, in a series of cellphone text messages during the afternoon of Oct. 3. It has been slightly edited. We wish to share it with members and the wider social work community.

NASW will convey this message to members of Congress who are social workers and soon give information on how we can assist social workers in Puerto Rico:

Thank you for your support. Our main concern is there are no communications. There are no cellular phones that work well. All the island is without power —  there is no water and little produce.

President Trump came today and just said we are costing too much money for the United States government. The suicide rate is too high triggered by the suffering from lack of basic needs. During this period about 12 persons committed suicide (and there are likely more that are not confirmed).

We are citizens of the United States of America, we defend the principles of democracy, we fought in World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan and Iraq. 

Our people went to Vietnam without any preparation. Most of those who were drafted were only 17 years old and had no understanding of the English language. We fight very bravely with no support. Even the Congress recognized the 65th Infantry Regiment as an important part of (American) history. The man who planned to rescue the Americans who were hostages in Iran by the Carter administration, he was a Puerto Rican. 

Actually, we need support from the federal government, not just 4,000 soldiers around the island. We need to repair the electricity. We need water and food. There are people in the shelters without hope. Simply, there is no place to go. 

Mr. Nichols let the social workers know about our situation. Let the newspapers describe all the justice we need. I trust our nation and I strongly believe that a call to the Congress will help make the effort to help not a political issue, but a social justice issue. As I explained, the communications (are very bad). Thank you very much.

For information contact Greg Wright, NASW Public Relations Manager, at 202.336.8324 or by email at  gwright.nasw@socialworkers.org

Rescue to Recovery Stages in a Red Cross Disaster Deployment

Roy was my partner for most of our deployment with Red Cross on the Disaster Mental Health Team in Texas. We spent many hours on the road mostly on our own, with the exception of “ride to the office” or “back to the shelter” caravans, which could be quite crowded as there were few available cars to ferry us all from the staff shelter to Headquarters for the day.

Conversations stayed rooted mostly in the present, even with kids occasionally Face-timing us in the car when a signal would pop up. I know that he’s been a social worker since 1970 and that he has been married nearly as long. Getting to know each other on a disaster mental health deployment is a different way of knowing someone, but knowing them well regardless. Similar relationships are built with the people you sleep a couple of feet from in the staff shelter.

Roy: “Wasn’t there a band people used to like called the Dead Heads? People liked them but I think they’re dead.”

Roy, In response to a question about breakfast: “Right I’ll give you another rotten orange in the morning.

Kristie: “No thank you; that coffee was sufficient.”

Roy, just go ahead and get in the wrong lane again for this right turn.” (Texas “turnarounds” can be a nightmare).

There was the normalcy of the city center recovering, demonstrated through open shops and Home Depot’s parking lot was nearly at capacity. Starbucks opened, there was a carafe in HQ for one of the lucky teams.

Vulnerability and exploitation were visible not far from the city center. Compounding issues plague those who struggled prior to the disaster. Living paycheck to paycheck when there is suddenly no paycheck creates a domino effect of financial disaster. You can only call the companies to beg for mercy if your phone works, if there are enough bars available to connect you. The smell is rising in neighborhoods, and the question, “What is that smell?” was more frequent today. Mold grows rapidly, and you can smell it from the street.  Weeks have passed since the initial disaster, but it is just beginning to unfold for many people do not have flood insurance.

I ended up making a call to the Attorney General’s office regarding landlords who are refusing to remediate damage and demanding rent from those who cannot pay (or live in their home), with the threat of their things being sent to the dumpster. The police were empathetic but said that it’s a civil issue and in a disaster needs to go to the AGs office. So the wet carpet stays with children living inside, and they lack healthy food- maintaining on what looks like a vending machine diet.

There are contractor company scams that further exploit the exploited, and many workers are being brought in from surrounding areas without protective gear (notable lack of face masks) and clearly without reasonable hours or meal contracts.

On the other end of helplessness and anger, I felt in awe of all of the volunteers and what they do. They respond at the crack of dawn to Headquarters to work with a team using colored post it’s on the wall to map progress and hot spots for the day. Knowing that it’s likely that at the end of the day, they will have gotten sidetracked from the need that was directly in front of them, feeling regret for not making it back to the places they know are in desperate need but are now blocked by factors beyond their control.

Headquarters experienced an evacuation- someone screamed, “Get out! Get out of the building!” It turned out to be some off-gassing cones, but everyone went right back to work outside while standing outside the building waiting for clearance entirely unfazed.

Volunteers will talk it out with each other back at the shelter late at night, eating cold leftovers from the ERV (feeding) vehicles. Informal meetings run from their cots which will make a difference the next day in how resources are allocated because drivers are sleeping next to mental health, nurses, and those doing communications assessments. If you end up both eating and securing a space in line at the shower trailer behind the civic center before it’s too late, it’s something of a miracle. With a lot of contamination and illness going around, it’s best to just throw away the shoes on your way out.

As for the people we served, we realized the depth of desperation that is held for those in areas without good water. Your clothes were washed away or were contaminated, and even if you could wash them, you can’t because your washer and dryer is flooded (one family had some kind of snakes in theirs) as is the laundry mat down the road.

We brought restaurant workers wearing their last items of clothing and shoes serving people in the only community restaurant to open back up in Port Arthur in a certain radius, knowing that those clothes too, would soon be dirty. So what then? How long will this all take? While you may see signs of recovery in the city center, it’s clear that this is going to take so much longer for others, and the rural areas are barely touched by “helpers”.

The depth of this disaster isn’t something that we are used to covering, Katrina taught us a few things that are applicable, but each disaster is its own, and this scale is unimaginable. Puerto Rico is now unfolding as we watch on our screens, in some sort of mass denial of scale.

Most of us can sit comfortably behind our devices and all caps “GET TRUCK DRIVERS!” and while I can personally imagine the barriers that they have in distribution as we just experienced them in Harvey, you just can’t know unless you’re there and are using all of your five senses.

President Trump Decision to Rescind DACA is Cruel, Unwise and Unjustified

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) strongly opposes President Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program and will work with allied organizations and Congress to continue protections for young immigrants who were brought into the country illegally as children.

President Trump’s decision to revoke DACA dismays us. The order is cruel, unwise and unjustified and could lead to a mass deportation of some 800,000 young people.

There is little doubt that DACA has been a successful program during its five years of existence.

DACA recipients or “Dreamers” have significantly contributed to the growth of our local state and national economies. More than 91 percent of young adult Dreamers are employed. They have also demonstrated their patriotism by joining the American military – some have even sacrificed their lives for this nation.

Abolishing DACA would end Dreamers’ pathway to citizenship and disrupt thousands of families. Many Dreamers grew up in the United States, arriving here at age six or younger. So it would be cruel to send them to countries they barely remember or where they do not know the language.

That the administration is postponing implementation of its DACA executive action for six months to give Congress time to pass bipartisan DACA legislation provides little consolation. Given the many urgent international and national priorities facing Congress, there are no guarantees that Congress will have the time to write and pass a DACA bill in the next six months. As a result, mass deportations of Dreamers are likely.

However, given that President Trump has punted DACA to Congress, the House and the Senate now have a responsibility to make passage of the Dream Act an immediate priority.

Many Democrat and Republican lawmakers opposed President Trump’s DACA executive action. NASW expects this bipartisan group will take a lead in quickly introducing and moving a bill through both houses of Congress.

Therefore, NASW will hold Congress accountable for developing an effective policy for DACA recipients that will avoid chaotic disorder in the lives of DACA recipients and their families.

NASW is also working with partner organizations to oppose President Trump’s decision to revoke DACA and is urging its members and the wider social work community to get involved in local and national activities to protect DACA.

NASW also plans to update its members about DACA-related legislation as it moves through Congress and to alert members when we need for them to take action. For more information and data related to DACA, visit the NASW advocacy website.

The Donald Trump Effect – How Students Loans Are Set to Change Through Debt Consolidation

Betsy Devos at Senate Confirmation Hearing
Betsy Devos – Secretary US Department of Education

Based on President Donald Trump’s budget proposals released in May 2017 one thing is evident that it is going to strike the public servants and student.  Three things that emerge from the proposals are – public servants will be outside the purview of loan forgiveness, it will take much longer for graduate students to repay debts and borrowing for college education will become expensive for some low-income students. The budget proposals mention about cuts in selected initiatives that make college education more affordable and this is going to affect students of low-income group. The proposals stem from the overall outlook of President Trump’s budget strategy of cutting costs, and the education Department’s cost goes down by $9.2 billion in the proposals.

The proposals are subject to the approval of Congress, and it is not certain as to what would remain and what is going to be rejected, but the spirit of the proposals bears enough indication about the way the Government perceives student debts and college education in days to come.  There is no doubt that the proposals sound alarmed bells for students who are likely to be the broad side of Donald Trump’s target in cost cutting.  Let us now try to understand what could be coming by looking at some of the higher education related proposals of Trump’s budget.

Repayment program changes

Borrowers of federal student loans now have the flexibility of choosing repayment plans according to income by selecting the most convenient plan from a bouquet of different repayment plans. Among all repayment plans, the most borrower friendly plan entails maximum monthly payments of 10% of income for 20 years at the end of which the Government forgives remaining debt. The proposed modification increases the monthly payment to 12.5% of the income and under graduate students can earn forgiveness after 15 years and graduates after 30 years.

Subsidized loan program hacked

Currently, students belonging to the low-income group avail subsidy on borrowings. The Government bears the interest on the loan for such students while they are studying for the first six months of completion of schooling. Also, they do not have to pay interest for the first time they use the facility of deferment to push back payments on the loans they take. Those availing subsidized Stafford loans have the option of covering the interest for the first three years under the income driven repayment program.  Doing away with the subsidized loan program altogether will severely affect the aspirations of low-income students as they will no more be able to contain the debt burden at minimum levels.

Doing away with Work Study funding

Besides making sweeping changes in the student loan program, the budget proposals go further beyond funding for education and touches upon programs like federal work study that help students to afford school while in college. However, the proposal does not completely withdraw the facility but substitutes it with the Pell Grant. The Government provides the money to low-income students so that they can attend college round the year instead of supporting them for just two semesters. The maximum Pell grant award amounts to $5920.  Although it may sound encouraging, students may have to shell out more to meet the increasing tuition cost since the awards are fixed and firm. However, those taking summer courses could do with lower debts as the grants cover year round learning.

Eliminating Public Service Loan Forgiveness program

The proposal of scrapping the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program is perhaps going to have the most far-reaching effect.  If this proposal becomes law, it will affect advocates, public defenders, social workers, teachers and many others working in Government and nonprofit organizations the most. Their worst fears are going to come right. The impact of change can be understood by looking at the present loan program that allows borrowers of federal student loans working in Government and nonprofit organizations to have their loans forgiven after paying for ten years. The program aims at encouraging students to enter jobs in fields that are beneficial for the society, but since they do not get salaries that can support the loan payment, the assistance comes in the form of loan forgiveness. As on date, 500,000 borrowers are beneficiaries of the program because the new proposal would affect borrowers whose get loans approved from 1st July 2018 onwards.

The end for Federal Student Loan?

Although there is no proposal yet about the Government moving out of the student loan business, those who follow Trump and his team closely are expecting more reforms in this area.  President Trump firmly believes that the Government has no business to dabble in the business of student loans and leave loans to the marketplace to be driven by the market.  A privatized loan market is what the President perceives and if he has his way, getting loans are going to get harder for low-income students who will have a hard time to make it to colleges. This move would make higher education inaccessible for a large section of the population because private student loans have much less flexible repayment plans as compared to what federal loans offer, observe the professionals and specialists at Nationaldebtrelief.com, a debt consolidation company.

More concerns about privatization of education loans

In the case of privatization of student loans, there are chances that borrowers will face more inequality in opportunities.  Since there will be no federal guarantee backing the loans, it will lead to competition among borrowers in securing loans.  While some students would be able to borrow more than many others, some other students would also be able to avail lower interest rate if colleges agree to share the risk of the loan with the lenders. From the perspective of loan safety, lenders and colleges would prefer to play it safe by encouraging borrowers who are students in technical fields as it carries lower risk to students of humanities and other subjects.

The budget proposals about the Education Department have generated strong reactions in several quarters. We have to wait to see which proposals make way through the Congress and become law.

