Archive for August, 2010

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.

While Republicans and Democrats in the United States debate whether to extend former President Bush’s tax cuts for the country’s rich, some early signs of what unwise and unfunded tax cuts can do are coming from Italy.

The country’s Court of Accounts has released its report on the finances of Italian municipalities and provinces for the period 2008-09.

The big picture is scary: Municipalities have a total debt of 62 billion euro (about $81 billion), while provinces are 11.5 billion euro (about $15 million) in debt.

“The situation in general is not encouraging,” the report states, “resulting in an increased number of [indebted] local entities, some of which find themselves in alarming situations.”

In recent years municipalities, especially the smaller ones, have had to figure out strategies on how to replenish their finances. In 2008, one of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s first government acts was abolishing I.C.I., a property tax that went directly to municipalities. The previous Prodi government had already cut I.C.I. for poorer families and homeowners.

“It’s not a big deal,” Berlusconi was reported saying in 2006, in the midst of a campaign he eventually lost to Romano Prodi. “We’re talking something between 2.3 and 2.5 billion euro, an amount we can easily recover from current tax evasion.”

That was quite an understatement.

In 2009 alone, the Italian government gave between 3.5 and 3.8 billion euro to municipalities just to cover budget gaps due to the missing I.C.I. tax. Certain cities, like Genova, went as far as writing up two separate budgets, not knowing exactly how much money they would receive from the government. Just to stay on the Genova example, in February the city’s mayor, Marta Vincenzi, said the city would finally receive from the government 20 million euro of missing I.C.I. contributions. That’s a lot of money that could go to schools, police, firefighters and other city needs.

Not being an economist, I’m having a hard time understanding the reasoning behind those backing the tax cuts. I’m glad to see I’m on the same line with Alan Greenspan and Paul Krugman on this one.

So here’s my question, both to the Italian government and Republican legislators in the United States:

Where do you find the courage to promote such irresponsible budgetary decisions that would benefit a small percentage of the rich, but hurt the vast majority of the rest of the population and the country in general?

Here is Berlusconi promising to abolish the I.C.I. tax during the 2006 campaign: