South Sudan bishop calls for peace at cathedral that has become refuge
Santo Pio tells congregation to reject tribalism at Christmas mass attended by president accused of crackdown
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 December 2013 15.19 GMT
Christmas mass in Juba, the capital of embattled South Sudan, began with a passage from Isaiah, with the bishop Santo Pio inveighing against the "kingdom of violence" that caused the destruction of Jerusalem. The congregation, which included the staunchly Catholic president, Salva Kiir, was told how tribalism had divided the peoples of Judah and Israel, just as it is now doing in the world's youngest country.
The cathedral has been transformed into a refugee camp in the past week with as many as 7,000 people seeking shelter from the violence that has unravelled South Sudan. The fighting, which began with a dispute between rival factions in the presidential guard on 15 December and has since spread to half of South Sudan's 10 states, has forced more than 100,000 people to flee their homes.
At least 50,000 civilians have sought protection inside a handful of UN bases, while others have streamed out of towns and into rural areas. An unknown number have fled into neighbouring Uganda, or to the north of Kenya, where refugee camps that remain from Sudan's 20-year civil war are beginning to see new arrivals.
On Christmas Day, families who had fled their homes fearing persecution on the basis of their ethnicity were sitting in the crowded cathedral alongside the president, and camping outside.
"There is a lot of fear around," said Santo. "The families are living in fear and do not know what will happen the next day. They have seen what can happen in broad daylight."
He warned that the fabric of the new nation had been torn by a struggle that had cynically conflated politics with ethnic identity at the cost of thousands of lives.
The bishop appealed for a ceasefire from leaders who had grown up in communities where "everyone followed one person" and must now take responsibility for a country.
"We have never been a country before. We were communities under tribal chiefs," the bishop said, "a monarchy where the whole community would follow one person.
"We were clans, tribes, communities all with their own militia. This is the different groups that we are to make a nation from."
As he spoke, the civil war continued elsewhere with intense fighting, including tanks and heavy weapons, in Malakal, the capital of Upper Nile state. A coalition of rebel commanders loosely led by the former vice-president Riek Machar has already taken control of Unity State where much of the new country's oil is produced. If they were to seize oil-producing Upper Nile it would in effect sever the government from control of the country's main economic asset.
Later Kiir, the president whose forces have been accused of a violent crackdown, called for an end to tribal-based atrocities on an official Twitter account of South Sudan's government. "Innocent people have been wantonly killed. People are targeting others because of their tribal affiliation. This is unacceptable," he said. "These atrocities recurring have to cease immediately."
A Christmas Eve counter-offensive by the national army, the SPLA, succeeded in recapturing Bor, the capital of Jonglei state, but witnesses described finding the streets littered with bodies on Christmas morning. The UN, which has given sanctuary to 17,000 civilians in its base in Bor, said armed men had approached the camp but had been repelled with warning shots by peacekeepers. Officials denied reports that ethnic Nuer were being taken from inside. "No one has or is being taken from the camp," said the UN's Patrick Morrison.
In a statement, the South Sudan Council of Churches said: "We are concerned by the consequences for our country of the clashes that are occurring in Juba. There is obviously a political problem between leaders within the governing SPLM, but this should not be turned into an ethnic problem. Sadly, on the ground it is developing into tribalism."
Leaders from six of South Sudan's East African neighbours are due to arrive in South Sudan on Boxing Day to try to mediate a ceasefire. Uganda already has troops controlling the airport in Juba and Kenya has said it will provide soldiers to enhance security in the capital. In addition to vying for oil pipeline routes from South Sudan, both countries have major economic interests and large ex-pat communities in the new country.
For many South Sudanese such as Bang Teny Wang, the reality of an independent homeland has been a crushing disappointment. After coming home this year from a long exile in Australia, he said, he was now intent on leaving the country after being forced to flee to the UN base in Juba when his neighbourhood was attacked. "I came in March hoping to help reconstruct the country and this is what I get," he said.
Egypt declares Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group
Announcement criminalises all activities, financing for and membership of group from which ousted President Morsi hailed
Associated Press in Cairo
theguardian.com, Wednesday 25 December 2013 17.22 GMT
Egypt's military-backed interim government has declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group, criminalising all its activities, its financing and even membership to the group from which the country's ousted president hails.
The announcement on Wednesday is a dramatic escalation of the fight between the government and the Brotherhood, which has waged near-daily protests since the 3 July popularly backed military coup that toppled President Mohamed Morsi. An Egyptian court had banned the group in September.
Hossam Eissa, the minister of higher education, read out the cabinet statement after a long meeting, saying: "The cabinet has declared the Muslim Brotherhood group and its organisation as a terrorist organisation."
He said the decision was in response to Tuesday's deadly suicide bombing targeting a police headquarters in a Nile Delta city which killed 16 people and wounded more than 100. The Brotherhood has denied being responsible for the Mansoura attack, for which an al-Qaida inspired group has claimed responsibility.
"Egypt was horrified from north to south by the hideous crime committed by the Muslim Brotherhood group," Eissa said. "This was in context of dangerous escalation to violence against Egypt and Egyptians [and] a clear declaration by the Muslim Brotherhood group that it still knows nothing but violence."
"It's not possible for Egypt the state nor Egypt the people to submit to the Muslim Brotherhood terrorism," he added.
Eissa offered no evidence in his speech linking the Brotherhood to Tuesday's attack.
The Brotherhood, founded in 1928, renounced violence in the late 1970s. Ibrahim Elsayed, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood's political group, the Freedom and Justice party, said the government announcement would have no impact on the work or beliefs of the group, because it had seen repeated government repression and continued to exist with a moderate view of Islam.
"This decision is as if it never happened. It has no value for us and is only worth the paper it is written on," he said. "It won't impact us from near and far. Ideas won't be affected by false accusations. We uphold this call only for the sake of God."
Ahmed el-Borai, the minister of social solidarity, told reporters in a news conference that the decision means "all activities of the Muslim Brotherhood group are banned, including the demonstrations".
The declaration gives the armed forces and the police the right to enter universities and prevent protests, as "protection to the students", el-Borai said.
Egypt: back with a vengeance
The young Egyptians who created the popular networks which brought down the Mubarak regime are now being victimised by its successor
Guardian G logo
The Guardian, Wednesday 25 December 2013 18.43 GMT
The skies are darkening over Egypt. The filing of fresh charges against deposed President Mohamed Morsi, the jailing of three prominent secular leaders of the 2011 revolution, and a savage attack on a provincial police headquarters, all in the same week, point to a future in which Egypt's politics will be conducted by violent means. How miserably different this is from the open and civilised democracy to which the revolution once seemed to be leading.
That revolution is now being torn up by its roots. The young Egyptians who created the popular networks which brought down the Mubarak regime are now being victimised by its successor. The three men sent to jail belonged to the April 6 Movement, established in early 2008 to support a strike by textile workers in Mahallah. Both April 6 and the broader Kifaya ("Enough") movement used Facebook and Twitter to organise and communicate. Such acts of defiance and solidarity, and the innovative use of new media, kept the tradition of radical secular opposition alive. These young people provided the rhetoric and skills which, along with the Tunisian example, helped the Egyptian revolution to succeed.
The symbol of the April 6 movement was a raised fist. But Egypt now has rulers who are determined that fist will never be raised against them again. Two co-founders of the movement, Ahmed Maher and Mohamed Adel, have been sentenced to three years, along with another activist, Ahmed Douma. They broke a new law which effectively bans demonstrations. This followed a raid on the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights in which staff were beaten, and Mr Adel arrested. It is now evident that the Egyptian military, behind its unconvincing civilian facade, is ready to be as hard on its secular as on its religious opponents. It duly demonstrated its even-handed repressiveness by filing the fresh charges against Mr Morsi, accusing him of murdering protesters and of a plot to bring down the Mubarak government with help from abroad. The death penalty could apply to Mr Morsi and to others charged with him if they are found guilty.
Governments reap what they sow. Tuesday's bombing of a police headquarters in Mansoura was followed by a declaration by the Egyptian cabinet that the Muslim Brotherhood is a terrorist organisation. It is not at all established that the Brotherhood was responsible. But Mansoura shows what happens when legitimate political expression ceases to be possible. The revolution decapitated the Egyptian security state, based on the army, the police and the business elite, by removing Mubarak. But it has grown a new head, and it is now back, quite literally, with a vengeance.
Palestinians say investigation of Arafat’s death will continue
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 26, 2013 7:08 EST
The Palestinian authorities will press on with a probe into the death of Yasser Arafat after Russian experts ruled out the possibility he was poisoned, a Palestinian envoy said Thursday.
“I can only say that there is already a decision to continue (the investigation),” Faed Mustafa, the Palestinian ambassador to Russia, told the state RIA Novosti news agency. “We respect their position, we highly value their work but there is a decision to continue work.”
Earlier Thursday Russian forensic experts studying Arafat’s remains said the leader died a natural death and ruled out radiation poisoning.
South African right-wingers still harbor lurid fantasies of post-Mandela racial apocalypse
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 26, 2013 7:17 EST
In South Africa, right-wing prophesies that Nelson Mandela’s death will be followed by a racial apocalypse refuse to be quashed by events.
Ever since the mostly peaceful transition to majority rule in 1994, right-wing South Africans have claimed the moment would spell an end to reconciliation and unleash untold bloodshed.
So engrained was the idea of a “Night of the Long Knives” that it even seeped into mainstream thinking.
Some plotted elaborate evacuation plans, radio programs discussed whether it was remotely possible and one journalist even visited a town where whites would supposedly gather before fleeing, just in case anyone turned up.
When nothing happened after South Africa’s first black president drew his last breath on December 5, or after his burial 10 days later, most were unsurprised, but for some it was nothing more than apocalypse deferred.
“They are definitely planning something. It won’t happen over one night, but will be gradual,” said Neil, 40, while on a recent visit to an Afrikaner memorial, the Voortrekker Monument in Pretoria.
The belief that one day whites would be slaughtered en masse is tenacious and can be traced back to the earliest white settlers on the tip of Africa.
Later, in the early 1900s, in the wake of the second Anglo-Boer War, the idea was propagated by soothsayer Nicolaas van Rensburg, who has obtained cult status among radical Afrikaner groups.
Van Rensburg was a farmer who only read the Bible and was unable to write anything besides his own name.
Among believers he is credited with predicting World War II and the rise of a black leader who some believe to be Mandela.
The “siener”, or “seer” in the Afrikaans language, had a number of visions that his daughter and friends wrote up in notebooks which today lie in a cultural history museum in the northwestern town of Lichtenburg.
In 1915, Van Rensburg had a vision of “a coffin lowered into a grave, multiple fires coming out, led by one big blaze.”
“Someone important is buried, and then a revolution breaks out,” explained Tollie Vreugdenburg, a police investigator who has worked on cases involving the far right.
Van Rensburg’s prophesies were among those adopted by white terrorist group the Boeremag, who plotted to kill Mandela and overthrow the government in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
One member of the group who turned state witness against his 20 co-accused revealed how they used the prophesies to plan and recruit new members.
“They relied heavily on the Seer’s visions,” Vreugdenburg said. “The Night of the Long Knives, Mandela’s death, was the main reason.”
After killing Mandela, the Boeremag would use the black uprising as a pretext for retaliatory attacks.
“They would then be the saviors acting to save whites,” Vreugdenburg said.
This month two more right-wingers were on trial accused of plotting to bomb government leaders, also inspired by Van Rensburg’s prophecies, according to Vreugdenburg, who investigated that case as well.
It was among such groups that rumors of a black uprising at the end of white-minority rule festered.
When it did not occur, prophesies shifted to Mandela’s death, and now beyond.
On his death, the radical organization the Suidlanders (Southlanders) suggested that members go “on holiday” to safe havens, but stopped short of calling for an evacuation.
On its website it lists essential goods to take on an emergency evacuation, which include canned food, a Bible, a rucksack and tampons “to stem bleeding wounds”.
A chain text message the day after Mandela’s death warned of the final onslaught on December 16, when Afrikaners would be “relaxed and on holiday”.
Originally a celebration of the Afrikaner ancestors’ victory over Zulus in the Battle of Blood River in 1838, the December 16 festival was renamed Reconciliation Day after the end of white rule in 1994.
“The loss of power in 1994 was difficult for these people,” said Fransjohan Pretorius, history professor at the University of Pretoria.
“They lived in a dream world then, and they prefer to continue living in that dream world.”
Contest winner Mandla Maseko set to become first black African in space
DJ from Mabopane township near Pretoria will be blasted 62 miles into orbit in 2015 after winning space academy competition
David Smith in Johannesburg
theguardian.com, Monday 23 December 2013 14.33 GMT
Born and raised in a township, Mandla Maseko has spent his life at the mercy of the heavens. "Once it rains, the lights go out," the 25-year-old said. "I do know the life of a candle."
But from this humblest of launchpads, Maseko is poised to defy the laws of physical and political gravity by becoming the first black African in space.
The DJ is among 23 young people who saw off 1 million other entrants from around the world to emerge victorious in the Lynx Apollo Space Academy competition. Their prize is to be blasted 62 miles into orbit aboard a Lynx mark II shuttle in 2015.
"It's crazy," said Maseko, the son of a toolmaker and cleaning supervisor. "It hasn't really sunk in yet. I'm envious of myself.
"I'm not trying to make this a race thing but us blacks grew up dreaming to a certain stage. You dreamed of being a policeman or a lawyer but you knew you won't get as far as pilot or astronaut. Then I went to space camp and I thought, I can actually be an astronaut."
He will be the second South African in space following Mark Shuttleworth, a white entrepreneur and philanthropist who bought a seat on a Russian Soyuz capsule for £12m and spent eight days on board the international space station in 2002.
Maseko's father, who grew up in such poverty that he got his first pair of shoes when he was 16, was determined that his children would never go hungry. Maseko and his four younger siblings were brought up in a simple brick house with access to electricity and running water. "I don't remember going to bed without having eaten," he said. "My dad provided for us. He is my hero, and then Nelson Mandela comes after."
The young Maseko's imagination was fired by the science fiction series Star Trek and films such as Armageddon and Apollo 13. "I thought, that looks fun. No matter what life throws at you, you can use it and come out on top. If you get lemons, you must make lemon juice."
