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Editorial: There he goes again PDF Print E-mail
Apr 01, 2010 at 06:22 PM
I apologize to my Roman Catholic friends and readers who may be offended, but once again Pope Benedict XVI is back to his old trick of behaving "subversively". Today, at ceremonies celebrating Easter Thursday, he urged Catholics everywhere to refuse to obey laws that turn what the Church considers to be an injustice into "a legal right". The pontiff went on the make an explicit reference to abortion, to laws that allow the killing of innocemt, as yet unborn children".

But the principle goes further than that and to my mind is a dangerous one. The Church is not just telling Roman Catholics not to have abortions, use birth control, allow living wills etc, perhaps theaening them with excommunication if they do, but telling them it is legitimate to block the implementation of laws permitting practices that have been adopted, legitimately, by a sovereign, democratic state.

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A teflon man in a teflon nation PDF Print E-mail
Mar 31, 2010 at 11:31 PM

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Berlusconi with Renata Polverini
   
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Umberto Bossi of the Lega
 
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Opposition leader Bersani
 

Despite the predictions of many (but not me), the governing coalition led by Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi emerged from regional and local elections earlier this week with significant gains which, though nuanced, make it clear that a series of scandals and criminal charges in several different cases have barely dented the popularity of the, silver-tongued controversial real estate and TV mogul who entered politics in 1994 and has dominated it in one way or the other ever since then.

The elections involved no national posts but were widely seen as a test of the ongoing strength of the center-right coalition government that won a massive majority for a five-year term in March 2008 and, even more, of the 73-year old Berlusconi's ongoing appeal. Like it or not, and despite a significant increase in abstentionism, a majority of Italians still seem to approve of (or even like) Berlusconi's bombastic style and divisive methods of communication and, even more significantly, to disregard the fact that his government, which took power at the onset of a major world economic crisis, has accomplished relatively little.

Although he himself has a long and ongoing history of saying extremely hateful things about his opponents, Berlusconi's choice of a slogan for this year - "A party for love, and against hatred and envy", nevertheless seems to have won many Italians over, making it clear - once again - that this a country where appearances and style count much more than substance.

The vote, held on Sunday and Monday, was to elect the presidents of 13 of Italy's 20 regions and mayors in 462 of its 8000 municipalities. Before the election, 11 of those regions were governed by center-left coalitions and only two by the center-right. With the Berlusconi coalition taking back four of these (Piedmont, Campania, Lazio and Calabria), the center-left's lead has now shifted downward to only seven to six.

As I said above, the results were nuanced. The center-left held onto seven regions and won the mayoralties of several important cities including Venice, where one of Berlusconi's cabinet ministers was defeated in a bid to become mayor. Pierluigi Bersani, head of the major opposition party, the PD, said his party had held onto significant positions and was not discouraged.

Furthermore, one reason for the center-right coalition's success in several northern regions was because of the gains made not by Berlusconi's party, the PDL, but by the federalist Northern League, la Lega Nord, which also has a hard line on immigration. The Veneto, governed for ten years by a Berlusconi stalwart, now will be ruled by a "leghista". And another Northern League up-and-comer won the presidency of Piedmont, narrowly defeating the incumbent, center-left woman president who Berlusconi had said was so ugly (not at all true) he didn't know how she could look at herself in the mirror in the mornings. And several of the PDL victors, like the neo-president of Lazio, Renata Polverini, came from Alleanza Nazionale, the right-wing party that last year merged with Berlusconi's Forza Italia, and may have other loyalties.

So it may be that in the future Berlusconi himself will have less manoeuvring room within the coalition but it's not sure how much this really matters as far as government efficacy is concerned. Following this week's vote, Berlusconi said he would now press on with sweeping reforms of the tax system, of the justice system and of the political system. But he's been saying this for years and so far none of these reforms have materialized....just like the much-touted bridge over the Straits of Messina, linking Sicily to the Italian mainland. He first promised that after becoming prime minister for the first time in 1994. But there ain't no bridge there and probably never will be!

