Posts Tagged ‘Beppe Grillo’

Weekend reading: abuse of state power special

August 25, 2013

It has been a bumper week for abuse of state power. Here are some of the highlights:

Bradley Manning goes down for 35 years. On the watch of the ‘liberal’ president, Barack Obama. The FT (sub needed) argues that Manning got off lightly and may get parole in 10 years. The Guardian takes a different view on the proportionality of Manning’s sentence, a position closer to mine.

While the reaction pieces are being penned, Manning expresses a desire for hormone treatment to assist in a desired gender reassignment. Federal prisons offer this, military ones do not. Manning has asked that she [sic] be referred to henceforth as Chelsea, with the former name Bradley reserved only for letters to the the confinement facility at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. There are worse ways to spend half an hour than writing him/her a letter of support, so why not do so?.

From, for me, the damaged but well-meaning Manning to the thoughtful, lucid and brave Edward Snowden. In the UK, Alan Rusbridger, Guardian editor, reveals threats from the British government, securocrats, and indirectly from David Cameron himself, to pre-emptively shut down further reporting of the Snowden cache using British legal powers of pre-emption.

It is depressing to read how the poodles in the UK government told their bosses in Washington that Guardian journalist Glen Greenwald’s partner David  Miranda would be detained at Heathrow, how Met police say they checked they were using anti-terrorism legislation correctly and how the police reckon they were procedurally perfect. Having taken the call from the lickspittle Brits, Washington then moved to distance itself from the Miranda detention and the seizure of his possessions, saying it wouldn’t happen in the US. As the Economist points out (sub needed), the anti-terrorism legislation under which Miranda was detained was established for the police to ascertain if a person “is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism”. To use such legislation against journalists is grotesque.

Over to China, where 70 policemen take the unusual risk of appending their thumbprints to a denunciation of the acting president of the Shanghai High Court who, they say, has been engaged in massive long-term corruption including stealing several tons of alcohol from the police booze budget each year. Court president Cui Yadong was already feeling the heat after senior Shanghai judges were recently captured on video cavorting with prostitutes. The video of the judges has had over 4 million hits.

Separately in China, the New York Times discusses ‘Document number 9’ and the alleged ‘seven subversive currents’ at large in the Chinese nation. Per my recent blog about Xi Jinping, we are starting to get more visibility on the new Chinese president and what we are seeing is not pretty. Xi’s evolving proto-Maoist approach to politics provides the background to the trial on corruption and abuse of power charges of fellow princeling Bo Xilai, which started this week. Bo was the person who invented the ‘New Red’ school of modified Maoist populism when he was running Chongqing. As Xi and pals move to crush him, the irony and hypocrisy are not lost on John Garnaut in Foreign Policy.

Here in Italy, meanwhile, we are enjoying a peculiarly Italian twist on the abuse of state power. Silvio Berlusconi, having been definitively condemned for a felony for the first time, has opted for an attack on state power that recalls, for me, Italy’s fascist past (much more so than the claims, which I previously dismissed on this site, that Beppe Grillo is proto fascist). Over the Ferragosto holiday Sil promised a programme of direct action on Italy’s beaches, with his supporters leafleting holiday makers who would otherwise be trying to catch a rest. The focus of Sil’s campaign is not so much a proposal for structural reform of the judiciary, or indeed enforcement of existing norms (which would be half the job done already), but instead a direct attack on magistrates and judges as a species. The strategy has more than a whiff of hoped-for intimidation.

Here is a lead story (in Italian) from Berlusconi’s Il Giornale during the holiday. Although the article was on the front page, it has no news content, and comprises a simple frontal assault on the judiciary, likening its perceived efforts to ‘attain political power’ over the nation to Mao Zedong’s Long March. The connection with Maoism/communism is established in the first sentence. Italy, we learn, does not have a mundanely inefficient legal system to be improved by systemic change, but an extremist, personal, visceral political conspiracy against the Italian people (to wit, Sil and his businesses).

Here are some current icons from Berlusconi’s PDL/FI site:

banner-forzasilvio pdl-logo 20ANNI-DI-CACCIA-UOMO 995980_621688441198598_1936708951_n 998453_620420304658745_378895156_n 998913_622166501150792_278588033_n 1097945_620420421325400_707118344_n slide-1-638

The manner in which Berlusconi’s personal interests, those of the Mediaset group he controls, and national politics are conflated is bewildering for anyone from the First World. But of course this is not the First World. Next month Sil will relaunch Forza Italia (FT, sub needed), his original political movement named for a football chant (in the country that now boasts the worst record of football violence and racism in western Europe). ‘Ancora in campo’ / Back on the Field is the new tag line.

