Citizenship As Big Business

On the one hand there are now more refugees and stateless persons than ever before. On the other, the selling and buying of citizenship is a $25 billion a year global industry. Citizenship is viewed as an investment, marketed as such by its brokers. Wealthy Chinese who don’t feel safe in China, for example, or people who want to be able to travel freely within Europe or start a business there. More than half of the world’s countries have a program of citizenship through investment. In the US it costs $900,000 invested in a business that would create at least 10 jobs. In the UK it costs at least $2.5 million to buy a citizenship. Other countries are cheaper, although sometimes the cost can be surprising. Bulgaria’s is $560,000 close to that of Spain at $550,000 and the Caribbean islands from $150,000 or even in some cases $100,000. One of the most popular is the citizenship from Vanuatu which is $150,000, a program which is only 4 years old. It raises a lot of money for the tiny country which gained independence in the 1980’s and which can identify with what it means not to have a passport. It can take as little as a month and many of the people who have Vanuatu citizenship, which enables people to travel throughout Europe, have not even visited the tiny country made up of some 80 small islands in the Pacific.

One could say this business is a step, however distorted towards the notion of one world and it may slowly be causing a redefinition of what citizenship is—a point the marketers make.  But regardless of how it is pitched, it is an option that benefits the rich and as such contributes to the inequalities of the world. It is also a business open to corruption. Couldn’t a drug lord buy a US citizenship, and at the very least use it to launder money?  And so the issue of the buying and selling of citizenship begs the question: Are the minuses overshadowing the pluses?

Water and the Navajo Nation

58 out of every 1000 Native American households lack plumbing. For whites the numbers are 3 out of every 1000 households. That means no running water, no going to the tap or flushing the toilet as most of us take for granted.  Two organizations, Dig Deep and the US Water Alliance, recently issued a new report showing that some 2 million Americans lack these basic amenities and that Native Americans are more likely to be without than are any other group. Take someone like Darlene Yazze. She has to drive 9 miles to the community house of the little town of Dennehotso near the Four Corner Region of the Navajo Nation to get her water. She uses a large key which she has to plunge in the basin containing the water, turn it so that it opens the valve so that the water can run into her container. The water is not free and she was told the price is now going up. That is for drinking water only. To water her animals she needs to go to a windmill 5 miles away. There is no water there for the present which may or may not be a good thing because that water is contaminated by arsenic and uranium stemming from the nearby uranium mines. Even though they use it for animals although they will probably eventually eat those animals. The result is a much higher rate of cancer—in a region where healthcare availability is sparse.

While the report and the interest of the authoring organizations offer some hope, the problem is far from being resolved. It is estimated that it would cost about $200 million to provide water access and sanitation across the Navajo Nation. Somewhere within the increasing number of billionaires in the US, one could perhaps, or even ought to, come forward and give the needed $200 million.

The Children of Trans People

There’s a small community who are promoting what they call gender creative or gender expansive, that is looking at gender beyond male or female. They are mainly transgender people who have children and want more gender latitude for them than the one they have had. They are raising their children without reference to gender, even referring to them as they instead of him or her. They want to continue doing this until the children are old enough to choose for themselves what gender they are.  But the issue does not stop there. One set of parents needed a social security card and on the application form put dashes where the child’s gender would have been. The social security office could not accept that and arbitrarily assigned male as a gender.

I understand the discrimination against transgender people. I understand that we tend to deny their existence and deprive them of the identity that should be rightfully theirs. In this case, I wonder if they are going about it the best way? Statistically the chances of the children being transgender are low. Is their idea as well thought out as they would like it to be or as it ought to be? In that their endeavor can teach something to all of us who might want to create change. Meanwhile what about the children who grow up trying to figure out their sense of self separate from that of their parents when they are being brought up in such a manner? How will they fare in school when they interact with boys and girls? How will they react to movies and games, on play dates, instances where gender is part of what they will encounter? Will there be a psychological price for being brought up like this? We live in a world where new ethical dilemmas arise with increasing frequency. In this case, I keep asking myself wouldn’t the parents’ efforts be more worthwhile if they worked towards greater acceptance and understanding of transgender people? I surmise that in the end, they may not succeed in adding a gender, but may create more acceptance in the process. Still what about the children?

Healthy Eating Instead of Weight Loss

The number of Americans who are sick is greater than those who are healthy. More than 100 million adults have diabetes or are pre-diabetic. 122 million have cardiovascular disease (2300 deaths each day) and 3 out of 4 adults are overweight or obese. This of course comes with corresponding costs. For example cardio vascular disease cost $351 billion a year in terms of health care costs and lost productivity, diabetes costs $327 billion while the overall cost of obesity is said to be $1.72 trillion (yes with a t). Dariush Mozaffarian, dean of Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and  Dan Glickman former US Secretary of Agriculture argued in a NYT Op-Ed that better nutrition is the answer, that what we eat –or don’t—is largely responsible for the large proportion of Americans being sick and correspondingly for a large proportion of health care costs. They talk about how little our culture pays attention to nutrition and suggest remedies. One suggestion is a program of medically tailored meals for the sickest patients. This alone could save $9000 per patient per year.  Also such an approach of better focus on food and nutrition could be sustainable and environment friendly.

Weight loss consumes so much of our time, energy and resources, why not switch our focus to health. Why not place our attention, our very time, energy and resources, on healthy eating instead. Weight loss affects our appearance, and healthy eating is more substantive. Somehow I can’t help wonder if that switch wouldn’t help us in other ways, perhaps move away from the superficiality of our culture and towards its more meaningful aspects. If we did, if we could, just think of the benefits— to our health, well being, sense of joy and purpose, not to speak of how a focus on health instead of weight would work towards a society with better health care delivery. And should we ever get past the superficiality around us, we might even be more likely to elect better leaders!