Category Archives: Italy

My Political Seer from the Sibillini Mountains

Once again I have been privileged to receive pronouncements from a political voice rising from the mist of the Sibylline Mountains in Central Italy. This time Nic Mudie offers his brief but scathing views on a couple of the seemingly eternal problems dodging the EU. I have added a couple of notes in parenthesis to help foreigners understand Nic’s code. (Although some of it I don’t understand myself…)

Tsipras, I had assumed, was the demotic spelling for Cyprus in Latin script but turned out to be the moniker of a feisty fart young smeller who changes his tune about 3 times a day. But then the Greeks can be relied upon to have several words for it, whatever it is. I was also convinced that his companion in crime , if not support for Crimea in Russian hands, said ‘ Where? You fu..ers’, as he threatened to let the tyres down on poor old Schauble’s Rollstuhl (wheelchair) . It turned out that Veroufakis was just introducing his well qualified self. Having taught economics just about everywhere including Cambridge he’s now got the chance to put it into practice: call it work experience. He can be his own intern.
Once Draghi’s (head of European Central Bank) had his hissy fit about not swapping meaningless paper for worthless, watch out for extend and pretend re Greek loans. Paper vehicles like ‘variated zero coupon perpetuals ‘ will start flying around. As I said, Greeks have always got a word for it which means ‘We’re not paying’ to them and ‘ Oh yes you are’ to the German taxpayer. Wiser heads than mine will start wielding terms like bisque bonds, which means to most people: delicious creamy lobster soup (the average German will think to himself that’s far too good for those lazy Levantines and I’m not going Dutch on the restaurant bill; I only had Wurst und Kartoffel (sausage and potatoes). The term was first coined by Keynes and sought to tie interest rates and rates of repayment to changes in GDP growth.

Nuffovallthat (enough of all that): we’ve got a new president in Italy after only 4 rounds of voting and Burly boy (Berlusconi) is definitely pissed off, as this new chap is most unlikely to offer him a pardon.

Nic did send me this a few day ago and thus I am forced – to my chagrin – to add the latest on Berlusconi. He has won the final appeal against his conviction for having sex with an underaged prostitute and a few other associated charges. He had been banned from holding public office, but now that, too, is rescinded. Despite theoretically having been cleared, the 78 year-old has suffered massive damage from the disclosure of the regular “bunga-bunga parties” with prostitutes that took place in his Milan villa.

We can only hope that the Italian electorate has finally recognized this man for what he is. May they never again let themselves be seduced to elect him to public office!

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A WORLD GONE MAD

In the month since I abandoned my writing career for a job as painter, decorator and general housekeeper in a futile attempt to ameliorate the neglect I’ve lavished on my home for the last few years, it became perfectly clear to me why my writing career began so late. Instead of a head full of ideas that I longed to share with my readers, instead of rushing through pesky morning tasks to at long last reach my desk, my thoughts have been dominated by “to-do” lists, cataloging every little outstanding chore. And those lists just keep getting longer. Thinking back, it’s no wonder that during my years as a mother of three children, my brain was more than occupied with daily necessities related to soccer teams and school parent-teacher councils rather than novel plots.

Although the projects here are far from finished, I am determined to stretch my writing muscles this afternoon, lest they completely atrophy from disuse. For during my time-out, the world has not stood still.

  • Italy has a new government,
  • Germany has a new political scandal
  • and in Great Britain the temperature of the debates concerning Scottish independence is rising steadily.
  • Most astonishingly, the people of the Ukraine have succeeded in jettisoning their unloved president.

That’s a lot to cover in a blog post. Don’t worry, I’ll keep it short. Let’s start with Italy.

So the mayor of Florence turns up in Rome, uninvited and unelected, and tells Enrico Letta that he’s going to run the government now. In some such fashion that is how Matteo Renzi became the new Prime Minister of Italy. In Florence his record – and reputation – as mayor is controversial. Apparently he cared more about keeping the city cleaned up and safe for tourists than about the needs of the populace living there on a permanent basis (i.e. voters!). However, although he’s a center left politician, he has not been too easy on labor and its interests. Will he have the wherewithal to pull off the reforms necessary to turn the country around? I sure hope so. But of course, a cynical reaction would probably be more understandable. For so far, no one since World War II has emerged on the political scene with the power and gumption to clean up Italy’s Aegean Stables.

In Germany, a Social Democratic member of the Bundestag, Sebastian Edathy, laid down his mandate and left the country. Why not? Nothing wrong about that. Except evidence had  turned up showing Edathy had in the past purchased pornographic photos of children from a Canadian website. He, of course, denied the whole story. They aren’t porno, he claims, because the children aren’t posed in sexual acts. They are only naked. Uhhuh. So why did he quit and leave the country?

As if child porno wasn’t bad enough, the real scandal for Germany is that the then-minister of the interior, Hans-Peter Friedrich (Christian Socialist), informed the top ranking SPD politicians – Gabriel, Steinmeier and Oppermann (now major players in the current CDU/SPD coalition government) about their fallen angel. Friedrich, who had become agricultural minister in the new government, was forced to step down and now faces charges of disclosing classified information that allowed Edathy to flee.  And the other three SPD grandees? I wonder who they informed…and what will happen to them…

Then there is Britain. And Scotland. In coming September the Scots will be going to the polls to decide if they want to stand on their own feet rather than be a part of the United Kingdom. The Scots leader, Alex Salmond, is a lovable kind of guy. However, he seems to live in a world of his own. And I don’t just mean Edinburgh. After David Cameron and the Bank of England had declared that if the Scots secede, they will NOT be allowed to continue using the pound Sterling as their currency, Salmond still happily insisted they will. It’s just posturing, surely. “Why wouldn’t they want to share their beloved pound with us?” he muses.

Oh yeah, the EU. If they declare their independence, Scotland will no longer be a member of the European Union. What? says Salmond, that’s absurd. But the leadership of the EU has raised its collective fingers in a no / nein. You will have to apply, just like any other country who would like to join. While the Scots in favor of independence believe that their dwindling supplies of North Sea oil will fuel their new status, the population north of Hadrian’s Wall would be well advised to make a reality check before taking what looks like a plunge into the deep end.

Of course, the most exciting – and scary – story in the news at present is Ukraine. Who of us doesn’t want to see these people freed from the yoke of tyranny as embodied in the persona of Viktor Yanukovich? The good news is that he’s gone – even if he also needs to do a reality check after hearing him say he is still the rightful president of the Ukraine. So much potential for the progression of the country to a democratic and prosperous nation is evident. But it has to happen first. The Orange Revolution didn’t bring the desired results. Will this one?

Located as it is, between Europe and Russia, it is an endangered species. How far is Putin willing to go to keep the Crimea under his power for the sake of his Black Sea Fleet? One hundred years ago when the First World War broke out, the tinderbox that was the Austro-Hungarian Empire supplied the match that set off an unspeakable conflagration. Now in our 21st century, Ukraine could become a bridge to reconcile the differences between the east and the west. Or it could be a box of matches.

As citizens of the world, we have a lot on our plates. So keep reading – Stay informed. It is the only world we have.

And speaking of bridges, this is the road to the one I’ve built:  www.dchubbard-writes.com

 

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Filed under Great Britain, Italy, Politics, Writing

Washington, Rome, Berlin: High-Stake Poker Games

I knew if I waited long enough, the world would sort itself out without me needing to waste my time and energy getting all hot and bothered about US, Italian and German politics. But the poker games underway still have no final winners. Here is a progress report from this interested blogger (who has never played poker).

The first poker game is in the US: President Obama and his crew have proved themselves steadfast in the face of the Republican tea drinkers who thought they could hold the country to ransom to destroy the Affordable Care Act (aka: Obama Care).  Since there is little hope that the ultra-conservatives have actually learned anything from their failure to keep the US closed for business and mutilate US credit ratings across the world, we must count on the voters in the corresponding states to chuck these misguided creatures out of the House of Representatives in the 2014 congressional elections. Even there I am sceptical that the electorate will act. Gee, it’s a whole year away and they’ll forget how upsetting it was when all kinds of federal agencies closed down for two weeks.

But of course, the problems have not been solved, just pushed 3 months down the calendar. So the US will, once again, have the opportunity to look foolish across the globe. For whether US citizens like it or not, their country is a global power – the only remaining superpower. With this exalted title also comes a whole bushel of obligations, including those involving global security and the global economy.

For those who found the past 3 weeks entertaining, let’s not forget: The Tea Party will have another chance in January and February to upset the tea trolley  UNLESS the time in between now and then is used to actually write a US BUDGET! Now that would be novel!