To me the strategy looks more than a little fascistic, involving as it does an attack on the institutions of the state and promises of more direct action. However, as the holidays wind down I suspect that we won’t see a proto-fascist movement take hold in Italy. Instead we will see business as usual.  The main evidence of Sil’s promised campaign of direct action so far (the plan on the beaches described here in the FT, sub needed) is a few Forza Italia militants in Rome (here telling journalists they have not been paid to march, that they are ‘spontaneous volunteers’ and that they have ‘just come for Him [Sil]’) and a pisspoor little plane dragging a bit of superannuated toilet paper above a few holidaymakers. ‘Forza Italia, Forza Sil’, I think it says.

I don’t want to do you down Sil, but I’m not sure you’ve really got the fascist cojones for this thing….

Forza Italia sul ferragosto 2013

Meanwhile, my own experience with abuse of state power occurs when I stop at Sasso, the bar on the river on the way to Citta di Castelllo. Despite the fact that there were few people around when I stopped, and lots of safe parking available, a carabinieri police car was parked across the zebra crossing that leads to the children’s playground, with two wheels outside the white parking line and hence well into the road. Thinking this a bit slack, even by Italian police standards, I took a photo on my phone. Walking into the bar, I found two carabinieri eating cream buns. I bought a small bottle of cold water and went outside to drink it in the sun.

While I was doing this, it seems one of regular clients at the bar told the carabinieri I had taken a photo. One of the carabinieri came over and demanded ‘a document’. Of course, I said, handing him my EU photo driving licence. He took it away and wrote down all the details, resting on the boot of his car. Then he came back and said: ‘I have taken down all your details because you took a photo.’ I replied: ‘Yes I did take a photo because of the way you parked.’ The policeman responded: ‘You have no idea what business we are engaged on here.’ I resisted the urge to reply: ‘It looked like you were engaged in eating cream buns.’ Both policemen were standing over me, not completely in my face, but close enough to make me feel uncomfortable.

The officers then made a series of threats:

1. ‘We have your details. If that photo is published on the Internet [he only seemed concerned about the Internet] we know who you are.’ I replied that I have no problem with them knowing who I am.

2. [from the second carabinieri, thinner and younger]: ‘That is a MILITARY vehicle. Do you understand?’ I replied that I am fully aware that the carabinieri is a para-military force.

3. The first officer mentioned seizing my phone (the verb he employed was ‘sequestrare’). I remained impassive, just looked him in the eye. There were a few people around the bar (maybe 8), plus the female boss, whom I have known for years. He didn’t take the phone in the end, just saying: ‘Get rid of that photo or I will seize your phone.’ I said nothing.

2013-08-16 11.56.41

At this point the policemen appeared to run out of threats. They went back to their car, got in it, turned around, and followed me to Citta di Castello, before turning off in the direction of the police station. Should I complain to the justice system or should I launch a proto-fascist programme of direct action? Thankfully this dilemma no longer presents itself. I now live in Cambridge. I think I’ll just go home.

More:

If you would like to harass people on street corners until Silvio is let off his felony, you should be able to sign up at the site below. (Latest talk is of a general amnesty for convicted felons facing up to as much as four years’ jail time. This would be a triple triumph — saving money spent on prisons, reducing Italy’s huge trial waiting lists, and getting Sil off his fraud sentence (plus other sentences that may soon follow). The only downside would be to put a few thousand crooks, some of them violent, back on the streets. What is not to like?)

ForzaSilvio.it

When Britain was like Italy

April 21, 2013

A day in London allows for a few minutes talking about How Asia Works on CNBC here, and a longer discussion on the UK’s Monocle Radio ‘Globalist’ programme, (beginning at the 16 minute mark).

In between I decide to spend a couple of hours wandering the corridors of the Royal Courts of Justice, as the large building that contains the High Court of Justice and the Court of Appeal on The Strand is confusingly called. The place is of interest to anyone who wants to understand the need to constantly reform institutions. In particular, Italians should visit this building. It was constructed in the late 19th century to stop the British justice system being what Italy’s is today.

Law Royal Courts panorama

Before anyone enters, the essential book to read is Charles Dickens’ Bleak House, probably his greatest, which centres on a legal case that has multiplied and gone on for so long that no one can really remember exactly what the case is about, or quite why it started. People just attend hearings because the case(s) has(ve) taken on life(ves) of its(their) own. All that is clearly remembered is that the whole, huge, expensive, draining, painful affair concerns the Jarndyce family, which is enshrined in the case name, Jarndyce v Jarndyce. The different sides of the Jarndyce family just do what the lawyers tell them, and the case does not end until it has consumed all the family’s money, and caused the death of a sympathetic character, because the system makes it possible for cases never to end.

Things were so bad in the British legal system by the 1860s — students of development should note that this had not stopped the British economy growing and becoming the world’s most powerful — that there was eventually a cross-party consensus that radical reform was necessary. A royal commission (essentially an independent review) was set up to consolidate a morass of different legal institutions under one roof, streamline procedures and simplify judicial processes so that the system worked. The Royal Courts of Justice, which opened with their 18 (now 88) courts in 1882, shunted Britain on from the world of Bleak House. Opening the court, Queen Victoria’s speech stated the aim was to ‘conduce to the more speedy and efficient administration of justice’.

Almost always, you can just wander in to a court here and sit down and listen to what is going on. I spent half an hour observing the goings on in each of two randomly selected courtrooms. In Italy, I haven’t seen courtrooms beyond the provincial level (except on television). But some very loose points of comparison can be offered. Here in London there is no chatting during court proceedings, no playing around with mobile phones, no lawyers saying hello to their friends and colleagues in court while ignoring their clients, no male lawyers dedicating their working day to trying to flirt with any woman in sight. And everything is taped. When I once asked to tape record proceedings in an Italian court the judge grudgingly acceded, but with a look that suggested I was proposing a coup d’etat.

Unlike Italian courts, the Royal Courts give a sense of being places where stuff gets done. This is not to say that there isn’t plenty wrong with the justice system in the UK. However, compared with Italy, this is the modern world. The Royal Courts are a living museum of institutional development that is well worth a visit. For the kids, there is a room displaying all the silly outfits that judges and lawyers have worn over the years — and thankfully wear less of these days. The grown-up exhibit is the institutional progress captured in quite a beautiful building with its varied, interesting and business-like courtrooms.

Could Italy have the same thing in the foreseeable future? One way to consider this is to remember that the leaders who made the British reforms of the 1870s possible were Gladstone and Disraeli, working in concert. Would you consider that any of the putative ‘reformers’ of contemporary Italian politics — Monti,Berlusconi, Bersani, or Grillo — is in their league?

More

Imagine this in Italy: Edwin Wilkins Field, one of the key reformers and the Secretary to the royal commission of 1865 on the Royal Courts of Justice, declined remuneration!

Evolution continues: didn’t have time to go see it, but the latest addition to the Royal Courts is the Rolls Building, opened in 2011.

Italy grotesque

April 18, 2013

Franco Marini

Silvio Berlusconi

Bersani old

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s papers report that an 80 year-old former Christian Democrat is to be chosen as Italy’s new president.

It is like the declining days of the Soviet empire, starring gerontocrats whose names no one could even bother to remember any longer.

Berlusconi, it is said, wants Franco Marini because, in part, he thinks he will shield him from prosecution.

Bersani, we can only presume, wants Franco Marini because he is even less capable of looking beyond the old Italian politics than Berlusconi is.

What this really shows is that Grillo was correct with his Dead Man Talking rejection of any alliance with Bersani. On the other hand, Grillo’s own suggestion for president is another 80 year-old, Stefano Rodota, and like Marini, another lawyer. (Note that every president of the Philippines from Manuel Quezon to Cory Aquino — 10 in a row — was a lawyer. The Philippines is the east Asian country that has gone backwards fastest in the past 50 years. Can the Italians beat that record? I wouldn’t bet against them.)

The upshot of all this must be that Italy returns to the polls in July. Bersani will go. The left will come up with a new leader, most likely Matteo Renzi, and then we will see if he has any policies.

The Unspeakable Truth, however, is that only Thatcherite shock that breaks up an ocean of vested interests can work for Italy at this point. But who dare say this, let alone do what is necessary? My guess is no one, which pushes me to the conclusion that the likelihood of Italy leaving the Euro is now 50:50. Italy can leave, devalue, and squeeze a few more years out of its existing economic model. Growing up is a choice, not a compulsion.

More

Corriere della Sera (in Italian) reports that Marini did not get a quorum of votes in the first round, but there will be another vote today. Word is that Bersani’s party is splintering as the votes go forward.