On Emotional Intelligence: What Trump’s Reaction to Flynn Tells Us

Emotional intelligence. It’s not just a Time magazine-worthy buzzword anymore. Now that we’ve got a catchy name for it, it’s taking center stage in American society and particularly in American politics. But how do you measure it?

One potential metric is an adult’s ability to face criticism without taking it personally or looking for vengeance. Another is one’s willingness to take responsibility for one’s actions. According to either of these metrics, America’s latest president is failing badly — and nowhere is it more apparent than in the agonizingly slow churn of the Michael Flynn scandal.

What Happened and Who’s Blaming Whom?

This scandal has been unfolding for so long it’s beginning to feel like disgust and boredom will set in before we get any satisfying answers. But what we do know is troubling.

Michael Flynn backed Trump throughout the campaign season and was named to his national security post after the election wrapped. Just before the inauguration, Flynn allegedly spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak to discuss U.S. sanctions on Moscow over Russia’s purported meddling in our election.

If this meeting did indeed take place, it’s at best a break from protocol and at worst a severe violation of federal law, which states civilians cannot conduct foreign policy. If this is true, it’s an exhibition of breathtakingly poor judgment on Flynn’s and Trump’s part — and one that’s nearly unprecedented in American politics.

Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates confirmed that on January 26th, she indicated to the White House Flynn might be hiding something. Neither Trump nor anybody in his entourage took any formal action, but their hand was forced after the details about Yates’ warning were leaked to journalists. Flynn resigned shortly thereafter.

Confused? Disgusted? It gets better. Flynn himself apparently also told Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign. Lobbyists work to influence lawmakers and legislation, and while legitimate lobbying can be entirely ethical, Flynn’s consulting company apparently received $530,000 from a Turkish company for work that could have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.

Not only do federal ethics rules prevent senior officials from lobbying on behalf of foreign governments, but failing to register such activity is a felony.

What’s Really at Stake Here?

As proceedings have unfolded and testimonies have been given — by James Clapper, former director of national intelligence, and Yates, among others — the president has gone on the defensive where Flynn is concerned. Trump has been trying to get ahead of the developing backlash by doing one of the things he does best — deflecting blame in every other direction.

In a series of tweets fired off as Yates and Clapper were testifying, Trump retreated to the hill upon which the GOP is slowly dying, the deep-seated and almost entirely irrational hatred of All Things Obama. Trump has defended himself so far by pointing out the Obama administration hired Michael Flynn in the first place as national security advisor.

In an additional, messy twist, Yates’ testimony arrived after she’d already been fired by Trump himself for not defending his ill-advised and likely unconstitutional Muslim ban.

And even as Trump maintains yet again that Obama is the one to blame for his catastrophic lack of judgment, evidence is mounting that the previous President warned the new one explicitly about hiring Flynn.

If you’re not following this crazy train, here it is even simpler:

  • Obama hired Flynn and later had reservations about the appointment.
  • As he was leaving office, Obama and the Justice Department itself warned Trump not to repeat his mistakes by appointing a man who, evidence suggested, might be susceptible to Russian blackmail.

Get it? When the train inevitably lurches off the tracks, it’s anybody’s fault but Trump’s. That’s how a child deals with his problems — not an American president. Trump hasn’t merely blamed his predecessor for this debacle — he’s also blamed it on “fake news,” another of his go-to excuses when he gets caught in a lie.

As the World Watches

And from there, Trump’s response has been as predictable as it is unfortunate. Instead of letting the adults in the room sort out the mess, he’s stonewalled, denied, lied and generally flailed about for an excuse that sounds presidential.

Indeed, he’s spent more time fretting about the alleged leaks than he has trying to uncover whether Russia played kingmaker in 2016. Whatever his motivations, those are horrifically bad optics for a president who’s already on thin ice, even among Republican Party insiders like John McCain.

It shouldn’t need to be pointed out why all of this is incredibly bad for America. President Obama was well-liked overseas — his approval ratings were frequently higher in allied countries than they were back home — but his successor has the entire world fretting over the future of democracy itself.

The Future of Democracy

Trouble is, democracy doesn’t generally die with some grand gesture — it dies by a thousand cuts, and Trump is delivering many of them himself. Nobody who answers allegations of severe wrongdoing or poor judgment this childishly should represent American citizens and their interests overseas. We’ve got enough to worry about without this bull-and-china-shop routine from a grown 70-year-old man.

