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Other recent articles
Is Fiumicino Airport at Risk? Inappropriate building materials may have been used.
Italians feel vulnerable to encroaching poverty.
Wettest summer in 35 years
Donor insemination to come to Italy
Sites reopened at Pompeii
Sari's e-book on sale this weekend at Amazon
Alitalia’s fate hangs in the balance.
Berlusconi cannot leave Italy (for now)
Keep an eye on (or rather, in) your bill fold.

 

Brouhaha over police wildcat strike
Jan 08, 2015 at 10:18 PM
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Too much talk, not enough work
The Italian government and top authorities in Rome have vowed to take punitive action against the hundreds of city police - 83.5% of those on call - who did not show up for work on New Year's Eve. Whether or not this will happen remains to be seen: in Italy, talk is cheap. But the unprecedented incident has refocused attention on one of Italy's nagging problems, unflagging and illegal absenteeism among the ranks of civil servants that reportedly costs the country 30 million work-days and millions of euros in attempts to curtail it. Premier Matteo Renzi said this week that reforming the civil service was high on his list. "It is unacceptable that the reputation of honourable and hard-working public servants be muddied by slicksters and tricksters", he said the other day.

According to statistics, the average Italian worker gets sick 2.3 times a year and stays home for an average of 17 plus days every year. Who knows how that compares with other countries but it certainly seems like a lot to me. When I was working for my Italian newspaper, I might have been sick 7 or 8 days a year, never more. But these figures are even worse among public administration workers, as Italians refer to the civil service, and the category most guilty of absenteeism, for the most part based on what may well be false doctors' certificates, are the country's police forces. (Interestingly enough, from this point of view the most virtuous state employees are Italy'ss magistrates, who not only get sick rarely but also often take less vacation time than the others).

What happened in Rome last week, basically a wildcat strike, appears, to have been set off by the city administration's plans to restructure salaries, linking them more to performance and merit than they have been in the past. If I understand correctly, the Economy Ministry recently ruled that bonuses used by the previous Rome administration to boost the salaries of city police, whose functions are mostly traffic-related and administrative, were illegitimate. (They included supplements for street duty, supplements for shifts beginning after 5 p.m., and reimbursement for dry-cleaning costs for their uniforms). The new system, based on performance and merit, went into effect on January 1st.

Many among the 6000 city police corps reportedly are also angry at their new commander for deciding that in the future they should not spend more than five years in the same office or seven years (still too long) patrolling the same territory. But whatever the reason was, the behavior has been deemed unacceptable, as so it should.

Abseenteism among civil servants has slowed somewhat in recent years thanks to actions taken by minister, Renato Brunetta, Minister for the Public Administration under Berlusconi from 2008 until 2011 and who put the cost of absenteeism to the Italian economy at 6.5 billion euros a year; he cut pay for civil servants during the first ten days of illness, stepped up requirements for home doctors' visits and went after doctors providing false medical certificates.

Renzi's plan for the future involves more of this and also considers transferring responsibility for checking up on people staying out of work for illness from the ASLs, the local public health units (a sort of state-run HMO) to INPS, the Italian National Institute of Social Welfare, which is in charge of most Italians pensions and social security. Like most Italian institutions, INPS has always been headed by people close to this or that party. But Renzi recently gave the job to well-known independent economist Tito Boeri, who is likely to be a serious and objective taskmaster.

Italian Coast Guard and Navy shine
Jan 04, 2015 at 03:00 PM

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The Norman Atlantic on fire
While the Italian government still has little to show for its plans to help the country out of its economic doldrums, the Italian Coast Guard, its Navy and Air Force get kudos for saving travelers aboard a stricken ferry and rescuing hundreds of illegal migrants arriving from war-torn and/or poverty-struck countries and abandoned in the open seas by unscrupulous human traffickers seeking to avoid arrest.

