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A Suspect Has Been Linked to Van Gogh and Frans Hals Thefts with DNA Evidence

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A Suspect Has Been Linked to Van Gogh and Frans Hals Thefts with DNA Evidence

“Two Laughing Boys Sharing a Mug of Beer” (1626) by Frans Hals. Jan van den Berg / YouTube

In April of this year, Dutch police apprehended a 58 year old man on suspicion of having carried out several prominent art thefts in the Netherlands within the previous year. Specifically, the man was accused of having stolen The Parsonage Garden by Vincent van Gogh and Two Laughing Boys by Frans Hals; the latter painting has been stolen a total of three times over the course of the last couple of decades. Now, the New York Times is reporting that crucial DNA evidence was utilized in order to pin down the thief in question, whose name is Nils M. (last name withheld due to Dutch privacy laws).

According to the Times, M. wasn’t crafty enough to disguise the fact that he’d left behind DNA evidence on a strap and picture frame within the museums he’d stolen from, which led investigators right to him. M. also has a history of committing art-related crimes: previously, the thief served five years in prison for stealing a silver 17th century church vessel from a museum in 2012. A panel of judges is anticipated to submit a ruling in the case of the more recent thefts on Friday of this week.

“Breaking into a museum and taking paintings by artists who are world famous, pieces that belong to our cultural heritage, that are irreplaceable,” is “totally unacceptable,” prosecutor Gabriëlle Hoppenbrouwers said in a statement. Several Dutch art thefts have taken place in recent years. The Singer Laren museum near Amsterdam was robbed of the Van Gogh in March of 2020.

Security camera footage showed a masked man very deliberately smashing the glass shielding the museum’s entrance and making away with the painting, leading many to suspect that the theft was a coordinated mission conducted by someone who knew exactly what they were doing.

A Suspect Has Been Linked to Van Gogh and Frans Hals Thefts with DNA Evidence

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Michelle Goldberg: The vindication of Angela Merkel

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Michelle Goldberg: The vindication of Angela Merkel

The climax of Kati Marton’s captivating new biography of Angela Merkel, “The Chancellor,” comes in 2015, when the German leader refused to close her country’s borders to a tide of refugees fleeing civil war and state collapse in the Middle East and Africa.

“If Europe fails on the question of refugees, then it won’t be the Europe we wished for,” Merkel said, calling on the other members of the European Union to take in more people as well. “I don’t want to get into a competition in Europe of who can treat these people the worst.”

For the usually stolid and cautious chancellor, it was a great political leap, a sudden act of moral heroism that would define her legacy.

By the end of the year, 1 million refugees had come. Many observers predicted disaster. According to Marton, Henry Kissinger, ever callous, told Merkel, “To shelter one refugee is a humanitarian act, but to allow one million strangers in is to endanger German civilization.” Marton quotes my colleague Ross Douthat writing that anyone who believes that Germany can “peacefully absorb a migration of that size and scale of cultural difference” is a “fool.” She describes former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson’s fear that the refugees would be Merkel’s “political undoing.”

For a while, it seemed like some of this pessimism was warranted. Douthat’s column was inspired by a hideous outburst of violence in Cologne on New Year’s Eve, in which a mob of largely Middle Eastern and North African men sexually assaulted scores of women. The refugee influx fueled the rise of the far-right Alternative for Germany party, known as the AfD, which in 2017 won 94 seats to become the largest opposition party in Parliament. Some blamed Merkel’s policy for spooking Brits into supporting Brexit. As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump seized on it. Though Merkel retained the chancellorship after the 2017 elections, her party, the Christian Democratic Union, lost 65 seats.

But six years later, the catastrophes predicted by Merkel’s critics haven’t come to pass.

In the recent German election, refugees were barely an issue, and the AfD lost ground.

“The sense is that there has been comparatively little Islamic extremism or extremist crime resulting from this immigration, and that on the whole, the largest number of these immigrants have been successfully integrated into the German workforce and into German society overall,” said Constanze Stelzenmüller, an expert on Germany and trans-Atlantic relations at the Brookings Institution.

“With the passage of time,” Marton told me, Merkel “turned out to have chosen the absolutely right course for not only Germany but for the world.”

The refugee policy was what inspired Marton, a former ABC News bureau chief in Germany and the author of nine previous books, to write about Merkel in the first place. Marton is herself the daughter of refugees from Hungary, journalists who had been imprisoned by the Communist regime, and the granddaughter of victims of Auschwitz. (She’s also the widow of famed diplomat Richard Holbrooke, whom she began dating when he was Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Germany.) Watching Merkel in the summer of 2015, said Marton, “I just thought wow, who is she, and how is she getting away with this?”

Part of the reason that Germans accepted — and in many cases celebrated — Merkel’s decision lies in their country’s unique relationship to its national history. Germany has made reckoning with the Holocaust central to its identity, and many citizens grabbed eagerly at this chance for redemption.

“When their trains pulled into the gleaming Munich station, exhausted men, women and children were greeted by a sea of signs that read, ‘Welcome to Germany,’ held aloft by cheering citizens lining the platforms,” Marton wrote.

Volunteers converted schools and stores into dormitories.

“Germans were more than happy — in fact, thrilled — to see themselves in the role of humanitarian saviors,” Stelzenmüller said.

But the refugees had more to offer Germany than a burnished self-image. In an aging country with a low birthrate, they were a useful addition to the workforce. The economy, Stelzenmüller said, “was looking for labor before the pandemic, and so there was a real demand and presumably a willingness from the labor market and companies to help people. And of course we have a long experience, a decades-long practice, of on-the-job training that is seen as a model by other European countries and in fact by America.”

Not all the lessons of Germany’s refugee experience will be welcomed by progressives. Merkel, after all, headed a center-right party, and her government took a conservative approach to assimilation.

“Refugees have a responsibility to adapt to German ways,” Marton quotes Merkel saying at a meeting of her party in 2015. “Multiculturalism is a sham.”

The newcomers were required to learn German and were settled throughout the country to avoid ghettoization. Merkel, wrote Marton, “was determined to avoid the dense concentration of immigrants that ring cities in France and Great Britain.”

And in the end, Merkel didn’t leave the border open, eventually negotiating a controversial deal with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey to take in asylum-seekers and prevent them from continuing on to Europe. She didn’t remain in power for 16 years by letting emotion outpace her sense of realpolitik.

All the same, in absorbing 1 million desperate people at a time when others were putting up razor wire, Germany did something great, something the rest of the world could learn from as wars and ecological calamity send many millions more trudging across the globe in search of sanctuary.

“We now have a case study, an example, of how it can work, and I’m hoping the world will make use of Merkel’s example,” Marton said. The chancellor’s refrain in 2015 was, “We can do this.” If only the rest of us could too.

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Letters: In praise of St. Paul police

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Letters: In praise of St. Paul police

For nearly two years, we’ve battled a pandemic, unprecedented civil unrest and an increase in violent crime. We’ve watched as our loved ones died, local small businesses turned to ash and neighbors saw gunfights outside their front doors. Most recently, we had a terrifying shooting in a crowded bar. St. Paul police responded to the bar shooting within a minute.

To paraphrase Thomas Paine, the past 600-plus days have “tried our souls.”

But through it all, one agency has continued to demonstrate positivity and professionalism: the St. Paul Police Department.

If you live or work in St. Paul, or stop by for a meeting, concert or sporting event, you’ve likely seen our women and men in blue. And more likely than not, you’ve been impressed by their professionalism, dedication to an incredibly difficult job and their friendly demeanor. During the marathon, our officers — posted on almost every street corner — were visibly and enthusiastically cheering on the runners.

We love the charm of our city, our close-knit neighborhood communities, and the police department which serves us. We here in the smaller of the Twin Cities remain thankful for the outstanding performance by our police department. While it is not without its challenges and areas where it could improve, the department remains a shining beacon of excellence. The department has continued as a force that can be trusted to do the right thing — especially when it’s difficult. It’s doubled down on serving everyone, especially people whose lives are most often affected by violent crime, poverty and addiction. Its officers have demonstrated an unwavering respect for the oath they took when their badges were pinned for the first time.

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve watched officers leave their families at home, don masks and gloves and aprons and walk into homes to help people, many of whom were sick with covid. They didn’t have the luxury of working from home. Officers simply kept showing up to do an incredibly difficult job.

During the riots following George Floyd’s murder, St. Paul police worked tirelessly around the clock to protect businesses and homes. Outnumbered and tired, they saved countless businesses from being destroyed. And then when the dust had cleared, those responsible for the burning and burglaries were identified and located.

But more impressive is what they accomplished before the pandemic and unrest.

In the last few years, Chief Axtell began a campaign to make a very good police department even better. A recent example of department management is, by working with the community, the reduction in use of force. Incidents where officers strike suspects are down 86%! This of course translates to a direct reduction in the taxpayers’ payouts; down from $2.5 million in 2017 to $20,000 in 2019 and $5,000 in 2020.

We’ve had a series of outstanding police chiefs focused on community engagement, professionalism and kindness. Chief Axtell has continued that tradition.

He’s a leader who not only talks the talk, but also walks the walk. Chief Axtell is transparent and apologizes when mistakes are made. Then he takes decisive action to fix problems. He advocates for people too often forgotten by politicians, those living with bullet holes in their loved ones, homes, and vehicles. He has the foresight to identify changes that need to be made and a team of leaders around him willing to initiate cutting edge programs like the use-of-force changes, the mental-health experts working with officers on crisis calls, the Law Enforcement Career Path Academy and moral courage training.

The St. Paul Police Department can be trusted to break through the fog of negativity that sometimes engulfs the public narrative around policing in our country.

We are proud of our St. Paul Police Department.

George Latimer, Ken Peterson, Linda S. Finney, Bill Mahlum and Bill Sands

Latimer is a former St. Paul mayor. Peterson is a former deputy mayor of St. Paul and former commissioner of Minnesota Labor and Industry. Finney is a retired Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension superintendent. Mahlum is a community activist and retired attorney. Sands is a retired banker and a community advocate.

 

Rent-control consequences

Mayor Carter recently came out in support of the rent control question on November 2, 2021 ballot. Telling  renters that he is in favor of  enactment of the most restrictive rent control law in the nation may help him get renters’ votes. Here is what he is not telling to the single-family homeowners and  business constituents in St. Paul.

Taxes are based on the valuation of real estate. When you put a cap on how much a property owner can charge, you are permanently devaluating (lowering) the fair market value of that real property. When you tie the owner’s hands to increase rent, or to borrow money to improve the property and raise its value and in terms the rent a free market would allow you to charge, you lower the valuation. When the property is worth less – the owner’s real estate taxes cannot increase. If the owner can show taxes are based on a valuation that is too high –  the owner can request (and if needed sue for) a tax reduction.

As more of St. Paul’s residents are renters, and rental properties have grown as a percentage of the total tax base for the city of St. Paul, the percentage of real estate taxes paid by rental properties to fund schools, state and city budgets has increased. This means  apartment owners’ real estate taxes are funding much of the city’s budget.

If the St. Paul rent control proposal passes, it will permanently lower the value of rental real estate. When the valuations go down – so will the taxes paid to the city by residential landlords and property owners.

The experts agree, and past experience in other cities (even those with much less restrictive rent control limits) show that rent control halts or discourages new developments in rental housing and investment in existing rental properties. Without new development and investment,  the  fair market value of residential rental property decreases and becomes less of a share of all property values that the city can tax.

So where do you think the city of St. Paul will get its needed tax revenues?  Single-family homeowners and businesses will be asked to pay more. Rent control will do nothing to “stabilize city spending.” Will homeowners and businesses enjoy a forever cap on their taxes and other ownership costs?

St. Paul single-family homeowners are already feeling the pinch of higher taxes. Between now and Election Day I hope more of them step up and ask Mayor Carter what the city plans to do to “stabilize” their tax burdens in the future.

Donna Hanbery, Edina
The writer is a Minneapolis-based attorney who for 44 years has represented property owners and managers in Minnesota

 

Why?

Reading the front page of last Sunday’s paper we find headlines for two main articles:

“Why are shootouts happening?”

“St. Paul shooting raises questions about sentencing.”

The article on why shootouts identifies four reasons:

  • More people carrying guns.
  • Loss of faith in our institutions and elected officials – in particular the police.
  • Ferguson effect and more – i.e. police and witness reluctancy, Trump’s questioning the election results and finally the lack of confidence in “business owners, bystanders and, yes, and white people.”
  • Pandemic-caused political instability.

So I guess to sum it up the article blames guns, police, Trump, business owners, bystanders, Covid-19 and yes, white people. No mention of criminals themselves be they white, black, brown or whatever.

The second article raises questions regarding criminal sentencing, early release, second chances and the justice system. None of which was even mentioned in the first article but I would imagine plays a significant role in why.

Lloyd Hansen, Vadnais Heights

 

Wrong answer

A front page headline Oct. 17 asks, “Why are shootouts happening? Incidents point to more guns used in disputes and a cycle of violence, experts say.”

This is easy, but wrong answer, i.e., blame the guns.

The story right below it on the same page (‘”St. Paul shooting raises questions about sentencing“) gives the best answer. The subheading is the key, “Suspect has been convicted of five previous felonies but was not in prison.”

Why are shooting crimes going up? Because the perpetrators rightly perceive that the penalties for lesser offenses are insignificant, rarely enforced and worth the risk. The surety and swiftness of punishment has always been the best deterrent to crime. Expert opinion won’t change that.

M.J. Walt, North St. Paul

 

Rent help?

For several months we have read and heard about the rent-help program which is designed to assist tenants from being evicted from their rented homes. The state has received approximately $5 billion to help tenants who are behind on meeting their monthly payments due to unemployment or illness related to COVID. There had been a moratorium in place since March of 2020 which prevents tenants from eviction due to non-payment of rent.

I would like to enlighten the public on my experience as a landlord: I have three units. (We are not all corporate entities.) Rental income supports my social security. I have a tenant who has not paid ANY amount in 15 months.

From what I have read, the tenant has to file for assistance and be accepted before the landlord can file. I gathered all the information for my tenant to submit. The tenant told me she submitted the paperwork last May. I submitted the paperwork online as required for landlords. Since that time, I have tried to contact someone from the program to get clarification on whether my tenant actually did apply and if I would be paid.

I have called the 211 number for help, was told the line was for the tenant. I have sent messages to Gov. Walz and the Attorney General. The AG’s receptionist was very understanding and wanted to help, however, she advised me the state turned the program over to the United Way to manage. I then called a representative from the United Way. I was told I would not receive any funds if the tenant no longer lived at the residence. The program is designed to protect the tenant from being homeless. To say the least, I was very upset. The tenant vacated the residence in mid July — left no forwarding address and will not respond to me. Not only did she not pay me for 15 months, it cost me $2,000 to remove junk she left behind.

I have sent several emails to the rent-help program for landlords as suggested in the application. I have emailed the senator for my district.

A couple of weeks ago there was an article in the news stating the dollars for the program in Minnesota have not been used as anticipated so some dollars may be funneled to other states that have more need.

I’m asking for someone to help with this dilemma. Apparently, there are some landlords that have succeeded in recouping some dollars.

Suzanne Werner, Stillwater

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Literary pick of the week: “Opioid Reckoning: Love, Loss, and Redemption in the Rehab State”

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Literary pick of the week: “Opioid Reckoning: Love, Loss, and Redemption in the Rehab State”

Can you imagine deliberately having your child sent to jail? Some parents of addicted children are so exhausted they know they can get a few nights’ rest if their loved one is locked up, safer in jail than on the streets.

That’s one of the heartbreaking anecdotes Amy C. Sullivan recounts in her new book, “Opioid Reckoning: Love, Loss, and Redemption in the Rehab State,” based on interviews with former drug-users, family, and others caught in the web of opioid use, treatment, recovery, and loss. She points out that this opioid crisis continues to ravage families and communities, with more than 450,000 Americans dead from overdoses since the late 1990s.

Sullivan, a history professor at Macalester College, underscores the complexity of this epidemic from every viewpoint — drug use, parenting, harm reduction, medication, abstinence and stigma and she questions current treatment models, healthcare inequities and the criminal justice system that treats people of color differently from white people who are addicted.

“Opioid Reckoning” (University of Minnesota Press), will be launched at 7 p.m. Monday, Oct. 25, at Macalester’s Ruth Stricker Dayton Campus Center  3 S. Snelling Ave., St. Paul. The program will be a hybrid event with a panel discussion featuring Sullivan and two of the narrators who contributed their stories to the book: mother and advocate Ann Perry and addiction medicine specialist Robert Levy. Joe Linstroth, media relations director at the college, will be moderator.

This event is free and open to the public. Register to attend in person at z.umn.edu/1025p. To attend virtually register at z.umn.edu/1025z.

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