Translation? The Flynn saga doesn’t merely look bad for Trump — it looks bad for every American, whether we voted for him or not.

America’s brand abroad took a near-fatal hit at the end of 2016, and every day that goes by without satisfying answers to this and the other clouds of illegitimacy hanging over the White House is one more day we look weak, shattered and ineffective on the world stage. And if there’s ever been a time when the world needed decisive and emotionally intelligent leadership, this is it.

Study Finds Trump Supporters Believe U.S. Society Is Fair

Voters who supported Donald Trump are more likely than other Americans—even other conservatives—to oppose social justice efforts, a new University of Michigan study shows.

Specifically, this segment thinks the nation spends too much money promoting equality for the poor, women and minorities; agrees that disadvantaged groups have received more than they deserve economically; and believes that disadvantaged individuals’ claims of discrimination are invalid.

Erin Cech, U-M assistant professor of sociology, described Trump supporters as “rugged meritocratists” because they believe society is already meritocratic—already fair and just.

It is this belief—not Trump supporters’ greater likelihood of expressing social bias—that helps explain their resistance to social justice issues, she says.

Cech conducted an online survey of 1,151 people three weeks after the 2016 presidential election. The sample is proportionally representative of U.S. adults. They answered questions about bias and beliefs about inequality, and were asked about the candidates they voted for.

Trump supporters, the study indicates, do express more bias: they have more negative assessments of the competence (e.g., intelligence, motivation) and warmth (e.g., humble, happy) of the poor, African Americans, Hispanics and women compared with the views of nonsupporters.

Trump supporters are also more likely to agree that too much money has been spent on welfare, homeless shelters and improving conditions for disadvantaged groups. About 60 percent of Trump supporters believe the poor, racial/ethnic minorities and women have been too demanding in their push for equal rights, Cech says.

“Resistance to social justice efforts appears to be based less in overt social bias than in a particular framing of the social world, one that denies structural inequality and blames victims of that inequality for their own circumstances,” she said.

This has consequences for social justice advocates: rugged meritocratists, regardless of their political affiliation, will likely resist social justice efforts because such efforts do not match how they see society, she says. If equality advocates are to foster support for social justice efforts, they must first convince rugged meritocratists that inequality exists in the first place.

Will Trump’s Executive Order Stop the Cycle of Violence or Further Damage Hurting Communities

On February 9, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order stating the purpose of the order would help reduce and prevent crime within our “inner cities.” Among the host of things the order calls for, it primarily allocates more power to police officers and more supports to protect law enforcement. In its present form, the order lacks any explicit support for the citizens of these communities, nor does it provide any protection for children who have witnessed violence and continue to live in violent environments within these communities.

President Trump states, “we will protect all Americans,” however his order in its current status is silent on how to help our most vulnerable children heal. The lack of public discourse around the emotional health of children who live in neighborhoods of concentrated poverty suggests that there is no relationship to poverty, children’s mental health, crime, and negative adult outcomes Yet, in 2009 the Department of Justice reported, “Children exposed to violence are also at a higher risk of engaging in criminal behavior later in life and becoming part of a cycle of violence.”

Research has found that the current funding stream does not produce successful outcomes. Incarcerating children in juvenile justice programs, or in psychiatry wards, increases the probability of costly adulthood behavior. “Zero Tolerance” policies in schools have created a “school to prison pipeline” resulting in approximately 68% of males in state and federal prison not having graduated high school.  These children are better served in community mental health programs.

Children living in poverty suffer more, and have fewer resources to build resilience to traumatic experiences. Researchers Evans and Cassells state, “The economic and human costs of early childhood poverty are immense, ranging from dramatic achievement gaps and elevated psychological distress to greater morbidity for every major chronic physical disease, eventually resulting in premature mortality.” Mental Health is listed as the 4th most expensive chronic disease in our country.

Affected populations are not isolated to childhood; related behavioral challenges evolve along with children as they age and include outcomes such as incarceration, psychiatric related hospitalizations, and unemployment. These outcomes have the power to destroy communities through the erosion of individual self-worth, and the demoralization of hope. Indeed, the National Institute of Health reports there is a positive connection between suffering a traumatic life event in childhood and the likelihood of developing a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression later in life.

Whereas Trump’s Executive Order focuses primarily on strengthening law enforcement as a way of preventing crimes, it’s important to highlight a central component of the Affordable Care Act.  “ACA” defines Population health as, “Preventing problems before they occur reduces human suffering and preempts costly punitive responses to these problems from education, law enforcement, child welfare, mental health, or juvenile justice system.”

Increasing reimbursement opportunities for population health initiatives has driven mental health professionals, educators, and medical professionals to develop preventive and early intervention services to children, which directly address issues early in their evolution rather than seeking to control their later manifestations. Prevention and early intervention services do that work of decreasing and in some cases curing the problem before it takes root.

If we are to improve the lives of children living in areas of concentrated poverty we cannot take this approach. One child witnessing or being victimized by community violence is enough to warrant actions. All children deserve the chance to live healthy and productive lives.

The development of future generations is reliant upon an inclusive care based approach rather than an exclusive, penalizing reality. This task is a moral one for our new administration, and the question is will they meet it?

American Psychological Association Urges Congress to Reject President’s Proposed Budget

Mick Mulvaney defending Trump budget cuts.

The American Psychological Association expressed serious concerns regarding deep cuts in the president’s proposed fiscal year 2018 budget that the organization says will curtail advances in research and education while threatening the health, well-being and competitiveness of our nation.

“The APA is strongly opposed to the harsh cuts to vital domestic programs in the administration’s budget blueprint,” said APA President Antonio Puente, PhD. “These proposed cuts would severely limit the federal investment in science, health, education and human service programs. We urge Congress to reject the administration’s budget.”

The proposed budget calls for a $54 billion increase in defense and homeland security spending (approximately 10 percent) for fiscal year 2018 with corresponding cuts to domestic programs. With a few exceptions, like veterans’ health care, most domestic programs would be cut substantially. These drastic cuts to education, health, safety net programs and science would undermine the research pipeline, workforce and supports for underserved populations and communities that are most at risk, according to the APA.

If enacted, the Trump administration’s “skinny budget” released yesterday would cut research at the National Institutes of Health by a historically unprecedented 18 percent ($6 billion), slash health professions funding by 77 percent ($403 million) and reduce programs at the Department of Education by 14 percent and the Department of Housing and Urban Development by 13.2 percent.

“Behavioral research is critical to NIH’s mission. For example, the National Academy of Medicine recently reaffirmed that over 50 percent of premature mortality in the U.S. is due to behaviors such as smoking, sedentary lifestyle and alcohol and other drug consumption,” said Puente. “Understanding how best to encourage behavior change and maintaining that change over time is at the heart of much research on diabetes, cancer prevention, healthy aging and addiction. If our nation is to continue to accelerate the development of life-changing cures, pioneering treatments and innovative prevention strategies, it is essential to sustain predictable increases in the NIH budget.”

The APA also expressed its opposition to the devastating 77 percent cut in the Health Resources and Services Administration’s health professions training programs, which could jeopardize funding for the Graduate Psychology Education Program that is vital to developing a competent psychology workforce and improving access to integrated care for those in rural and underserved areas.

Health and safety net programs would also be harmed by the cuts in this budget, according to the APA. The 18.9 percent cut in the Department of Health and Human Services would put at risk the Title X family planning program, support for caregivers, Minority Fellowship Program, Head Start and other programs. The proposed $200 million reduction in the Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children would deprive low-income pregnant or breastfeeding women and infants of desperately needed food and health care referrals.

Cuts to the Department of Education target needed programs including afterschool, academic and cultural enrichment programs and reduce support for programs designed to increase access to higher education for low-income, first-generation students, according to the APA.

Additionally, the 13.2 percent cut to the Department of Housing and Urban Development would likely restrict services for homeless persons, many of whom suffer from untreated mental disorders.

“The extreme positions advocated in this budget should serve as an impetus for psychologists and everyone concerned about science, health, education and human welfare to weigh in now with their members of Congress to oppose the large domestic cuts that would adversely impact the ability of scientists, educators and clinicians to create and communicate knowledge and improve people’s lives” said Puente.

What Michael Flynn’s Resignation Says About the Trump Administration

U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned this week amid growing concerns over the ties between the Trump administration and Russian officials.

In a statement released today, Congresswoman Barbara Lee said, “Michael Flynn’s resignation is a long overdue acknowledgment of threats posed to our national security by this Administration’s connections to Russia. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The American people deserve to know the extent to which the Russians meddled in our election, as well as any evidence of coordination between President Trump, his campaign or Administration, and the Kremlin.

“I am deeply concerned about these revelations and I call on the White House to immediately release the transcripts of General Flynn’s call with the Russian ambassador. Furthermore, my Republican colleagues in Congress should support the call for a bipartisan and independent commission to fully investigate Russia’s influence on this Administration and the election”, said Lee.

Melvyn Levitsky, professor of international policy and practice at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy, also discussed the resignation and its implications for the current administration. He spent 35 years as a U.S. diplomat under eight different presidential administrations and served as officer-in-charge of U.S.-Soviet bilateral relations and as a political officer at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. For those who are unclear what this resignation may mean, Levitsky provides further explanation.

Q: What do we know so far about the resignation?

Levitsky: Although we do not have all the facts, it seems clear that General Flynn discussed sanctions and quite likely indicated to the Russian ambassador that sanctions would be lifted at some point. The Russians—and the Soviets before them—always have reciprocated U.S. expulsions of their embassy and UN mission personnel. It is unlikely that they would have made the decision not to reciprocate unless they were given a strong commitment that response would make it more difficult to have sanctions lifted.

Q: Do we know what the president and vice president knew about these conversations?

Levitsky: The fact that the president knew at least generally about Flynn’s conversations and that the vice president was not informed is further indication of a disorganized and perhaps divided White House pulled in different ways by the president’s various advisers.

It is more than strange that Flynn, who had headed the Defense Intelligence Agency, would be unaware—or perhaps naive—of the fact that the FBI would monitor the Russian ambassador’s telephone conversations, email and text exchanges.

Q: Will Flynn’s resignation put an end to the criticism that the White House is too close to Russia or will it give opponents more ammunition?

Levitsky: Bottom line: This is a real mess with a future flow of investigations, congressional hearings, further leaks from disgruntled staff and with diversion from any effort to implement President Trump’s commitments on the policy front.

Social Movements Rise From Need

After the election, I felt a sense of dread. This isn’t so much of a political statement as it is a sense that we just chose a colder and less compassionate way to deal with our nation’s citizens. What’s helping me pull out of this sense of disappointment is watching the human response. I remember hearing Mr. Rogers say, During a catastrophe, look to those who help. This is a way of pivoting our focus from tragic situations to the beauty of humans who come to the aid of the needy. And after the election, this is what I’ve been able to see.

People are standing up for injustice with more conviction and energy than before. People are banding together, creating movements and symbols to show that those who are marginalized will not be victimized, at least not without backlash. Protesters have been filling the streets across the country, showing that they will not be silent as their civil liberties are threatened. A safety pin campaign has arisen to show support for the vulnerable.

I know it might sound Pollyanna, but it is important to understand that big solutions come from big ideas and big ideas come from big opportunities. What Trump and his cabinet appointments provide is a big opportunity. This is particularly true, because he isn’t trying to sneak his destructive forces under the radar. He is boldly bragging about how he is appointing Scott Pruitt, the man who is suing the EPA, to lead it. He appointed the CEO of Exxon, Rex Tillerson, to be Secretary of State. His nominee for Secretary of Education wants to dismantle the school system. This knowledge allows us to move early and get out in front of the issues.

Social justice happens usually in opposition to oppression and not because people just wake up decide to do the right thing. This new president and his cabinet appointments are stirring the pot in such a way that our citizens are becoming more active and less apathetic. Even though I would never root for a tyrannical government in order to create an engaged citizenry, I am optimistic this action and reaction can become a catalyst for real, sustained and important change in our society.

The forces of dissent become particularly powerful when activated because those in need are often living in the margins of our society and lack representation. That is, until more and more of us identify as being in the margins. Then, un-advocated for groups can find some safety in numbers. Non-Muslims begin wearing safety pins showing that they won’t allow bullying. Staggering numbers of people in need of mental health care can come out of the shadows, particularly when they feel like they are not alone. The LGTBQ community can know they are not alone in the margins and they have strength and support in numbers.

These are the forces of society that create cohesion and move social justice forward. Because of  increasing awareness and activation, I am invigorated instead of depressed by the daily news of more cronies being tapped to fill cabinet positions and take our country backwards. We have a great challenge in front of us, and it will require great resolve.

Ebola Aid Workers and Donald Trump: The Best and Worst of Humankind

Trump tweet

On Saturday, Donald Trump tweeted that ‘The U.S. cannot allow EBOLA infected people back.” He qualified this by saying that “People that go to far away places to help out are great- but must suffer the consequences!’ This was in response to the news that two American medical missionaries had contracted the virus whilst helping infected people in Liberia.

There are numerous problems with Trump’s comment. Firstly, it reveals Trump’s lack of medical knowledge. I am, of course, assuming that this tweet was prompted by Trump’s belief that if people with Ebola arrive in the U.S.A. then others will become infected. (Although, given his blatant disregard for fellow-man, I would not be shocked to discover that he does not want them to return for more sinister reasons).

However, as horrific and deadly as the Ebola virus disease is, it is not airborne and can only be passed through close contact with blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids. Another important consideration is that if the two American workers were to return to the U.S.A., they would be treated in one of the most medically advanced and well-resourced hospitals on the planet.

Trump then retweeted a post from @BigBoie7531 which said: ’To all the liberal do gooders, this is the Plague you idiots! No cure!’ Whilst @BigBoie7531 is indeed correct that there is no cure for Ebola, you will be surprised to learn that he is not a leading medical authority. In fact, he has no medical qualifications at all, further undermining Trump’s argument.


Aid Workers and volunteers who dedicate their lives to alleviating the pain of their fellow-man, regardless of whether they live next door or in “far away places”, comprise the very best portion of humanity. They are not motivated by fame, money or even success, but rather a belief that every human life is precious- even Donald Trump’s. It’s very simple; the primary aim of Humanitarian Workers is to save lives. Thankfully, the decision to return the workers does not rest in Trump’s hands and both workers have returned to the U.S.A.

Trump should be supporting, in every way possible, the work that these people do, for it is they who counter-balance the destruction and death caused by un-constrained, self-serving, corporate greed. Whilst the likes of Trump make you despair at the world, aid workers remind you that, amidst all the injustice, there still remains a lot of beauty.

Perversely, we live in an age where one tweet by Donald Trump can gain worldwide media attention, whereas the mind-blowingly brilliant work of Aid Workers goes largely unreported. So in an attempt to begin to address this imbalance, I want to highlight the work of just a few Aid Workers, to whom we owe our thanks and praise:

  • Sarah* is a Humanitarian Aid Worker who has been working in Baidoa in Somalia for 17 years. Sarah has worked tirelessly to relieve the famine conditions that exist in that area. She has helped establish Nutrition Centres to treat 20 malnourished children per day. Sarah has seen hundreds of people die right before her eyes due to a lack of food and, whilst she says she gets very frustrated that more is not being done by the humanitarian community to save lives, she has never given up on her work. (www.unocha.org/somalia).
  • Two weeks ago, two female Finnish Aid Workers were shot dead in Herat, Afghanistan whilst on the way to their office. The women had been in Afghanistan to provide medical aid, education and economic support. They were part of an organization who support the locals with individual development projects.
  • And we of course cannot forget the Humanitarian Workers who, as I type, are entering Gaza during the brief seven hour ceasefire. They go, knowing the catastophic instability; knowing that UN schools have been destroyed; knowing that no one is spared from the indiscriminate bombing. It’s almost impossible to truly comprehend the sacrifice they are making.

Last year 155 Humanitarian Aid Workers were killed. They were murdered as a consequence of  wanting to help. That is 155 grieving families. A further 168 were injured, and another 134 were kidnapped. Now, in addition to all that, they have prominent figures like Trump suggesting that they aren’t worth saving while basically arguing the sacrifice must be theirs and theirs alone.

Luckily, as terrible as you are Donald, there are people out there who, if you were to get infected with a life threatening and contagious illness, would still put their egos and sense of self-importance aside to help you recover. And to those people we owe everything.

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