In the last few days alone, some 2000 people have been rescued from possible death in several dangerous ocean incidents. On December 28, a fire that is still smoldering broke out on the Norman Atlantic ferry en route from Greece to Italy and Italian rescuers played a key role in a high -eas situation in saving 427 passengers from the ship and take them to safety in Italian ports. The often-daring rescues by helicoptes and ships in the area were coordinated by the Coast Guard in Bari, in southern Italy.

So far some 13 people (including two Albanian sailors participating in salvage operations) are believed to have died because of the incident although the exact number of people aboard still seems to be uncertain. According to the ship's manifest, the total number of passengers and crew was 475, which would mean some more than 30 people are as yet unaccounted for. Althugh there is also speculation that there may have also been more people aboard (and this more deaths), including perhaps a number of stowaways, possibly illegal immigrants, maybe hiding in the garage, which is where the fire reportedly broke out.

The ship, owned by the Italian company Visemar di Navigazione, and chartered in December by the Greek ANEK Lines is now docked at an auxiliary port near Brindisi in the Adriatic sea while investigations are under way. Although muck-raking Greek and Italian newspapers have been focusing on the defects of the ship, - for example, the poor functioning of the lifeboats, - the rescue operations were undeniably brilliant and deserve high praise.

A few days later, a vessel called the Blue Sky M bearing as many as 970 migrants, including pregnant women and many children, was abandoned at sea by the traffickers who arranged the illegal travel. The ship was guided into the southern Italian port of Gallipoli on New Year's Eve after Italian Coast Guard officers were lowered onto it by an Italian Air Force helicopter.

And then shortly after that, a cargo ship, the Ezadeen, carrying some 450 migrants, was also abandoned to drift in the Mediterranean by the criminals seeking to avoid arrest. After distress signals were sent from somewhere near the Greek island of Corfu, Italian Coast Guard officers again were lowered onto the ship from an Italian Air Force helicopter and sailed the ship to safety to the Calabria's Ionian coast.

Last year, some 170,000 illegal migrants (a mind-blowing number) landed on Italian shores, often after rescues from perilous situations. Clearly, the rescuers were applying orders by the Italian government whose Mare Nostrum policy deserves high praise, not least because of the problems it causes for a country with serious economic and financial problems. But it has allowed the Italian Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force to show of just what fine mettle they are made.

 



Italians feel vulnerable to encroaching poverty.
Dec 22, 2014 at 05:54 PM

Image Even if you live here, it's hard to get a real handle on the effects of the ongoing economic crisis (which only next spring may have a light at the end of the tunnel, at least this is what Confindustria, Italy's national manufacturers association says). On weekends, my garage still gets emptied of cars. Most of the restaurants I have been to of late have been jumping, and with the start of this year's Christmas season, with Christmas lights twinkling everywhere, Rome's Via del Corso has so crowded with potential shoppers (maybe just window shoppers?) that if a Martian were to land he (or she) would find it hard to believe the statistics - unemployment at 13 percent, youth unemployment at over 40% and - over the last four years - a 25% drop in manufacturing. But the statistics are real and the overall mood is a somber or angry one, as the recent protests and scuffles with police would indicate.

 

 

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Lovely Trastevere one-bedroom
Dec 06, 2014 at 12:19 PM

Image Lovely one-bedroom, second-floor apartment smack in the center of Trastevere availble for January and February. The aoartment is fully furnished, has large book-lined bedroom. fully-equipped kitchen and confortable living room.  Image

 

 

 

 

 

Contaqct the owner at .

 

 

 

 

Renzi tells it as it is....
Nov 07, 2014 at 09:43 AM

Image Last week, Italian premier Matteo Renzi decided to tell Italian youngsters the bitter truth, and that is that in today’s Italian economy there is no longer such a thing as a permanent position. The “posto fisso” was a reality during and after the boom years of the postwar Italian economy and has remained the dream of most Italians but, alas, those days are gone forever. As elsewhere in the world, Italians will have to deal with the fact that when the economic going gets bad, the may end up losing their jobs.

