Archive for the ‘Italy’ Category

Choose your poison – but not Italian poison

April 30, 2016

Good news for the Eurozone in data released today. The area grew 0.6 percent in the first quarter, faster than either the US or UK, and finally surpassed the level of GDP achieved before the global financial crisis (the US and UK did this 2-3 years ago).

Perhaps the most striking performance came from France, whose national data show quarterly year-on-year growth of 0.5 percent. This made me think. France may have sclerotic labour laws and a self-serving bureaucratic elite. But it is still a relatively grown-up country. France’s productivity record is way better than the UK’s. Its people at least live on the same planet as the Utopian economic dream by which they live. Unemployment remains grotesquely high, but growth has returned and Hollande can hold his head higher as he drives around Paris on his union-built scooter.

In Spain, too, growth has returned, despite even more grotesque unemployment following the country’s presumably acid-induced foray into the Anglo-Saxon never-never land of post-industrial, debt-fuelled, realestate driven, marginalist economic voodoo.

In sensible Germany, of course, with its revised labour laws, continued commitment to equitable growth, and its serious leader, life inevitably goes on in the sort of steady-state fashion that Anglo-Saxon economists fantasise about. Largely, I suppose, because they don’t have any Anglo-Saxon economists.

One can quite reasonably choose between any of these poisons. However, one poison is to be avoided. The Italian one. Not Anglo-Saxon-Spanish. Not Utopian French. Not sensible German. Instead, directionless decay. This, I suspect, is the price to be paid for not believing in principles. Or indeed, anything.

Here are current GDP levels of the different countries rebased to 100 in  Q1 of 2008.

United States: 111

United Kingdom: 107

Germany: 106

France: 103

Spain: 97

Italy: 92

 

Easter in Italy

April 6, 2016

Norcia 1

Norcia 2

I won’t pass any comment.

These two were taken in Norcia, in the south of Umbria.

A warm-up for Italy?

July 13, 2015

So, the Med Men caved. They didn’t have the balls to leave the Euro, which might have been their best option. However I am cautiously optimistic, because a fudge scenario in which Greeks are left in charge of structural reforms and they don’t take place (again) may have been avoided. The Med Men caved to such an extent that it looks like Commission bureaucrats and the IMF will be standing right over them as ‘they’, the Greek politicians, write and implement reform legislation. Like doing your homework with Mummy Merkel leaning down with two hands on the kitchen table. That suggests the reforms and the privatisations could actually get done. The trick is for the EU to ease the pain while the change is happening. A lot of drivel is being written about how the deal is ‘worse than Versailles’ and involves no debt forgiveness. Rubbish. Debt is a combination of principal, the interest you have agreed to pay and the term limit over which you have agreed to pay. There have already been big haircuts on the latter two (in the second, 2012 bailout), and more will come. But Mummy Merkel will have to find ways to finesse a bit of extra current spending to ease the pain of the reforms. This is far from impossible if you believe, as I do, that she is a basically decent person (I’d far rather owe her money than the British government, or indeed the average Greek politician). So let’s see. Assuming of course that those who voted No in the referendum and won don’t — not unreasonably — impose their decision by protest. If the reforms go through and Greece starts to grow that way (rather than as a result of devaluation), it is a warm-up for the Siege of Rome. Doubtless Matteo Renzi, who said he was going to Brussels to tell Frau Merkel how to behave, noted the observation of one person party to the negotiations that Tsipras had been ‘crucified’. Ouch. If, as someone once observed to me, Italians fear pain but not death, that is a horrible prospect.

More:

If you have an FT subscription, read Gideon Rachman’s column. He thinks the Greeks won’t do their homework whatever Mummy Merkel does.

Med Men

July 10, 2015

So less than a week after the Greek people reject a creditor austerity package in a referendum, the Greek prime minister offers a more comprehensive austerity package on their behalf.

And most of the media expect the Syriza coalition in parliament to support the austerity package.

The cost of the referendum, the massive disruption to the Greek banking system and real economy were for precisely nothing.

Go figure!

