Archive for the ‘Berlusconi’ Category

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 »

For the second time this year, the Huffington Post was kind enough to publish one of my recent blog posts.

Enjoy!

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:

No one is allowed to take pictures in front of the 15th century mural “The Last Supper,” by Leonardo Da Vinci… except for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who recently took Russian President Dimitri Medvedev on a sightseeing tour of Milan.
Berlusconi and Medvedev smile in front of Leonardo Da Vinci's "The Last Supper"

On June 19 a new minister, Aldo Brancher, was nominated to take over the government’s efforts to pursue what is known in Italy as “federalism,” a plan long sought after by the separatist party Lega Nord.

Brancher is a highly controversial figure in recent Italian history.

As journalist Marco Travaglio pointed out on Il Fatto Quotidiano, Brancher was arrested on June 18, 1993, right in the middle of the Tangentopoli scandal that rocked Italian politics in the early ’90s.

Brancher, who at the time was working for Berlusconi’s Fininvest, was accused of bribery by Giovanni Marone, former secretary to Health Minister Francesco De Lorenzo. Marone had this to say about Brancher:

“Brancher came to me on behalf of Fininvest to ask for a larger slice of advertising in the anti-Aids campaign [on the Fininvest TV channels]. And when this privilege was realized, he was thankful and paid me with 300 million lire (approximately $150,000) in two payments.”

After three months in jail Brancher was released and then charged 2 years and 8 months of jail-time for illegal financing and false accounting.

The third and final degree of justice got him off the hook thanks to Berlusconi, who in the meantime had become head of the government, starting to pass all sorts of laws favorable to his many legal troubles.
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If you thought former President George W. Bush’s illegal wiretapping spree of a few years ago was bad, think again. Italy and Italians have it much worse.

“Everyone is being spied on,” said Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi today.

Speaking in front of the assembly of Confcommercio, the Italian General Confederation of Enterprises, Berlusconi calmly (for once) explained why the Italian Senate has recently approved a law that would prohibit journalists from publishing court documents containing recorded phone conversations and would make prosecutors’ jobs much harder by limiting the use of wiretapping possible suspects.

He said that 150,000 phones are currently being wiretapped in Italy. Making a rough estimate of the people involved in the phone conversations, Berlusconi said that 7 million people are being listened to every day.

That’s an awful high number of people to listen to. I’m wondering how many people are employed to do this? With just over 100.000 police officers in Italy, you’d think someone else is doing the job.
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Silvio Berlusconi loves to joke around.

He probably thought he was really funny today, too, when he criticized unspecified studies on press freedom that place Italy in a pretty low position. (I have reason to believe it’s Freedom House’s Map of Press Freedom, where Italy is the only western European country, alongside Northern Ireland, classified as “partly free.”)

“If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Italy has too much press freedom. That is an undisputable fact,” he said in between chuckles during an official press conference.

He loves press freedom and freedom of speech so much he’s making sure journalists stay free by suing them for enormous amounts of money.
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Last week, former Cincinnati mayor Ken Blackwell was on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show to present his book: “Blueprint: Obama’s Plan to Subvert the Constitution and Build an Imperial Presidency.”

Aside from being very bad at making his point, Blackwell wasn’t able to answer a simple question about the TITLE of the book: “Specifically, how is Obama subverting the Constitution?”

Blackwell stumbled and muttered something about Obamacare and appellate court judges to be appointed by the president.

If this is subversive, please find someone to export this model to Italy.

Napolesconi, by Gippo - Gyp, 2005

What Blackwell (and co-author Ken Klukowski) need to do is read some books on Italy’s prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Only then will they have a clearer idea of what “subverting the constitution” means.

Here are just a few facts to back up what I’m saying.
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