When you interview a group of teenagers who drum away on buckets like there’s no tomorrow, the last thought on your mind is that one of them will end up shot on a South Side street, in clear daylight.

On Dec. 21, Andre Hunter, 19, was allegedly shot five times by 18-year-old Iman Frison. The shooting took place at 2:40 p.m. near the 7700 block of South Stewart Avenue, according to a Chicago Tribune report.

Having left Chicago in 2010, an old friend sent me a link to the news story.

After opening the link, I just sat in my chair, stunned at the news.

In early 2009, I had briefly interviewed and taped Hunter, along with three other “Bucket Boys” playing in the underground tunnel that connects the Red and Blue line stops at Jackson.

It was — and still is — one of my favorite works as a journalist. The boys loved the idea of being interviewed, and I loved the rhythm and passion they put into their music.

I couldn’t imagine something this bad happening to one of them. But perhaps I should have.

One of the first things that caught my eye when I moved to Chicago in mid-2008, was how little room was given on newspapers to shootings and local deaths. It gave me the impression that what was happening was either not that relevant or perhaps it was just so ordinary, it didn’t deserve more than 10 brief lines on page 24.

Perhaps that is exactly the problem.

There are urban areas across the country (and Chicago’s South Side is definitely among these) that can be considered as dangerous as any war zone in Afghanistan or Syria.

Until these deaths — and the deaths of this country’s youngest — are not front and center in the media, no one will pay attention.

Many times in the past, news organizations have supported or brought forth social battles that turned out to improve the nation as a whole.

Perhaps it’s time to take a few minutes away from the default and debt conversations that are hammered in our brains every change of the political season, and dedicate that time to telling millions of viewers/readers/listeners that there is a war inside the U.S. boundaries.

And it’s time to start talking about it seriously.

Satire has always been an easy target of political powers due to its uncanny ability to pierce through the veils of propaganda and biased information.

The recent brutal attack on the popular Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat is just the latest (but certainly not the last) assault on satire and freedom of expression in general.

In Ali Ferzat’s case we can see the physical harm that has been done to the cartoonist, but often times we are not aware of other non-physical attempts to suppress freedom of expression.

Italy’s Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is a champion in the suppression of satire, which he has openly criticized in the past and whose control over Italian media has effectively marginalized Italian satire’s role for years.
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Giuseppe D’Avanzo, a great Italian journalist has left us today.

I had the fortune of meeting D’Avanzo once in late 2006, shortly after the height of what is known in Italy as “Nigergate,” a scandal that put the country right in the middle of what the United States were going through at the time with the so-called “Plamegate.”

D’Avanzo, alongside Repubblica colleague Carlo Bonini, was able to dig through the thick and intricate web of lies and deceitful acts the Italian government of Berlusconi accomplished to help out George W. Bush gather information for his campaign to start a war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq.

D’Avanzo simply did what all journalists should do: He followed the facts.

What he found out was that a robbery at the Niger embassy in Rome on New Year’s of 2001 led to the disappearance of official stamps and letterheads… and that led to many other suspicious details. Continue Reading »

There are reasons why people in and out of Italy believe Silvio Berlusconi is one of the main causes of the dumbing down of Italian people.

The main reasoning is that he has produced a new TV-dependent culture that increasingly has a more difficult time producing critical thoughts on a wide array of subjects. He has been able to set up, to put it in Marshall McLuhan’s words, the “continually beating tribal drum,” where the media is in a state of perpetual inflation of the news.

There are still some who read papers, though, and so to mitigate whatever critical thinking these readers might develop, Berlusconi has been careful to craft the newspaper version of his television credo.

Il Giornale, the daily newspaper that the current Italian prime minister bought in 1977 and sold to his brother Paolo in 1994, is his “drum-beat” machine in the newspaper industry, occasionally supported by the right-wing efforts of other pro-Berlusconi “drum-beaters” such as Libero.

The problem is much larger than a pro- or anti-Berlusconi stance of newspapers in Italy. It is the ultimate watered-down cultural environment they are producing that is most worrisome.

What’s worse, a newspaper like Il Giornale seems to have internalized and adopted a Mediaset (the media empire belonging to the Berlusconi family) approach to news. Instead of striving to be an instrument of truth and enlightenment, the paper has thrown all its aspirations of educating while informing out the window, chasing news stories with an approach that is so simplistic it is horrifying.