 

Italians vote in partial local election PDF Print E-mail
Mar 28, 2010 at 09:07 PM
Italians in 13 of Italy's 20 regions as well as in four provinces and 462 cities (including nine important ones) began going to the polls this morning in a two-day election that pits representatives and allies of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's against opposition candidates. The results, which will be available late Monday evening, will not have any immediate impact on the national government but will give an indication of trends in at least part of the country.

Statistics regarding turnout as of seven p.m. today suggest that there may be an increase in abstentionism, although nothing like what occurred in French local elections earlier this month. Normally, close to 80 percent of Italians vote in national elections (compared to only between 55 and 60% in the US) and around 70% for regional and local elections. As of this evening, only 35% of those eligible to vote had done so, compared to 42% at the same time during the April 2005 regional elections.

Pundits agree that this has probably been the most unpleasant and vulgar election campaign in recent memory. Berlusconi dedicated most of his words to insulting the opposition and accusing left-wing magistrates of attempting to discredit him. (In effect, only two weeks ago newspapers published wiretaps of authorized by magistrates in Puglia in the Italian south that showed the prime minister had tried to browbeat state TV executives into barring political talk shows conducted by vociferous anti-Berlusconi candidates although ti was unclear how this fell under their jurisdiction nor exactly what crime was involved).

The left on the other hand, especially the far left, continued it's hate campaign against Berlusconi who is accused by them of being an out and out criminal as well as ineffective prime minister

Predictions regarding the outcome of the elections vary significantly so I suggest waiting for tomorrow rather than doing any more useless speculation.

Italians on their feet: running for sport, running for office PDF Print E-mail
Mar 22, 2010 at 08:21 PM
Italians took to the streets this past weekend in a variety of demos and other events that turned out to be a multifarious greeting to what appears to be the first days of a long-awaited Italian spring.

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On Sunday, over 15,000 contestants showed up to run in Rome's 16th Marathon (the winner, once again, an African, Ethiopian, Siraj Gena, finished the 42 kilometer course in slightly over two hours and eight minutes) and another 50,000 turned out in Milan to run in a shorter, ten kilometre race for non-professional athletes (this one won by a Kenyan). Here in the Italian capital, it was a good reason to stick close to home as I decided to do, changing a lunch reservation downtown to one in my neighbourhood of Trastevere; a journalist for the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, reported it took her over an hour and a half to drive her Vespa from the Ara Pacis monument on the Lungotevere to the Testaccio neighbourhood down river. Generally, she said, it took her five minutes! Yikes!

But if Sunday was for fun, Saturday was spent by people marching for more serious causes. In Milan, 200,000 people turned out in an anti-Mafia demonstration, in Potenza, in the Italian south, thousands joined the family of Elisa Claps, a 16 year old high school student who disappeared in 1993 and whose partly mummified body was discovered Friday (17 years later!!!!1) in the attic of the church where she was last seen. In Rome, tens of thousands rallied in and around Piazza Navona to protest the center-right government's plan to facilitate the privatization of water supply services in some Italian cities.

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And across town in Piazza San Giovanni, huge crowds turned out for an election rally organized by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi to help his PDL party in next weekend's regional elections, or rather to help the PDL's candidate for the regional presidency, since the party's ticket has been excluded from the vote here on technical grounds.

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Estimates of the number of people gathered in Rome's San Giovanni square to listen to Berlusconi and to cheer candidate Renata Polverini, who is also running on her own ticket, along with the PDL's candidates for the other 12 regions where the presidency is up for grabs, ranged from the 150,000 on the part of the police to the one million claimed by the rally's organizers. In any event, it was indeed a massive turnout of ordinary Italians, young and old, who seemed to be enjoying the spring-like weather, the music provided by a band hired for the occasion and the bombastic words of the remarkably popular Mr. Berlusconi.
Sadly, for those of us who are not so easily dazzled, his speech was an collection of grossly-exaggerated claims for his government's policies, attacks on the center-left opposition and aggressive comments regarding left-leaning Italian magistrates some of whom, he ludicrously claimed, have pictures of Che Guevara in their offices.
Berlusconi, who is under investigation here on a variety of charges, including a recent inquiry into his purported attempts to convince television authorities to help quash two very aggressive political talk-shows, claimed once again to be a victim of activist magistrates (there may be some truth to this but no way as much as he says). The response of the crowd - who followed his lead in every turn of his speech - was unstinting and, quite frankly, embarrassing. Indeed, at the end of the rally these tens of thousands of hard-core supporters joined him in singing the PDL campaign song, the refrain of which is, unbelievably, "meno male che Silvio c'è" (thank goodness that Silvio exists).


To vote -- or not to vote. That is the question. PDF Print E-mail
Mar 13, 2010 at 12:00 AM

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It seems incredible, but only two weeks away from elections scheduled for March 28/29th in 13 of Italy's 20 regions, a bizarre (even for Italy) brouhaha over candidate filing procedures has raised political tempers and raised the question of whether in the Lazio region (that surounding the Italian capital) the election will even be held and if so in what conditions. 

Repeated rulings by a series of Rome election commissions and administrative courts  - the most recent today, Saturday, March 13th,  by the Council of State - have upheld the ineligibility of the list of candidates presented by prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's Popolo della Libertà party (PDL), currently Italy's major political party. This means that if Berlusconi wants the PDL's candidate for regional president, Renata Polverini, to win, he will have to ask his supporters to vote for her personal slate of candidates, meaning that many seats in the regional assembly may end up occupied by Polverini supporters, not by PDL members.

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Approval ratings for Berlusconi slide (ANSA) PDF Print E-mail
Mar 10, 2010 at 04:41 PM
Image The Italian national news agenc, ANSA, today reported that: The approval ratings for Premier Silvio Berlusconi, his government and his People of Freedom (PdL) party all fell to record lows in March, according to a monthly poll from the IPR research group released on Wednesday. IPR added that Italy's other parties, both in government and on the opposition, failed to benefit from the PdL's decline.

The March poll came after the mix-up up by the PdL over presenting its list of candidates for this month's partial regional elections and the government's attempts to rectify this. According to the March poll, Berlusconi's personal approval rating in one month slipped two percentage points to 44%, its lowest level since he took office in the spring of 2008 and far below its peak of 62% in October 2008.

The percentage of Italians who disapprove of Berlusconi's performance as premier rose by two percentage points to its highest yet, 54%. The approval rating for Berlusconi's center-right government also fell by two percentage points, after holding steady for fourth months in a row, sinking to 38%, its lowest yet, while its disapproval rating climbed two points to 58%.

Although its approval rating fell in one month from 46% to 43%, the PdL continued to be the party which enjoyed the greatest confidence among Italians. The Democratic Party (PD), the biggest opposition group, saw its approval rating hold at 40%, after gaining three points last month following a four-point loss in January.

The opposition IdV, headed by ex-Clean Hands prosecutor Antonio Di Pietro, held at 38% while the centrist UDC opposition party fell two points to 38%.

The approval rating of the PdL's government ally the Northern League was unchanged again this month at 31%.
Within the government only eight ministers had approval ratings of 50% or above while 15 were below.

Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi again this month enjoyed the highest approval rating, 64%, while four ministers were tied in second place with a 59% rating: Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, down a point; Justice Minister Angelino Alfano; Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti and Industry Minister Claudio Scajola, all up a percentage point.

Civil Service Minister Renato Brunetta held at 58%, after falling three points in February, Equal Opportunities Minister Mara Carfagna was unchanged at 55%, and Defense Minister Ignazio La Russa fell two points to 50%. At the bottom of table again this month was Tourism Minister Michela Vittoria Brambilla, who dropped three points to 25%, while Environment Minister Stefania Prestigiacomo and Elio Vito, the minister for relations with parliament, were unchanged at 29%.

