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.


Italian tax cheaters: watch out!!!
Dec 20, 2011 at 01:37 PM
Image Earlier this year the New York Times wrote a story which referred to tax evasion as the "Italian national sport". I thought that was pretty stupid, banal and hardly original, as it has been said (stupidly) before. There are several reasons why so many people in Italy cheat on their taxes, and while they are often inter-related, none of those even remotely resemble a game.

In any event, the figures are HORRIFIC and it is understandable that the Monti government - which was appointed to get  Italy's accounts into order - has seemingly serious plans to really crack down on cheaters. Statistics published in major Italian newspapers in recent weeks give a good idea of just how serious is the problem. Mind you, these figures have been published many times, before, every time some politician or analyst starts wringing his or her hands over a situation about which nothing is ever done. This time, hopefully, things will be different since Attilio Befera, currently the head of the Agenzia delle Entrate (the Italian IRS) estimates that every year Italians fail to pay €120 BILLION in taxes owed, that's $156 BILLION).

The Italian austerity plan; a work in progress
Dec 12, 2011 at 06:13 PM

Aaaaah. No Silvio here!

A week ago, Italy's new prime minister Mario Monti, announced the "Save-Italy" emergency austerity package designed to save some 30 billion euro in 2012 and to set in motion some virtuous tax and reform that hopefully will put this economically and financially-troubled country back on track. But the last word has yet to be said.
The austerity package was passed as what the Italians call a "decree-law", a temporary decree which then has to be voted into law by parliament and the legislature is now examining the more than 800 amendments that have been tabled.

Mario Monti gets down to work - but as recession looms it won't be easy.
Nov 30, 2011 at 10:18 PM


Italy's new prime minister, economist Mario Monti, is burning the midnight oil, scurrying back and forth between meetings with European and EU leaders in Brussels and elsewhere cabinet meetings in Rome where he is putting together what is expected to be a 20 million euro austerity package that will be including important structural reforms. The plan is also supposed to include some economic stimuli to ward off the recession that the Paris-based OECD predicted this week for Italy in 2012.

OECD said in report that next year Italian GDP will contract by 0.5%, that overall unemployment will rise from 8.1% to 8.3% (and to 8.6% in 2013), but that prices will rise by only 1.6% compared to 2.7% this year.

The most important of the expected structural reforms is that of pension reform; something that has been talked about for years here but which previous governments have shied away from because of possible political repercussions. This week Italian newspapers predicted that the Monti government of technocrats and other experts would be raising the number of years of work needed to retire from 40, as of now, to 41 or 42. The unions have already said this was unacceptable but it is unclear at this stage if they can be persuaded to go along with the government's plan. It is also being said that the new minister of Welfare, Elsa Fornero, is planning to greatly speed up the Berlusconi government's plan to bring the retirement age for women up to 65, the same as for men.

Strangely enough, for the time being Italy's major political parties, including both Berlusconi's PdL and the left of center PD, seem to be carrying through on their pledge to support the Monti emergency cabinet. Berlusconi has repeatedly said he would oppose any plans for a "wealth tax" (the current talk is of a special levy on annual incomes of over one million euros). But generally speaking he continues to praise Monti, saying he is "working well". The former prime minister, relieved of his government duties, has been spending his time attending court sessions of some of the trials he is involved in; after all, he can no longer claim immunity as head of government. All in all, he has been keeping a low profile which is, most agree, a considerable change for the better, a real relief.

Also striking, and I myself am most surprised by this, the parties seem to agree that the Monti government need not be short-lived, as originally imagined, but could last until the regularly-scheduled elections of spring, 2013. The new premier, however, has reportedly agreed not to get involved in very political questions like a new electoral law. But who knows. The parties may decide that it might not be such a bad idea after all, especially if they can reach an agreement behind the scenes that would avoid the public bickering that has led many Italians to become really turned off.

Berlusconi resigns!
Nov 12, 2011 at 10:33 PM

Berlusconi opponents exult (Corriere della Sera photo)

Silvio Berlusconi is no longer the prime minister of Italy. As promised, the 75-year old controversial, conservative politician resigned his office tonight just a few hours after a majority in the Italian parliament approved a promised austerity package, although it is no secret that stronger and harsher measures will have to follow if Italian finances are to be set right. 

Immediately after Berlusconi's, Italian President Giorgio Napolitano officially announced a schedule for the meetings with former Italian presidents and Italy's major political leaders that by law and custom must precede the formation of a new government. The 86-year-old Napolitano, who has been working ceaselessly to find a political solution to break the current stalemate that has put Italy in its most serious financial plight since 1992, is set to ask respected economist Mario Monti to try and form a new government.

Berlusconi, who has dominated Italian politics for the last 17 years and served three terms as head of government, two of which were the longest in Itaian history, agreed earlier this week to leave office when it became clear that by remaining in power Italy's finances - a spiralling public debt that the country could find itself unable to finance - would only worsen.  He promised Giorgio Napolitano, the country's 86-year old Italian president, he would resign as soon as the parliament passed the so-called Stability Law,
A series of emergency measures that his government had put together in recent weeks to try and start a process or structural reform requested by both the European Union and the International Monetary Fund.