FT (sub needed) on Marini.

AFP backgrounder on Marini. Heartwarming tales of childhood poverty, though apparently he ‘kills with a silencer’.

Wikepedia’s entry on Marini.

Grillo rails against Marini in one of his piazza screaming events.

STOP PRESS: Later on the 18th

It looks like Bersani’s PD is imploding as Marini fails again in the second vote. Corriere della Sera reports the latest here in Italian. PD will ask that further votes on the presidency are postponed and meet internally on Friday. At this point, Bersani isn’t just dead, he’s entered full rigor mortis. Will he have the cojones to refuse to resign this week? I reckon that in the ugliest traditions of Italian politics that will be the case. Never, ever, ever put your country before yourself… (Isn’t that a quote from Silvio?)

Guy Dinmore in Rome has filed an excellent, long article about the state of Italy for the FT (sub needed).

REPRINT PRESS FROM MAY 2006:

A brilliant Italian solution. Unable to agree on a new president, the politicians re-elect the previous one — spritely 87 year-old Giorgio Napolitano. The first rule of Italian politics is observed: if in any doubt whatsoever, do nothing. Having failed to broker a deal to form a government in his first presidency, Napolitano now has seven more years to create one. Moreover, if he gets a third term in 2020, he’ll be 101 when he retires. Really super.

To go left, Italy first needs to turn right

March 11, 2013

It is political impasse in Italy. In the fourth quarter the economy shrank by 2.8 per cent compared with a year earlier; it has been in recession for the best part of two years and shows no sign of improving.

Pier Luigi Bersani is trying to form a government, but no Italian can say with conviction that the left offers a way out of Italy’s morass. It is a pipedream to think the country can pursue a ‘left-wing’ economic strategy that requires a high level of social trust and professional conduct among the population.

Trust and professionalism barely exist in Italy. This is not Germany, or one of the Scandinavian countries. It is a nation where lawyers and accountants lead the way in cheating their taxes. There is no foundation on which to build a socially advanced economy.

To construct such a foundation, Italy has to turn right if it wants to arrive on the left. The labour market must be deregulated so that older people do not retain jobs at the expense of mass unemployment for the young. The structure of the judiciary must be turned upside down and the professional classes held to account so they begin to provide some basic moral leadership for the country. Stuff like not taking cash payments for legal work or reflexively advising clients how to dodge their taxes.

The era when Italy needed bureaucracy in order to guide its economic take-off is long gone. Now Italy needs meritocracy and responsbility — from its professional classes and from its organised labour. The country is simply too backward to progress by moving left. First it has to go right. Which is why Beppe Grillo was correct on Monday to threaten to leave politics if M5S forms a government with Bersani.

The real problem is that Italy does not have an economic ‘right’. Berlusconi did almost nothing to restructure the economy in four terms of power. He is mainly right-wing in the sense that he is crass, racist and contemptuous of ordinary people. Monti is also not of the economic right. He is patrician, a veteran of the old Italian developmental state and the new, more northern European politics of Brussels.

 

More:

Fitch downgraded Italy again on Friday (FT sub needed).

 

Goofy is not a fascist, he’s just Goofy

March 5, 2013

Mussolini with fag

Ital election goofy

Ital election grillo red beret

Very good work from Gideon Rachman in the FT (sub needed), who explains why Beppe Grillo is not the same as Benito Mussolini.

It is necessary to do this because Britain’s cretinous Tory thought-leading (ho, ho) rag, The Spectator, has run a long piece saying that Grillo is like Mussolini. Presumably this is what comes from spending your time in Italy by a pool at a villa in Tuscany,

Only against the British can one imagine having to defend an Italian, but here goes:

‘Parties, he [Grillo] is adamant, are the problem, not the solution.’ I don’t think Grillo has ever said or believed this. Indeed he is urging the proper parties to get on and announce policies that will command the support of the electorate.

‘Grillo, a former communist, was banned from national television in the late 1980s as a result of his defamatory performances.’ It is political convention in Italy that public service television stations are controlled by the major political parties. The private stations that everyone watches are controlled by Berlusconi. No one who makes good political jokes gets on television (that’s why there is no comedy on Italian television). This has nothing to do with defamation.

