by Errington C. Thompson, MD –
Every now and then it is important to figure out what we are fighting for.
I’m currently reading Battle Cry of Freedom, a huge, comprehensive book on the Civil War. It is kind of interesting that the average Joe who was on the battlefront in the 1860s had no real idea why they were fighting. General terms like “liberty,” “freedom,” and “saving the union” [or the confederacy] were commonly written, but for the most part that really wasn’t true. So, why are we fighting today? What are we fighting for?
Well, it is easy to throw out cliché: We are fighting for the American Way! That sounds corny, but it’s really true: we are fighting to create, or re-create, a society that is fair for all. If you are born and want to work hard, you should be able to get ahead. This means that you have to have a safe neighborhood. But if you’re dodging bullets and stepping over crack pipes on the way to school, it’s hard to focus on studying—and you probably will not have the best teachers. You will need a school that encourages learning and teaches critical thinking. Sports can’t be the only way out of the inner city.
As the House works to dismantle Dodd-Frank, which was a lukewarm piece of legislation (the best that Obama and the Democrats could do at the time) designed to prevent another Wall Street meltdown, we need to remember what happened in 2007-08. Millions of decent Americans lost their jobs because Wall Street wanted to increase corporate profits. It was greed, pure and simple. We know that people with lots and lots of money want more money. It is a disease. It is a zombie-like obsession.
It’s not the first time we have seen rich people chase the almighty dollar with disastrous consequences. In 1907, with borrowed money, a group tried to corner the copper market. Banks lost huge sums of money; Wall Street stocks plunged. JP Morgan, not the company but the man, single-handedly decided which banks would survive and which would go under, as he lent huge sums of money to bail out the U.S. economy.
In 1979-80, the Hunt Brothers of Texas pulled the exact same scheme with the silver market— again with borrowed money. The price of silver rose by 700%, then crashed, and they couldn’t meet their loan obligations. Several investment banks nearly failed, and they later paid a $134 million settlement for their fraudulent actions.
Fast forward another 30 years: big banks decided that mortgages were boring. Profitable, yes, but they weren’t making huge, ridiculous sums of money. So they dreamed up a scheme to slice up mortgages and resell them to hungry investors using sub-prime loans, complex derivatives called credit default swaps, and other “sure things.” Gullible investors loved them: there was no way the rich couldn’t make money when such complicated formulas clearly showed that there was no way to lose money. In fact, millions of Americans were buying new houses with NO money down, with credit scores that were too low even to calculate—but there was a subprime mortgage for you to buy your dream home. Woohoo! Party!… until everything came crashing down. Soon, these big investors who “couldn’t lose money” were losing billions per day.
Dodd-Frank was a modest attempt at regulating the banks so that millions of Americans wouldn’t be thrown out on the street again because of the recklessness of Wall Street. To me this sounds like something worth fighting for.
I don’t understand why we have to take away healthcare from Americans in order to give the wealthiest Americans a $50,000 tax cut. The cruelty of GOPNeglect (it isn’t TrumpCare because the bill passed by the House has nothing to do with care) can not be underestimated. “Repeal and replace” was the mantra. Well, I haven’t heard a peep about the replace part. Twenty-two million Americans will be thrown out in the cold because they don’t matter. Let’s be honest: if the GOP thought these vulnerable Americans mattered then they would be covered by their healthcare plan. I think universal coverage that can’t be taken away because the wrong party is in office is something worth fighting for.
The fact that Climate Change is caused by man’s burning of fossil fuels is clear. I have used this column multiple times to discuss Climate Change. We have talked about ice core samples that drill back in time. Scientists who measure the carbon dioxide in these ice core samples have developed a timeline of the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, which shows that current carbon dioxide levels are higher than they have ever been in the last 200,000 years. The carbon dioxide levels started rising about 150 years ago. Now, you may blame some type of freak of nature. I blame the Industrial Revolution, which began about 150 years ago.
Trump has pulled us out of the Paris climate agreement. Why? Because—he says—it makes us less competitive in business. Really? How? What is in piece of paper that would cripple American companies? First, let’s crush a major myth: there is no such thing as a major American company. Major American companies have gone the way of the dodo bird. All major companies are global. From IBM to Caterpillar, from Microsoft to Ford, these companies are competing in Europe, Asia, and everywhere they can make a dollar, pound, or Euro. So why pull out of the Paris agreement? Greed. Companies want to be able to pollute as much as they want without any consequences.
Personally, I like clean air and clear water. I believe it is your right as an American citizen to be able to live in a home that it not sitting on toxic industrial waste. I think that this is a universal right worth fighting for.
I have this crazy notion that you should be able to walk down a street in your neighborhood without being shot. Is it be possible to have an interaction with law enforcement where an unarmed person of color can have a discussion without being arrested or shot? Is it possible for a woman to be promoted without being harassed in the workplace? Is it possible for a woman who is doing the same job as a man be paid the same wage as a man?
This are all issues that are worth fighting for. The Civil War was about the South’s desire to keep slaves. They were willing to fight to protect their “right.” This was misguided. Hundreds of thousands of Americans died because of this misguided endeavor. I think that we have to believe in our fundamental rights. We have to fight for our rights or we will all be slaves to the Almighty Corporation.