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Berlusconi's Attacker: Unfit to stand trial PDF Print E-mail
Jul 04, 2010 at 09:15 AM


The man who after a rally last December struck Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconin the face with a statuette of the Milan Duomo, fracturing his nose and breaking two teeth, last week was declared unfit to stand trial.

Although Berlusconi's injuries were in no way life threatening, the pictures of his bloodied face made an impression on many. Indeed, the Prime Minister made no attempts to hide from the cameras and later attributed the attack on him to a climate of hatred he said was fomented by the opposition.

Last Tuesday, a judge in Milan accepted a psychiatric evaluation finding that the assailant, Massimo Tartaglia, was unable to distinguish right from wrong and ordered him to remain under psychiatric care for a year. He was also banned from attending any political rallies. Mr. Tartaglia reportedly has a history of psychological problems dating back more than 20 years.

Berlusconi says in Italy's democracy governing is “a living hell” PDF Print E-mail
Jun 10, 2010 at 11:39 PM

ImageOkay. So he wasn't quite that explicit. But he did say (and I head him with my own little ears) that governing under Italy's postwar Constitution - its "institutional architecture" was how he put it - was an "inferno", ( a "hell") making it clear that the Italian prime minister, whom many suspect of subliminal dictatorial tendencies, does not understand the concept of checks and balances which is, after all, the essence of a democratic system.

On Thursday, addressing Confartigianato a business association, Berlusconi described lawmaking in Italy as intolerable, with draft bills going from Senate to House and back, with stops in this or that committee, until final approval (just like happens in any other democracy). He won applause when he said all this took too much time (although he neglected to mention that this is probably also because of poor parliamentary leadership and the fact that Italian MPs, who make more money than most of their European counterparts, only work two and a half days a week) and, added that, even worse, there was always the risk that after all this frustrating to-ing and fro-ing, something even more outrageous might happen: the Constitutional Court (manned by the magistrates he blames for all of Italy's troubles) might strike down the "laws it doesn't like". In other words, he also does not understand the idea of constitutionality and the importance it has for a democratic nation.

The premier, who stopped short of saying he'd prefer one-man rule, claimed that the 1946 Constitution's apportionment of power between the various institutions reflected the negative influence of the postwar period when Communists and Christian Democrats here carried on their own little Cold War and didn't trust one another. Things are different today, he insisted, and so the Constitution should be changed.

Of course, he totally failed to mention another salient fact. That the men and women of the Constituent Assembly that wrote and passed the Constitution after Italy was finally liberated by Allied forces and anti-fascist partisans, were also trying to make sure that down the line Italy would not have another 20 years of Fascism. The "ventennio", as it is called here, ended only when dictator Benito Mussolini was deposed after taking the country into war on the side of Nazi Germany.

Berlusconi's comments were roundly attacked by opposition leaders and pundits.

"Si, Virginia", there is an economic crisis. PDF Print E-mail
Jun 06, 2010 at 12:03 AM
After months of telling Italians that Italy was in fine economic shape and better placed than almost any other European country, Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has now recognized that the country is hurting and gave his blessing to a series of what most economists say are much-needed austerity measures. Ironically, the package may prove costly since the cutbacks include limits on severance pay that appears likely to stimulate a rush of unscheduled retirements by civil servants.

The budget decree containing the austerity measures was signed into law last week by Italian president Giorgio Napolitano but must be approved by parliament within 60 days.

The measures are designed to raise a total of 24 billion euros ($28 million) in 2011 and 2012, 12 million euros each year, through spending cuts and additional revenue coming primarily from a new crackdown on tax evasion. . the austerity package includes a three-year wage freeze for all state employees, including magistrates and law enforcement; reducing pay for government ministers, magistrates and high-earning state officials; cutting ministry budgets, but not across-the-board; cracking down on fraud in regard to disability pensions; reducing funding for regional and local governments; and a major effort to get unregistered real estate assets recorded on tax rolls.

Italy has thus joined Greece, Spain and Portugal in announcing more or less drastic fiscal cuts to deal with deficits that surpass the European Union limit of 3 percent of gross domestic product. After Greec's near default, these governments are also trying to reassure bond markets that despite low growth forecasts they can meet their obligations. The Italian government has said its goal is to cut its budget deficit from 5.3%last year to below 3 % in 2012.

Italy's cuts are aimed at disability payments, many of which are fraudulent, Giulio Tremonti, minister of the economy has said repeatedly. The government has promised not to raise taxes or impose new ones but its measures will hit Italy's millions of civil servants quite hard. Pay for civil servants would be frozen for three years, top-level civil servants' wages would be cut and the retirement of state employees would be delayed.

In particular, the austerity plan says that retirees will now receive their severance pay packets in stages rather than all at once as has always been the case. This measure has led hundreds of state employees - from school principals to .... - to ask for retirement immediately, which means some of the prospective savings will instead be lost as public administration is forced to pay out huge amount - estimated at €100 million - in severance pay.
Some Italians are angered by the fact that other proposed cuts - for example of MPs salaries - have been reduced from initial levels or staggered. Plans to abolish all Italian provincial administrations with populations of under 200,000 were also eliminated, and this despite the fact that for years now economists have suggested eliminated the Provinces to save money and have their function s absorbed by cities or Regions.

Sources at the premier's office said that among last-minute modifications made was the exclusion of a list of 232 cultural foundations and associations which would no longer receive public funding.

Following protests by Culture Minister Sandro Bondi, it was apparently decided to set an amount to be cut from his ministry's budget and leave it up to the minister to decide where to make the cuts.

Italian journalists and opposition against "gag" law PDF Print E-mail
May 24, 2010 at 05:43 PM

Italian journalists are up in arms against a new government sponsored bill that would sharply restrict coverage of criminal cases and the publication of wiretaps. Italian journalists demonstrated against the measure Monday afternoon in the hopes of obtaining significant amendments to a draft bill currently under discussion in the Italian senate.

It's official: Silvio and Veronica call it quits PDF Print E-mail
May 12, 2010 at 02:37 PM

Image Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi and his estranged wife, Veronica Lario, have reached an agreement on the terms of their legal settlement, and what terms they are!!!!! The former Signora Berlusconi (well, actually, for now they are still married; divorce still takes five years in the home of the Vatican) gets to live forever in the luxurious Villa Belvedere in the Maccherio suburb of Milan that she has inhabited - together with Eleonora, Luigi and Barbara, the thee children she had with Berlusconi,ever since informally separating from him several years ago. In addition, she will get a monthly stipend of €300,000 to enable her and her family to live in the style to which she is accustomed. Sounds like a lot, right? But Berlusconi, the second richest man in Italy, has so much money that probably it is only fair that Veronica gets so hefty a chunk.

Veronica and Silvio met in 1980 when, struck by her beauty and talent, he called on her at her dressing room in Rome's Teatro Manzoni where she was starring in a production of the 1921 play, The Magnificent Cuckold (how fitting!). Who knows if it was love at first sight but Berlusconi left his first wife, the mother of his first two children, Marina and Pier Silvio, and in 1984 Barbara was born. In 1985, Berlusconi's divorce from Carla Dall'Oglio became final and the rest is (was) history.

Veronica and Berlusconi had been living separately for a few years when his wife became enraged by several events and announced her anger publically. Once was when Berlusconi said on television that if he could he would marry Mara Carfagna, a young attractive former TV starlet who is now a cabinet minister, and second when it became known that last March that he had attended the birthday party of an 18-year old Neapolitan girl. On May 3, Veronica announced she was filing for divorce, asking for a monthly stipend of three million euros. That she did not get but she certainly cannot complain.

By the way, it may interest my Catholic readers that a few weeks ago many eyebrows (but apparently not the papal ones) were raised when Berlusconi, in church for some occasion, lined up at a church service to take communion and received it. As I understand it Roman Catholics who are separated or divorced they should not be given that sacrament but the officiating prelate mayhave been too embarrassed to refuse.

Greek tragedy falls on deaf Italian ears PDF Print E-mail
May 07, 2010 at 08:53 PM

Giulio Tremonti
If it weren’t so embarrassing it might even be funny. But, in truth, it’s not funny at all. Yesterday afternoon,  in fact, Thursday, May 6th, when Italy’s respected Economics Minister Giulio Tremonti addressed the lower house of the Italian parliament on the Greek financial (and social) crisis, just about nobody was listening – and this despite the fact that, as the shakiness of the continent’s stock markets show, could have serious repercussions elsewhere in Europe. 

Yes, TV sets throughout the massive Chamber of Deputies in downtown Rome were broadcasting scenes of the Greek riots that caused the deaths of three innocent bank employees. But the overwhelming majority of the red plush seats in the ornate assembly hall were……empty. Only 58 (sic!) of Italy’s 630 deputies were actually there to hear Tremonti speak and even worse, of those present only eight were from the majority party headed by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, the PdL or Partito della Libertà and its close ally, the Northern League.  

The fact is that Italy’s MPs don’t ever do too much work; most come to Rome on Tuesday morning and leave town after lunch on Thursday. But this is going too far. Legend has it that Nero fiddled while Rome did burn. Yesterday, while Athens was on fire, official Rome did nothing but yawn. 


Controversy mars onset of Unity celebrations PDF Print E-mail
May 07, 2010 at 04:25 PM
Giuseppe Garibaldi

Exactly 150 years ago (plus two days), Giuseppe Garibaldi - the Italian general and patriot - set sail from in Northern Italy with 1162 armed volunteers on his way to Sicily where he planned to take advantage of local uprisings in Messina and Palermo to take Sicily from the Neapolitans and consign it to Savoy monarch, Victor Emanuel, of Piedmont as a first step in the conquest of the Italian South first and, eventually, Rome. It was here, during the battle of Calatafimi, that he was said to have pronounced to his lieutenant, Nino Bixio, the famous words, "Here either we make Italy, or we die".

Garibaldi did not die and many of his one thousand red shirts survived but despite a series of new battles and wars during the 1860s, it was not until September 20, 1870 when Piedmontese crack infantry troops breached Rome's Porta Pia gate to defeat Vatican and French forces that Italy was truly unified.

But for today's Italians, a unified Italy was born on May 5, 1860 and the celebrations that are to last through next year were set off on Wednesday with a moving speech by Italian President Giorgio Napolitano on the premises of a well-known Genoa high-tech company, Ansaldo.

This being Italy, however, there had to be complications and these came when, earlier in the week, Roberto Calderone, a cabinet minister hailing from the ranks of the Northern League, which at times has espoused patriotic alliance to a northern area they have dubbed, Padania, rather than to Italy said that unification meant nothing to the Lega and should not be celebrated. This led to several days of intense debates in the press and to a sharp retort by Napolitano. But despite the fact that much regionalism still exists here, it was interesting to note that most of the Italians queried - north, center and south - agreed that there was indeed something important to commemorate.

For Berlusconi, another divorce? PDF Print E-mail
Apr 23, 2010 at 08:41 PM

When love has gone.....

Despite its success in Italy's recent regional and local elections, Silvio Berlusconi's party, the PDL, appears to be on the verge of a serious schism which could affect the Italian prime minister's plan to put through a series of major institutional reforms and possibly the country's stability in the near future. At the end of a meeting on Thursday of the ruling party's national directorate, it became clear that the already shaky relationship between Berlusconi and his former number two, Gianfranco Fini, currently the speaker of the Chamber of Deputies and formerly the leader of the right wing Alleanza Nazionale party, had totally disintegrated.

The PDL (Partito della Liberta') was formed in March, 2008, when Berlusconi's Forza Italia party merged with Alleanza Nazionale. At the time, many thought Fini was likely to take over from Berlusconi at some point in the future. But since that time, the PDL's alliance with the populist Northern League and its controversial leader, Umberto Bossi, has become increasingly important, effectively leaving Fini on the sidelines. It was his renewed protests against the increased influence of the Lega - which did extremely well in last month's vote, for the first time winning the governorship of two of the 13 Italian regions where elections were held - that set off the latest crisis.

Alleanza Nazionale was formed in 1994 as a merger between two post-fascist Italian political parties, but under Fini's leadership the party increasingly divested itself of its Fascist heritage becoming a right of center party operating within, and fully respectful of, the confines of a democratic political system. In the last elections in which it ran as a separate party, in 2006, AN won over 12% of the vote. Fini has renounced fascism, travelled to - and been welcomed in - Israel and paradoxically has become one of the center-right's most liberal politicians. His open-mindedness and generosity on immigration, drugs, abortion and patients rights - for example he favors the living wills which currently don't exist here - had already put him at odds with Berlusconi and Bossi. He also as opposed some of the laws the Berlusconi pushed through to protect himself against prosecution while in office as well as some of the prime minister's proposed institutional changes. The result? Many Italians on the left have found it disconcerting to find themselves rooting for a former Fascist as a possible antidote for Berlusconi. But it was hard not to share that feeling.

Now, however, Fini appears to have misjudged the situation and made some sort of tactical error. For if he is expelled, or forced out, of the PDL, which might mean giving up his prestigious role at the lower house of parliament, it is not clear just how many of his former party colleagues - in 2006 the party had 71 deputies out of the 600 in the Chamber of Deputies - or supporters - will follow him.

EDITORIAL: Can the Vatican leopards change their spots? PDF Print E-mail
Apr 11, 2010 at 08:28 PM
Is the Roman Catholic Church anti-semitic? Well, not of course in its entirety and certainly there has been considerable change from the days when Mary Ann, my 10-year playmate in Manhattan where we both grew up, used to come back from parochial school and tell me, with pointed finger, "you killed Christ". But now we've rolled back in time, with the Bishop Emeritus of Grosseto (Tuscany) finding nothing better to say about the pedophile scandal which has finally burst full upon the scene at the Vatican, after being downplayed here for years, than that the media coverage on the issue is only "a Zionist attack" and that "historically" the Jews are God-killers. And, in the interview he gave to a website called Pontifex, Monsignor Giacomo Babini went on to more or less imply that because they killed Jesus, the Jews deserved what they got. And, he added, that although the Holocaust was a blot on humanity as a whole, that Hitler had been forced to take action because of the "the excesses and the embezzlements" with which the Jews had strangled the German economy. Oh boy!

It is quite disconcerting that the recent criticism of the current Pope for allegedly failing to take vigorous action in past accusations of pedophilia against priests in both Germany and the US, in general has led the Vatican and partsof the Roman Catholic hierarchy not to address the issue openly and directly but to charge that Roman Catholicism is under attack by its various enemies, including - it was recently suggested -- the New York Times.

Since Mary Ann's day (I'm talking about the 1950s) the Roman Catholic Church has repeatedly sought to make amends for the anti-semitic behavior of the past to which some Jews still attribute what they see as the failure of Pope Pius XII to take a clear, anti-Nazi stand back in the days of the Holocaust. Starting with the papacy of John XXIII, a rich dialogue between Catholics and Jews grew apace and since then, two popes, John Paul II and the present pontiff, Benedict XVI have visited the synagogue of Rome and have been warmly welcomed there.

But old habits die hard and to many Jews there is nothing all that surprising in the reactions that have emerged from parts of the Roman Catholic world in recent days. Only a few weeks ago another priest called Cantalamessa (which believe it or not means "sings the mass") offended some Jews by saying that the recent criticisms directed could be compared to anti-semitic attacks on the Jews. What?

I come from a Jewish family but personally, if it weren't for the weight of the past, I would find a lot of this stuff simply ludicrous. I have repeatedly been amazed by the ignorance of many Roman Catholics where Judaism is concerned something that can only be blamed on the Church's hierarchy, in the Vatican and throughout the world. Even today, for example, many Italian Catholics almost don't seem to realize that Jesus and his disciples were Jewish. And if they do know that, they still are unaware that the Last Supper was a Passover Seder, that the Easter lamb was a Jewish tradition long before Jesus died, and that it wasn't all that surprising that the Passover crowds in Jerusalem chose Barabbas, the insurrectionary, over Jesus since back in those days would-be messiahs, who rode into town on a donkey were, if not a dime a dozen, then at least a fairly regular phenomenon. But the past does have a weight which cannot be ignored and when high-ranking Roman Catholic prelates spout out such crap one fears it is true that the leopard cannot (will not) change his spots.

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