Still, I doubt that the Greeks, like the Italians, will deliver on the structural reforms that are required (they haven’t so far). They will continue to do the austerity, because budget cuts are easier than fixing institutional problems. But the basic issue of low growth/no growth in unreformed, over-indebted Greece and Italy will remain. Those two countries, and particularly Italy because its economy and debt are so much bigger, are the nub of the Euro-area problem.

 

Goodbye Greece

July 5, 2015

The Greeks have just voted ‘no’ to the terms of a new deal with their creditors. So what happens next?

I think that Germany-led Europe will let them fall out of the Eurozone. The Greeks think they are going to negotiate a better deal, but any improved deal just invites the likes of Italy to think they can get one. So I can’t see any way forward other than letting the Greeks go.

There will be some chaos in the financial markets, and plenty of short-term chaos in the Greek economy. But within a year a Greece run on drachmas will stabilise and start to show some growth at a more realistic exchange rate.

The bigger problem for Germany and the Eurozone core will then come into a view in a couple more years when an Italy that has not delivered structural reforms and is still barely growing sees that Greece is stabilised and starts to flirt more aggressively with leaving the Euro.

That, however, is two years away. In politics, you deal with intractable problems by kicking the can down the road. And that is why I think Greece has to go. So that Germans can try to imagine, for another couple of years, that the Euro project hasn’t been a monumental disaster.

Unfortunately it has.

That said, Spain and Ireland should be in much better shape in a couple of years which at least reduces the list of countries that might be looking for big debt hair-cuts from German and French banks.

I continue to believe that it is in Italy where the Euro mess will reach its apogee.

World’s sickest joke ends

March 28, 2015

Raffaele Sollecito and Amanda Knox have been acquitted of the murder of Meredith Kercher, a crime there was never any serious evidence they were involved in. The process took more than eight years (quite quick for Italy); they were convicted, acquitted, convicted, acquitted, and spent four years in prison.

Meanwhile Rudy Guede, who did kill Meredith Kercher, and in the most brutal, painful manner after first sexually assaulting her, is already enjoying day release from prison.

There will be no enquiry into the handling of the case by prosecuting magistrate Giuliano Mignini, whose bizarre theories and lack of professionalism had convinced two journalists to write a book about his ‘investigative’ techniques long before the Kercher case. Nor will there be an enquiry into the conduct of elements of the Perugia police that operated with total unprofessionalism and outside the law during the investigation.

Some people on the Knox side are so relieved the torment is over that they are saying their faith in Italian justice is restored. This is a terrible thing to say. The only useful purpose the case has served is to advertise to the world just how hopeless the Italian justice system is and perhaps give a tiny push towards it one day being reformed.

I have cited European Union reports on the Italian justice system in previous blogs under the ‘Italy to Avoid’ category. One other pointer I noticed recently is that the World Bank, as of 2015, ranks Italy 147th in the world for enforcement of contracts.

 

More:

Amanda Knox’s account of her trial and incarceration is well worth a read. It isn’t perfect, but it is a serious book, much more serious than many others that have been written about her and Sollecito. (By a curious coincidence, the Capanne prison where she and Sollecito were held is the same one where the carpenter on our house in Italy died; a hippy, arrested for marijuana possession, there is a good prima facie case that he was beaten to death. Needless to say, his friends who tried to pursue legal recourse will not be getting any.)

 

Later:

The first media to have put the boot into the Italian legal system that I have seen is The Economist. Bless.

Ferguson versus Perugia

November 27, 2014

Ferguson 2

 

 

 

 

 

Ferguson 3

Ferguson 4

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Ferguson, Missouri smoulders (literally and figuratively) following the decision not to indict a police officer who shot an unarmed black man dead, it is interesting to read Joshua Rozenberg’s opinion piece about the systemic failings of the arcane grand jury system that is still used in around 20 American states. It was a grand jury that decided not to indict the police officer.

What leaps out at me are the similarities between the functioning of grand juries (which only decide if there is a case to answer) and the functioning of Italy’s actual court system, as seen in the Sollecito-Knox satanic ritual murder trial in Perugia, about which I have blogged a great deal (see the ‘Italy to avoid’ tab).

The basics of a grand jury are that the prosecutor decides which witnesses to call and which witnesses to grant immunity from potential prosecution. There is no screening of jurors for potential bias and no objections can be raised about the choice of jurors. Proceedings, framed by the prosecutor who asks the questions (there is a theoretical right for jurors to ask questions at the end of testimony), are held entirely in secret and the grand jury decision is final. A longer outline of grand jury rules is here. Mostly it is the good ole boys of the south who still use grand juries, but a good number of supposedly more liberal states in the north-east do too; see here.

Well, if you look at the Sollecito-Knox satanic ritual murder trial in Perugia, several things that shocked me were: no capacity to screen jurors for bias, prosecution framed by the prosecuting magistrate (Giuliano Mignini) without any independent oversight, and jury deliberations framed and overseen in camera by the presiding judge rather than taking place independently. I am not saying this is a perfect analogue, but the excessive power granted to prosecutors and the lack of transparency do appear to be commonalities.

Of course in America the problem afflicts the indictment system in some states. In Italy it afflicts the entire national judicial process.

 

Later:

Here is another recent grand jury, in New York, failing to indict police officers over the death of a black man who was put in a choke-hold, and kept in one despite saying ‘I can’t breathe’. It was all captured on video. Coverage from the FT (sub needed). And here is coverage from The Guardian of protests in many US cities against the decision not to indict; again, the video of the police action is embedded.

10 seconds of unprovoked HK police brutality

October 3, 2014

See here. HK policeman swings around a middle-aged, passive protester so he can spray pepper spray directly into his face and eyes.

Anti-protest thugs have been attacking the Occupy movement in Causeway Bay (HK island) and Mong Kok (Kowloon) today. Police not responding to/unable to cope with this. Looks like Beijing United Front / state security people up to no good. Old-fashioned Italian-style ‘Strategy of Tension’ that allows government to sell itself as the good guys riding to the rescue amid civil chaos. Except that in Italy the protesters included terrorists who were killing people. In Hong Kong it is just kids who clean up after themselves. People on the ground in Hong Kong say students so far not reacting, moving away. Student leaders have called on those in Mong Kok to leave and come to the government offices area in Admiralty where international press is concentrated and numbers are larger.

Key link:

Here is the livestream feed from HK. Not looking good UK 1330/HK 2030.

More:

This video purports to show Hong Kong police handing out blue, anti-protest ribbons to anti-protesters in a police station. Pretty appalling if true.

Hemlock is singing a similar tune to me re. the tycoons. The point he quotes from Nicholas Bequelin is brilliantly incisive.

No, no, no

July 1, 2014

The Guardian, which has reported Sollecito-Knox pretty well, falls asleep on the job. Sorry to those who don’t give a damn about Italy, but this complaint to the readers’ editor explains:

I ask you to take a  look at the 1 July Guardian story (no byline) about the appeal of Raffaele Sollecito. It asserts (par 4) that Knox and Sollecito have previously always had a ‘rigidly joint defence’. This is 180 degrees from the truth. Part of the reason for the original conviction was that they did not have a rigidly joint defence. If Sollecito’s pending appeal implies the possibility of Knox’s guilt as part of his defence, it will in fact be consistent with the line his lawyers have pursued in the past.

If you link to my blog entries on this subject and scroll down to September 19 2012, you will find a germane entry which references, among other things, much more accurate reporting by your own paper.
I am not sure if you have just picked up an agency report here, but a court case carrying a life sentence deserves better treatment.

Ping pong

January 31, 2014

In Florence, they have re-convicted Sollecito and Knox.

My views on this case have not changed so I won’t add to what is already filed under the Italy to Avoid tab.

The Guardian has a video interview with Knox prior to the verdict that is embedded into its news coverage.

I would also recommend Knox’s book about her experiences which I think is very good and has sold very well. It isn’t available in the UK because of spineless publishers (they would say the UK’s litigant-friendly libel law), but you should be able to order from Amazon in the US or somesuch.

 


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