Maseko does not drink or smoke, does not have a girlfriend and lives with his parents in Mabopane township near the capital, Pretoria. He enrolled as a part-time civil engineering student but had to drop out due to lack of funds. Then this year he spotted an advert for a chance to go into space. "I was in the right place at the right time and in the right frame of mind."
The competition required him to send in a picture of himself, so he got a friend to photograph him in mid-air after jumping off a wall. It also asked him to explain his motivation. "I want to defy the laws of gravity," he answered.
He was among three South Africans – one black, one white, one of Indian origin – selected from a field of 85,000 hopefuls. "We wanted to show South Africa is way past the colour of our skin. We are the human race."
In the first week of December they went to the US to join more than 100 international contestants at a space camp in Orlando, Florida. The challenges included assault courses, skydiving, air combat and G-force training, building and launching a rocket, and a written aptitude test. The judges included the astronaut Buzz Aldrin. "I got to shake his hand three times," Maseko recalled. "I was like, oh, is this you? He said yes, it is me!"
Aldrin is among 12 people – all American, all men and all white – to have walked on the moon. But Africa has growing space ambitions: the majority of the Square Kilometre Array, the world's biggest and most powerful radio telescope, will be spread across South Africa and eight other countries on the continent.
Maseko, whose Twitter profile shows him in a spacesuit, is aware of his own symbolism nearly two decades after the dismantling of racial apartheid. "I'm a township boy and I'm doing this for the typical township boy who wasn't born with a silver spoon," he said. "I'll be the first black South African and the first black African to go into space. When you think of the firsts, the first black presidents – Barack Obama, Nelson Mandela – just to know your name will be written with those people is unbelievable.
"South Africa has come a long way. We have reached a stage where we are equal and we are one. Next year is the 20th anniversary of democracy and what better way to celebrate than sending the first black South African into space?"
Israeli PM Netanyahu lashes out at Abbas over attacks
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 25, 2013 18:40 EST
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed disappointment Wednesday that Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has failed to condemn fresh attacks on Israelis, as a watchdog questioned the legality of Israeli reprisals.
An Israeli man was shot dead Tuesday while working on the border fence with the Gaza Strip, and the Israeli military retaliated with a wave of strikes that killed a toddler and wounded six other Palestinians.
The retaliation, which also came a day after a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli policeman in the West Bank, prompted an Israeli human rights group to demand a probe into what it called an “unlawful” attack on a civilian home.
“The terrorist attacks of recent days against Israelis are the direct result of incitement to hatred in the press and broadcast in Palestinian schools,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
The premier said he was “disappointed that president Abbas has not yet condemned the recent terrorist acts as one would expect from a partner in peace negotiations”.
Abbas governs autonomous areas of the West Bank, while the Gaza Strip has been controlled by the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas since 2007.
In the statement posted Wednesday on his Facebook page, Netanyahu warned Israel would hit back hard against any attacks, saying: “I would not advise anyone to test us.”
Israeli human rights group B’Tselem meanwhile accused the Israeli military of firing three tank shells at a house about 500 metres (yards) from the border, killing a two-year-old girl as she played in the yard.
B’Tselem questioned the reason behind the attack on what it said was a family home, and cited the girl’s uncle as saying “there was no activity by armed Palestinians in the area at the time.”
It called on the Israeli military to open an investigation into what it called an illegal attack.
“Deliberate firing at a home occupied by civilians, without its inhabitants having been given any prior warning and without the military ensuring that the civilians have vacated the premises, as appears to be the case in this situation, is unlawful,” said B’Tselem.
“The military must launch an immediate investigation of the incident, including questioning those directly responsible for firing the shells as well as the senior commanders who ordered the attack,” said the group, which monitors rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
December 25, 2013
Venezuela’s Fitful Effort to Save a Scaly Predator
By WILLIAM NEUMAN and PAULA RAMÓN
MANTECAL, Venezuela — Stealing the eggs from an enraged, 10-foot crocodile is a delicate operation.
“If you don’t have your guard up, this crocodile can jump out of the water onto the sand, and in the same motion she can catch you,” said Luis Rattia, 37, who runs a hatchery at the government-owned El Frío ranch, part of a sputtering effort to save the Orinoco crocodile, the largest predator in South America, from extinction.
There were once millions of Orinoco crocodiles living along the banks of the great river, which gave them their name, and its tributaries in Venezuela and eastern Colombia.
But the fearsome animals were nearly done in by fashion. They were hunted almost to extermination from the 1920s to the 1950s to feed a worldwide demand for crocodile-skin boots, coats, handbags and other items. Today, biologists estimate that there are only about 1,500 Orinoco crocodiles left in the wild, nearly all of them in Venezuela.
The El Frío ranch, which was expropriated by Venezuela’s government in 2009, represents the hopes and the frustrations of conservationists who have worked to save the animal for years, often at cross purposes with a government that frequently views them with suspicion. Thanks in part to that disconnect, efforts to save the animal suffer from a lack of coordination and money, imperiling their already limited success.
“A properly defined program with funding and objectives doesn’t exist,” said Omar Hernández, the director of an environmental foundation called Fudeci. “The animal is in critical danger.”
When the naturalist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt traveled through the Venezuelan plains in 1800, he found crocodiles lining the riverbanks, with the largest males measuring up to 24 feet long.
José Gumilla, an 18th-century priest who wrote a natural history of the Orinoco, told of the fear the huge crocodile inspired. “It is ferocity itself,” he wrote, “the crude offspring of the greatest monstrosity, the horror of every living thing; so formidable that if a crocodile were to look in a mirror it would flee trembling from itself.”
It is easy to see what Father Gumilla was talking about. On another government-run ranch near El Frío, a large crocodile lay in the shallows of a rushing stream one recent evening, its eyes nearly shut, its mouth open in what looked like a cruel smile. With a scaly dragon’s back; spiky tail; long, white teeth; and fat, wormlike belly, it seemed like something out of a myth. Suddenly, it moved with lightning quickness, thrashing its tail and gorging on a fish that swam within range of its snapping jaws.
The first concerted efforts to breed the Orinoco crocodile were started in the 1980s by conservation-minded ranchers whose lands straddled the animal’s once extensive territory.
Then, in 1990, scientists began releasing young crocodiles into rivers on the El Frío ranch, where wild crocodiles had not been seen in at least two decades. Today, researchers estimate that as many as 400 crocodiles inhabit the ranch, forming an entirely new population that shows the species’ ability to recover if conditions are right.
“This is the great success of the program,” said Álvaro Velasco, a former government biologist who heads an independent group of crocodile specialists. “The achievement is that there were no crocodiles here, and now there is a population that can reproduce itself.”
He stood with Mr. Rattia on a recent morning at the edge of a wide lagoon on the ranch, as a large male crocodile surfaced 50 feet offshore. Mr. Velasco said that the animal, roughly 15 feet long, was about 20 years old, placing it among one of the first generations of crocodiles released here.
The program at El Frío was begun when the 153,000-acre ranch was in private hands, as part of a research station started in the 1970s that brought scientists from around the world to study the ecology of the Venezuelan plains.
During a wave of nationalizations carried out by the country’s longtime socialist president, Hugo Chávez, El Frío was expropriated in 2009. The research station was abruptly closed, and a Spanish biologist who had run it was barred from the ranch.
Now the hatchery hangs on by a thread, largely because of the perseverance of Mr. Rattia. After the government takeover, Mr. Rattia said, he was reassigned to work as an auto mechanic, something in which he had no experience. After several months, when the crocodiles began dying, he appealed to the ranch’s new managers to let him return to the hatchery.
He has been running it almost single-handedly ever since.
He has no money to replace a faulty thermostat in the incubator used to hatch crocodile eggs. When the thermostat malfunctioned last year, the incubator overheated, and dozens of eggs were destroyed. A freezer used to store meat for the animals broke about a year and a half ago and has not been replaced.
Mr. Rattia spends much of his time fishing to provide food for the animals in the hatchery, which include 155 young crocodiles and 1,300 Arrau turtles, another endangered species. Although he makes only about slightly more than the minimum wage, he digs into his own pocket to buy vitamins to supplement the animals’ food.
“They don’t see the value of this,” Mr. Rattia said. “I feel that the day I go is the day the hatchery ends.”
Officials at the Environment Ministry in Caracas, the capital, turned down requests for interviews, but the environment minister, Miguel Rodríguez, recently defended the government’s stewardship when he visited the ranch to release 45 young crocodiles.
“The construction of socialism would not be compatible if we don’t also preserve nature,” Mr. Rodríguez was quoted as saying in a government newspaper. He said that a majority of releases had occurred after Mr. Chávez first took office in 1999, suggesting that the government had given the program new impetus. Much of that activity, however, was carried out by private ranchers and foundations, conservationists said.
There are six facilities in Venezuela involved in raising Orinoco crocodiles for release in the wild. Most collect eggs laid by wild crocodiles, as El Frío does, or from crocodiles kept in small, enclosed lagoons for breeding. They incubate the eggs and raise the hatchlings until they are about a year old, when they are large enough to have a good chance of surviving on their own.
Humans continue to be the crocodiles’ greatest enemy. Poor rural residents often kill them, out of fear that they will attack people, conservationists said. They also take their eggs for food and capture baby crocodiles to sell as pets.
Conservationists said the effort to save the crocodile was undermined by the absence of game wardens to patrol the rivers where they live.
Private efforts to save the Orinoco crocodile also face serious challenges. One, on the Masaguaral Ranch, led to the country’s first crocodile hatchery in the late 1980s, and today it produces about 200 baby crocodiles a year, more than any other facility.
But the government has long been antagonistic to large landowners, casting them as enemies of its revolutionary program. After the takeover of El Frío and some other ranches, the threat of expropriation is a constant worry.
Mr. Hernández, the director of the environmental foundation, said the government had virtually cut all communication with such independent programs. He said that each year he submitted requests for permission to release crocodiles in a national park on the Capanaparo River, and that the government had repeatedly failed to respond.
“In theory, they want to do everything, but then they don’t do it,” Mr. Hernández said.
Nonetheless, the potential for public-private cooperation can be seen at another government-run ranch, called El Cedral. With financing from a private foundation started by a former Environment Ministry official, the ranch last year created a crocodile hatchery, where there are now about 90 baby crocodiles being raised in well-maintained tanks.
Pedro González, 57, who works at the hatchery, recalled how his father used to hunt crocodiles at night from a canoe, using a harpoon, the traditional method here.
“I am remaking what my father devoured,” Mr. González said.
Researchers: High diabetes risk in Latin America could be traced back centuries
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, December 25, 2013 20:35 EST
Scientists on Wednesday said they had found a variant of a gene to explain why Latin Americans are at higher risk of Type 2 diabetes, and pointed to a possible DNA legacy from the Neanderthals.
The variant lies on a gene called SLC16A11, which plays a part in breaking down fatty molecules called lipids, they said in the journal Nature.
A research consortium called SIGMA — for the Slim Initiative in Genomic Medicine for the Americans — sought to understand why Type 2 diabetes in Mexicans and other Latin American populations is roughly twice as great as among non-Hispanic whites in the United States.
They carried out a DNA comparison of 8,214 Mexicans and other Latin Americans, who were divided into diabetics and non-diabetics.
Those with the SLC16A11 variant were around 20 percent likelier to develop the disease compared to counterparts without this signature, they found.
Prevalence of the variant was especially high among people of full Native American ancestry, of whom around 50 percent had it. Among Latin Americans generally, it was 30 to 40 percent.
A comparison with other ethnic groups found the variant in around 11 percent of East Asians, but rare among Europeans — two percent — and absent among Africans.
The gene type may well be an inheritance from intermingling between two groups of early humans, Homo sapiens — anatomically modern man — and the Neanderthals, according to the study.
“The haplotype (genetic variant) derives from Neanderthal introgression, providing an example of Neanderthal admixture affecting physiology and disease susceptibility today,” it said.
The evidence for this comes from DNA sequenced from a fossilised Neanderthal bone found in a cave in the Altai Mountains of southern Siberia, the paper said.
An investigation published last week in the journal Nature found that Neanderthals contributed between 1.5 and 2.1 percent of the genome of humans today.
The exceptions are Africans, who do not have a Neanderthal component in their DNA, it said.
That probe also found that Neanderthals passed on a small part of their DNA to another group of early humans, the Denisovans.
They in turn left a discernible genetic imprint in Australian Aborigines, New Guineans, ethnic Han Chinese and Native Americans.
According to the World Health Organisation, 347 million people worldwide have diabetes, a chronic disease that occurs when the pancreas does not produce enough glucose-controlling insulin, or when the body cannot efficiently use it.
Over time, the disease can damage the heart, blood vessels, eyes, kidneys and nerves — increasing the risk of heart disease, kidney failure, stroke and blindness.
Type 2, also called adult-onset diabetes, accounts for around 90 percent of diabetes cases.
It is strongly associated with obesity and lack of physical exercise, which may enhance genetic predisposition to the disease.
In the USA...United Surveillance America
Right Wing Hypocrites Keep ‘Christ In Christmas’ While Harming The Poor 365 Days a Year
Wednesday, December, 25th, 2013, 1:13 pm
Christmas is defined as an annual commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ even though it is fairly well-known that the mythological “virgin birth” occurred sometime in June, but that is another story altogether. In an effort to create contention and further their “persecution” meme around the Pagan winter solstice “Christmas season,” the religious right resurrects their annual assertion that atheists, secularists, and non-Christians are waging “war on Christmas.” The phony war on Christmas drives conservative Christians mad and brings them together to keep “Christ in Christmas” even though they spend the rest of the year keeping Christ out of Republican policies they adamantly support. What the “keep Christ in Christmas” crowd revealed this year is the “Christ” conservative Christians worship is a barbaric, hateful, and callous deity who advocates starving Americans, keeping them in poverty, and promotes an agenda to keep them sick and dying.
First, it is important to acknowledge the religious right’s entire issue in their war on Christmas narrative is predicated on the manner in which Americans express wishes for the winter holidays and nothing more. Their contention that “Happy Holidays” is non-believers’ crusade to extricate Jesus of the “Christ in Christmas” is as phony as their contention that saying “Merry Christmas” identifies one as a follower of biblical Christ. The regular defenders of the faith leading up to and during the winter holidays, Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Palin, and Fox News claim “Happy Holidays” is an attack on their right to celebrate Christmas by, as O’Reilly claims, dirty secularists crusading to “banish any mention of Jesus in the public square.” Attention whore and charlatan Sarah Palin has travelled the country pimping her book and warning Americans that the soldiers in the war on Christmas are “angry atheists” on a campaign to “abort Christ from Christmas” despite atheists could not care less whether Christians celebrate the mythological “virgin birth” or use the day to get material possessions at someone else’s expense.
The glaring hypocrisy of those on the right, primarily conservative Christians, is they want Christ kept in Christmas during the Pagan winter holidays, but “abort Christ” from the policies and agendas they promote throughout the year. One does not have to be a biblical scholar to know the Jesus of the Gospels promoted and admonished his followers to feed, clothe, and care for the poor and infirm, or that he preached that the rich have to sell all their belongings and give the proceeds to the poor if they want to get to Heaven.
Although there are several Gospel accounts of Christ’s advocacy for the poor, his foretelling of judgment day and who will be “blessed to inherit the kingdom prepared for you” shows the importance he placed on caring for the poor. He said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me.” His followers failed to understand the meaning of the story and asked, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we welcome you, or naked and clothe you?” The Jesus Christ that conservative Christians are fighting to keep in Christmas replied, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:25-40). There is no better explanation of how important biblical Christ believed it was to care for the poor, but it is lost on conservative Christians in Republican and teabagger ranks.
The Christian conservatives fighting to keep Jesus in Christmas are the same hypocrites fighting to keep him and his teachings to care for the needy out of their policies that deliberately create more suffering for the poor; not relieve it as their “Christ in Christmas” preached throughout his ministry. In fact, as 2013 wound down, Republicans and teabaggers went to great extremes to take food from the hungry, keep millions in ill-health and dying, and send millions more into poverty while executing their crusade to keep “angry atheists” from aborting “Christ from Christmas.” Queen of hypocrisy Sarah Palin went a step farther and profited from her effort to keep “Christ in Christmas” pimping her book around the country and through “lame stream media” she claims to hate while condemning policies to feed the poor, house the homeless, and care for the sick because they were too costly for her grandchildren.
In the last two months, conservative Christians cut funding from SNAP (food stamps), sent 1.3 million out-of-work Americans into poverty by not extending unemployment benefits, kept 99.6% of the sequester in place to keep seniors hungry, the homeless on the streets, and cut children’s Head Start programs while their mouthpieces claim they want Jesus Christ in Christmas. The hypocrites have kept Christ out of their policies all year, every year, and then claim non-believers are “on a crusade to banish any mention of Jesus in the public square” because they say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.”
For tens-of-millions of Americans, there will not be happy holidays or a merry Christmas solely because Christian conservatives are on a crusade to keep them in poverty, hungry, homeless, and sick based on a reprehensible philosophy that Jesus predestined all the nation’s wealth for the richest 2% of Americans. As an aside, Christmas is really a commercial ploy to create more profit for the people funding conservative Christians in Congress to create more poverty, hunger, and ill-health for millions of Americans to keep them desperate and willing to work for poverty wages. It is just added hypocrisy from advocates for keeping Christ in Christmas who promote candidates and policies enriching the wealthy at the expense of the poor.
One hopes that while millions of Americans luxuriate in warm homes with an abundance of food and enjoy opening presents around a Christmas tree, they will pause and think, even for a second, that there are 50 million Americans barely surviving in hunger, ill-health, and poverty. For those millions, Christmas is not a happy holiday any more than any other day of the year and sadly, many of those suffering are followers of the Christ in Christmas that could do nothing to prevent conservative Christians in Congress from deliberately keeping the disadvantaged in poverty and putting more at risk of joining their ranks. Conservative Christians fighting to keep Christ in Christmas while keeping his teachings out of their policies do not deserve a happy holiday or a merry Christmas. One hopes that if their bible is true, the Christ they are fighting to keep in the Pagan winter holiday gives them exactly what they have given the poor in their war on Christmas, and follows through on his promise to condemn them to proverbial Hell. Happy Holidays!
Religious Conservatives Thrown Into A Frenzied Panic After Court Won’t Impose Biblical Law
Tuesday, December, 24th, 2013, 7:13 pm
America’s justice system does more than deal with deciding the guilt or innocence of alleged criminals, or settling civil suits between two parties where a crime has not occurred. The federal courts often rule on the constitutionality of a law, and it never fails that regardless their decision one of the parties refuses to accept the decision; particularly if the court rules against a law founded on religion. Last weekend in a very religious state a federal judge ruled that a law forbidding two people who love each other from marrying was unconstitutional, and it sent religious conservatives into a frenzied panic because a federal judge struck down what they thought was their dog-given right to impose biblical law on people who do not subscribe to the Mormon religion.
After a federal court ruling overturned Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage on Thursday, the Republican theocratic party went berserk and immediately filed an emergency motion for a temporary stay the next day; likely because it was inconceivable that a federal court would curtail the Mormon’s right to impose the bible as law. It is likely that Utah Republicans, especially Governor Gary Herbert (R), denounced the decision and threatened the federal court that he intended to appeal the ruling because it violated his Church of Latter Day Saints (Mormon) dogma forbidding one class of people from marrying the person they love. Directly following the ruling, same-sex couples rushed to the country clerk’s office to procure marriage licenses and enjoy the same rights as couples of the opposite sex. The ruling was another case of a powerful religious organization practiced in demonizing and punishing an entire class of Americans seeing their dominance shot down by the United States Constitution that would have made Founding Father Thomas Jefferson celebrate.
Even though federal courts are tasked with ruling on the Constitutionality of laws, and Mormon Governor Herbert swore an oath to uphold and defend the Constitution, he followed through on his threat after denouncing the decision where he said, “I am very disappointed an activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah. I am working with my legal counsel and the acting attorney general to determine the best course to defend traditional marriage within the borders of Utah.” Herbert followed through on his threat and appealed to the 10th Circuit Appeals Court to put a stop to equal rights for same-sex couples. They promptly denied the governor’s emergency request “without prejudice” because “the motion before us does not meet the requirements of the Federal or local appellate rules governing a request for a stay, we deny the motion.”
According to the 10th Circuit’s ruling, Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure and the local rules of this court provided and set out the requirements for a stay pending appeal, and they noted that the defendants-appellants “acknowledged that they have not addressed, let alone satisfied, the factors that must be established to be entitled to a stay pending appeal.” It is likely that because they are Mormons and rule of their own accord in Utah, they felt they were not bound by requirements for a stay pending appeal. It is highly probable that regardless how a higher court rules on appeal, the Mormons could not, and would not, allow any same-sex marriages to go forward in the interim because the LDS church has set in stone that, like the National Organization for Marriage, only the union of one man and one woman is accepted as legal. Regardless if Republicans prevail on appeal, same-sex marriages will be allowed to stand.
What the 10th Circuit found, like the federal district court ruling Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional, is that Governor Herbert or the overriding will of the people of Utah cannot infringe on same-sex couples by violating their “rights to due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment.” The original ruling, by U.S. District Judge Robert J. Shelby, noted that the state failed to show that allowing same-sex marriages would affect opposite-sex marriages in any conceivable way. Shelby wrote that “In the absence of such evidence, the State’s unsupported fears and speculations are insufficient to justify the State’s refusal to dignify the family relationships of its gay and lesbian citizens.”
The Mormon argument that same-sex marriages destroy opposite-sex marriages is precisely what they spent untold dollars in California to convince ignorant voters to pass the unconstitutional Proposition 8 banning same-sex marriage. It is likely Mormons, like NOM, know that gays enjoying equal rights to marry the person they love does not destroy unions in traditional, one man, one woman, marriages, but it is a favorite argument that frightens insecure opposite-sex couples and religious sycophants into voting to violate gay couples’ “rights to due process and equal protection” guaranteed in the 14th Amendment.
Governor Herbert’s claim that an “activist federal judge is attempting to override the will of the people of Utah” is another well-rehearsed complaint of religious groups to cover a majority’s right to deny a minority their Constitutional protections and is routinely struck down by the courts. The Mormon church on Friday said it stands by its support for “traditional marriage” and “continues to believe that voters in Utah did the right thing by providing clear direction in the state constitution that marriage should be between a man and a woman, and we are hopeful that this view will be validated by a higher court.” That view is predicated on forcing a religious belief on all Americans and the Constitution is crystal clear that government shall “make no law respecting an establishment of religion;” especially a law establishing one religion’s right to violate other Americans 14th Amendment rights whether or not the will of the people demand it.
America is changing, and finally reverting to the nation’s founding document to bring religious imposition based on the bible to the end it deserves. It is remarkable that any, and every, time a federal court rules that laws based on the bible are unconstitutional and violate some Americans’ 14th Amendment rights, Republicans, particularly religious Republicans, make the same accusation that an activist judge is overriding the will of the people. What irks Mormons, evangelicals, and any religious group seeking to force their dogmata and beliefs on the people is that despite their machinations, the bible is not, and never will be, the Constitution and America’s justice system is not about to let it be.
When Boehner and Cantor Say What The American People Want They Mean ALEC and the Kochs
Tuesday, December, 24th, 2013, 10:42 am
Republicans, particularly those in leadership positions in Congress, are in the habit of claiming their anti-American policies are “what the American people want,” and then forge ahead either doing nothing, or obstructing legislation the people overwhelmingly support. Over the course of 2013, and really, the past three years that Republicans had control of the House of Representatives when they say “it’s what the American people want, and expect us to do,” they mean it is what their wealthy benefactors want and the people be damned. However, for the first time in a while, a poll indicates that if Republicans do not act on behalf of a small segment of the population, they may pay at the polls in 2014.
What the Public Policy Polling survey of voters in four key congressional districts revealed was that besides 63-68% of voters supporting extending unemployment benefits for the long-term unemployed, voters said they were less likely to vote for the Republican incumbent in 2014 by at least a 9-point margin if they voted to cut off extended unemployment benefits. The benefits end on December 28 and with Congress home for the holidays, it is all but certain extending the benefits will have to wait until 2014. Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor have already said the recent improvement in unemployment figures and good economic news informed it was unnecessary to spend the money to help 1.3 million Americans struggling to find jobs.
What the survey also revealed is that the American people are concerned about their fellow citizens’ plight and it is a recurring theme over the past few months across a range of issues all dealing with the economy and widening income gap Republicans are duty-bound to see never changes to enrich the wealthy and their corporations. What is telling is that prior to the bicameral budget agreement to fund the government for the next two years, House Minority leader Nancy Pelosi said it was an “immorality” that the benefits were not secured in the recent deal and she was joined by moderate Republicans who urged Boehner and Eric Cantor to rescue jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed in early December telling them “the issue was important to many American families.” Boehner’s answer was the only way he would consider the proposal is if cuts were made to other domestic programs; and only if continued job growth could be guaranteed. It is likely that alone is why the measure ultimately did not make in the budget deal; that and compassionate conservative Paul Ryan’s open hostility toward the poor and unemployed. The only thing Boehner did not say, at least in public, was that throwing 1.3 million Americans into poverty was “what the American people want.”
Over the course of the past couple of months the American people have told pollsters precisely what they want and Republicans spent all of 2013 blocking every single attempt to follow the will of the people. For example, an overwhelming majority of Americans (63%) want comprehensive immigration reform passed for roughly 11.7 million individuals living in the United States illegally; including 73% of Democrats, 60% of Republicans, and 57% of Independents. Instead, John Boehner said he would not bring the Senate-passed legislation up for a vote until after the 2014 primaries and then only in a piecemeal manner after the borders were secured with an absurd fence along the entire Mexican-American border. In fact, teabagger hero Ted Cruz recently said blocking immigration reform in the House was the Republican strategy to take back the Senate and called on Boehner to refuse to allow a vote on reform he said “was a kick in the teeth to Americans” who are likely racists panting to throw 11 million Hispanics out of their “whites only” nation.
Last week, an ABC News/Washington Post poll revealed that well over two-thirds of Americans said it is time to raise the minimum wage to $10.25 per hour; another poll showed over three-quarters of voters support raising the minimum. The ABC/WaPo poll also showed an overwhelming majority supported government efforts to address crippling income inequality enriching the wealthy that they said is a result of federal government policies that favor the rich over the rest of the population. Republicans claimed it is not what the American people want and instead claim their interest lies in protecting business and corporations who threaten to stop hiring and cut back hours of current employees if the federal minimum wage is hiked. One wonders why the poll did not ask respondents if they would withhold electoral support for incumbents who disregard the will of the people, but it is likely they already knew the answer and were mortified of giving other voters the wrong idea.
Republicans allowed all food stamp recipients to go without several meals each week in November when they refused to fund SNAP and voted to slash $39 billion from the program in September. Compassionate conservative Paul Ryan called for $133.5 billion in cuts in the budget Republicans passed earlier in the year and yet in June in a HuffPost/YouGov poll the majority of Americans said they preferred no cuts and instead wanted an increase to help Americans struggling to put food on the table. Last year an overwhelming 90% of Americans approved of either maintaining SNAP at current levels or doubling funding to ensure all Americans avoid food insecurity and to prevent the daily hunger they experience.
Republicans are panting to make cuts to Social Security and Medicare in 2014 despite that overwhelming majorities of Americans, both Republicans and Democrats, support preserving and even improving benefits including their willingness to pay more according to a survey by the nonpartisan National Academy of Social Insurance (NASI). Like every other Republican line, they claim the American people want benefits cut and the program privatized that reveals who Republicans are serving with every claim they are doing “what the American people want.”
In Republican parlance, when they say “what the people want,” they mean their wealthy benefactors the Koch brothers, ALEC, and Wall Street who are the “American people” to Republicans. What all the polls showing what Americans really want reveal is they care deeply for their fellow citizens who have been economically raped mercilessly by Republicans and declared open war on the people they pledged to serve. If any American thinks Republicans are unaware of what the people really want, or are the least bit concerned they will lose even one vote because they serve their wealthy masters, they are deluded beyond belief because for three straight years Republicans, particularly in the House, knew exactly what the people wanted. Instead of following the will of the people they have spent every day of three years deliberately obstructing, filibustering, and blocking legislation the people want passed because the Americans Republicans serve; the Koch brothers, ALEC, and Wall Street want total victory in their class war against the American people and it is a war they have already won.