 

Renzi’s comments came in the midst of his attempts to reform part of the country’s rather restrictive labor laws, in particular softening the current rules regarding redundancies and firings. The bill that is soon to come before the lower house of Parliament (it has already been passed by the Senate), known as the Jobs Act (for inexplicable reasons, Renzi uses English for this and other draft laws even though there are plenty of Italian words he could use) has created tensions with Italy’s unions and on several recent occasions in  police and protesters have clashed over this issue.

However,  the young Italian leader intends to push on: "We are going to keep going because our aim isn't to wage a political battle, but to get Italy going again and we won't give up a millimeter on this", said Renzi who last May won an endorsement for his ambitious reform agenda when his centre-left Democratic Party (PD) polled  over 40% of the vote in European elections. He insists that Italy has reached a "now or never" moment to end its recent economic downslide.

 

Actually, the new law is supposed to offer incentives to business owners to encourage them to hire people long-term rather than with the short-term contracts that have prevailed in recent years, creating uncetainty and anxiery among the relatively few young people who hve actually found jobs. This undoubtedly would give a real boost to the labor market. But to get entrepreneurs to do this, they have to be allowed to lay off excess labor when there is an economic downturn. Article 18 of the 1970 Workers' Statute, originally designed to protect workers against unfair dismissal, has been largely interpreted by Italian magistrates in a very restrictive fashion. The statute has consequently been blamed for scaring off foreign and local investors who don't want to risk saddling themselves with unneeded labor. 

 

The new law is by no means anti-labor says the government. There will be safeguards against unfair dismissal that will increase with seniority and  it will also set a minimum wage and heftier unemployment benefits  "If we do what we are capable of doing, Italy will be the locomotive of Europe in the coming years” says Renzi. "But we have to have the courage to say the time of doing things later is over. It's now or never. That is the sense of urgency my government moves with".

 

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Italian terrorists join ISIS ranks, reports say.
Sep 07, 2014 at 08:57 PM
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How can you tell?
It's not just radical Britons or Belgians who have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight with those animals who call themselves combatants for the new Caliphate (oh, give me a break!). Reportedly, there are also about Italians currently in Syria and Iraq now enrolled in the terrorist army of ISIS, the Islamic state in Iraq and Syria. But interestingly enough, according to a report in the Italian daily, Corriere della Sera, only one in five is from an immigrant family, that is people who were presumably born Muslims.

According to the article, the majority of the fighters, primarily from the north of Italy, especially Brescia, Turin, Ravenna, Venice, Padua and Bologna, are young Italian men who have only recently - and suddenly - converted to Islam. presumably after recruitment via the web.. This should not surprise anyone who has lived in Italy for the last several decades: there were enough extremists in Italy in the 1970s and 1980s to foment domestic terrorism that caused hundreds of deaths and injuries to innocent people. And more recently, anarchists here on a variety of occasions have turned otherwise peaceful demonstrations into riots.

However, these Italian jihadists are not the main concern. Citing information provided in an interview with Italy's Interior (police) minister, Angelino Alfano, the paper said last week that even more worrisome than these people who had gone abroad to fight are the estimated 200 followers who, according to intelligence reports, he says, have elected to come to or stay in Italy to provide logistical, organizational and recruitment support in a territory considered to be a strategic hub.

The implication is that most of these "sleepers" would be terrorists who land on Italian shores mingled in with the thousands of desperate boat-people immigrants and whom it is difficult to pick out and isolate. Warnings of infiltration have been made many times over these past few months as large-scale landings continue butso far this is little concrete information, at least that is available to the public. According to the experts cited by the paper, these people head small fund-raising and recruitment groups and are waiting "underground", for an order to form terrorist micro-cells or to provide logistical support for internationally organized attacks.
In the meantime, there is a further risk that they could become role models for additional recruits.

