The Man who Screwed an Entire Country [The Economist]


Silvio Berlusconi’s record

The man who screwed an entire country

The Berlusconi era will haunt Italy for years to come

Jun 9th 2011 | from the print edition [The Economist]

SILVIO BERLUSCONI has a lot to smile about. In his 74 years, he has created a media empire that made him Italy’s richest man. He has dominated politics since 1994 and is now Italy’s longest-serving prime minister since Mussolini. He has survived countless forecasts of his imminent departure. Yet despite his personal successes, he has been a disaster as a national leader—in three ways.

Two of them are well known. The first is the lurid saga of his “Bunga Bunga” sex parties, one of which has led to the unedifying spectacle of a prime minister being put on trial in Milan on charges of paying for sex with a minor. The Rubygate trial has besmirched not just Mr Berlusconi, but also his country.

However shameful the sexual scandal has been, its impact on Mr Berlusconi’s performance as a politician has been limited, so this newspaper has largely ignored it. We have, however, long protested about his second failing: his financial shenanigans. Over the years, he has been tried more than a dozen times for fraud, false accounting or bribery. His defenders claim that he has never been convicted, but this is untrue. Several cases have seen convictions, only for them to be set aside because the convoluted proceedings led to trials being timed out by a statute of limitations—at least twice because Mr Berlusconi himself changed the law. That was why this newspaper argued in April 2001 that he was unfit to lead Italy.

We have seen no reason to change that verdict. But it is now clear that neither the dodgy sex nor the dubious business history should be the main reason for Italians looking back on Mr Berlusconi as a disastrous, even malign, failure. Worst by far has been a third defect: his total disregard for the economic condition of his country. Perhaps because of the distraction of his legal tangles, he has failed in almost nine years as prime minister to remedy or even really to acknowledge Italy’s grave economic weaknesses. As a result, he will leave behind him a country in dire straits.

A chronic disease, not an acute one

That grim conclusion might surprise students of the euro crisis. Thanks to the tight fiscal policy of Mr Berlusconi’s finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, Italy has so far escaped the markets’ wrath. Ireland, not Italy, is the I in the PIGS (with Portugal, Greece and Spain). Italy avoided a housing bubble; its banks did not go bust. Employment held up: the unemployment rate is 8%, compared with over 20% in Spain. The budget deficit in 2011 will be 4% of GDP, against 6% in France.

Yet these reassuring numbers are deceptive. Italy’s economic illness is not the acute sort, but a chronic disease that slowly gnaws away at vitality. When Europe’s economies shrink, Italy’s shrinks more; when they grow, it grows less. As our special report in this week’s issue points out, only Zimbabwe and Haiti had lower GDP growth than Italy in the decade to 2010. In fact GDP per head in Italy actually fell. Lack of growth means that, despite Mr Tremonti, the public debt is still 120% of GDP, the rich world’s third-biggest. This is all the more worrying given the rapid ageing of Italy’s population.

Low average unemployment disguises some sharp variations. A quarter of young people—far more in parts of the depressed south—are jobless. The female-participation rate in the workforce is 46%, the lowest in western Europe. A mix of low productivity and high wages is eroding competitiveness: whereas productivity rose by a fifth in America and a tenth in Britain in the decade to 2010, in Italy it fell by 5%. Italy comes 80th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index, below Belarus and Mongolia, and 48th in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings, behind Indonesia and Barbados.

The Bank of Italy’s outgoing governor, Mario Draghi, spelt things out recently in a hard-hitting farewell speech (before taking the reins at the European Central Bank). He insisted that the economy desperately needs big structural reforms. He pinpointed stagnant productivity and attacked government policies that “fail to encourage, and often hamper, [Italy’s] development”, such as delays in the civil-justice system, poor universities, a lack of competition in public and private services, a two-tier labour market with protected insiders and exposed outsiders, and too few big firms.

All these things are beginning to affect Italy’s justly acclaimed quality of life. Infrastructure is getting shabbier. Public services are stretched. The environment is suffering. Real incomes are at best stagnant. Ambitious young Italians are quitting their country in droves, leaving power in the hands of an elderly and out-of-touch elite. Few Europeans despise their pampered politicians as much as Italians do.

Eppur si muove

When this newspaper first denounced Mr Berlusconi, many Italian businesspeople replied that only his roguish, entrepreneurial chutzpah offered any chance to modernise the economy. Nobody claims that now. Instead they offer the excuse that the fault is not his; it is their unreformable country’s.

Yet the notion that change is impossible is not just defeatist but also wrong. In the mid-1990s successive Italian governments, desperate not to be left out of the euro, pushed through some impressive reforms. Even Mr Berlusconi has occasionally managed to pass some liberalising measures in between battling the courts: back in 2003 the Biagi labour-market law cut red tape at the bottom, boosting employment, and many economists have praised Italy’s pension reforms. He might have done much more had he used his vast power and popularity to do something other than protect his own interests. Entrepreneurial Italy will pay dearly for his pleasures.

And if Mr Berlusconi’s successors are as negligent as he is? The euro crisis is forcing Greece, Portugal and Spain to push through huge reforms in the teeth of popular protest. In the short term, this will hurt; in the long term, it should give the peripheral economies new zip. Some are also likely to cut their debt burden by restructuring. An unreformed and stagnant Italy, with a public debt stuck at over 120% of GDP, would then find itself exposed as the biggest backmarker in the euro. The culprit? Mr Berlusconi, who will no doubt be smiling still.

from the print edition | Leaders

http://www.economist.com/node/18805327?story_id=18805327&CFID=172274374&CFTOKEN=18162879

Reactions to Bin Laden’s death on Yom Ha Shoah


Today is Yom HaShoah (יום השואה) the Holocaust Remembrance Day, or, as many prefer to call it, the Shoah Remembrance Day (to see why you should call it Shoah and not Holocaust, read here). In Israel, sirens sound for two minutes all over the country and everyone ceases their activities no matter what they are doing, where and why in order to pay tribute to the memory of the 6 million Jews and 5 million other victims killed during the Shoah.

Here are some pictures of Yad Vashem Museum in Jerusalem, which I took in August 2010. The pictures are all in black and white, because photographs cannot convey the emotions experienced during the visit to Yad Vashem: the total absence of colours is an attempt to crystallize this moment of mourning and recollection.

The triangle is the shape of the building hosting Yad Vashem. This picture shows the part visible externally, while the rest of the building continues below ground level. The triangle represents half of the Star of David (Maghen David) as a sign of mourning for the death of millions of Jews. While 6 million of Jews died during the Shoah, the names of only 3 millions of them have been identified to date and are listed inside Yad Vashem.

Below, some pictures of people’s reactions after visiting Yad Vashem. A feeling that, from my own experience, I can describe as a painful feeling of suffocation both caused by the thoughts about the number of victims and the atrocities they suffered, and, at the same time, the terribly dry heat that seems to be like a physical way to remind us about the weight and importance of that place.

On this year’s Yom Ha Shoah, the killing of Osama Bin Laden has been announced by the U.S. President Obama. Some part of the world (the U.S. in particular) is rejoicing, while others (to mention one example, Hamas) are mourning his death.

I believe both reactions to be wrong and non-sensical. No one should ever celebrate anyone’s death, even when it is the enemy’s death (whatever “enemy” might mean, I will not discuss this issue here): it would mean putting oneself on the same play-field as the “enemy” one is claiming to have fought.

At the same time, rejoicing of Bin Laden’s death seems to be both naive and counter-provocative: does anyone seriously believe this to be the end of the international threat of terrorism? I wish it were, but I very strongly doubt so. Rejoicing of his death could even bear serious consequences to security which should be carefully weighed out by people standing in the streets…and here I come to comment the second and opposite reaction to Bin Laden’s death: mourning.

Isn’t it ironic that, on Yom Ha Shoah, Hamas and Iran are mourning Bin Laden’s death declaring he was the only “Arab holy warrior” and condemning “Zionist terror”? This is only to prove that we must continue being aware of the dangers to international security and we mustn’t put our guards down now believing “everything is over”.

Perhaps, one should consider more seriously some of the more moderate views coming from Egypt, where Issam al-Aryan of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood responded to Bin Laden’s death by stating that “it’s time the world understood that there is no connection between violence and Islam” and now calling on the U.S. to withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq.

As for myself, I am still slightly bewildered by the news of Bin Laden’s death and I don’t really feel like this event equips me with any additional information allowing me to comment on the world’s future of war or peace. Maybe this is because, in fact, absolutely nothing will change after Bin Laden’s death.

How do you feel about the news of Bin Laden’s death?

Do you think this news has overshadowed the importance of Yom Ha Shoah?

A Letter to the Egyptian People (Source: Shalom Hartman Institute)


A Letter to the Egyptian People   (13/02/2011)

By DONNIEL HARTMAN

Dear Neighbor:

We, your neighbors, have been speaking a lot about you these last few weeks. As the status quo in your country to which we have become accustomed has changed, some of us expressed concern, others hope, and still others, admiration. Each view has its pundits, whose reading of the “facts” (your reality) seemed somehow to always fit into their pre-existing worldview.

The truth is that we don’t know. We don’t know, first and foremost, who you are. You see, for the last 30 years it seems, we never got a chance to talk. We spoke with your leaders, but as you so aptly proved, they don’t speak for you anymore, if they ever did.

We got used to and comfortable with the existing state of affairs and learned how to adapt and work with it in ways that would fit our own national interests and aspirations. We all must now come to terms with the fact that it is not only about us, but about you. We must begin a new conversation with you, a partner that has declared loud and clear that your voice – the voice of the people – must and will be heard.

First, let me start then with a hello. As neighbors, we have had a long relationship, filled with many different memories. I remember as a young teenager the feelings of fear that you aroused when in 1973 your armies crossed the Suez Canal and my country’s very existence was in doubt. I remember the awesome beauty of the Sinai desert as a soldier in the tank corps when it was still under Israel’s control and the strategic comfort it provided. I remember falling head over heels in love with your President Anwar Sadat, when he came to Israel. I remember the hope that he brought to our country, a hope which inspired us to recognize that our future security could not and should not be based solely on the strength of our army and the impenetrability of our borders, but on the stability of our peaceful relations with our neighbors.

For nearly 35 years now, we have lived in peace with each other. Our children have not died at each other’s hands. It hasn’t been the warmest peace, but as we say in the Jewish tradition, “dayenu.” It was enough. We Israelis, while always aspiring for more, deeply valued it nonetheless. Where do we go from here?

One of the old adages posits that democracies rarely go to war with each other. This is so, it is argued, because when the people who actually have to pay the price of war get to choose, they will invariably choose resolution over conflict. They will choose their children’s lives over national pride and ideology.

It is here that the Middle East has often proven this wrong. It seems that in our neighborhood at times, our children are our least valued commodity. The two of us, however, who have enjoyed the fruits that peace has given to our children are also a Middle Eastern phenomenon, and must become the rule instead of the exception.

Democracies rarely go to war, however, for yet another reason. A democracy is not simply the rule of the majority, but rather the rule of the majority that preserves the inalienable rights of its minorities. It is a system of government which believes that all humans are endowed with certain basic rights and freedoms which both empower them to govern themselves and which frees them from the potential tyranny of that same government. Democracies rarely go to war not simply because they want to preserve the lives of their citizens but because they respect the inherent freedoms of all humans, citizen and non-citizen alike. When one respects one’s own rights to be free, it often leads one to respect one’s neighbor’s rights to the same freedoms as well.

I pray that this will be one of the outcomes of your democratic revolution. I hope that our two peoples living in vibrant democracies will find new ways to reach out to each other and respect each other. That does not mean that we always have to agree. It is possible and even likely that there are policies which each one of us is pursuing, either externally or internally, that may differ from the other’s national interest or even moral sensibilities.

We have a critical choice ahead of us. The change in the status quo can cause us to revert to the old and mutually destructive patterns. I hope we do not need to relive the experiences of our grandparents and parents in order to learn yet again that war is not a solution. I pray that we will use the change in the status quo as a catalyst to move us forward. Status quos are comfortable, but they can also lead to stagnation. Our neighborhood is one in which there is still much pain and hatred. We, the two of us, have a unique opportunity to change the rules of the game, to speak, engage, challenge, and even push each other to find a new and vibrant status quo.

I know you are going to be busy over the next number of months and we are not your primary concern. I am nevertheless writing to you to again say, hello, and that we look forward to speaking with you soon. Until then, we wish that your transition to freedom be a peaceful and beneficial one to all your citizens and that your freedom be a blessing to you, and to the whole world. Amen.

Note: This article has struck a nerve both in Egypt and in Israel. [At the link] below you can find dozens of comments from Egyptians, a first for the Institute. Also, an Israeli newspaper [Haaretz] has featured this virtual dialogue in a special feature article.

Source: http://hartman.org.il/Opinion_C_View_Eng.asp?Article_Id=629

ITALY SAYS NO TO BERLUSCONI’S BROTHEL


Italy has had enough of being considered the land of bananas and clowns, the land where men still buy women to gain sexual pleasure and where political leaders are chosen on the basis of their sexual performances, where you can’t get a job without selling your conscience and your morality.

Italy yesterday and today was demonstrating loudly, peacefully and without any political colour for one simple goal: restore Italy’s dignity!

Italy is a beautiful country with so many resources starting from the people. But too many people continue closing their eyes and mouths in a coward acceptance of the behaviour of a political class that believes a brothel can turn into a Parliament.

Italy needs people who want to be heard and taken seriously, not special people – normal people – who are willing to shout NO against mafia, against corruption, against illegality, against the destruction of democracy. People who stop saying ‘this does not concern me’ or ‘there is nothing I can do to change this’. People must remember that what each one of us does / says counts. If we stop believing that our opinions have a value, that is when illegality wins and democracy ends.

We are not revolutionaries, we are not violent, we are not utopians. We know that world and life in general are not perfect. But one thing we know for sure, people faced with serious criminal charges must go to trial, because the law is the same for everyone, no matter who you are and what your job is.

ITALY CAN DO AND DESERVES BETTER THAN THIS!

All photos in this post were taken by myself during yesterday’s and today’s demonstrations in TORINO. I was unable to post my videos in this post for some reason, but you can find them on YouTube on LittleExplorersBlog channel.

Please share this post with as many people as possible to show that Italy is not silently accepting to be ridiculed before the entire world by Berlusconi!

Nets of Peace


We hear in the daily news about the Israeli-Palestian conflict. We unfortunately tend to hear only bad news from that region: terrorist attacks, Israeli raids, settlements in occupied land, qassam rockets and much much more. Everything we hear seems to be sending one message to the world: that region is stuck in a never-ending conflict.

Rethorical comments are abundant, therefore I just aim to report a fact which appears to be practically unknown. There are very few webpages on this (one should probably wonder why), as you can test yourself through a simple Google search.

Ever heard of ‘Nets of Peace‘? If anyone has heard of it before, I’d be happy to know! I first read about this very interesting project on Pagine Ebraiche, in an article by M. Calimani. The idea is simple: to set up a large-scale fish industry in Gaza to promote peace. This project stems from the desire to solve serious issues affecting the Gaza strip and, ultimately, Israel. The team leading the project realised that there were two sets of facts which could be put in relation.

On the one hand, the serious unemployment and the malnutrition affecting Gaza. Unofficial reports estimate the unemployment in Gaza affects more than 40% of the population in Gaza, causing many people to apply for jobs with Hamas simply because they wish to support their families. The population in Gaza also suffers from serious malnutrition, in particular children. It is estimated that 60% of children in Gaza suffer from malnutrition.

On the other hand, there is a growing need for fish on a global scale and the Gaza area is a 40 km strip on the Mediterranean costline. Therefore, Gaza has a strong and long-standing marine culture. Due to high smuggling threats over the past few years, the fish industry in Gaza has reduced and consequently average price of fishfood has soared, thereby reducing the possibility for Gaza families to afford this important source of proteins.

The team of Nets of Peace, composed by 5 students (David Welch, Ohad Kot, Danielle Angel, David McGeady and Osher Perry) from Tel Aviv University, came up with the idea of creating a project to set up a fish industry in the Gaza strip. This project also meet environment-friendly criteria as it promotes environmental responsibility through the conservation and rehabilitation of the coastline on the basis of a ‘zero footprint policy’. Nets of Peace is based on the acronym BENEFIT,  which stands for the guiding lines of the project:The team has so far:

For more information on the project, visit the website of Nets of Peace: http://www.netsofpeace.org/

Meet the team in this video!