That is how you end up with veteran editor Vittorio Feltri writing one of the most outrageous editorials I have read in my life, titled “Those youngsters incapable of reacting.” Continue Reading »

This morning, before doing my usual round of Italian news websites, I was feeling a little sleepy, so I took my time sipping my coffee and checking out what was going on on Twitter.

A post by famous Italian journalist and former Sole 24 Ore editor in chief Gianni Riotta caught my attention immediately. Around 8:40 a.m. EST, Riotta posted the following tweet:

What that links to is the integral and unedited version of “2083. A European Declaration of Independence,” an over-1,000 page document allegedly written by Andrew Berwick, which sounds like the Anglicized name of Anders Breivik, the alleged mass-murderer who is suspected of placing a bomb in downtown Oslo and going off on a shooting spree on the island of Utoya, where a youth gathering of Norway’s ruling Labour Party was taking place.

At the moment, the number of victims is up to 93.

I was surprised and shocked at the same time to see this document in its entirety. Being a journalist myself, I quickly downloaded it and started going through its long index. Continue Reading »

Bisogna complimentarsi con la regia del programma di Rai Tre “Chi l’ha visto?” per come è riuscita a trasmettere in diretta la tragedia del ritrovamento del corpo di Sarah Scazzi.

Innanzitutto, non si può negare la genialità di aver allestito le telecamere all’interno della casa degli zii di Sarah, che in quel momento venivano interrogati dagli inquirenti. Ottima, inoltre, la scelta di mettere la madre di Sarah, Concetta, al centro del tavolo, con altre due persone (cugini, cognati? Perdonatemi, il poco interesse del conduttore in loro ha, di riflesso, condizionato la mia scarsa curiosità nei loro confronti) ai lati e l’inviata di “Chi l’ha visto?” alle sue spalle. In questo modo si circonda il soggetto di maggior interesse, senza dargli la possibilità di svicolarsi. L’imperativo è tenere puntata fissa su di lei una delle telecamere. Se scappa il pianto, si va subito al primo piano.

Ma il volto della donna non subisce grandi varizioni espressive, né lei è particolarmente loquace. Peccato, avrebbe facilitato le operazioni e soprattutto il lavoro dell’inviata.
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For the second time this year, the Huffington Post was kind enough to publish one of my recent blog posts.

Enjoy!

Italy, like every country, has its issues: blue toxic mozzarella, a young national soccer team debutting with a loss, the government on the verge of collapse.

All this news takes up space, and in today’s high-volume, high-traffic media world some news items just never make it to the top.

Like the story of a 16-year-old Romanian girl kidnapped by a fellow citizen and forced to be a prostitute on the streets of Rome, under constant death threats. She somehow managed to send her father a text message, which led Italian police to free the girl and arrest the 25-year-old woman who had kidnapped her.

Or like the news that Italian police believes foreign criminal organizations are fighting over territory in Rome to setup prostitution rings.

Or like the news that a Polish man is being held in custody and allegedly charged with human trafficking and involvement in an international crime organization that forced Polish women to work as prostitutes in Italy, Greece and Japan.

What makes it to the top, instead, is a whole lot of racist filth, like Gian Micalessin’s July 19 article on the Berlusconi-owned Il Giornale newspaper in which he affirms Moldavian citizens are ready to “invade” Italy. Lacking intellectual honesty, Micalessin uses a terroristic tone in his article to alert his readers of upcoming “waves of derelicts” coming to Italy.

Micalessin could have at least mentioned the U.S. Department of State’s annual Trafficking in Persons report, which clearly states: “Romanians and other children from Eastern Europe continued to be subjected to forced prostitution and forced begging in the country. A significant number of men continued to be subjected to forced labor and debt bondage mostly in the agricultural sector in southern Italy.”

Doesn’t sound like many immigrants to Italy come to have fun.

What Micalessin failed to mention is that among those “clandestine Moldavians” are, and will be, hundreds of women forced into prostitution to satisfy the animal instincts of a population kept ignorant thanks to newspapers like the one Micalessin works for.

As much as I appreciate Italy’s largest Catholic weekly blasting the country’s degenerated political class, I can’t hold myself from thinking how hypocritical this all sounds. To make my point, let’s start with today’s big story:

Italy’s Catholics are upset with the country’s leadership. Actually, they’re “disgusted.”

That is the underlying argument in an editorial that appeared on this week’s Famiglia Cristiana, the country’s third most distributed weekly magazine and arguably the most influential Catholic periodical among Italians. (An average 557,000 copies per week were sold in April)

The unsigned editorial, titled “A country without a leader, and politicians who fight over everything,” tries hard to deliver its punches, but it fails to mention specific names or parties. It remains vague, a practice the Church has perfected throughout the centuries:

“Public opinion, although drugged by television, is disgusted by the not-so-edifying spectacle that, almost every day, is brought to us by a political class that fights over everything,” the article states, “too far from the people and impotent at resolving the country’s serious problems.”

The editorial doesn’t limit its critique towards politicians. It also accuses the business, communications and cultural sectors of not doing their share of work to keep up moral values that evidently the Church still cares about.

“No ideas of common well-being emerge, ideas that would allow to overcome divisions and party interests.”

Sure, Italy’s modern political class doesn’t seem to be doing much for the common good. But I mostly blame this attitude on the Church, which is about 18 years too late in criticizing Berlusconi and his showbiz approach to life and politics.

Instead of opposing the rise of the media tycoon in the early 1990s, the Church let him through the main door and looked to him and his racist and xenophobe Lega Nord allies as the natural successors of the corrupt and dismantled Democrazia Cristiana, a party based on Catholic values that had ruled Italy from 1946 to 1992.

Now influential Catholic voices such as Famiglia Cristiana are saying people are “drugged by television.” But by omitting that almost all of television is in one way or another controlled by Berlusconi, whoever wrote the editorial for the magazine is carefully avoiding the larger issue: Berlusconi is responsible for having mediatically “drugged” a large portion of the Italian population.

There used to be a time when the Vatican could decide the political career of a politician. That is clearly not the case anymore, seeing how Berlusconi is still in power after all the sex scandals that plagued his 2009 summer.

The Church has long ago signed a contract with the devil. In 2005 it vehemently opposed a series of referendum on assisted reproduction and fertilization. Berlusconi and his allies were more than happy to back the Vatican’s crusade, which ended in a victory over civil liberties in the name of exclusive divine – or religious – rights on who is eligible to procreate or have a family.

If the Vatican and Italy’s influential Catholics are truly disappointed by how this government is acting, then they should ask the Italian people to forgive them for letting such a political class thrive unpunished for almost twenty years.

Once the Church has clearly admitted its faults, then it can start addressing the issue of Italian politics with a more honest and objective approach. Until then, St. Peter’s alarm bells will ring without a sound.

Maybe Italy’s embarrassing early elimination from the 2010 World Cup wasn’t all that bad.

The team of old players that had won the 2006 Cup but were unable to get passed the first round this year has been dismantled. What will debut tomorrow, in a friendly match against the Ivory Coast, is the new Italian national team, which represents a much more precise image of Italy’s growing multiracial and multiethnic population. (Despite what Berlusconi or certain fascist Facebook pages declare)

While national teams such as Germany, France, England or Holland have long embraced players born from immigrant parents, until recently Italy’s national team seemed to have a hard time letting go of the all-white identity stereotype.

Well, say hello to new head coach Cesare Prandelli, whose unbiased and color-blind approach might just be what Italians need to finally prove Mussolini’s myth of the Italian-Aryan race to be idiotically lunatic and ignorant.

The new Azzurri will feature some top young talents like “Super” Mario Balotelli, son of Ghanean immigrants and considered by many to be the most promising Italian soccer talent, and Amauri Carvalho de Oliveira, a Brazilian-born player who recently obtained Italian citizenship.

Some Italians — I’m thinking of the racist and xenophobe hardcore Lega Nord voters — might be shocked to see non-white players singing the national anthem before the game. But this segment of the population is bound to be overcome by young generations of Italians whose Albanian, Somali, Romanian, Bulgarian, Eritrean, Moroccan, Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian or Senegalese parents had originally come to Italy to find work, dignity and justice.

Welcome to the 21st century, Italia. Now all you need to do is stop electing those racist haters from the Lega Nord party.

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