Posts Tagged ‘berlusconi’

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

Enjoy!

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.

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"

After 17 days as Minister for the Application of the Federalist Reform, Aldo Brancher has stepped down from his government duties to take on a court trial against him and his wife.

Brancher was nominated by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi on June 19, after which he tried in vain to appeal to a recently approved law that gave government officials the right to delay court hearings in case of “legitimate impediment.”

“I thought I had to privilege my obligations towards the nation for a brief period of time,” Brancher told Judge Annamaria Gatto in a Milan court on Monday. “But since this decision has been widely exploited, I decided to make other choices, as a sign of respect towards my family first of all and also to put an end to the speculation.”

On June 25, just six days after his nomination, Brancher had seen his legitimate impediment request denied by President Giorgio Napolitano, who did not find any valid reason why Brancher would not be able to show up for his court hearing.
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A phenomenal explanation of Italy’s horrible performances during important soccer tournaments has been given by the people at czeta.it.

Basically, every time Berlusconi is in office Italy ends up losing. In 2006, when Romano Prodi was prime minister, Italy won the World Cup.

OK, it is a little biased because the authors left out Euro ’96 (eliminated in first round), the 1998 World Cup (lost to France in the quarter-finals) and Euro 2000 (lost to France in the final).

Still, it’s pretty hilarious.

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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There’s this veteran journalist in Italy, Emilio Fede, who is known for his pro-Berlusconi bias. That’s fine with me, he’s got his political views and I respect that.

I don’t like the fact that he has a highly visible and national TV news program to express his partisan views, but he’s on a private, Berlusconi-owned

Emilio Fede, picture from mentecritica.net

(and unconstitutional) TV channel, so I guess he’s free to say what he wants.

What he’s not free to say, at least not without me getting very angry for it, is that Roberto Saviano is “not a hero,” suggesting the author of Gomorrah should not try to be at the center of attention all the time. He’s said it before, but this time it was for a different reason.

Fede, who often is infuriated with fellow staff members if some news item regarding Berlusconi goes wrong, has touched a level of indignity that I, as an Italian, am ashamed of. The journalist’s attempt at defending a shameful announcement made by Berlusconi a few weeks ago is much worse than Berlusconi’s initial criticism of Gomorrah.
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