Two-thirds of Americans say Boehner’s 2013 Congress is the worst ever
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 26, 2013 8:55 EST
Two thirds of Americans say the current Congress is the worst ever, while three quarters slammed the “do-nothing” legislature, a CNN/ORC International poll found Thursday.
The negative attitudes were expressed toward leading lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, with 52 percent saying the policies of Democrats would move the country in the wrong direction, compared to 54 percent for Republican policies.
And 54 percent of respondents said the same thing about the policies of President Barack Obama, a Democrat.
The 113th Congress did pass a budget agreement before its holiday recess, but less than 60 bills have been signed into law during its first year.
And with a continued political stalemate likely in 2014, when mid-term elections will take place, the current Congress is poised to become one of the least productive in at least the past four decades, CNN noted.
A total of 68 percent of those questioned said the current Congress was the worst in their lifetime, with only 28 percent disagreeing.
Republican Senators are Blocking Al Franken’s Bill To Improve Mental Health Services
By: Keith Brekhus
Tuesday, December, 24th, 2013, 1:56 pm
Two right-wing Senators are blocking a bipartisan mental health bill that would provide 40 million dollars to extend funding for mental health courts for five years, establish more crisis intervention teams to cooperate with law enforcement officers, and provide more extensive mental health screening for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress. The Justice and Mental Health Collaboration Act, co-sponsored by Senator Al Franken (D-MN) and Representative Rich Nugent (R-FL), enjoys broad bi-partisan support. However, according to the Minneapolis Star & Tribune, an unnamed source reports that the legislation is being blocked from going to a floor vote by right-wing Senators Mike Lee of Utah and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma.
The Franken Bill would provide much needed mental health services and tools for police and the courts to address deficiencies in the nation’s mental health system. The legislation should be uncontroversial, but Mike Lee and Tom Coburn adhere dogmatically to an anti-government ideology that would even deny combat veterans and others suffering from mental illness, access to critical services. Franken’s bill has 15 Republican co-sponsors in the US House and 13 in the US Senate, but Coburn and Lee still insist on stalling the legislation. Senate GOP sponsors include staunch conservatives like Mike Enzi (WY), Pat Roberts (KS), Orrin Hatch (UT), Chuck Grassly (IA) and Roy Blunt (MO), as well as more moderate Republican Senators, including Susan Collins (ME), Rob Portman (OH) and Kelly Ayotte (NH).
Conservatives who oppose gun control often argue that instead we need to do something about mentally ill people who become killers, yet when given the opportunity to approve of expanding mental services, conservative lawmakers like Lee and Coburn refuse to fulfill their obligation to do so. Mike Lee is a repeat offender. The Utah Senator joined Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in April by refusing to reauthorize and improve federal programs related to mental health and substance use disorders.
Right-wing and Libertarian opponents of gun control frequently argue that better mental health care, not new gun laws, are needed to prevent future mass shootings. Al Franken’s amendment is designed to provide better mental health care for Americans who need it, but right-wing and Libertarian heroes Tom Coburn and Mike Lee are blocking that legislation. The words of support for better mental health care ring hollow if they are not backed up by legislative action.
Washington Navy Yard shooter Aaron Alexis highlighted the need for better mental health services for veterans. James Holmes, Jared Loughner, Adam Lanza and several other recent mass shooters have illustrated the need for better mental health intervention programs in this country. However, Tom Coburn and Mike Lee do not want to take any action to reform our gun laws and they do not want to support federal programs designed to help the mentally ill. Until the right-wing puts some money into mental health services, their words about improving mental health care policy in this country provide absolutely nothing but empty rhetoric.
Obama’s New DOJ Voting Rights Advocate has Texas and North Carolina In Her Crosshairs
By: Adalia Woodbury
Tuesday, December, 24th, 2013, 12:02 pm
The Republicans and the Tea Party thought they had it made when the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act. Texas’ version of a vote suppression law was so stringent it caught judges, politicians and the state’s attorney-general in the net of imagined fraudulent voters.
North Carolina’s Pat McCrory sold his version using the same fear and myth strategy that Republicans have used nationwide. He stayed mum on provisions that increased the amounts that corporate interests could donate to state political campaigns. After all, even fans of Duck Dynasty would see that if the state had a voter fraud problem it isn’t going to be fixed by allowing outside corporate interests to spend more buying up state politicians or by getting rid of pre-registration and voting awareness programs.
Republicans in Texas and North Carolina probably thought they could face down the legal challenges, even those brought by the Department of Justice. After all, corporate money can buy fancy lawyers and with Federal court nominations being gummed up by Republicans in Congress, things were looking pretty good for the vote suppression crowd.
That was before some recent changes at the Department of Justice. Last month, President Obama nominated Debo Adegbile to be the new Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. He worked as senior counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. For over a decade, Adegbile worked in several positions for the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Education Fund. He appeared before the Supreme Court, twice, in an effort to save the Voting Rights Act.
Last Friday, the Department of Justice announced that Pam Karlan, another top expert on voting rights, will work under Adegbile as the Deputy Attorney-General for Civil Rights. Karlan has the combination of legal scholarship and experience as effective civil rights attorney. She co-wrote the brief that brought an end to the Defense of Marriage Act. Pam Karlan was assistant counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education fund and was a professor at the University of Virginia School of Law before she joined the Stanford faculty in 1998. President Obama abandoned plans to nominate her for the Federal Appeals Court in 2012. Oh, did I mention that she wrote the leading text book on Voting Rights, along with several books on constitutional law and civil rights?
Pam Karlan is the person who will be handling the DOJ’s challenges to the Texas and North Carolina suppression laws.
As Think Progress explained it at the time:
[Charlie] Savage also explains that Obama’s decision not to pursue nominees like Karlan was part of a “deliberate strategy” to appoint “relatively moderate jurists who he hoped would not provoke culture wars that distracted attention from his ambitious legislative agenda.
Conservative heads are spinning 360 degrees because Karlan is a smart and well educated woman, a liberal, a Jew, a member of the LGBT community and she has the cojones to describe herself as snarky. In other words, she is a strong advocate for the franchise and she isn’t someone who is going to back down from a fight, like say, John Boehner.
Adgebile and Karlan’s combined expertise on voting rights, their determination and their understanding of the Supreme Court’s current climate means Republicans will have to either offer up evidence of the rampant voter fraud they claim necessitates their attacks on the vote or shut up. It’s about time!
Ukrainian activist-journalist Tetyana Chernovil in intensive care after beating
Protesters rally in Kiev holding photos of reporter, who says she was pulled from car after criticising minister's alleged corruption
Anna Nemtsova in Moscow
theguardian.com, Thursday 26 December 2013 18.39 GMT
The streets of Kiev were plastered with images of a young woman's bruised and swollen face on Thursday morning. The almost unrecognisable photograph was of Tetyana Chernovil, a journalist known for her investigations into government corruption, who has been in intensive care preparing for a series of operations to repair her face, shattered in a beating by unknown assailants.
Hundreds of protesters gathered outside the interior ministry headquarters, accusing authorities of ordering police officers to carry out the attack.
"It is a shame to beat women on the head," the crowd chanted. "Zakharchenko is an executor. He should resign," others cried, referring to the interior minister, Vitaly Zakharchenko – reviled by the opposition activists who for the past month have led hundreds thousands of Ukrainians in protest against the Russian-allied government.
Chernovil, 34, has been badly disfigured by the assault . Her colleagues at the Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper recount Chernovil's description of how her attackers chased her before beating her up in the early hours of Wednesday morning.
Chernovil told police she was driving home when she noticed she was being followed by a dark SUV, which then forced her off the road. Several men jumped out and smashed her rear window, dragged her from the car, beat her and abandoned her in a ditch, a police statement said.
"It is scary and very sad to see what they have done to Tetyana," Chernovil's friend and colleague Maria Lebedeva told the Guardian.
Chernovil was known for her investigations and protests against alleged corruption among senior state officials, including Zakharchenko.
From the hospital bed where doctors are treating her for concussion, fractured facial bones, a severely broken nose and bruising, Chernovil told friends that on the day of the attack, she had written about Zakharchenko's luxurious estate, which she said was unaffordable on a government salary.
Chernovil – who is as much an activist as a journalist – has also led investigations into police brutality.
Lebedeva described how, earlier this month, she had photographed Chernovil leading a group of activists to Zakharchenko's apartment building carrying a stuffed figure of a policeman bearing the word "executor".
"The activists put that policeman into a garbage bag – the idea was to say, if the minister does not resign, people will think of all policemen as garbage," Lebedeva said.
General Vitaly Yarema – a former Kiev police chief who has joined the opposition protests – told local media that Chernovil had "suffered for her social activism".
Yarema is leading an independent investigation into her attack from the opposition headquarters on Independence Square, Kiev (known as the maidan) focal point for the anti-government protest movement. He is studying video footage captured by a camera in Chernovil's car, which her supporters say shows the three attackers and the licence plate of the car they were driving.
"I believe we will quickly find out the truth with the help of General Vitaly Yarema, a professional criminal investigator on this case," an opposition parliament deputy, Anatoly Gritsenko, said in an interview.
Hundreds of reporters took to Kiev's streets to protest on Thursday and vowed to continue the investigations Chernovil had started. By the afternoon, a cavalcade of 15 cars and a bus full of journalists had set off for Zakharchenko's summer cottage.
"They call it the Mobile Maidan. In spite of violence used against protesters, reporters and activists are determined to go right to the minister's windows to support their colleague," said Mari Bastashevski, a researcher and artist.
After more than a month of pro-EU protests in the central square of Kiev, Chernovil's case has rapidly become a symbol for the Ukrainian opposition and a totem around which Ukraine's journalists – hampered by routine violence and rights abuses – are rallying.
U.S. condemns violence against protesters and journalists in Ukraine
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 26, 2013 20:30 EST
The United States on Thursday expressed concern over the targeting of journalists and activists taking part in pro-EU rallies in Ukraine, calling the savage beating of one opposition journalist “particularly disturbing.”
Opposition leaders have been locked in a standoff with President Viktor Yanukovych over his decision to scrap key political and free trade agreements with the European Union last month.
“The United States expresses its grave concern over an emerging pattern of targeted violence and intimidation towards activists and journalists who participated in or reported on the EuroMaidan protests,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement.
“The violent beating of journalist Tetyana Chornovil is particularly disturbing,” she said.
Chornovil, who writes for the Ukrainska Pravda opposition website, was attacked overnight Tuesday outside the capital Kiev, police said in a statement citing the journalist, who described being pulled from her car, beaten on the head and thrown into a ditch.
The attack came after a local pro-EU activist was stabbed in both thighs in the eastern city of Kharkiv on Tuesday evening.
The United States called on Ukraine to “ensure respect for human rights, including fundamental freedoms of expression and assembly, the rule of law, and democratic principles,” Psaki said.
“We urge the government of Ukraine to send an unequivocal message that violence against critics of the government and those who are working towards a modern, democratic, and prosperous Ukraine will not be tolerated,” she added, emphasizing that the US and its European allies would be watching closely.
Yanukovych’s decision to scrap the EU pact sparked the largest protests since the pro-democracy Orange Revolution in 2004 but the demonstrations have been losing their momentum following a bailout deal with Russia last week.
Protesters have been occupying Kiev’s central Independence Square,known locally as Maidan, since late November but opposition leaders have been unable to shake Yanukovych from his perch.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Freed Pussy Riot member wants Pig Putin out: ‘We’d still like to do what they put us in jail for’
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, December 27, 2013 7:50 EST
A freed member of the Pussy Riot punk band said Friday the rockers still wanted Russian President Pig Putin out of power, adding she would like freed ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky to stand in elections and replace him.
“As far as Pig Putin is concerned, our attitude towards him has not changed,” Nadezhda Tolokonnikova said alongside her bandmate Maria Alyokhina, speaking at their first news conference since their release earlier this week.
“We would still like to do what they put us in jail for. We would still like to drive him out.”
In February 2012, several members of Pussy Riot jumped around the altar of the church and attempted to sing what they called a “punk prayer” calling on the Virgin Mary to “drive the Pig out.”
They said they were denouncing political ties between Pig Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church and had not wanted to offend believers.
She said she would like Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky, who was last week released under a pardon, to run for president.
“I would very much like to invite Mikhail Borisovich to this post,” referring to the Kremlin critic who spent more than a decade in jail by his first name and patronymic.
“I am in solidarity with that,” added Alyokhina.
Asked at the news conference to describe the Pig, Tolokonnikova said he was “closed, non-transparent” and “a chekist,” using a Soviet-era term for a member of security services. Earlier Friday the young women, who both have small children, arrived back in Moscow after reuniting in Siberia.
Alyokhina, 25, had already passed through Moscow after being released from her prison colony on her way to meet Tolokonnikova, 24, just after her release from detention in Siberia.
Their release two months early from their two-year prison terms came after an amnesty backed by Pig Putin.
After the stunt at the Christ the Saviour Cathedral Alyokhina, Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich, 31, were identified, later arrested and in August 2012 found guilty on charges of hooliganism motivated by religious hatred.
Samutsevich was released in October after being given a suspended sentence, but a Moscow city court upheld on appeal the two-year prison camp terms for Tolokonnikova and Alyokhina.
Britain to overtake France and Germany by 2030 as Europe’s biggest economy, study says
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, December 27, 2013 7:43 EST
Britain will surpass France and Germany to become Europe’s biggest economy by 2030, according to a study released on Thursday.
British research group the Centre for Economics and Business Research (CEBR) predicts that Britain’s output will outstrip France’s by 2018 before displacing Germany by around 2030.
But it will be overtaken by India and Brazil over the same time period, said the study.
“Germany is forecast to lose its position as the largest Western European economy to the UK around 2030 because of the UK’s faster population growth and lesser dependence on the other European economies,” the report said.
“If the euro were to break up, Germany’s outlook would be much better,” it added. “A Deutsche Mark-based Germany certainly would not be overtaken by the UK for many years if ever.”
The think tank’s chief executive claimed that Britain’s economy would grow even faster if it left the European Union.