And he has kept his word, reportedly also trying to convince the recalcitrant inside his own party that they should support Monti and a largely technical government that would remain in power until additional austerity measures - higher taxes, a wealth tax, a pension reform are just a few of the steps that will have to be taken - are adopted. After which, new elections would be held. Berlusconi's party reportedly has also set other conditions. One is said to be that after enacting the austerity measures, Monti not remain in power and second, the presence in the government as deputy premier of Gianni Letta, a  long-time but fairly respected Berlusconi advisor, but this latter demand, it seems to me, will be totally unacceptable to everyone else.

Some here are still hopeful that the new government could be a national unity coalition bringing  the Berlusconi right and the left-leaning opposition together to act in the country's interest. But there is so much political tension here that such a solution is highly unlikely.

ImageCrowds of several hundred Berlusconi opponents gathered outside  Palazzo Grazioli, Berlusconi's private residence two blocks from Palazzo Chigi, the seat of government, and also outside the Quirinale Palace, whistling (whistles are a sign of disapproval in Italy) catcalling, waving signs reading phrases like "Finally!", "Liberation!", "Today is our Independence Day", singing the "Hallelujah" and shouting insults such "buffoon" and "whoremaster" .

Wire services reported that Berlusconi said he was aggrieved by the degree of hostility of the crowds - and I have to admit I myself found it a bit overdone, especially because he has behaved so honourably in the last few days. But although it is hard to measure exactly what proportion of the population actually is fed up with Berlusconi (let's not forget that for years he had a huge following), there is no doubt that now he is despised by thousands, perhaps even hundreds of thousands. I personally do not know anyone who admits to wanting him to stay in power. And I am talking about people from every social class and walk of life and, in addition, not just leftists.

Ironically, then, it wasn't the years of corruption charges (and several trials), sex scandals and what many people (including me) think of as inappropriate behaviour - stupid jokes etc - on the international scene, to lead him to go. Berlusconi has been brought down not by his unhealthy obsession with young women (his now estranged wife said two years ago that he was a very sick man), but by his failure to govern incisively and effectively and by his refusal to look Italy's economic and financial problems in the eye before things precipitated to their current state.

Berlusconi to resign. Thank goodness.
Nov 10, 2011 at 12:13 AM


Silvio Berlusconi will be resigning this weekend, a decision that was announced Tuesday evening after he met with Italian president Giorgio Napolitano who fortunately was able to convince the Italian premier that the country was - is - on the brink of a financial abyss.

Berlusconi is a total narcissist, and for all we know may even be able to convince himself in the coming days that he is not to blame. But narcissists do not take humiliation well and he has been roundly humiliated by the rout suffered by Italian treasury bonds today and yesterday and its impact on the world's stock markets. It wouldn't surprise me if he were to sink into a deep depression, once he realizes that despite all his dreams of grandeur, he is likely to end up in history books as the man who almost brought this wonderful country called Italy to its knees.

Italians should know: Europe is watching!
Oct 30, 2011 at 03:13 PM

Snide smiles about Berlusconi

A visitor would never guess it. On the surface, life continues here in its usual pleasant way. Here in Rome, people are enjoying a few days of mild weather sitting outdoors, drinking their aperitivi and chatting happily on their cell phones. Aside from the coastal areas of Liguria in the northwest, where floods last week caused disastrous mudslides that killed at least nine and caused vast damage to areas like the Cinque Terre, many Italians appeared more concerned about the recent death of  a young motorcycle racer than about their faltering economy and a financial mess that is threatening both this country and Europe as a whole.

Appearances, of course, can be deceiving. The number of young people who turned out for what was meant to be a peaceful march two weekends ago, indicated that many people gave little or no credence to Premier Silvio Berlusconi's repeated assurances that all was well here and that there is, instead, much to worry about. Years of sluggish economic growth has created an extremely worrisome situation and new statistics show that this September the rate of unemployment for young people between the ages of 15 and 24 climbed to 29.3%, up more than a percentage point since August and at its highest level - one out of three - since January 2004.  True, many of these young people could find work if they were willing to take the jobs their fathers and mothers held, such as short-order cooks, waiters, plumbers, house cleaners, strawberry pickers and so on; the jobs that ae now held by immigrants from other countries who don't turn up their noses at honest work. But it is clear, that Berlusconi will now have to stop with the pollyanna act for there is cause for real alarm. 

Tomato Galore
Oct 16, 2011 at 06:11 PM


Italian tomatoes are among the best in the world (although Turkish tomatoes – I just got back from Turkey – seem to me to be running a close second) and as we all know play a very important role in Italian cuisine.

The ancient Romans,  of course,  hadn’t the vaguest idea what a tomato was since, like the potato, it is native to South and  Central America and only arrived on these foreign shores in the late 1500’s thanks to those then evil colonizers, the Spanish.

