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Maiani’s confirmation at CNR stuck in the mud January 24, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, physics, politics, religion, science.

In a series of recent posts (Storm over rome, The aborted speech, Ratzinger divides, Maiani speaks)I discussed the decision of the rector of “La Sapienza”, a prestigious University in Rome, to invite pope Ratzinger for a Lectio Magistralis at the opening ceremony of the academic year, and the following events: the private letter of 67 physics professors to the rector criticizing the decision, the publication of the letter, the ensuing reaction by media, clerics, and students, and the final decision of the pope to decline the invitation “for opportunity reasons”.

The story does not end there, because some right-wing lacqueys of the clerics, always sensitive to the wind blowing from cardinals in Italy, have sensed that the events had created the occasion to exploit politically the wave of indignation in the country following a distorted reporting of the whole issue by the media. The designated victim: Luciano Maiani, a esteemed theoretical physicist, former director of CERN and INFN (the institute that pays my salary), a person with a stellar curriculum and undoubted experience and skills. The occasion: Maiani has been nominated to head the CNR, the most important research organization in Italy, and a confirmation of the appointment has to come from the Senate. The plan: use the fact that he was among the 67 who signed the letter criticizing the invitation of Ratzinger to subvert his confirmation.

I just read the transcription of the discussion which took place in the 7th commission of the italian Senate a week ago, when the due act of confirming Maiani was postponed and an interrogation of minister Mussi about the opportunity to hire Maiani as head of CNR was requested. You can find the italian version here, but I will give a few highlights. It shows something about the inner workings of italian politics and how the latter is influenced by the Church, albeit in a covert, indirect way.

On the proposal to appoint professor Maiani as President of the Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche

Senator Asciutti (Forza Italia) asks that minister Mussi be called in commission to confirm the appointment of professor Maiani […] following the recent facts at the university La Sapienza in Rome. In reminding that the candidate is among the signers of the letter in which a small number of academics expressed their dissent to the presence of the Pope in occasion of the inauguration of the academic year, he holds that such position is incompatible with a balanced, laic behavior, the more so since at the top of CNR is needed a person representative of all opinions. […]

Senator Pellegatta (Green party) judges as non receivable the request of senator Asciutti, since it is instrumental, demagogic, and arbitrary. She expresses dissent with the attempt to link the expression of the judgement of the parliament on the appointment, essentially based on an evaluation of titles, with opinions of the candidate freely expressed in other venues. She points out that accepting the request would mean to create a dangerous vulnus.

Senator Sterpa (Forza Italia) in consideration of the statements in the debate, declares to abandon the room as a sign of protest, judging unacceptable the accusations of intolerance.  


Senator Bianconi (Forza Italia) reminds that in the past the appointments in large public institutions have always taken place in a climate of ample agreement. […] She invites minister Mussi to confirm in the Parliament a choice operated before the contested facts took place. In the meantime, she auspicates that the same professor Maiani clarifies his position, while holding that his declarations already given are by no means appeasing.

Senator Soliani (Democratic Party) acknowledges the convergence on deferring the decision on the appointment. She also notes  that a good part of the debate could have taken place in occasion of the appointment itself. She […] proposes that the convocation of minister Mussi have as a subject the guarantees for the full exercise of freedom of opinion in universities and research institutes. […]  

 I still think this is just an occasion used by the right to show off how much they care about pluralism and freedom of expression of… the pope, and that their objections to the appointment of Maiani will die out. Nevertheless, this skirmish also showed how difficult it is in Italy to obtain an agreement on appointments: even when the convergence is ample and the candidate is outstanding, ideology wants its share and may end up driving the decision.



1. goffredo - January 24, 2008

How can you be suprised that ideology drives the decisions in Italy? That is the big reason the country is in very big trouble. The blunt idiots of the right and the blunt and sophisitcated idiots on the left deserve one another. The country doesn’t deserve neither.


It is sad that interesting issues like the dyamic limits of science and religion cann’t be discussed with calm.

2. goffredo - January 24, 2008

“doesn’t deserve neither” should have simply been “doesn’t them”. All these negatives and I get mixed up.

3. dorigo - January 24, 2008

🙂 Jeff, I think “doesn’t deserve neither” is inaccurate but actually quite clear, and not altogether wrong but just slang. I prefer that version and I will abstain from correcting your original post unless you really want me to.


4. Amara - January 25, 2008

It’s possible that I missed one, but I am trying to remember when there was a controversy in the US regarding a high level scientific appointment, and I don’t remember any. There are many nominations by the US President of key positions: his cabinet (US Attorney General Defense Secretary, etc.), UN Ambassador, NASA director, and the director and board of the National Science Foundation, for example. These nominations must then be confirmed by the Senate. While I remember many controversies regarding his cabinet and UN Ambassador, the high level scientific positions are given to qualified people with few controversies. Is the US Senate more representative than the Italian Parliament? I don’t know, but I would say that they can reach agreement better. I don’t think that the Italian Parliament is representative of Italians, and, based on the bickering (and fist fights!) I’ve seen in TV broadcasts, they are consistently unable to reach agreement with each other, anyway.

I know that Beppe Grillo is making a convincing case that many Parliamentarians have no right to be there, so then a destructive focus, but what about _constructive_ efforts: Does anyone here know if there is any discussion in Italy to find a better way to select their Parliament members? I’m not talking about simply the removal of Berlusconi’s voting scheme, even though I agree that it should be changed, but something more basic, such as each Italian province choosing their representatives (like the US Senate) to be a Parliament member. Now that Prodi’s coalition fell (surprise surprise), maybe such a topic of discussion is important.

5. Tony Smith - January 25, 2008

Amara mentions “… that Prodi’s coalition fell …”
news media (msnbc) say “… a small Christian Democrat party, whose votes were vital to a coalition majority in the Senate, yanked its support earlier this week …
“mortadella” … was a crafty, dependable politician … He was the only man to have beaten Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul known for his charisma and communications skills. …”.

Is there any (maybe subtle, but subtlety is not unknown in Italy) connection between the attacks on Maiani and mortadella,
is it merely coincidence that right/religious forces removed/obstructed both of them from positions of power at the same time ?

Tony Smith

6. Amara - January 25, 2008

Dear Tony: Former Justice Minister Clemente Mastella, a man who has sat on Parliament for 31 years, quit his post January 17 when his wife was arrested for trading favors with the Caserta state hospital director. She was quoted after her arrest: “‘I believe this is the bitter price, that together with my husband, we are paying for our defence of Catholic values in politics, for the principles of moderation and tolerance against all fanaticism and extremisms”, which sounds suspiciously like the same words used against Maiani. But in fact, they are typical words from the conservative Christian Democrats and they are easy words to say in order to hide many despicable acts.

Clemente Mastella deserves to fall and fall hard for his despicable acts. Using judicial organizational (reform?) laws approved by the Italian Parliament last year but in fact, carried over from Berlusconi’s government, Mastella gained previously denied powers where he could transfer magistrates out of judicial investigations. He used this often, with the most blatant example, he requested the transfer of a public prosecutor named De Magistris, who was investigating both him and the president. Then he transfered the man’s superior. Mastella is also known for mass pardons (because he said the prisons were crowded), he has close relations with the Mafia, including serving as best man for the wedding of the primary Sicilian Mafia bosses, and he lies continually.

Antonio Ingroia, Anti-mafia Prosecutor in Palermo, said this about Mastella:

“The Minister utilizing these new powers to request the transfer of magistrates, has contributed to the process of systematic plundering of the investigations for which De Magistris was responsible. Using the crowbar of the law, the De Magistris matter has become a showpiece of the failures of the Mastella reform. Although the power of take-overs has always existed, it has now become a tool with which to standardize the judiciary. Even at the time of the Berlusconi Government, during the attacks against the autonomy and the independence of the judiciary, nobody had dared to make use of the power to take over certain investigations. What is happening today in the judiciary is a process of progressive certification, one of the politician’s targeted objectives. Across the board, there is an intolerance with regard to the checks on legality carried out by magistrates that respect the Constitution and apply a law that that is the same for everyone”.

Mastella and his family also have been found by some investigative reporters to be the recipients of a number of favors. Newspaper Espresso, financed by the Italian State (1.3 Million Euros/Year), and which sells a few thousand copies per day, paid Mastella 40,000 euros in journalism fees plus 14,000 euros for panettoni (a kind of cake), and 12,000 euros to Mastella’s son’s legal practice and another 36,000 euros to his son’s insurance. Espresso also paid for airplane trips for the family, and 2000 euros to the fuel station where his son fills up his benzene for his Porche.

You might be interested in Marco Travaglio’s words at the European Parliament regarding former Justice Minister Clemente Mastella (on You Tube with subtitles). Comedian-Activist Beppe Grillo doesn’t like Travaglio either, every few blog posts mentions him, the most recent are these:
here and here and here and
here and
here and
here and
here and

7. Amara - January 25, 2008

Sorry that last sentence should say; “Comedian Activist Beppe Grillo doesn’t like _Mastella_ …” (not Travaglio! who is a good guy). There is a lack of closure on my a href in that sentence too.. sorry about that.

8. Fred - January 25, 2008

Damn. If Amara’s report is just a sampling of what’s going on in the Italian legislative and judicial branches, it’s a wonder that Prodi’s coalition lasted even this long. The Italian population must be distraught with no relief in sight. As far as the U.S. Senate being more representative than the Italian Parliament, we have simply shown to be goose-stepping boot lickers to the Bush Administration’s neoconservative campaigns. But ultimately, it’s the citizens of both of our countries who are responsible for the end result.

9. dorigo - January 25, 2008

Hi Amara,
the italian senate is VERY representative of italians… I see the very same behavior in it and in the streets, with people yelling at each other, spitting, using their fists. As for the question on the way to elect representatives, I do not think there is an attempt at changing the system, which is mostly based on our constitution.

Tony, there certainly is a link between asking for a delay in the appointment and the fall of the government: they asked for a delay because they wanted to win time. Now they will not have to have Maiani as head of CNR, and will be free to choose another Pistella.

Amara, thank you for the information on Mastella and the links.

Fred, that is correct, Prodi lasted much longer than I had expected myself. The majority in the Senate was ridiculously narrow.


10. Amara - January 25, 2008

So how much of what Prodi said he would accomplish for science in Italy (le Scienze interview before he was elected), was achieved? Zero, I would say.

11. dorigo - January 25, 2008

Objectively little, but he did try to steer funds to research. INFN is hiring now the people whose contracts had been blocked by the Berlusconi government four years ago.

12. Amara - January 25, 2008

INAF and CNR are hiring permanent people too, but I tend to think that they had no choice; it had been about 10 years since the last time the astronomers’ had positions and the situation couldn’t get any worse. I guess I am too pessimistic about Prodi’s accomplishments.

13. Guess Who - January 26, 2008

Amara, regarding comment #4, maybe this


could be construed as “high level scientific appointment” which caused some controversy? If I were a lawyer, I could probably pull it off. 🙂

14. Amara - January 26, 2008

I wouldn’t consider him high-level, though. He wasn’t nominated by the US President and confirmed by the Senate. And yes, that fellow caused some controversy.

15. dorigo - January 26, 2008

Prodi did not do much, but he was almost paralyzed by the narrow margin he had in the senate. He had, so to speak, pick the battles he knew he could win.

So, for instance, he did not even try to pass a law against the conflict of interests, because he would risk the life of his government if he tried. He could have done it in the first months though, because then he would have stood a chance.


16. goffredo - January 26, 2008

He did so little NOT because he of the small margin but because of the wide spread of opinions in his “group”! They bickered on practically everything! Prodi had no control. It is a shame he admitted it more than a year too late!!!!

17. Amara - January 26, 2008

For those of you who don’t know what our host, Tommaso, is referring to by that spitting reference…

Mastella (former Justice Minister I wrote about above) is leader of the Udeur political party that has 3 seats in the 300 seat senate. Because he is under criminal investigation, and because the rest of the Prodi coalition are not helping him against the investigation, the Udeur party announce that they were pulling their support for Prodi, and switched sides against him. It is only three votes, but Prodi had a razor thin margin in the Senate, so their pulling of their support led to Prodi asking for a confidence vote in the Parliament. In the Lower House, the Chamber of Deputies, the confidence vote easily passed. In the Upper House, the Senate, it did not, with the result that we know: Prodi’s government fell.

In Dante’s country of comedies and tragedies the final vote went like this:

Senator Guido Possa, a 72-year-old former schoolmate of Berlusconi’s, arrived in an ambulance after undergoing leg surgery. He hobbled on crutches along the red carpet in front of the Senate president’s platform to cast his vote against Prodi.

Stefano Cusumano, 59, an Udeur senator, announced that he would break party ranks and vote for Prodi.

Fellow Udeur Senator Tommaso Barbato accused him to be a betrayer and tried to hit him, but the two of them were too far and instead called him a ‘son of a bitch’ and spit at him.

After more insults to Cusumano, Cusumano, fainted.

Senate Speaker Franco Marini suspended the session for several minutes, while Cusumano was carried out of the chamber on a stretcher. He recovered shortly thereafter to cast his vote.

The vote was counted, and while Marini was announcing the final vote, bottles of champagne were popped by the senators on Berlusconi’s party, and Senate President Franco Marini told them to put away the bottle as “We’re not in an osteria.”

There you go. Real Life, fit for an Alberto Sordi comedy.

18. Fred - January 26, 2008

Does anyone see a light at the end of the tunnel for stability within the Italian political system as it is currently made up? Those that accomplished the most in the history of American politics tended to be bullish. Trying to bring political groups together for the benefit of all is usually short-lived, foolish and has accomplished little in our country. This is why the current platform being projected by Senator Obama is a losing proposition. Yes, he can manipulate the fear-minded voters in small sectors of the country, but eating a 50 course meal requires a devouring mentality. Even the sad-sacked Republicans are desperate, espousing the need for bipartisan cooperation in an attempt to save their silly asses. It is too easy to throw a gambit into such a scenario to produce disruption and instability which is their objective. For anyone who has many months available to burn, lol, the 3 volume biographical sketch titled: ‘The Years of Lyndon Johnson’ is a fascinating read about the rise, reason and execution of power. LBJ was maybe the most dominating S.O.B. of a U.S. Senator ever, moving mountains domestically but an ultimate failure on the world stage, revealing that it is very difficult to balance self determination with the undermining arrogance for those who aspire to successfully dictate international policy.

19. Amara - January 26, 2008

Oops, sorry, wrong link. Senator Barbato’s dignified behavior is here.

20. Amara - January 26, 2008

Fred, no, I don’t. Whatever has the majority in the Parliament, spends most of the years undoing what the previous majority achieved. Back and forth with nothing ever being built for the future. What do the Italian young people have to look forward to?

21. dorigo - January 26, 2008

Amara, thank you so much for your help with this thread… I do appreciate it. Your description of events is accurate and you even mentioned a few facts I had not come across – I’m under a deadline squeeze right now.

Jeff, there is no contradiction between what you said and what I did. A premier with a wider majority could have ignored the prima donnas in his coalition. He could not because he was too easy to blackmail. A coalition speaks with a single voice only if each individual component is not necessary for its survival. Otherwise, you will hear screams of dissent inside it day in and day out.

Fred, a reason to change the electoral law in Italy is exactly to avoid what happened with Prodi: a thin margin makes a big instability. It is very unfortunate that the opposition to Prodi will not agree to changing the electoral law before a new election.


22. goffredo - February 1, 2008
23. dorigo - February 1, 2008

Hi Jeff,

indeed – thank you for pointing it out, and let’s cheer for Maiani, finally appointed.


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