“My instinct is that in the short term, the impact of leaving the EU would undoubtedly be negative,” Douglas McWilliams told the Daily Telegraph.
“My suspicion is that over a 15-year period, it would probably be positive.”
French unemployment rises despite President Hollande’s promises
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, December 26, 2013 17:00 EST
France’s number of registered jobseekers rose by 17,800 in November to 3.29 million, the labour ministry said Thursday, challenging government claims to have bucked a trend of spiralling unemployment.
Labour Minister Michel Sapin claimed President Francois Hollande’s pledge to curb growing joblessness by the year’s end was still on track, if part-time and short-term workers were not counted in the total number of jobseekers.
That number actually fell by 6,900 to 4.87 million once those underemployed workers were factored out, prompting Sapin to say that the reversal of the upward trend was “well and truly under course in the fourth quarter”.
“The number of jobless will continue to decrease in the coming months,” he predicted.
But Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front party, accused Hollande’s government of trying to claim a reduced unemployment figure through “artificial” means.
“It is distressing to see that, despite that, the real increase in unemployment is too strong to be statistically covered up as a reduction,” she said in a statement.
A slight fall in the number of unemployed for October, of 20,500, had raised government hopes France’s years-long jobless crisis may be finally drawing to an end.
Hollande, a Socialist who is under fierce pressure to tackle unemployment and with polls showing his approval ratings the lowest of any president in modern French history, claimed last month he had met his electoral pledge to halt the rise in joblessness by the end of this year.
Hollande’s reaction to the latest figures was guarded. He simply said the new data “did not modify the trend”.
Nevertheless, he asserted that “the reversal of the unemployment curve, which is something I had set out to do, has truly begun.”
He said the number of those with no employment whatsoever had been rising by 30,000 per month in the first quarter of 2013, and that the figure had fallen steadily during the year.
“This movement, to be significant, must follow month after month,” he said. “It’s a daily battle.”
“A lasting decline in unemployment is within our reach,” he said, adding that his government would focus on labour reforms, spurring investment in industry and other measures to create more jobs.
On Monday, Hollande said the two main challenges for the year ahead were curbing unemployment and kickstarting growth in the eurozone’s second largest economy.
Economists and other experts say there is little chance unemployment will stop rising without sustained growth.
The main opposition centre-right UMP party accused Hollande of playing with figures to back claims that the fight against unemployment was on track.
Jean-Francois Cope, leader of the main opposition UMP party, said Hollande must admit “his failure and immediately announce a change of economic policy”.
He said Hollande could not hide “the tough reality that the number of jobless people has never been so high in our country”.
The influential Medef, the largest employers’ union in France, said structural reforms and higher corporate competitiveness were needed to create more jobs.
Leading unions rubbished the government’s claim. The CFDT said the figures were deceptive and the CGT said Hollande had lost his wager to deliver on unemployment by the end of the year.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
12/27/2013 05:15 PM
Art Dealer to the Führer: Hildebrand Gurlitt's Deep Nazi Ties
Hildebrand Gurlitt, the man who assembled the astounding art collection recently discovered in a Munich apartment, was more deeply involved in the trade of looted artworks than had been previously assumed. He also profited from Nazi injustices after the war.
The Americans moved in from the west around noon. There were two tanks, followed by infantry soldiers, their weapons at the ready.
There are people in Aschbach, a village in the Upper Franconia region of Bavaria, who remember April 14, 1945 very clearly. They were children then, helping out in the fields as the soldiers marched past. They remember that some of the men had dark skin and gave them chewing gum.
At the time, Aschbach was a town of a few hundred residents, complete with a castle on a hill that belonged to the aristocratic Pölnitz family. The castle, its façade covered in brownish plaster overgrown with wild grape vines, was part of an estate that included a lake and several hundred hectares of forest. It still stands on the outskirts of Aschbach today, a fairytale castle in Franconia.
During those last days of World War II, Aschbach residents hung white sheets from their windows and were later registered by the American soldiers. The Americans arrested local Nazi Party leader Baron Gerhard von Pölnitz. The residents who were registered included a man named Karl Haberstock, who appeared on a wanted list of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the precursor to the CIA. Haberstock, an art dealer, had been living in the castle with his wife for several months.
The American army had a special unit to handle such cases, the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives Section. Their job was to search for art stolen by the Nazis.
When Captain Robert K. Posey and his assistant, Private Lincoln Kirstein, known as "Monuments Men," inspected the castle in early May they found an enormous art warehouse. It contained paintings and sculptures from the museum in nearby Bamberg and a picture gallery in the central German city of Kassel, whose directors had sought to protect the works from Allied bombs. They also discovered suspicious private property, some 13 crates of artworks marked as belonging to Heribert Fütterer, the commander of the German Air Force division for Bohemia and Moravia. The estate chapel contained suitcases and bags full of art, which Ewald von Kleist, the former commander of Army Group A of the Wehrmacht, had left there. Captain Posey declared the estate a restricted area and had signs reading "Off Limits" posted at the property.
A few days later, a Monuments Man noted: "In addition, rooms containing paintings, tapestries, statues, valuable furniture and documents from the belongings of two notorious German art dealers were found in the castle." They were the collections of Karl Haberstock and a certain Hildebrand Gurlitt, who had also lived in the castle with his family since their house in Dresden was burned down.
A note dated May 16 reads: "A large room on the upper floor with 34 boxes, two packages containing carpets, eight packages of books … one room on the ground floor containing an additional 13 boxes owned by Mr. Gurlitt." Most of these boxes contained pictures and drawings.
'Connections Within High-Level Nazi Circles'
In the following months and years, the American art investigators wrote letters, memos, inventory lists, reports and dossiers to clear up the origins of the art. With regard to Haberstock, they wrote: "Mr. Karl Haberstock, from Berlin, is the most notorious art collector in Europe. He was Hitler's private art collector and, for years, seized art treasures in France, Holland, Belgium and even Switzerland and Italy, using illegal, unscrupulous and even brutal methods. His name is infamous among all honest collectors in Europe."
Gurlitt, they wrote, was "an art collector from Hamburg with connections within high-level Nazi circles. He acted on behalf of other Nazi officials and made many trips to France, from where he brought home art collections. There is reason to believe that these private art collections consist of looted art from other countries." For the Monuments Men, Gurlitt was also an "art dealer to the Führer."
Now, almost 70 years later, what the Monuments Men discovered at Aschbach Castle in May 1945 has shown a spotlight on Germany's past once again. Customs officials found an enormous treasure trove of artworks from the Third Reich in an apartment in Munich's Schwabing district. It includes 380 pictures that the Nazis had dubbed "degenerate art" in 1937 and removed from museums. The Schwabing find also included 590 other artworks that the Nazi regime and its henchmen may have stolen from Jewish owners. The owner of the apartment is Gurlitt's son Cornelius, the current heir of the collection, who was 12 and living in Aschbach at the end of the war.
Consequences of Munich Discovery
With the origins of the individual pictures still unclear, a task force appointed by the German government is investigating the history of each artwork. It will be a lengthy effort. But a search performed by SPIEGEL staff, in such places as the French Foreign Ministry archives and the National Museum in Wroclaw, Poland, has revealed the substantial extent to which Gurlitt dealt in looted art and how ruthless his practices were.
A Hollywood film about the Monuments Men will be screened for the first time at next year's Berlin Film Festival. George Clooney produced and directed the film, in addition to playing the main role: a US soldier who is part of a special unit made up of art historians, museum experts and other assistants, whose mission is to recover art stolen by the Nazis and rescue it from destruction in the final days of the war. Apparently the film depicts the historical events with some degree of accuracy.
But perhaps what happened in Aschbach in those last few days of the war and the first few months of peace would make for a more interesting film: an enchanted castle in Upper Franconia owned by a baron who had joined the Nazis, and who served during the war in Paris, where he worked with art dealers with dubious reputations, some of whom he eventually harbored in his castle near the end of the ill-fated Third Reich.
It would be a film about the country's elites, who benefited from the crimes of the Nazis, a story about culprits who quickly transformed themselves into supposedly upstanding citizens and, in a new Germany, became the pillars of society once again.
In a bizarre twist, for several months after the war Schloss Aschbach housed a group of young Jews who had survived the Holocaust. Ironically they, and not the Nazi baron, lived in the castle's elegant rooms before leaving the land of the Shoah for good. But more on that later.
The Monuments Men questioned Hildebrand Gurlitt in Aschbach in June 1945. They noticed that he seemed "extremely nervous" and noted it seemed as if he were not telling the whole truth. It was during those days that Gurlitt, the "art dealer to the Führer," reinvented himself: as a victim of the Nazis, a man who had saved precious artworks from destruction and someone who had never done anything malicious.
Of course, not everything Gurlitt told the Americans was false. He pointed out that the Nazis classified him as a "mongrel," because of his Jewish grandmother, and that he had feared for his future and even his life after 1933, which led him to cooperate. As Gurlitt stated during the three-day interrogation, there was a risk that he, as a so-called quarter-Jew, would be drafted into forced labor for the Todt Organization, a Third Reich civil and military engineering group. Gurlitt also said: "I had to decide between the war and the work for museums. I never bought a picture that wasn't offered to me voluntarily. As I heard, laws were also enacted in France so that Jewish art collections could be confiscated. But I never saw it with my own eyes."
The Monuments Men in Aschbach felt that Haberstock was the more egregious criminal. He was taken into investigative custody in May 1945, and in August he was brought to Altaussee in Austria, where all those who were viewed as truly serious art criminals were required to testify near a salt mine filled with artworks. Gurlitt was allowed to stay in Aschbach.
Haberstock later told German officials that the Americans had underestimated Gurlitt's role during the Nazi period. In a 1949 letter to a government official, he wrote: "I was able to prove everything, including, for example, that I was not the main supplier for Linz, whereas Mr. Voss, during his short term in office, bought about 3,000 artworks and took over confiscated collections together with his main buyer, Dr. Hildebrand Gurlitt."
Linz was to be the site of Hitler's massive Führer museum. It was never built, and yet the Nazis bought enough art to fill three museums. Hermann Voss, a museum director from Wiesbaden who had also run a museum in Dresden, ran the art-buying program from 1943 onward. From then on, Gurlitt worked for Hitler through Voss, who served as a middleman. He also bought art for German museums that had been brought into line by the regime, as well as for private citizens like Hamburg cigarette manufacturer Hermann F. Reemtsma, Hanover chocolate magnate Bernhard Sprengel and Cologne lawyer Josef Haubrich.
Gurlitt's Early Career
In 1930, art historian Gurlitt was removed from his post as director of the museum in the eastern city of Zwickau, because he was viewed as a champion of modern art. He went to Hamburg, where he ran the city's Kunstverein art museum, until he was fired once again over his preference for the avant-garde, as well as his Jewish grandmother.
Gurlitt remained in Hamburg, where he became an art dealer and opened a gallery. At the time, the kind of modern art he had consistently supported had become a risky business. Gurlitt increasingly bought and sold older, more traditional art. He had a knack for the business, developing relationships with collectors and finding ways to gain access to pictures. Before long, he was buying art from people who were being persecuted, mainly Jews, who sold their art because they were being forced to flee Germany, had lost their jobs and needed money to feed their families, or were being required to pay the so-called "Jewish wealth levy." Through middlemen, Gurlitt also bought art that had been seized by the Gestapo.
One of the paintings the Monuments Men found in Aschbach Castle, in a crate Gurlitt had marked with the number 36, was by the Bulgarian painter Jules Pascin, born in 1885. It depicts two women, one nude and another wearing a shirt, and a man. They seem to be strangers, and they are not looking at each other -- a metaphor for the bleakness of life. Pascin painted it in Paris in 1909 and called it "The Studio of the Painter Grossmann." He committed suicide in 1930.
Gurlitt told the Americans that the painting had belonged to his father, who had bought it before the Nazis came into power. In fact, Gurlitt bought the Pascin in 1935 for 600 Reichsmark, significantly less than it was worth, from Julius Ferdinand Wollf, the longstanding editor-in-chief of a Dresden newspaper, the Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten. Wollf was a passionately ethical and respected journalist, until the Nazis forced him out of office in 1933. Because of his Jewish background, he soon lost his assets and the SS laid waste to his apartment. In 1942, shortly before his scheduled deportation to a concentration camp, he took his own life, together with his wife and his brother.
After initially confiscating the painting, the Americans returned it to Gurlitt in 1950. It must have been sold later. In 1969, at any rate, it was included in several exhibitions, on loan from a French family of collectors. In 1972, it was sold at auction at Christie's in London for almost $40,000 (€29,000). The work later turned up in Chicago.
'Degenerate Art' a Lucrative Export
Gurlitt became the official dealer in "degenerate art," the modern works that were no longer deemed acceptable in the Third Reich. He was expected to sell the works abroad to bring in hard currency. He also continued his dealings in older art. On Dec. 4, 1938, he acquired drawings by the 19th-century painter Adolf Menzel. They had belonged to a Jewish doctor in Hamburg, Ernst Julius Wolffson, who had a practice on Rothenbaumchaussee, a street in an upscale neighborhood, and was the chairman of the medical association.
Wolffson was deprived of his reputation and stripped of his positions after 1933, and his medical license was revoked in 1938. He was imprisoned at Sachsenhausen concentration camp, but he was subsequently released when influential Hamburg residents spoke out on his behalf. A family man, he had no income and no insurance when he was ordered to pay the "Jewish wealth levy" in 1938. Gurlitt paid him 2,550 Reichmark, far below the market price, for nine Menzel drawings. Art historian Maike Bruhns discovered that Hamburg industrialist Hermann F. Reemtsma, one of Gurlitt's regular customers, had bought two of the drawings.
After the war, the Wolffson family's attorney demanded the return of the drawings, but Gurlitt refused to provide any information about the buyers. In 1993, two of the works in the Wolffson collection were included in a memorial exhibition titled "Works of Art that Affect Me. The Collector Hermann F. Reemtsma."
Dealing in Wartime
Gurlitt remained in Hamburg until 1942. In the first years of the war, at the height of Germany's military successes, Gurlitt expanded his territory to include Holland, Belgium and France. When bombs destroyed his gallery on the Alster Lake in Hamburg, Gurlitt took his wife and their two children to Dresden to live in his parents' house. From there, he established a relationship with Cornelius Müller Hofstede, who headed the Silesian Museum in Breslau (now called Wroclaw), where he appraised the collections of persecuted Jews and sold the confiscated paintings on the market. Müller Hofstede ordered paintings picked up from Jewish homes and, using an obsequious tone, wrote to Gurlitt to offer him the works. He also mentioned that he was even willing to come to Dresden to "present" the pictures to Gurlitt. His letter ended with the words "Heil Hitler!"
It was also Müller Hofstede who obtained the Max Liebermann painting "Two Riders on the Beach" for Gurlitt. A few weeks ago, the work was one of the first pictures from the confiscated Gurlitt collection in Munich to be shown at a press conference. The Nazis had confiscated it from sugar refiner David Friedmann, who died in 1942. Friedmann's daughter was killed in a concentration camp in 1943.
Like Müller Hofstede in Breslau, Voss, the coordinator for the Linz special project, had assisted the Gestapo and, as a "police expert," had appraised Jewish collections. He would go into the homes of the persecuted and pick out pieces for his museum. He was traveling a great deal in 1943, to Berlin, Basel and Breslau. According to this travel notes, he met with "A.H. in the Führer's building" on a February night in Munich. He also attended questionable auctions and went to Vienna and Linz. But he did not go to Paris, because Gurlitt was there on his behalf.
Shady Circles, Piles of Cash
Gurlitt had made his first purchases by 1941, one year after the German invasion of France. The fact that the paintings came from France increased their value. Many German museum directors longed to go to France, and the country was also a place Gurlitt loved. Important French collections were confiscated, or their owners were forced into selling at ridiculously low prices. Gurlitt apparently surrounded himself with a group of shady members of the art world, including agents, informers and other dealers. He was in great demand, because he had millions of Reichsmark to spend.
Gurlitt was now making regular trips to Paris. And contrary to his later assertions, he did not stay in modest guesthouses but in grand hotels or the apartment of a mistress. The three men who would later come together at Aschbach Castle also met in Paris. Under Voss's predecessor, art dealer Haberstock had been one of the preferred buyers for the future Hitler museum. He stayed at the Ritz, and he would announce his upcoming visits to Paris in an art magazine. He also handed out cards indicating that he was looking for "first class pictures" by old masters.
Baron Gerhard von Pölnitz, the lord of the manor in Aschbach, was stationed in Paris during those years, as an officer in the German Air Force. In his free time, he worked for Haberstock and Gurlitt, setting up deals and serving as their representative. Jane Weyll, one of Haberstock's employees, became the baron's mistress.
There is a report by French art historian Michel Martin about Hildebrand Gurlitt in the French Foreign Ministry archive. During the occupation period, Martin worked in the paintings department at the Louvre, where he issued export permits for artworks. Gurlitt, Martin wrote, had access to "constantly expanding credit" and had acquired works worth a total of "400 to 500 million francs."
Whenever Gurlitt returned to Germany, he brought along photographs of selected paintings to show museum staff. According to Martin's account, he also acquired works for his private collection in Paris. "As soon as Gurlitt encountered our resistance to his art exports, he would pick up artworks without our permission, or he would get help from the German Embassy. Gurlitt took important artworks out of the country against our will."
'Merely an Official'
Martin also wrote that he had believed Gurlitt when he said that he did "not wish to deal in artworks that came from Jewish collections." Apparently Gurlitt also insisted that he was "merely an official" acting on orders from above.
Pölnitz, Haberstock and Gurlitt met again at Aschbach Castle at the end of the war. Haberstock, who the Americans eventually turned over to the German courts, was later exonerated. He worked as an art dealer in Munich after the war and died in 1956, the same year as his competitor Gurlitt.
After the war ended, Baron von Pölnitz was taken to an internment camp in Moosburg in Upper Bavaria from which he was released in 1947. His denazification file has disappeared. He died in 1962 at the age of 64.
The Americans placed Gurlitt under house arrest in Aschbach. To occupy his time, he gave talks on Dürer and Barlach, and kitsch in religious art, to the small local church congregation. Otherwise, he wrote letters attempting to justify his purchases in France.
In a 1947 letter to Madame Rose Valland, a French art historian who was in charge of restitutions, he insisted that he had been a "genuine friend of France and a true opponent of the Nazi regime," one who, "in speech and writing," had "always championed French art." It was only "strange coincidences" that had made it possible "for me to save myself by going to France as an art dealer." He made no mention of his work for the Führer museum in Linz.
Putting the Past Behind Him
Gurlitt's house arrest was lifted, and in January 1948 he moved to Düsseldorf, where he became the director of that city's Kunstverein museum. He promptly declared his years in Aschbach as "part of the past," but he also noted that life there was "quite pleasant and peaceful."
In 1950, Gurlitt's art was restored to him from the archive of seized property known as the Wiesbaden Central Collecting Point. He had already been acquitted of all charges. The Americans had confiscated a total of 140 works. But Gurlitt had also hidden a portion of his collection from the Americans in an old water mill, which he then recovered.
Gurlitt was a respected member of society once again, gaining the support of Düsseldorf industrialists by featuring their art collections in exhibitions. At the same time, he began showing his own collection again, cleansing it of its past associations in the process. In 1953, he was appointed to an honorary committee overseeing an exhibition of German art in Lucerne, Switzerland, sponsored by Germany's then-President Theodor Heuss. A few of the pictures were from Gurlitt's collection, including a painting by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner ("Two Female Nudes") and a watercolor by Franz Marc ("Large Horse").
Part of Gurlitt's purpose in showing the paintings was probably to assess whether there would be any objections or claims from the true owners. A year later, he presented an exhibition titled "Works of French Painting and the Graphic Arts" at Villa Hügel in the western city of Essen: paintings by French Impressionists like Paul Signac, Auguste Renoir and Edgar Degas, which would be worth several million euros today, including a view of the Waterloo Bridge by Claude Monet and Gustave Courbet's "Landscape with Rocks." Their whereabouts are as unclear today as their origins.
Final Years and Tall Tales
Finally, in 1956, the year of his death, Gurlitt sent pictures from his collection to New York, including works by Max Beckmann and Vassily Kandinsky. He wrote a biographical sketch for the catalog, but it was never published. In the piece, Gurlitt described himself as courageous and bold, a hero whose dealings during the war were a "dangerous balancing act," and who had nothing left to his name but a pushcart filled with necessities after the bombing of Dresden. His account sounded almost like the story of the Kaims, a Jewish couple from Breslau who sold Gurlitt one of their paintings, lost everything and were sent to the ghetto pushing a handcart.
Gurlitt died after a car accident in 1956. In his obituaries, he was celebrated as an important figure in the postwar West German art world. His widow Helene moved to Munich in the early 1960s, where she bought two expensive apartments in a new building in Schwabing. In May 1960, she had four works from her husband's collection sold by the Ketterer Kunst auction house, including Beckmann's "Bar, Brown," which belongs to a US museum today, and a painting of playwright Bertolt Brecht by Rudolf Schlichter, which ended up in Munich's Lenbachhaus. The painting, an important work from the New Objectivity movement, is now one the museum's best-known works.
The Schlichter work was also among the paintings the Monuments Men had found in Aschbach. One of their German colleagues there, who later became the director of the Lenbachhaus, bought the work in the 1960 Ketterer auction.
There are many examples of works that Gurlitt acquired under questionable circumstances. There are also a number of pictures hanging in German museums today, from Hanover to Wiesbaden, that were bought from Gurlitt. There are even pictures that Gurlitt bought for Hitler's museum in Linz, which, because of their unclear origins, became the property of the state. One such painting, a landscape by the classicist painter Jakob Philipp Hackert, hangs in the German Foreign Ministry today.
Several paintings turned up in art galleries. One was August Macke's "Woman with Parrot," an early work of German Cubism. It was shown in exhibitions in 1962 and later in 2001, in each case as part of a private collection. In 2007, the work was sold at auction in Berlin's Villa Grisebach auction house for more than €2 million. Gurlitt's daughter Benita had apparently delivered the painting. She died in May 2012.
'Jewish Occupation of the Castle'
In November 1945, the Americans established a Camp for Displaced Persons in Aschbach Castle. They were traumatized survivors of the Holocaust, many less than 20 years old, who had spent their youth in Jewish ghettos and concentration camps. They had lost their families, and when the war ended they left the camps in groups. They were young Jews with names like Tovia, Menachim, Minia and Zynia, and many were Zionists who had come together to establish a kibbutz.
More than 140 individuals were housed in Aschbach between November 1945 and March 1948, although, at first, the Americans did not think the young Jews capable of farming the fields on the estate. There was hardly any contact between village residents and the Jews, even though a Jewish community had been established in Aschbach in the early 18th century. The last Aschbach Jews were deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942.
Gurlitt did not mention the Jews in the castle. He kept his own children, who were only a few years younger than many of the survivors, away from Aschbach, sending his son and daughter to the elite Odenwaldschule boarding school.
The Pölnitz family, whom the Americans ordered to vacate their estate, moved into a teacher's apartment in the village. They were concerned that the residents of the camp would not treat their furniture with care. In a letter to the authorities, Baron von Pölnitz complained that "the Jews" were appropriating his property in a "wild frenzy" -- and that his wife had fainted because of the "Jewish occupation of the castle."
Yehiel Hershkowitz was one of the Jews who lived in Aschbach at the time. He was 27 when he arrived at the castle on Nov. 20, 1945. His family was from Bedzin, a town in the Silesian Highlands of southern Poland that was known as Bendsburg during its Nazi occupation from 1939-1945. Hershkowitz was arrested in September 1939 and spent the next six years in 15 Nazi camps. He was freed when American soldiers liberated the Buchenwald concentration camp on April 11, 1945.
He and his second wife, Esther Urman, met in Aschbach and then traveled to Israel together. Hershkowitz died in 1979, and his wife died 11 years later.
Their son Benny is now 65 and lives near Tel Aviv. He says that his father had trouble sleeping, because he was kept awake at night by the memories of Nazi Germany.
REPORTED BY FELIX BOHR, LOTHAR GORRIS, ULRIKE KNÖFEL, SVEN RÖBEL AND MICHAEL SONTHEIMER
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan
December 26, 2013
As European Barriers Fall, Bulgarians Feel West’s Tug
By DANNY HAKIM
SOFIA, Bulgaria — Ervin Ivanov, a fourth-year medical student, is sure he’ll leave Bulgaria, and he is sure that most of his classmates will too.
“Probably most of them are thinking of working in other countries, working in European countries, but not in Bulgaria, definitely,” Mr. Ivanov, 22, said while standing in the hallway of a Soviet-era medical school here.
Even though he is debt-free because the state subsidizes much of the cost of education, he dreams of practicing in Switzerland or Germany because those countries offer far higher pay and more advanced and specialized medical systems.
“I think of myself as European,” said Mr. Ivanov, an aspiring oncologist.
On the first day of 2014, nine European Union states, including Germany, France, the Netherlands and Britain, will lift labor restrictions for Bulgarians and Romanians. But already, skilled and even many unskilled laborers have found many ways to work in those countries. A look at income data shows why Bulgarians and Romanians might continue to seek greener pastures.
The wealthiest one-fifth of society in Bulgaria and Romania, which joined the European Union in 2007, have a lower median income than the poorest one-fifth of society in Britain, France, Germany or other wealthy European states, according to a review of income data obtained from Eurostat, the statistics office.
Obviously, this does not necessarily mean that being poor in Britain, France or Germany is better than being in the top income bracket in Bulgaria or Romania: The cost of living is vastly lower in Sofia than in London.
But the lure of higher pay cannot be ignored when barriers come down, particularly as Bulgaria’s unemployment has increased sharply over the last half-decade. After bottoming out around 6 percent at the end of 2008, it has steadily risen to 13.2 percent in October.
Interviews in December with residents of Sofia, Bulgaria’s capital, revealed widespread frustrations with the succession of governments, corruption and the country’s inability to shake off its Soviet roots. It has also been unable to lift itself from being Europe’s poorest nation. (Bulgaria’s output, per capita, is last among the European Union’s 28 states, according to data from the International Monetary Fund.)
A common joke here goes like this: “There are two ways out of Bulgaria’s problems: Terminal 1 and Terminal 2,” referring to the two terminals at Sofia’s airport.
Despite that, many said they wanted to stay home, in part because joining the European Union brought a measure of hope. Some mentioned the unrest in Ukraine as a cautionary tale.
Polina Naydenova, 24, who is studying international law, said she wanted to stay where she had “my friends, my family and my life.” She hopes she will “somehow have the chance to change things constructively” in her native country. Another law student, Petar Kyosev, 24, said he hoped to move to Amsterdam, but also would eventually return. “I’m trying to do my best to stay here, but my country is not doing its best to make me stay,” he said.
Liliya Vlaeva, 26, an economics student, said she would stay. “The living standard here in Bulgaria is not so high as in Great Britain, in London for example,” she said. “The salaries for young people are enough, in my opinion, to live well — not as rich people, but to live O.K.”
But she said many of her classmates who study abroad opt not to return. “I know about 10 or 15 people from the last year that did this, in different countries,” she said. “They are people who are not coming back, but it is a personal decision.”
Bulgaria also has a large and often impoverished minority of Roma, or Gypsies. “I don’t see any hope in the coming 20 years; the only way is working abroad,” said Minko Angelov, 57, a Rom who was laid off at a local Coca-Cola bottler, speaking outside a state employment center. Since he speaks only Bulgarian and Russian, he is reluctant to travel through Europe. “The language is a big problem,” he said.
The pending rule change has set off alarm particularly in Britain, which was flooded with Polish immigrants over the last decade. The circumstances are not entirely parallel. In 2004, Britain threw open its borders to the Poles and also altered its work rules to make it easier to get employment. This time, nine countries are easing their work rules simultaneously because of European rules, but their borders have already been open to visiting Bulgarians and Romanians.
Projections range widely, suggesting nobody really knows what will happen after the rules change. On one extreme is a recent claim by the right-wing Democracy Institute, based in Washington and London, which predicted at least 385,000 new migrants from Bulgaria and Romania would come to Britain over the next five years, though the group kept its methodology secret. By contrast, the Bulgarian and Romanian governments have said there will be no perceptible change in emigration.