So one can just imagine if a resident of ancient Rome, unloading his amphorae of wine or oil at the river port in what is known today as Testaccio, were to happen on Carmelo D’Agostino’s  amazingly  colourful tomato stand in that neighborhood’s well-known food market. Wonder how they say “Wow” in Latin?  Me, I would stick to “wow” or, in Roman dialect to “Ammazza ahò” or “Anvedi ahò”, all of which accurately describe the amazement one feels at viewing this undulating sea of red.

American woman latest victim of Italian hit and run drivers
Oct 10, 2011 at 06:41 PM
Image A young American woman has been one of the most recent victims of a spiralling number of hit and run drivers here. A 56 year old building contractor turned himself in this weekend as the driver who last week brought to an absurd, early end the short life of Alison Owens, a 23-year old American tour guide.

Alison was killed a week ago Sunday while jogging along a road in northern Tuscany while listening to music on her iPod. An all-points search was on for the hit and run driver who says now he fell asleep at the wheel and woke up only when his car hit the guard-rail and was unaware of having hit someone. Police apparently do not believe his version; why did he take five days to make contact when the story was making headlines throughout the country, they ask.

But in the meantime, the tragic incident of a life cut short has refocused attention on the growing number of hit and runs here. Although it is sometimes hard to believe given the reckless driving habits of many Italians (and the failure of Italian police to regularly patrol major thoroughfares), road accidents in this country have dropped sharply - by 43.7% - over the last decade, with deaths from car accidents falling to 3,998 from the 7,100 recorded in 2001.

In contrast, the number of hit and runs continues to climb. In 2008, 400 people were killed or injured in hit and run accidents, a number which rose to 746 (in 585 incidents) in 2010 (of whom 98 died) and to 759 (in 644 such accidents) in the first nine months of this year, with 101 deaths recorded so far, th emost recent two occurring yesterday when thieves stole a truck and then fled after killed two people in a smaller car.

The available statistics indicate that in 22% of the cases, the drivers involved in hit and runs were under the influence of alcohol and drugs and indeed the Italian parliament is considering amending the Codice della Strada, the driving code, to establish the crime of vehicular homicide which currently does not exist. Minister of the Interior Roberto Maroni said recently that anyone who knowingly takes drugs or alcohol and then gets behind the wheel is knowingly accepting the risk of an accident and ought to be punished accordingly.

At the moment, 65% of hit and run drivers are eventually arrested here but this is likely to increase because of the growing number of street cameras and the willingness of witnesses to testify.


Editorial: a country adrift
Sep 06, 2011 at 09:02 PM

No Comment

I haven't been updating my blog much over the last month or so; too much work of the paid variety, some vacation (stay tuned for a report on the beautiful Aeolian islands, off Sicily) and quite a bit of boredom where it comes to things Italian. I mean, how many pieces can one write about Silvio Berlusconi and the damage he is doing to his country? About scandals involving him and about his government's ongoing failure to take serious measures regarding Italy's economic problems? But somethings cannot be ignored and one of these is the fact that this country's politicians seem unable or unwilling (the picture on this page shows the Senate in early August when parliament was reconvened to consider a package of emergency measures to deal with Italy's debt crisis ---11 senators out of 300 showed up!) to do their job: make effective and incisive laws to deal with present and future crises.

Another chink in the wall!
Jun 14, 2011 at 03:53 PM

A Blow to the Heart (Quorum/Cuore)
Italian voters delivered yet another blow to Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi this weekend when they disregarded his advice to boycott a series of popular referenda designed to overturn several recent controversial laws. There is not expected to be any immediate direct effect on Mr. Berlusconi's stay in office, but the outcome - it was the first time since 1996 that enough people went to the polls to meet the 50% quorum that would make the referenda valid - makes it clear that much of the country is now on a different wave length from its chief of government.

The unexpected rout - many here believed the quorum would not be met - came hard on the heals of the defeat suffered by Berlusconi and his party in elections only two weeks ago for the mayors of several key cities including Milan and Naples. Observers here are convinced that Berlusconi's grip has been seriously weakened and wonder if he will soon face a defection by the unfortunately powerful Northern League, his principal ally.

The final results as they came in on Monday (Italian elections are always held on Sunday and Mondays) mean that voters have voters overturned a law that would have restarted Italy's nuclear program (nipped in the bud by another referendum 24 years ago but recently re-introduced by the Berlusconi government, one which permitted the privatization of local water supplies, and another that granted him and other high-ranking government officials immunity from prosecution.

This latter  means that Berlusconi ought now not to be able to avoid showing up in several pending court cases, including that in which he is charged with having sex with a minor and then abusing his office to get her released from jail when she was arrested on a theft charge.

But most pundits - along with Italy's opposition parties - are putting most of the emphasis on the fact that so many Italians disregarded a publicly announced decision by both Berlusconi and many of his top cabinet members that they would not be going to the polls. Of those who voted, between 94 and 95.5% voted to abrogate the laws, that is, they voted against Berlusconi and his government. (Dare I say it again? "Yippee!")


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