About Displaced Persons

Being a displaced person must be a bit easier than being stateless but is nevertheless one of the most difficult positions in the world to be in. If they’re lucky displaced persons end up in camps, themselves difficult places to be. Now the government of Iraq has ordered several camps to close which means some 100,000 displaced persons will now also be homeless. Winter being near and  coronavirus make the situation even worse. At least a million people were displaced when the Islamic State lost control of  its Iraqi territories some 3 years ago. These are the people who ended up in the camps now being closed. They’re expected to return to their former homes whether or not they want to or those homes still exist. In addition, some may be penalized for having a family member suspected of being affiliated with the Islamic State or having a name similar to one who is on the Islamic State members list. Some refugee organizations have objected to the camps’ closing but the Iraqi government has not responded. And what makes this story even more notable is how little coverage it has received.

Two new books have recently come out about the difficulties endured by displaced persons after WWII, including those who were rescued from concentration camps, in finding a country that would have them. Then it was mainly Jews. Now it is mainly Moslems whether in the Middle East or the Uighurs in China, the Rohingyas in Myanmar. Add too the recent fleeing of some 200,000 Ethiopians to nearby Sudan. But no matter where it happens, the story is the same, unwanted people being driven out  or needing to flee because of politics and religion. Even the countries willing to accept some  displaced persons only accept very few. In the post war case, many ended up in the then Palestine, fighting for what became the state of Israel. There is no Palestine equivalent today, which does not lessen the problem and certainly not the moral issue underlying it.  It’s time we begin asking, what do we—as members of humanity—owe displaced persons?

Euthanasia for Children?

Euthanasia for children? The whole idea sounds forbidding to say the least, and probably criminal to some. But let us put aside any initial reaction. Is it forbidding because it is for children, because it is euthanasia, or perhaps because one compounds the other? We live in a country where euthanasia is not only generally illegal, in many circles it is also a big no-no. It is illegal in most of Europe too, but the Netherlands and Belgium have been trailblazers. Euthanasia has been legal there since 2002. In the Netherlands, children over 12 can request euthanasia with their parents’ consent. And parents of children under one can request it. That left children from one to 12. It’s been a contentious debate and a long one, but now the Netherlands has approved euthanasia for children one to 12.  They estimate that it will affect 5 to 10 children a year. These are children who have a terminal illness, and whose suffering is unendurable. To be honest,  I would be among those who would want to spare my child. I would hate it, would agonize about the decision, but ultimately would realize that is the best of bad alternatives. I realize that euthanasia for children adds to a core idea behind the right to die with dignity which gave rise to euthanasia and that is that children do not have the same voice about their fate—an idea which adds to the gravitas of it all. But  parents who would make a request for their child, would rarely if ever do so without much soul searching. If one accepts the premise of dying with dignity, of having a say in one’s own end, and in the fact (which to me personally is at the heart of it) that life is more than biology, then euthanasia for children seems a logical follow up for a country who has already accepted it.

And Billionaires’ Fortunes Grew!

The world’s billionaires’ fortunes has now reached $10.2 trillion. That comes from  a report by UBS, a Swiss bank which found that their wealth has increased by 27.5% during the height of the pandemic crisis from April to July 2020. This growth occurred while millions were losing jobs, income, health coverage, and were struggling to get by. I had previously written about the increase in the number of billionaires, this is far more revealing, the growth of their wealth as a result of the pandemic—not only because they were able to ride the storm created by the virus but also because they were able to gain from its downside. Jeff Bezos as most already know is a prime example. Why this is so important is  so well expressed by Luke Hilyard,  executive director of the High Pay Center a think tank that like its name focuses on undue and disproportionate pay: “…extreme wealth is an ugly phenomenon from a moral perspective, but it’s also economically and socially destructive.”

“Billionaire wealth equals to a fortune almost impossible to spend over multiple lifetimes of absolute luxury. Anyone accumulating riches on this scale could easily afford to raise the pay of the employees who generate their wealth, or contribute a great deal more in taxes  to support vital public services, while remaining very well rewarded for whatever successes they’ve achieved.”

“The findings from the UBS report showing that the super-rich are getting even richer are a sign that capitalism isn’t working as it should.”

This is not without consequences. Josef Stradler the head of the UBS office which deals with the world’s richest people, admits that these facts could lead to public and political anger. He further admits that the wealthy themselves are aware of it and in the past had warned that the inequality between rich and poor could lead to what he called a “strike-back”. He further explains that “We are at an inflection point. Wealth concentration is as high as in 1905, this is something billionaires are concerned about. The problem is the power of interest on interest- that makes big money bigger and, the question is to what extent is that sustainable and at what point will society intervene and strike back?” It’s a question many are already asking.

Masks and Trash Pickers

Nextdoor for those of you who may not know is a web service organized by neighborhoods where one can ask for recommendation about plumbers or painters or post questions and grievances. A few days ago a woman posted that she came home to find 2 men rummaging through her trash, and what upset her was that they wore no masks. Somehow the post took flight. A man with a Hispanic surname (thus debunking many stereotypes one may have about Hispanics) said that trash picking was illegal, they were stealing from the county who would otherwise benefit from the sale of the recyclables. Someone else agreed. Then someone said the trash pickers were like environmentalists recycling what we threw away.  Someone then posted it’s like the French revolution, Marie Antoinette wanted them hungry people to eat cake because they were hungry and had no bread; he explained, these are hard times, people are scrounging to survive. Someone then replied how she felt for those people. The person with the original post said I just wanted them to wear masks, so someone said, then maybe leave some masks out for them. Then a new person wrote they were criminals and another answered if it is illegal, do you want these people prosecuted? Is that how you want your tax dollars spent? It’s a very small fraction of the crimes occurring, that would be a misuse of scarce public resources, that person added. And many agreed.

Rare is the neighborhood who doesn’t have people rummage through the trash bins for recyclables, things they can reuse, or maybe resale somehow. I remember a documentary about a couple who rose at 4am to rummage through the trash, and that is how they made their living. What a hard job it is, what an unpleasant one, thus my respect for people who rummage through our trash. Yes, they usually don’t wear masks, they leave the bin’s lid open, they can have loud music, but they are to me a part of modern life, a benign one at that. What was striking to me about the Nextdoor postings, was how divided the exchanges were, how many people were willing to condemn the practice, and how many reacted with no compassion. But If I had to put a percentage to that portion, it would be 40%. The rest reacted and defended the original offenders. It all left me asking, does the incident represent the state of the nation these days, condemning people trying to survive and showing no compassion, versus those who strove to understand? And if it does, then compassion won! There’s hope. Let’s take heart!