In my most recent visit to the States in August, I was reminded yet again, how difficult it was to actually find out what was going on outside of the country via TV news programs. Even CCN seemed only to show US news, not like the version we get in Europe where events all over the earth are covered and we are spared the hyped-up stories of domestic violence and political scandals that preoccupy US TV news broadcasts.  If I missed the 6:30 pm world news on NBC (I think it was), that was it for the day. So why should I wonder that the country is so near-sighted and egotistical when it comes to its politics? The average Joe doesn’t know we’re out there.

Moving on to another poker game being played in ITALY!

Such a beautiful country, shame about the politicians. But lo and behold, I think I detect light at the end of the tunnel, a vision of Silvio doing social service instead of being under house arrest (when he really ought to be behind bars).  At long, long last, the Italian justice department has actually succeeded in nailing Berlusconi for a fraction of his crimes and misdemeanors after three rounds of appeals. If you want justice in Italy, you must be a patient sort.

But now the decisions are final and SB will be disqualified from holding office for at least a little while. The question remains, will it be long enough for Italy to start down the road of economic and moral recovery?  A shimmer of hope came when the government ministers from Berlusconi’s own party (i.e. the party he owns) actually refused to bring down Enrico Lette’s government when Silvio told them to. That is the equivalent of a coup d’etat! Hallelujah!

Now if we can just keep Silvio working in a  minestrone kitchen, preferably somewhere far from Rome, maybe in Domodossola or Trieste….And of course, far away from homes for teenage girls.

Again a change of scene: BERLIN. See full size image

This has been the most boring poker match to date (yawn). It has taken Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats four weeks of “exploratory” talks to decide what I (and most Germans) already knew on September 22: that they will negotiate with the Social Democrats to form a grand coalition.  Seems like a grand waste of time. Mind you, their meetings with the Green Party were very amiable. Unfortunately, sufficient common ground for a coalition was not discernible. As yet. Maybe next time.

Perhaps this poker game was necessary to keep the Social Dems on their toes, and to keep their expectations and demands well within bounds. Angela’s party will be after all the senior partner in the coming government and the SPD better not forget that. In fact, perhaps calling it a grand coalition is not really all that accurate.

I really don’t mind living in a country where politics are boring. Germany had far too much political excitement in the first half of the 20th century for anyone here to disagree with me on this point.

 

 

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Italian Politics – And the Beat Goes On and On….

I do apologize for blogging two days in a row, but my expat friend and Italy expert Nic Mudie stuck this piece in as a comment on a post. So thought I’d better put it where it belongs.

Here’s a new one for your Italian file, straight from the online pages of the Economist and the FT:

Burly Boy with his three governments has had, including a full 5 yr term, more opportunity to begin to set things aright in Italy than anybody else ( see below) .. The fact that he has not done so, is a not very handsome tribute to the political naivety of the Italians. He’s not the disease – just a symptom ; not that those can’t be nasty. Unfortunately there are still 10 million voters out there with the attention span of a gnat and the appetites and morals of a 14 yr old feral child. It beggars belief that some quite intelligent women are to be found in his political ( not domestic ) entourage . Maybe this is a comment on the misogynistic dinosaurs of the left, so the Gelminis, Santachès of this world can only have a political future as a Burly Boy handmaiden. It should be perfectly obvious but obviously is not , even to the self styled bien pensants , in Italy.that the constitution needs changing; especially re the senate and that the electoral law needs changing. Of all European nations Italy has the highest paid politicians and the greatest number of governments since 1945 (65 in all) and still counting (one lasted 9 days , two the eternity that is 11 days and two 12 days) . On the other hand it is quite possibly the worst run country in group that is much wider than just Europe. The conclusion that the entire polity, which was set up with the excesses of Fascism on the one hand and the fear of communist takeover in mind, needs a complete change is not one that most Italians seem able to draw. Until they do this mess will persist.

Tomorrow is the last, last well almost the last last for the last time critical day for Burly boy and his garden gnome plus Alpha No to see sense and realise that some kind of property tax is required. Otherwise 10 yr. spreads against 10 yr Bunds are going stratospheric as we look forward to an expensive, uncalled-for early election.

Gee, hope you all understood Nic’s cryptic message!

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Filed under Fiction and Other Truths, Italy, Politics

ITALIA POVERA – POOR OL’ ITALY!