‘Whereas Mussolini spread the word through his own mass daily newspaper Il Popolo d’Italia, and enforced it by means of his blackshirts, Grillo does so through his website, Il Blog di Beppe Grillo, and violent verbal abuse and ostracism of opponents. Whereas Mussolini travelled by train to his rallies, Grillo travels to his by camper van.’ As above, established political parties in Italy have or control their own television stations and newspapers (and banks, and supermarkets). Grillo uses the internet because it is the only affordable entry point for a non-established party or non-billionaire. On travel, I am not clear how Mussolini on a train is the analogue of Grillo in a camper van. What is The Spectator’s approved pro-democratic vehicle? BMW 5-series? Range Rover Evoque?

‘Italian fascism, even though no one is allowed to say so, was a left-wing revolutionary movement which Mussolini founded because the first world war had made him realise that the proletariat is more loyal to its nation than its class.’ It is the nationalism, the racism and the militarism that largely makes fascism fascism and different from socialism. Hence the term national socialism. However the idea that fascism is left-wing and, by implication, right-wing extremism does not exist is so good that it is repeated a couple of pars later: ‘Like fascism, Grillo’s movement is essentially left-wing.’  This is what the 15 nuts who buy The Spectator read it for.

You guessed it:

The author of the Spectator piece interviewed Berlusconi for the rag in 2003 and had the following incisive conclusion: ‘On the whole, I think Berlusconi – a Latino Thatcherite – a very good thing for Italy.’

Back in the real world:

Gideon Rachman also points out that after the monumental Iceland crisis, voters elected a stand-up comedian mayor of Reykjavic. Now they’re on the mend. At least Goofy never recorded a theme song or patted a rock.

Dog rejects bone, declares duck pâté

February 27, 2013

After only a quick sniff, Goofy has rejected the bone offered to him by Donald Duck. Worse still, Goofy stayed up all night making a digital collage of Donald Duck in a death shroud, declaring (and I have to say I sympathise) that any self-respecting duck who had led his followers to such a disastrous showing in this week’s Disneyland election should have resigned immediately.

Ital election Bersani death shroud Grillo

 

Even worse still, it turns out that Goofy has kept a list of all the nasty things that Donald has said about him since the beginning of Disneyland itself and Goofy has posted the list to his web site:

Con Grillo finiamo come in Grecia
Lenin a Grillo gli fa un baffo
Sei un autocrate da strapazzo
Grillo porta gente fuori dalla democrazia
Grillo porta al disastro
Grillo vuol governare sulle macerie
Grillo prende in giro la gente
Nei 5 Stelle poca democrazia
Grillo fa promesse come Berlusconi
Grillo dice cose sconosciute a tutte le democrazie
Grillo? Può portarci fuori da Europa
Basta con l’uomo solo al comando, guardiamoci ad altezza occhi, la Rete non basta
Se vince Grillo il Paese sarà nei guai
Siamo di gran lunga il primo partito e questo vuol dire che siamo compresi. Perché a differenza di quello lì che urla, noi ci guardiamo in faccia, noi facciamo le primarie, stiamo tra la gente
Indecente, maschilista come Berlusconi
Da Grillo populismo che può diventare pericoloso
Ora questo smacchiatore fallito ha l’arroganza di chiedere il nostro sostegno: “So che fin qui hanno detto ‘tutti a casa’ ora ci sono anche loro, o vanno a casa anche loro o dicono che cosa vogliono fare per questo paese loro e dei loro figli“.

So much for dogs being ‘best friends’!

Ital election goofy angry

Ital election Grillo FO

Goofy’s blog is here.

The dog has it

February 25, 2013

As polls closed in Disneyland today, it looked like the big winner was Goofy. And why not? Given the choice between Mickey Mouse, Mini Mouse and Donald Duck, I might well have voted for Goofy myself.

The result puts Disneyland right back at the centre of global entertainment. All that stuff about a post-global crisis return to normality was so much hot air. It is time to tune in for the next episode of the Disney story — the biggest, most unbelievable, most enduring cartoon of them all.

Ital election goofy

Ital election grillo red beret

Ital election Grillo votes buffon

That is sooo not all folks!

See where Goofy’s votes came from:

This graphic from Corriere della Sera is useful. It shows the fall in the popular vote for, in turn, Berlusconi’s mob, Berlusconi’s pro-fascist Northern League allies, Bersani’s mob, and the rump of the Christian Democrats (UDC).  All the ‘traditional’ parties haemorrhaged votes. In terms of what people who turned away from the traditional parties did, around half of Beppe Grillo’s vote came from the centre left Democratic Party. To me, that says Bersani has to go. But of course he won’t go, because Italian politicians of the left don’t understand principle any more than ones from the right.


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