Bulgarian officials argue that there have been ways for workers to find jobs in Europe already. “I don’t think January 1 is a very bad day in which we’ll have thousands and thousands of people leaving Bulgaria. This will not happen,” said Petar Chobanov, Bulgaria’s finance minister.
“If someone wants to leave, they already left,” he said.
Daniel Kalinov, executive director of a private employment agency in Sofia that helps people find work abroad, agreed. He said most of the people who sought access to the labor market, even unskilled workers, could find ways through the red tape of the existing system. And the number of applications he has received ahead of the rule change has not increased. “It’s not going to be buses coming in, pouring over and congesting the country,” he said of Britain.
Unconvinced, the British government recently made it harder for immigrants to receive state benefits. “By addressing the factors that drive up immigration, we are doing everything within our power to discourage immigration from the European Union,” Mark Harper, the immigration minister, said in a statement.
Perhaps most worrisome for Bulgaria is the brain drain of its doctors. “They simply go, and this is very, very bad news,” said Dr. Marin Marinov, the head of the Medical University of Sofia’s medicine department. He said past surveys showed about two-thirds of the school’s graduates planned to leave the country.
“You educate these people for six years, you invest money, invest intellectual potential, you invest everything you have to teach them and to make them good doctors,” he said, “and they disappear afterward.”
Finding frustrated people in this city is not hard. Daily demonstrations have been taking place since the current Socialist-led government made an abortive attempt at appointing a loyalist media mogul as security minister this past summer. Among the protesters outside the Parliament building on a chilly December morning were two 19-year-olds, Emil Nikolov and Teodora Shalvardjieva. They wore hoodies; he blue, she pink. He also had a small yellow button with a black fist on it. She held a megaphone at her side.
“I could’ve gone to France to study, but I decided to stay here,” Ms. Shalvardjieva said. “If it doesn’t change eventually, maybe one day I’m going to be forced to go somewhere else.”
“We have no future here. We cannot have a nice job here in this country,” Mr. Nikolov said. “This is why all the young people from Bulgaria go.”
Milen Enchev contributed research from Sofia, Bulgaria.
Peterborough braces for new EU arrivals
Many in the town, whose migrant population swelled by 10% in five years, are anxious about arrivals from Bulgaria and Romania
The Guardian, Thursday 26 December 2013 19.21 GMT
On the wall of his office in the centre of Peterborough, Jonathan Lewis has a large map over which he gestures like an enthusiastic weatherman while describing the patterns of incoming settlement in the six years he has been doing his job.
As the city council's director of children's resources, responsible for ensuring that every child in the city has a school place, Lewis can point to colourful pie charts about Peterborough's changing population, and detailed breakdowns of the character of each of the city's dozens of schools.
What he can't tell you is how many additional school places he will need next week, when the restrictions on Romanians and Bulgarians working fully in Britain are lifted. "I haven't got a clue. I've tried to work it out. I've looked at previous trends around migration. But you really cannot predict the numbers that are coming in."
The Conservative leader of the city council, Marco Celeste, knows no more. "How can I tell you how many Romanians are going to come to Peterborough? I can't tell you. And I don't think anybody can."
Days before lifting of temporary restrictions on the two countries, Peterborough's problem is Britain's problem. It is in this void of information that policy is being made, and made frantically, with David Cameron announcing that ministers would rush through benefit restrictions from 1 January, a move previously dismissed by the Home Office as impossible.
But if the mood in Downing Street appears to be one of barely concealed alarm, what about Peterborough, a modest cathedral city that has changed markedly as a result of recent European migration?
It has long been a focus for migrant communities, but never on this scale. Between 2004 and 2009, according to the 2011 census, 16,948 people, 9.3% of its population, moved to the city from overseas; more than 14,000 are from the new EU countries, though some people, including Celeste, think their numbers may be considerably higher.
The city's birthrate, falling in 2004, has skyrocketed (in 2011 it was a third higher than the national average, and the fourth highest outside London); its school intake into reception was up by about 50% over the same period.
As the political debate on the subject moves ever rightwards, it is unsurprising that in Peterborough, voices looking forward to increased numbers of Romanian and Bulgarian migrants are hard to find. "This isn't the country I was born into," says Jean, a 60-something who has popped into the city centre from nearby Huntingdon with her friend Chris but declines to give her full name."We can't talk about them because we're accused of being racist. We are in our own country but we haven't got freedom of speech."
She worries about crime, an "alien" culture, and the future; her granddaughter has been priced out of the rental market because landlords can get more from renting to multiple families, she says, and so has moved back in with her mum. "And I'm absolutely terrified about this January thing with the Romanians," she says. Why? "Because those countries will get rid of the rubbish they don't want."Peterborough does not yet have a significant Romanian or Bulgarian population — while seasonal agricultural workers from the two countries have come on a licensed short-term scheme throughout East Anglia and elsewhere, the older, more settled communities are focused in places like in northwest London, Nottingham and Northampton. But with population patterns in the city subject to rapid and sometimes unexplained change – the number of Hungarian children in local schools jumped 144% between 2012 and 2013, for instance – city planners know it may find itself a focus of the new migrant communities.
On Lincoln Road, the heart of Peterborough's many immigrant communities to the north of the centre, Polish supermarkets crowd next to Italian delis and Turkish clothes shops along a stretch of road where very few of those on foot or in the shops speak English as their first language. Kimathi Dedan, originally from Kenya, says the job market has got tighter in the city in recent years. "When the Poles arrived here, I would go to look for jobs and see people with suitcases. We realised that people were applying for jobs while they were in Poland and the people here couldn't get them."
"I just can't bear to think of it," says Wendy Simms, assistant manager of the Sense charity shop, of the lifting of the Romanian and Bulgarian restrictions. "My belief is that this country couldn't deal with what we had to cope with before we had all these Europeans coming in."
She worries about jobs for young people, and fears that British culture, including its tradition of tolerance, is undermined by other communities with different values. "It is extremely intimidating on this street now. We don't understand each other."
For Peterborough's MP, Stewart Jackson, the city has coped, but "coped under duress". An outspoken Tory rightwinger, he acknowledges that migration has brought positives for some – "everyone else has benefited, the migrants themselves have benefited, the Treasury has benefited, the local businesses have benefited". But he adds: "The council tax payer in Peterborough has paid a heavy burden."
Ukip has no councillors in the city (though the party is strong elsewhere in Cambridgeshire), but the Tory MP says his party "absolutely" may lose power if it doesn't take what he considers a bold position on the subject.
The Eurosceptic position Jackson voices, and the threat of Ukip, may have successfully yanked the Conservative, and the broader political debate, to the right, but Atul Hatwal, director of Migration Matters, says the fact that the strains in some areas have been acute does not in itself argue against migration. "There's no point talking about economic growth if you can't get your children into school," he says, "but that's a question of how you manage migration, not the principle in itself." Much of the debate about migrants, even among those living close to new communities, is based on "stereotypes and anecdotes", he says. "Public concern is legitimate and needs to be understood, but the debate actually needs to go back to the facts."
Celeste, the council leader, acknowledges that if asked their views, a majority of those in the city would express apprehension about further incomers. "I understand fully what my citizens think. But I can't stop the immigration. So I have to turn what could be a potential serious problem into a positive. And if you look at what has happened in Peterborough, once the families are settled, the children go to school, those families become productive citizens of our city."
Describing the Lincoln Road area a decade ago, he says: "I won't say it was dying – it was dead. Today you have thriving businesses, every house is no longer boarded up, you have people living there, coffee bars, you have probably half the races of the world represented in coffee bars, restaurants, and its alive. Doesn't mean it doesn't have its issues, but it's alive."
Jackson, though, is not so convinced. "Parts of it are a drunken slum!" he scoffs when asked about this perspective. Of Celeste's Conservative-dominated administration he says: "Allegedly it's a Tory council."
Even Jackson accepts that, as migrants become established, they bring benefits to the city as well as the challenges. Many among the large, self-confident Polish community have a culture of aspiration, he says, and in pockets of the city they are acting as "role models" to challenge the low aspirations of the white working class.
Meanwhile educational standards in the city are rising – one primary school where, according to Celeste, not a single student spoke English as a first language has had its Ofsted score revised upwards to "good". The city's educational profile has also risen in the period coinciding EU migration, with 20% holding diploma level or above, compared with 14.8% in 2001.
When pressed further, those in the city who express anxiety about newcomers to the city will admit to more nuanced views. Jean's friend Chris interrupts to point out that the Poles she actually knows "couldn't be better".
"One of them knocked on the door and gave me a box of chocolates because he said they'd had a party. But it didn't cause me any aggro at all. There's good people and bad people from everywhere."
Romania and Bulgaria: 'If people go to Britain, of course it's to contribute'
As UK prepares to lift restrictions, few in Sofia or Bucharest foresee a flood of emigrants – but everyone is shocked by being portrayed as scroungers in the rightwing British press
The Guardian, Thursday 26 December 2013 20.28 GMT
"Just one thing will really change for us on 1 January," says Horia Vernescu, nursing a cappuccino in an overheated cafe on an otherwise bone-chilling December day in Bucharest's central university district.
"That little line at the bottom of the job ads, you know? The one that says: 'Apply only if you are eligible to work in the UK.' We won't need to worry about it any more. Because, well, we will be. Eligible."
An engaging 23-year-old with a first-class computer sciences degree from Essex University, Vernescu came back to Romania last year to look after an ailing aunt who had put some of her savings towards his studies.
He found a job on a good salary – £600 a month, as much as his parents earn together – with a small but thriving local app developer, moved into a flat with two friends, and was doing fine until the company, through no real fault of its own, lost a couple of key clients.
So now, along with what some in the UK fear will be multitudes of fellow Romanians and Bulgarians, he's coming to Britain. With his skills, in his field – "Software development; any kind really. I'm pretty handy" – he expects no difficulty finding a job paying three times what he made in Bucharest.
How many like Horia Vernescu will jump on a €50 flight to Britain next year, and stay? Haunted by the memory of the half-million Polish workers who arrived in 2004 when it had predicted a mere 13,000, the government declines to hazard even a guess.
Meanwhile, Eurosceptic Tory MPs predict more than 400,000 from the two nations will be living in Britain in a few years. The campaign group MigrationWatch, which lobbies for immigration limits, expects 50,000-70,000 Romanians and Bulgarians to come every year for the first five years. The Migration Matters Trust, a cross-party campaign that challenges the "anti-immigration consensus", believes the figure will peak at 20,000 a year.
Marius Todea Romania Marius Todea, 18, prepares to fly to England, to study at Oxford university. Photograph: Bogdan Croitoru
So a nervous coalition government has rushed out measures making new arrivals wait longer before they can claim benefits – and, more controversially, is calling for a wider debate on the principle of free movement within the European Union and perhaps even an EU migration cap.
Talking to students, professionals, labourers and government officials in Bucharest and Sofia, things look less dramatic. Concrete predictions are a fool's game, but very few here foresee a flood of emigrants – or believe benefit scroungers exist in statistically meaningful numbers.
Pretty much everyone, on the other hand, who reads a newspaper or watches TV says they feel shocked by their portrayal. Elena Ghita, seeking to move to Britain – or the US, Canada or Australia – as an operations manager ideally for a start-up, says: "It makes you angry. And ashamed, for the first time, to be Romanian. We know our flaws. But when you're attacked so – dishonestly ... Is this really how you see us? Beggars and thieves?"
People point out here that Bulgarians and Romanians have been able to travel visa-free to Britain since their countries joined the EU in 2007 – and that the temporary restrictions stopped very few from working. According to UK labour market statistics, 121,500 Romanians and Bulgarians were working in Britain last month: as part of fixed quotas in food-processing and agriculture, by simply registering as self-employed or – for the more highly skilled – on permits applied for by an employer.
"The people who really wanted to leave have mostly left by now," says Raluca Apostol, 25, who did a one-year masters in marketing at Portsmouth in 2011 and will go back next year if she finds a better job than the one she has in Bucharest. "It's not a question any more of 'Hey, I can go now, so I think I will.' Most already went. And it was easy to stay."
It's a view you hear repeated often. In Sofia, a young web developer called Slavo Ingilizov has already found his London job, starting in mid-January. He's moving because, while he has a very good post with a Bulgarian IT company consistently voted the country's best employer, he wanted to be somewhere smaller, sharper, where what he says counts for more.
Ingilizov will double his pay but knows his outgoings will be three or even four times higher: "This is about the job, not the disposable cash. I won't be much better off." He, too, sees no imminent exodus – despite an average monthly wage in Bulgaria of only €400 (£330). "It won't be massive," Ingilizov says. "This isn't the border opening, it's a simplified procedure for working. Some people live so poorly here it was a no-brainer to go; no restrictions would stop them, and they went. But I haven't heard a single person say: 'God, I'm just waiting for 1 January.'"
Mila Korsakova, who aims to study product or graphic design in London and work there afterwards, agrees: "Moving is still a big deal. You have to be desperate or highly motivated, and if you were one of those, why would you have waited?"
The two countries do expect a rise in the number of their citizens registered in Britain but they believe much of that increase will come from people "regularising" their situations: those nominally illegally or self-employed builders, drivers, receptionists, and waiters who had the working practices of employees but none of the protections.
But an invasion? They don't see it happening here. In Romania, journalists such as Mihai Radu recall news items about busloads of workers leaving for Birmingham building sites, Norfolk food-processing factories or vegetable farms in Lincolnshire. "But that was 2007," he says, "and there are no more buses leaving now than did back then."
Ion Ciornihac aims to be on one of them, though, if his mate Cornel Mihai, flush with a bit of cash after working in building supplies in New York, succeeds in getting a small agency off the ground to bring painters, plasterers and tilers to work on UK building sites.
But Ciornihac would not leave on his own, without the security of an agency and a sure job. "I don't even know how to ask for a loaf of bread in English," he says. Earning €22 a day on building sites around Bucharest, Ciornihac has, unsurprisingly, already done similar such stints abroad: a year in Spain a while back, two three-month contracts in Germany."I'll go as long as the money is guaranteed," he says; he's currently insulating a block of flats but hasn't been paid for a month – the council hasn't paid the contractor, the contractor isn't paying the workers. "I'm not living, I'm surviving," he says. Between them, Ciornihac and his wife, a cook, are lucky to clear 700 euros a month.