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Almost partly inhabitable – the house that is Italy?

Today I am very pleased to welcome Nic Mudie as a guest blogger. Nic has been living in Italy since the mid-nineties and is a keen follower of local and national politics as well as the Italian economy – and has a slight bent towards satire. So I was very interested in hearing – and sharing – his take on what the hell is going on in the country. This morning’s paper has reported that Berlusconi is on the verge of withdrawing his support of the government if Enrico Letta doesn’t revoke the property tax post haste. Thus I must get this report out to my readers before it becomes redundant! For the benefit of the uninitiated (including myself), I have added “translations” of some of Nic’s nick-names in parentheses. Let’s give Nic the floor!

Ok, where have we got to in the land of the lotus beaters – i.e.  makers of Ferraris?

Beppe Grillo (head of the Five Star Movement protest party that collected 25% of vote in election) had to be told, and he was, by me in Italian and English, that he was behaving like a dickhead and that even the soporific self-serving Italian electorate would recognise a poltroon when they saw one.

Consequently, he is losing weight in the polls and, this least Plautian, if not least  plausible, of comics  is allowing Burly Boy (Silvio Berlusconi) somewhere near the levers of power. The latter  is getting his garden gnome (Renato Brunetta) to push hard for his chairmanship of a commission that is  about to be set up to re-think a constitution that should have been consigned to the bin years ago. (Try this last remark on anyone in the nation that had Seneca but eschewed democracy for lunacy and you’d think you’d put cigarette ash in the butter).

Grillo won’t give anyone a vote of confidence – which we all know is only the ref’s whistle at kick off. This self-imposed principle is, as a matter of history, not worth a light – but mountebanks of his ilk are not those to let the effing facts destroy a good argument.

So, I will. Since 1945 Italy has had  65 governments – one lasted 9 days, two eleven and two the eternity that is twelve – so we can conclude that votes of confidence  in ‘das Land wo die Zitronen blumen’ (the country where lemons bloom) obviously carry the commitment of Don Giovanni on Viagra.

The electoral law that allowed the broad left with 25.9% of the vote (Burly’s + Burlesques took 25.4% but Grillo on his own 25%) to take 55% of the seats in the lower house has resulted in a government headed by a youngish left-leaning ex-Christian democrat (Letta)  looking for support from Burly and the rest. The main bone of contention at the moment is Burly’s promise to withdraw the property tax and Letta is tempted.

However, yet again, the facts are of no importance. The average family pays 140 Euros p.a. (somewhat less than two fill-ups of a nano-Fiat), but this brings in some 1.5 billion p.a. that’s going to go missing in a moment. Meanwhile, what we would call unemployment pay is running out and is likely to start costing the Italian government about 2 billion p.a. extra in about 4 nanoseconds.

This explains Letta’s precipitous visit to the Teutonic sphere – no, I don’t mean Auntie Angie (Angela Merkel), (t’was purely a dislocation of the digit squire, honest) followed by a mea culpa to two monuments to incompetence – one Roll out the Barrel (no idea….), whom I wouldn’t put in charge of a drunken orgy in the Douro – let alone a Portuguese Parish council, and Olli Reindeer (Olli Rehn, EU Commissioner for Economic Affairs) who, despite all evidence to the contrary, still thinks he ‘s a postilion to Father Christmas. These two luminaries have agreed to let Italy out of the Brussels’ observation room because it showed a primary surplus (more tax in than government spending out BEFORE interest payment on government debt) for two years running. Well done lads! Your reputation for ineffectiveness remains unsullied.

A) The observation room disgrace means not a light, as France and Germany were the first to break the Maastricht rules (3% annual deficit 60% total government debt as  %age of GDP) and remained unpunished, and…

B) Italy’s GDP is dropping like stone so the ratios get worse even with no extra spending and, remember, real interest rates are historically ridiculously low.

When the Japanese insurance companies inter alia stop buying European bonds and the European banks are completely stuffed, interest rates will go up and Italy will have to default. Government debt this year will be about 132%, to which you can add about half again in unpaid bills to suppliers.

I didn’t mention Rumpy Pumpy (Herman van Rompuy, EU Council President) because he’s not worth mentioning. As the Euro high priest he’s perfectly placed to dismiss science as not worth believing in when you’ve got religion.

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Filed under Beginnings, Endings, Italy, Politics