 

Italians gearing up for Ferragosto holiday
Aug 14, 2014 at 02:03 PM
Image I'm about to rush off to the Coop to buy some chicken as my contribution to a Ferragosto barbecue tomorrow in the countryside near lake Bolsena where I am spending most of my summer. Ferragosto is the biggest Italian summer holiday, actually the only one, and the week preceding it is the week in which, as tradition dictates, the majority of Italians still take their summer holiday. In big cities such as Rome, the majority of businesses are closed this week although not restaurants, cafés or even monuments since the hordes of tourists must, after all, be catered to. Hundreds of thousands are at the beach. Other tens of thousands of people will be spending the day in the mountains. And still others will be celebrating in small towns where they or their families, or some relatives, have a second home or even live. Food, as usual in Italy, is of major importance, although there are no special dishes associated with the holiday. And the day usually ends up with fireworks. Here in this area the best ones are supposed to be accross the lake at Capodimonte so the idea is to go out in someone's boat and to see them from the water.

In Bolsena, during the week, almost everything is open because the population of the town, like that of myriad others, swells enormously during the summer. The shops will even be open tomorrow morning. But then everyone will be out celebrating even if they really don't know what it is they are celebrating, except as a general metaphor for pleasure - sun, sea, relaxation, meals with friends and unadulterated leisure. It is also the time that animals and elderly people often get left alone, as you may know if you have had the pleasure of seeing the charming 2008 Italian film, "Mid-August Lunch" (Pranzo di Ferragosto), in which a somewhat down in the dumps middle-aged Roman ends up cooking meals over the holiday weekend for both his elderly mother and the mothers of several other people who want to enjoy the holiday without having the burden of an aging parent.

The term Ferragosto is derived from the Latin expression Feriae Augusti (the holidays ordered by the Emperor Augustus for the first time in 18 BC during the month that took his name). There were pre-existing holidays in ancient Rome at the same time of the year- the Augustali - to celebrate summer harvests and to rest up from all the hard work in the fields. And in pagan times, this holiday also included the honoring of gods-in particular Diana-and the cycle of fertility and ripening.

It also has a significance for the Roman Catholic religion which marks it as the day of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary into Heaven, the dogma holding that Virgin Mary "having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory." But you won't find practically anyone who is dedicating tomorrow's holiday to her.

 

 

 

One I will make sure NOT to miss.
Jul 26, 2014 at 05:22 PM

ImageAnyone who has read my book (My Home Sweet Rome: Living (and Loving) in the Eternal City) knows how frustrating life can be in this country, especially if you come from places where efficiency is considered a value. But there are certainly reasons for continuing to live here, as I have done now for 40 years (40 years!). One of these is the incredible wealth of artwork and the ability of Italian authorities - local and national - to make these works available to the rest of us.

Here, therefore, is one art show that I am not going to miss even if I have to travel to see it. Starting on July 26th (today) and lasting through November 30 is the from Giotto to Gentile show in Fabriano (in the Marche) that will be featuring painting and sculpture during the 1200s and 1300s', The show, curated by the controversial but surely brilliant art critic, Vittorio Sgarbi, provides a unique insight into little-known medieval masterpieces.

The exhibition in Fabriano's Pinacoteca Civica will be flanked by visits to the churches of Sant'Agostino and San Domenico and in the Cathedral of San Venanzio and will incloude paintings, frescoes, sculptures, miniatures, manuscripts, gold jewellery and altarpieces on loan from major Italian museums and private collections. Among the artists on show is local 14th century painter Allegretto Nuzi, who travelled to Tuscany in 1348 during a plague pandemic and painted the Madonna dell'Umiltà - also portrayed by his pupil in Fabriano, Francescuccio di Cecco Ghissi, in the sumptuous style that made him appreciated by local patrons.

I can't wait!



Concordia leaves on its final voyage
Jul 23, 2014 at 03:33 PM
ImageThis ship has (finally) sailed. This morning the wreck of the Costa Concordia giant cruise ship steamed slowly out of the gulf of Giglio Island off the Tuscan coast on it's final voyage to the port of Genoa where it will be dismantled. The sea journey is expected to take until Sunday and hopefully it will be uneventful. Residents of the island gathered on the shores to witness the final stage of the hulking ship's removal from the shoals where it ran aground over two years ago resulting in the death of 32 people.

The Concordia and a convoy of at least 10 vessels will pass through a large marine sanctuary, which extends from the Italian coast to Corsica. The ship will be preceded by a boat full of whale and dolphin watchers. If any marine mammals are seen, the convoy will slow down until they pass.