Would he settle abroad? "No," he says. "I'm Romanian, and I want to live in Romania. My wife won't leave, anyway, so it will be just me, just for the money. There'll be others like me, but no more than before, and we'll come back. We go there to work, if there are jobs for us to do."
In some more highly qualified sectors, the numbers moving have already peaked. Laurentiu Marc, who runs the Bucharest office of a medical recruitment agency, says he was once finding British jobs for 1,000 Romanian doctors, dentists and pharmacists a year. In 2011, the General Medical Council registered 450 Romanian doctors to work in Britain, the third highest total after India and Pakistan.
A junior doctor in Romania can expect to earn €300 a month, against €2,500 in Britain. "But in 2012 the number of Romanian doctors coming to us hit a plateau," says Marc, "and there's been no upswing ahead of January 1. Those who wanted to leave have already left."
Officials here also note that unlike in 2004, eight other EU countries besides Britain – including Austria, Belgium, France, Germany and the Netherlands – will be lifting controls on Romanian and Bulgarian workers next month, so Britain's pull factor should be weaker. Brândua Predescu at the foreign ministry points out that Romanians actually started emigrating with the fall of the Ceausescu regime, and the trend continued through the country's steady progression towards full EU membership.
"Even in 2007, there was not what you would call an exodus," Predescu says. "Many Romanian families have found jobs abroad since 1990." Large Romanian communities – 1 million and 1.5 million strong and into their second generation – have existed for 20 years in Spain and Italy, where Latin languages and cultures made integration easier. Perhaps half a million are in Germany.
So how many more are likely to leave now? Especially, Predescu notes that "the Romanian economy continued to grow throughout the crisis; levels of general wealth are rising; Romania is attracting more and more foreign investors … The temptation to leave en masse is falling. We do not really understand these British fears."
Nor do people here understand the notion that any more than a tiny number of people might move to a foreign country simply to claim benefits. "It's a crazy idea," says Nasko Stoikov, a trainee auditor in Sofia. "Why would anyone want to do that? I've never even thought about benefits. If people go, of course it's to work, to contribute."
According to the Romanian foreign ministry, more than 70% of Romanians in Britain are aged between 18 and 35, while child benefit claims by Romanian families in Britain amount to 0.8% of the total for families from the European Economic Area.
There is broad acceptance – even support – for Britain's last-minute moves to tighten benefit rules. "I don't think any reasonable person would object to a three-month qualification period, or longer," says Valentina Ivan, who spent a year in Edinburgh. "If people really are going to the UK to live on benefits, it's because they know they can get away with it. So reform your system: insist everyone must contribute, for several months, before they can claim."
Some members of Romania's Roma community may, people claim, be a cause for concern. Like many here, Marius Todea and Cristina Matache from Bucharest's Saint Sava high school, who hope to study at British universities next year, are eager to draw a distinction. "It's partly our fault; we've failed to integrate the Roma community," says Todea. "I'm not prejudiced; they have their way of life. Some do go abroad and do unpleasant things. But people abroad should not confuse Roma and Romanians."
As long as national laws are obeyed, the fundamental European right to freedom of movement must be upheld. That is what counts here – and as Britain grapples with its Eurosceptic demons, Romanians and Bulgarians fear freedom is threatened. "Verify, check, clamp down, tighten up, plug the holes in your systems all you like," says Andrei, 31, in Bucharest, who asked not to be further identified. "But please, don't touch freedom of movement within the EU.
"This was our parents' dream; even 25 years ago you couldn't imagine it. My dad has a friend who jumped in the Danube, to get to France. So don't stop working people moving. Don't stop them filling vacancies that need to be filled."
Cutting down on free movement, says Radu Tatucu, who spent 11 years in the US, would "go against the whole spirit of the EU. Bringing down the barriers was the whole point … I'd like to believe they've been lowered for good. I'd hate some politician to try to raise them again for the sake of 2% more votes."
The Romanians and Bulgarians arriving in Britain next year will include students like Todea, labourers like Ciornihac, high-skilled, hi-tech specialists like Vernescu and Ingilzov. But they will also, most likely, include quite a few like Iuliana Stefan, a 32-year-old civil engineer.
After a fruitful few years in Bucharest during the mid-2000s boom, Stefan has a job but has not been paid since August. She is not sure of finding work in Britain in her chosen profession; her qualifications may not transfer.
So she'll settle for office management, and failing that, for almost anything: her sister, back in Romania to have her baby after a bad experience with the NHS, paid a recruiter back in 2007, went on a course, and got one of those "self-employed" jobs in a restaurant in Yorkshire.
But whatever Stefan ends up doing, "I won't have to pay, and I won't need a permit. So it will just be that little bit easier. And I think most of us going now, next year, will be like this: young, highly qualified, wanting to work hard, do well … But perhaps that's harder for Britain to deal with than a flood of benefit scroungers."
12/27/2013 01:03 PM
What's So Funny About Racism?: Germany's New Minority Comics
By Alexander Kühn
A new generation of comedians with foreign roots are shining an irreverent light on the prejudices they encounter in Germany. But when it comes to the integration debate, do their brash, cliché-rife performances do more harm than good?
In one of Jilet Ayse's signature rants, she takes on the subject of domestic violence -- something of which she is wholeheartedly in favor.
In a YouTube video that's been viewed more than a million times, the heavy-set woman with long dark hair and a pretty, expressive face sits on a sofa dressed in a black-and-white Adidas track suit, enormous dangly gold-plated earrings hanging down past her shoulders, and energetically defends her boyfriend's right to beat her.
"I really deserve it, too," she adds in her exaggerated Turkish-accented Berlin dialect, five cell phones laid out on the table in front of her, "sometimes you have to put woman in her place, you understand, like dog."
After all, says Ayse, the boyfriend, Ayak, is worth it. He's "like Scarface, Tony Montana," always buying her "Adidas, Madidas, and so on," she says, plucking out the shoulders of her track jacket. He evens wants children at some point -- eight or nine of them, to be precise.
Ayse says she is so worked up about the issue because her sister, "that integration whore," who is married to a German, wants to deprive her of her freedom to be beaten. The tirade lasts a full six minutes. She is rude and loud, punctuating her slangy speech with aggressive hand gestures toward the camera.
Jilet Ayse is a product of Thilo Sarrazin, the prominent politician who penned the controversial 2010 bestseller "Germany Does Away With Itself," criticizing the impact of Muslim immigrants on German society. When actress Idil Baydar was given the book, which many accuse of stirring up hatred against Muslims, she came to a conclusion: "You want your Kanakin, well now you're going to get her," she says, using a German pejorative for a Turkish immigrant. So Baydar created the character of Berlin ghetto bride Jilet Ayse.
A New Wave of Minority Comedy
Baydar, 38, is part of a young generation of comedians whose parents or grandparents immigrated to Germany. Their subject is life as a minority in Germany. They don't fill stadiums or reach millions, like Bülent Ceylan and Kaya Yanar, two comedians of Turkish descent who put their foreign backgrounds to comedic use in more palatably mainstream ways. The stages of these new comedians are YouTube and the digital channels Eins Plus and ZDFneo. From there, they dish out the prejudices and animosities with which they are often confronted.
Their performances are all the more unsettling when juxtaposed with recent German efforts to extricate racist terms from common usage, from the renaming of a dish widely known as Zigeunerschnitzel (Gypsy schnitzel) to the redacting of outdated terms from classic children's books.
But the new minority comedians expose differences instead of covering them up, breaking down barriers in the process. "We put the prejudices where they belong," says Baydar, "into the realm of the ridiculous."
Baydar is familiar with the serious side of prejudice, from her years in school and her experience teaching German to the children of Turkish immigrants, for a while at the notoriously violent Rütli School in Berlin's Neukölln neighborhood.
She met girls who spoke much the way her character Jilet speaks. "There are adolescents like that. They're not the majority, but they are the loudest ones."
She saw how children were disadvantaged because of their ethnic background, and, with a mixture of amusement and anger, she fielded praise like that of a Berlin lawmaker, who once told her she spoke "quite good German." German, of course, is her first language.
'Some Turks Think I'm Awful'
Baydar was born in the northwestern state of Lower Saxony, to parents who had immigrated from the Turkish capital Ankara in the 1970s. "My only migration was out of my mother's stomach," she jokes. Nevertheless, she says, she feels like a foreigner in Germany.
Yet for someone intent on dismantling prejudice, it might seem strange to some that Baydar has aligned herself with one of the most avid disseminators of cultural stereotyping by producing weekly Jilet videos for the website of mass-circulation tabloid Bild. Baydar explains she chose Bild because she wants to reach a broad audience -- even at the risk of some things not being understood the way she intended.
"Some Turks think I'm awful, because they believe I'm betraying our culture. But Jilet is a product of Germany, not Turkey. She would never have turned out this way in Turkey," asserts Baydar.
She says that she rarely gets xenophobic reactions, and when she does, she fires back. When someone wrote something on her Facebook page to the effect that someone like Jilet would have been sent to the gas chamber in the past, she responded with a link to a self-help group for neo-Nazis. She uses her character Jilet to handle everything else. In one video, for instance, Jilet berates Germans, saying it's time they starting producing more children, and not just old people. "Who are we going to laugh about when you cease to exist?"
Irony or Servile Self-Caricature?
An essay published in the Süddeutsche Zeitung magazine at the beginning of the year raises the question of whether ethnic comedy may actually be hampering the immigration debate, rather than encouraging it. The magazine also suggests that "these so-called comedians are not breaking down stereotypes, but in fact are confirming, reproducing and solidifying them."
As it happens, however, a joke is not a physical experiment, which always has the same result under the same conditions. A comedian can't protect himself against misinterpretation of his punch lines, the way a cautious trapeze artist is protected by a net. And political correctness is often merely synonymous with boredom.
Comedian Abdelkarim offers his own assessment: "A normal adult is going to understand what part of my act is irony and what part isn't. Of course, someone comes along now and then who doesn't recognize the irony right away, but luckily my audiences have always made a clever impression."
Abdelkarim, whose parents are from Morocco, presents both German resentments and the full spectrum of Muslim clichés. As with a cunning penalty-kicker, one never knows which corner the 32-year-old is about to shoot into.
During a performance at Hamburg's Quatsch Comedy Club a few weeks ago, he began by talking about an incident at a supermarket, in which he had asked an older man if he wanted to go ahead of him in line, the man replied: "No, I'd rather keep you in view."
The next minute, Abdelkarim is joking about how his father wanted to forbid him from playing chess: "The queen can go wherever she pleases? What's that about?" his father raged. But then he calmed down, says Abdelkarim, when he explained to him that players could also knock the queen down.
Making Comedy from Bigotry
About 80 percent of what he says on stage, Abdelkarim says he takes from his own life. When he runs into people in the dark, he says, they often switch to the other side of the street, partly due to his foreign looks, but also because of his brawny build and the leather jacket he often wears. When he recently stepped off a train in the town of Wattenscheid, an older woman on the platform promptly wrapped the strap of her bag around her wrist several times.
"Now that wasn't an experience that qualifies as one of my 10,000 most beautiful moments at German train stations, but I can't exactly blame her for being afraid," says Abdelkarim.
The woman is hardly part of the target audience for the show "StandUpMigranten" (Migranten is German for "immigrants"), which Abdelkarim hosts every second Saturday on the Eins Plus digital TV channel. In each episode, he greets four young comedians in a Munich hookah bar. They have Jamaican, Egyptian or Russian roots, and it's the first TV appearance for many of them. The program was originally supposed to be called "Migranten-Stadl" (Immigrant Shack), says Thorsten Sievert, who devised the concept for production company Constantin Entertainment, but it turned out that the name was already in use in cabarets.
The idea came to Sievert during the "Comedy Grand Prix," a comedy contest he produces for RTL. At some point, he noticed that the majority of contestants were the children of immigrants. "They have an easier time of it on stage," Sievert says. "A German has to search for a subject to talk about, but they can just draw on their own experiences. They're different, and they've often been made to feel it in life." Bullying as seed capital.
Reclaiming the Punch Line
For many entertainers, the marginalization they experienced as adolescents is the key to their comedy. For those who were bullied as children, fleeing into comedy was often their only remedy. Those who are picked on need to make a decision, says comedian Tedros Teclebrhan. "Either you let that sort of thing stop you, or you make something out of it."
Teclebrhan, who was born in Eritrea but grew up in Germany's southwestern Swabia region, arrived on the scene two years ago, when a video he posted online went viral. In it, he plays Antoine, a cliché of an African immigrant who agrees to take an integration test when stopped on the street by a pollster.
Antoine believes the German chancellor's name is Angelo Merte and is the direct successor of Adolf Hitler. He continues to botch every answer in the survey. The video has received more than 22 million hits on YouTube to date. Teclebrhan, who goes by the name "Teddy," went on to receive his own show on ZDFneo last year.
Teclebrhan likes to talk about his humor, but not about his personal life. When asked how he and his mother fled the civil war in Eritrea and came to Germany when he was seven months old, he says: "Business Class." And his father? "Well, he wanted to come here for the coffee."
'I Don't Want Them to Pity Me'
The truth is that the 30-year-old comedian has never met his father. He also doesn't like to talk about fleeing to Germany. "I don't want people to have my story in their heads. I want them to see the characters, not me. I don't want them to pity me."
Years ago, when Teclebrhan was working as a waiter in a wine bar to pay for acting school, a guest thought it would be funny to order a "black Riesling" from him, the black waiter. Teclebrhan once told the story to a journalist. Today he says it's not worth overdramatizing the incident, because it didn't feel that bad to him at the time.
When asked about his experiences with racism, Teclebrhan says: "Take a look at Ernscht Riedler."
Ernscht is another character from Teclebrhan's box of clichés. Dressed in traditional southwestern villager garb, Ernscht is the typical Swabian, tight-fisted, conservative and provincial, his horizons limited to the low Swabian Jura mountain range. At the local pub, his favorite hangout, he tells a dark-skinned woman not to "steal anything -- right, Africa?" adding in his thick Swabian accent: "You have to tell them that!"
When Teddy plays Ernscht -- the clever satirist playing the narrow-minded villager -- one is struck by the feeling that the Swabian character is more foreign to today's Germany than the Eritrean playing the part.
Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan