Week in Review

by by by Emily Gogalak, Richard Salame & Kate Van Brocklin

illustration by by Robert Sandler

Price Tags

They say that some things can’t be bought, but soon they might not be able to say that about permanent residency in Hungary. The coalition government—made up of the conservative nationalist Fidesz and right–wing Christian Democratic People’s parties—has crafted a policy proposal whereby anyone who buys €250,000 in special ‘residency bonds’ would get to cut through the red tape and earn permanent residency in the country. Citizenship is more or less guaranteed after eight years of residency. If stuffed cabbage isn’t your scene, keep in mind that a Hungarian passport (or even just permanent residency) would give you the right to live and work anywhere in the European Union.

The government hopes that this will lift some fiscal pressure—Hungary has the largest debt in central and eastern Europe at 78 percent of GDP—and maybe even give a boost to the private sector economy. Hungary is lagging behind its neighbors in terms of foreign direct investment and posted an anemic 0.82 percent GDP growth rate in 2010.

Although the proposal hasn’t incited much public response inside Hungary, a similar program in neighboring Austria became highly politicized last year amid rumors that a leading opposition lawmaker promised to expedite the citizenship process in return for political donations. Other EU sovereigns are allegedly upset about the Hungarian government extending EU citizenship on its own authority in such a controversial manner. The nationalist Fidesz party has historically had an antagonistic relationship with the EU. According to Dr. Helen Szamuely, a scholar at the neoliberal think tank Bruges Group, the Hungarian program is “obviously being aimed at wealthy Asians—particularly Chinese.”

Hungary wouldn’t be the first country to implement such a program. According to The Economist, “In most rich countries a hefty investment brings a visa that can eventually turn into a passport.” Britain has offered so–called ‘Tier 1’ visas since 2008 to individuals who invest at least £1,000,000 in government bonds. Australia asks for investments of between AUD 750, 000 and AUD 1,500,000 at minimum in government bonds for a visa. The Caribbean island of St. Kitts has dispensed with the investment charade and openly sells citizenship for $250,000 (sun and beaches included). For a bargain, check out the tiny island nation of Dominica: citizenship is priced at only $82,700, payable directly to the government.

Even the United States has such a program. According to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, an investment of $1,000,000 will fetch a coveted green card in about a year. This program was signed into law by the senior President Bush in 1990, in the middle of an economic recession. Since then, the program has brought in over $1.5 billion from foreigners and created 31,000 jobs, at little cost to the US government. This September, Congress passed a re–authorization of the program with bipartisan support and President Obama signed the bill into law. - RS

Sexy, Six Feet Under

What do shirtless firefighters, hot cops, scenic images from Yosemite, terriers, and naked Polish women have in common?
Linder, a Polish firm that manufactures coffins, is trying to strike up new business by releasing a calendar featuring models posing next to its caskets. One image from the 2013 edition of the calendar—the fourth in the company’s history—has a blonde model reclining on a coffin, donning nothing but a skimpy thong and a snake draped around her neck. In another, a dominatrix is pulling the heart out of a man lying on a casket. Not all of the photos are topless, but they do have their fair share of bondage and splayed legs.

“My son had the idea of creating the company’s calendar... so that we could show something half-serious, colourful, beautiful; the beauty of Polish girls and the beauty of our coffins,” Zbigniew Lindner, the firm’s owner, told Reuters. It’s an odd marketing technique for a coffin manufacturer, considering that (a) caskets are usually advertised via catalogues geared for funeral homes, (b) the people buying the calendar likely aren’t looking to buy their own coffin anytime soon, and (c) the qualities that make a good casket (weather proof, termite repelling, rust resistant) don’t have much to do with hot models.

Nonetheless, the calendar has traffic up on Linder’s website, and the priests and nuns of Poland are pretty down. The Church and its doctrine has long been a centerpiece of Polish life, but changing times are challenging the faith. Ninety-three percent of Poles call themselves Catholic, but the proportion of actual churchgoers is steadily falling. People’s views on sexual taboos aren’t what they used to be and the calendar is a symbolic slap in the face to a Church that feels itself losing footing. In a public statement, a Church spokesman said, “human death should be treated with solemnity and not mixed up with sex.”

The folks at Linder think differently. “We wanted to show that a coffin isn’t a religious symbol. It’s a product,” he said. “Why are people afraid of coffins and not of business suits, cosmetics or jewelry?” Apparently death isn’t as scary as a nine to five day at the office in Poland. In addition to getting a woody while looking at photos of wooden caskets, there’s one other perk. Whoever orders the Linder calendar will also receive a complimentary casket-shaped key ring. - EG

Bird Instincts

The wrath of hurricane sandy didn’t just flood New York subways and disrupt the lives of thousands of people on the Eastern seaboard—the storm also damaged the habitat of coastal bird species. Last week, Sandy swept away a rare visitor to New York’s Finger Lakes Region: a Ross’s gull. This small, dove-like bird is seldom seen outside of the Arctic.

Many different species of birds get pulled into a hurricane’s spiral and then move into its calm eye to ride out the storm. “The majority of seabirds, if they are not too weakened from having flown for so long without food, will probably find their way back to shore quickly,” said avian expert Kenn Kaufman in Audubon. “They have great powers of navigation.”

In a recent National Geographic interview, Bryan Watts, the director of the Center for Conservation Biology in Williamsburg, Virginia, outlined Sandy’s affects on bird populations. Among the groups of birds that have the highest risk of being affected are those that depend on coastal habitats, such as piping plovers, Wilson’s plovers, and least terns. Plovers are small, sand-colored, sparrow-sized shorebirds with yellow-orange legs, a black band across the forehead from eye to eye, and a black ring around the neck. These species rely on barrier islands that were reshaped or destroyed in Sandy’s wake. Birds that live in low habitats—marshes, beaches, and dunes—are often displaced in storms of this size.

Hurricane histories don’t have a good track record of being kind to birds. In 1989, Hurricane Hugo almost decimated red-cockaded woodpecker habitats in the Francis Marion National Forest in North Carolina. In other cases, species are inconvenienced for a short time but persevere, just as humans do.
Disturbance is an essential element in ecosystem evolution. In beach environments, the natural disturbance of storms creates open sandy habitats for species such as the federally-endangered piping plover to nest. Storms set back beaches from progressing from open sand to dune grassland to shrubland—in a sense, storms revitalize beach habitats, just as fire renews forest back to grassland.

While reports of injured or dead birds haven’t started coming in yet, they likely will soon. “They tend to show up in the days after a storm as they use up their fat stores trying to return to the ocean,” said ornithologist Drew Weber. “People should keep an eye out for stranded birds in parking lots and small bodies of water and take them to the closest rehabber.” - KVB