The departure of the ship was the high point, as well as the end, of a gigantic and extremely expensive internationally-managed salvage operation that began last September when the ship was righted and resumed earlier this month was it was re-floated last week.

An oil leak that occurred as the 105,000-tonne liner was taken off the reef and then raised in the water until fortunately did not delay things excessively. And as engineers continued to pump compressed air into 30 huge steel compartments attached on all sides to the hull of the ship, forcing out seawater and providing buoyancy, a series of decks that had been submerged since the accident gradually returned to view, including that with the ship's name, Costa Concordia, in giant blue letters. The final cost of salvaging and removing the cruise ship is likely to be $1.2 billion.

Once again, however, events involving the stricken cruise ship were somewhat tainted by the behavior of its former captain, Francesco Schettino, currently on trial for 32 counts of manslaughter and for abandoning ship, who just as the Costa Concordia was re-emerging from its briny grave, was photographed - smiling and suntanned - at a party on the island of Ischia. Shame on you, Captain Schettino. Shame on you.

A surprise: Berlusconi acquitted in sex case
Jul 19, 2014 at 03:27 PM
ImageWhat a surprise! Yesterday, a Milan appeals court overturned a lower court's conviction of former premier and media magnate Silvio Berlusconi for paying for sex with an underage prostitute and strong-arming court officials into releasing her when she subsequently was arrested for theft. The verdict by a three-judge panel thus canceled the seven-year prison term and the life-time ban on holding political office that the lower court's judges had decided on last year.

Berlusconi reacted to the sentence by saying "justice has been done" and, for the first time ever, speaking well of the Italian judiciary, which he has always considered his primary nemesis and has mercilessly criticized, calling them "communists" and persecuting him for political reasons.

The totally exculpatory sentence was a surprise to one and all, including the Milan prosecutors who tried the case and who will now have to decide whether to continue their accusations by sending the case to the third level of Italian justice, the Court of Cassation. They have said they will wait until the Appeals' Court justices issue their "motivazioni" or judicial reasoning behind their decision.

The Appeals Court judges have three months to publish their "motivazioni" and in the meantime speculation about their reasoning is raging here. However, they clearly appear to have believed the defence when it said, first, that Berlusconi did not know that Karima El Mahroug, the Moroccan young woman otherwise known as Ruby Heart-Stealer, allegedly a participant in the so-called Bunga-Bunga parties, was only 17 when he had sex with her and that he genuinely believed Mahroug was related former Egyptian president Hosni, Mubarak when he attempted to keep her from being sent to a juvenile prison facilities after she was arrested for stealing from another prostitute did not involve any explicit threats to the officials involved.

"The verdict goes beyond our rosiest predictions," said Franco Coppi, one of Berlusconi's defence lawyers. In the several ongoing and previous criminal case, Berlusconi has always denied wrongdoing, claiming he is the victim of a minority group of allegedly left-wing prosecutors and judges who he says are persecuting him for political reasons.

Berlusconi, 77, received the news Friday as he was leaving facility for sick, elderly people near Milan for his weekly session of community service in relation to a separate tax-fraud conviction. The media magnate is serving the year remaining on a four-year tax-fraud term by doing community service as Italian law does not contemplate jail-time, except for the most heinous crimes, for people over 70. (The other three years of his sentence were covered by general amnesties.)

Berlusconi said he was moved by the court's decision and said it confirmed his (supposed) belief that "the majority of judges are worthy of admiration". In ongoing and previous criminal cases - he has been investigated and charged with at least ten infractions but the tax fraud case was his first conviction.

The former senator (he was forced to resign that post in the wake of the tax-fraud conviction) said yesterday that his acquittal in the Ruby trial meant he could continue leading his centre-right opposition Forza Italia party with greater "serenity".

However, in reality he cannot rest easy. Currently, he is facing trial in Naples on accusations of having bribed several senators for changing their vote on key parliamentary votes of confidence.

 

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