Out of 23 ministers, 10 saw their ratings remain the same as last month, six saw them fall and seven rise.

The IPR poll was taken March 8 and 9 on a cross section of 1,000 Italian voters.(ANSA)

Senza speranza (sob!) PDF Print E-mail
Feb 18, 2010 at 06:10 PM

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Bertolaso: Et tu, Guido?
  To be published March 3 in Wanted in Rome.

As we write it is hard to know exactly how the latest scandal - that which some of the country's least imaginative journalists have dubbed Bertolaso-Gate - will actually play out. We don't know if Civil Protection chief Guido Bertolaso, despite the ongoing support of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, will be forced to resign. We don't know of what, if anything, the country's most-admired high-profile official is actually guilty. What we do know is that the preliminary results of an investigation into collusion, corruption and bribery by high-ranking civil servants and a group of unscrupulous "costruttori" or builders, that was carried on over the last 18 months by the ROS Carabinieri on orders from the district attorney's office (la Procura) of Florence has left a sour taste in many people's mouths that will be difficult and perhaps impossible to eliminate.


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They weren't laughing! PDF Print E-mail
Feb 16, 2010 at 08:43 PM

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How low can you go? Pretty low, apparently, if one can judge from the content of phone conversation recorded by police in the context of a corruption investigation. The wiretap caught the following exchange between two businessmen not even 24 hours after 308 people were killed, and tens of thousands left homeless. in the massive quake that hit L'Aquila on April 6, 2008. Francesco Maria De Vito Piscicelli, the tecnical director of a Rome construction firm called Opere pubbliche e ambiente Spa and his brother in law, whose last name is Gagliardi, were discussing how to line up contracts in the post-earthquake reconstruction that was sure to follow. It seems incredible, but although there was a cursory reference in the conversation to "those poor things", one of the two was heard to say to the other that because of all the money there was to be made: "This morning at 3:30 I was in my bed laughing". Publication of the exchange in Italy's newspapers set off a demonstration in downtown L'Aquila where some 300 protesters, many wearing signs saying "I wasn't laughing",  tried to move into the city's red zone, the area still considered unsafe, but were pushed back by police.

Anniversary of what was a long-overdue death PDF Print E-mail
Feb 09, 2010 at 05:08 PM
One year after the sad (but for her family) liberating, death of Eluana Englaro, the 37-year old woman whose father had fought for years to allow her to die after 17 years in a persistent vegetative state, Italy is no closer than it was then to permitting its citizens to decide whether they or their loved ones can turn off life support in hopeless cases.

There is still no such thing as a living will here, and attempts by the center-right coalition to push through a law on what here is called a testamento biologico have so far not borne fruit. As far as I am concerned, that is just as well since the draft law that was circulated some time ago would leave the final decision to doctors and not to individuals or their loved ones. What the Italians would call a "contrasenso".

In the case of Eluana, her father's struggle to win the right to allow her to die on the grounds that when alive she had said she would never want to be kept alive artificially (she could breathe on her own but was given nourishment intravenously) had been granted repeatedly by a series of court rulings. The government headed by Silvio Berlusconi, however, was totally opposed to this and, almost certainly under pressure from the Vatican, first warned Italian hospitals they would lose state financial support if they agreed to turn off Eluana's feeding tube, and then tried to pass a one-article bill that would have contravened the courts' rulings. Instead, only four days after her food had been stopped, and three days after she was no longer getting liquids, the poor, tiny, skeletal thing she had become ceased to live.

Today, Prime Minister Berlusconi expressed sorrow over her death and said he wished he had been able to save her life. Beppe Englaro, her widely-admired father, who has repeatedly said that he rejected attempts by the Roman Catholic church to force him to accept its values, said he had no regrets. "But - he added - my battle is by no means over".

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