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Government Shutdown: Why Can’t the White House and Congress Get Along?

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US Capitol

I have found that negotiation and mediation are advocacy tools that successful social workers use to bring about change within individual client systems as well as in policy making. Social workers sometime use creative advocacy techniques that may extend beyond traditional channels in order to protect their clients from harm while balancing organizational policies and procedures that often restrict their ability to do their jobs.  

The government shutdown over funding the Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, reminds me that strong advocacy is often adversarial and can have negative consequences. What happened to using negotiation and mediation as advocacy tools?  While there are many benefits to Obamacare, few would dispute there is much opposition to the law and full implementation. Mediation is a viable and evidenced-based process for resolving disputes peacefully and collaboratively.  Why take the American people hostage?

Perhaps it’s time for each of us to become mediators. I would like to ask everyone who reads this column to become an armchair mediator with a fair and impartial in examining the government shutdown dispute. Before we can assume the role of armchair mediators, we must first put aside our political affiliations as well as our position on Obamacare to be objective in the matter.  We need to honestly ask each of the parties  “What if you are absolutely right, where do we go from here?”

A mediator would ensure all stakeholders, not just the loudest voices, at the table were heard. The politician, the everyman…Mediators ask difficult questions: for example, where is the opportunity for common ground and how do we respectfully acknowledge opposing points of view?  Read More

In my inaugural column for the Social Worker Helper, my hope is to share my expertise as a mediator  for over 30 years and highlight the use of mediation and negotiation as advocacy tools.  All opinions are valued.

Millicent Carvalho-Grevious, Ph.D., LSW, is a mediator and conflict resolution expert who is passionate about training social workers to mediate interpersonal and interprofessional conflict. Additionally, she helps professionals manage conflicting expectations to adhere to professional ethics and navigate organizational pressures that limit their ability to do their jobs. She trains professionals and community members to resolve conflict peacefully and collaboratively and has been a conflict resolution coach and practicing mediator for over 30 years. For more information, visit her at  http://whycantwegetalong.com

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News

What if Donald Trump Had Empathy?

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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.

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Health

CHIP Demise Devastating to Millions of American Children

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Congress allowed the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) to expire Oct. 1, leading to the demise of one of the most successful government programs ever implemented, said an expert on health economics at Washington University in St. Louis.

“CHIP has led to a substantial reduction in the uninsured rate for children, to the point where children now have only a 5 percent uninsured rate — the lowest ever,” said Tim McBride, professor at the Brown School and director of the Center for Health Economics and Policy. He also serves as chair of the oversight committee for Missouri’s Medicaid program called MOHealthNET.

An estimated 9 million children are now covered by the CHIP program across the U.S. In Missouri, more 624,000 children are covered by a combination of CHIP and Medicaid, though most children are covered by Medicaid.

What if funding is not restored?

A move to rescue the program hit a snag in the U.S. House of Representatives this week, lowering hopes that it might be restored quickly.

“In the short run, most states can continue to pay for the program for at least a few weeks if not months, using funds carried forward from previous years,” McBride said. “But at some point, those funds will dry up and states will face cutting the program, which will mean children will lose their health insurance.

“States likely do not have the funds to make up for the loss of federal dollars. The impact of this would be devastating, to say the least, on these children and their families. But it would create a huge financial problem for the health care system — physicians, providers and those who care for them.

It should be obvious that this is a great investment in our future because if medical problems can be avoided when children are young, they are much more likely to do better in school, be more productive members of society.

“It should be obvious that this is a great investment in our future because if medical problems can be avoided when children are young, they are much more likely to do better in school, be more productive members of society,” McBride said. “Also, it would be penny-wise, pound-foolish to not deal with this problem now, since covering children is a lot cheaper than covering anyone else, and it costs more if medical care is delayed.”

The state of Missouri reportedly would not run out of funding to finance the CHIP program until the first quarter of 2018, if not a little later, he said. But, in other states, the end of federal funds for CHIP will come considerably sooner, maybe within weeks.

Will Congress eventually come around?

“I would bet that Congress eventually will do something to reauthorize the program, based on previous experience, and I know they are working on legislation right now,” McBride said. “They have had to reauthorize this program many times before, and it has garnered bipartisan support.

“However, these days there is so much partisanship, and Washington is much less functional, so I am afraid to make any definitive predictions now.”

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Why Mass Shootings Prompt Little Change in Public Opinion About Gun Control

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Americans were shocked by the December 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut that claimed the lives of twenty children aged seven or younger. In response, President Obama argued that the slaughter of children called for the nation to break the longstanding partisan gridlock over gun control.  But Congress refused to heed his call.

Although Democrats convened a gun violence task force and introduced several different pieces of legislation designed to strengthen the nation’s gun control policies, including its weak background check system, Republicans condemned these bills as attacks upon Americans’ Second Amendment rights and flatly refused to bring them to a vote. Politicians in both parties cited snippets of opinion polls to argue that “the American people” were on their side.

Did the Sandy Hook tragedy “shift the needle” in mass public opinions about guns and gun control?  To find out, I analyzed a nationally-representative survey conducted four months after the shooting at the height of the ensuing media coverage and political debates. Taking into account political and demographic characteristics that make people more or less inclined to favor gun control, I compared these 2013 data to results of previous polls to assess whether the shooting altered public opinion.

Attitudes about Gun Control Are Consistently Divided

Gallup poll data indicate that the percentage of Americans who agreed that “laws covering the sale of firearms” should be “more strict” declined from 78% in 1990 to 47% in 2014. Agreement that firearm sale laws should be made more strict briefly spiked in December 2012 after the Sandy Hook shooting; but by the end of 2013, views reverted where they had previously been during the 2000s, roughly evenly split between support and opposition to tightening the laws.

According to the April 2013 poll data I analyzed, about 56% of Americans believed that gun control laws should be made “more strict” – in line, quite likely, with the temporary post-Sandy Hook increase in support of gun control observed by Gallup. Similarly, Gallup estimated in December 2012 that 44% of Americans supported “a law which would make it illegal to manufacture, sell, or possess semiautomatic guns known as assault rifles,” while the April 2013 poll found that about 55% of Americans favored a nationwide ban on semiautomatic weapons.

Overall, polls show that, since the mid-1990s, Americans have been nearly split down the middle when it comes to support or opposition for general gun control measures or an assault weapon ban, and the Sandy Hook mass shooting sparked only a temporary increase in public support for gun control.

Nevertheless, the April 2013 poll found much greater consensus in regard to instituting background checks for gun purchases. Nearly 89% of respondents stated that they favored “a federal law requiring background checks on all potential gun buyers.” Thus, even though Americans remain very divided on the question of gun bans, they widely agree on the need for policies to ensure responsible gun ownership.

Opinions about Gun Control are Rooted in Broader Political and Social Beliefs

In order to better understand why Americans are divided about gun control, I analyzed the relationship between people’s views on this issue and their beliefs about politics and society. A few consistent themes emerged. First, people who said they were concerned about declining morals in society or believed that the country is on the wrong track were more likely to say that gun control should be “less strict.” They were also more likely to oppose a semiautomatic weapon ban.  As a number of scholars have argued, gun ownership holds a symbolic value for many Americans, who equate gun ownership with liberty and self-determination. From such a perspective, gun control impinges upon fundamental American values.

In my study, self-identified political conservatives, Republicans, and Independents were all more likely to say that gun control laws should be “kept as they are” rather than be made “more strict.” Conservatives were also more likely to oppose a semiautomatic weapon ban and efforts to strengthen background checks.

Ultimately, however, the single factor that I found was most strongly and consistently linked to opposition to gun control of any sort was a person’s feelings toward the National Rifle Association. Respondents who said that they held a favorable opinion of this group were much more likely to oppose new gun controls, semiautomatic weapon bans, and efforts to strengthen background checks. This is a new finding that has not been established in previous studies.

Are Efforts to Pass New Gun Controls Doomed?

Poll data do not bode well for the politics of gun control. The American public is deeply divided about the need to limit gun ownership. Yet a large majority of Americans still expressed support for efforts to strengthen the background check system, which was a centerpiece of efforts by Democrats to pass new legislation following the Sandy Hook massacre. With such wide public support, why did no bill pass? My study reaffirms the great power of the National Rifle Association to block any new measures. The Association’s influence in Congress is well known, but my poll data also reveal that it also strongly influences the gun policy opinions of average citizens.

If there is a path forward for the proponents of gun control, it might be in finding a way to ease National Rifle Association opposition to specific policies like background checks that enjoy wide public support.  Also of interest is the fact that 45% of respondents in the April 2013 poll replied that they would consider voting for a candidate “who does not share your views on gun policy.”

Despite some possible openings for publicly supported changes in gun rules, we should not expect to see wide or sudden shifts in American public opinion about gun control. Differences of opinion on this issue have persisted for decades, despite mass shootings.  At most, the data indicate that Americans might be open to accepting and letting their representatives compromise on some specific gun safety measures like improved background checks.

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