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Off to a good start April 18, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, politics.

Our premier in pectore Silvio Berlusconi is known for his sense of humor, which he is usually careful to apply in the least opportune moments. As the day of his new government nears, I am trying to get accustomed to the idea of having to deal with one embarassment after another. But the man is also used to be fast, and in fact he already created a case today, weeks before he becomes a prime minister.

Vladimir Putin is visiting him in his luxurious villa in Sardinia, and a few journalists are interviewing them. A russian lady speaks to Putin, asking him about his new relationship with an ex-model. Putin does not like the question and is embarassed. Berlusconi, to help his friend in trouble, finds nothing better than pointing a fake khalasnikov to the reporter, mimicking an execution. Not particularly hilarious, but also not harmful – if it weren’t for the fact that she would not be the first journalist to die a untimely death by gun blows in today’s Russia.

What to say… Off to a good start.



1. goffredo - April 19, 2008

Of course it is of very bad taste, but I fear (for you) that these are not the things that will make Berlusconi lose consensus and future votes. What REALLY turns people off are the serious, meditated and argued thoughts and statements of the likes of Bertinotti that back those who illegally enter an empty house jumping infront of those who are rightfully on the waiting list. I was more ashamed for Bertinotti when I heard him say and outrageously defend these absurd positions than I was for Berlusconi when I saw him improvise the “shooting” of the russian journalist.

2. goffredo - April 19, 2008

By the way. Speaking of OFF TO A GOOD START
I would like to refer to the last episode of ANNO ZERO where the left started saying the old tune: the italians that made Berlusconi and Lega win are ignorant and stupid! These lefty guys are real arrogant idiots. This is their start! We will hear this on and on, again and again. They haven’t a clue of why they lost and sarting off this way I am sure they will lose again in 5 years (maybe less).

3. Matteo Martini - April 19, 2008

I can not agree more with you.
Once, I remember Bertinotti saying that he did not rule out the abolition of private property, if he could do that, of course.
What a stupid statement.
It is this kind of behaviour that allows Berlusconi to win the elections.

Unless the Pd understands that we are living in 2008, and in year 1848, they will keep losing the elections, even if the candidate of the other party is Al Capone himself

4. dorigo - April 19, 2008

Jeff, I am sure you understand by yourself that there is a difference between leading a country and being responsible of its image in the world and being an ex-parliament member who discharges his bitterness at a talk show.

Matteo, there is no connection between Bertinotti and PD. PD is a moderate party who smiles to bankers, not to the homeless. Failing to see that has no justification, even if one lives in Japan.


5. goffredo - April 19, 2008

I am sure you do not understand that the impression Berlsuconi gives elsewhere is a lot less important to italian voters than real issues.

The issue about Bertinotti is very pertinent. People vote for real issues and not infantile but harmless behavior of Berlusconi. Harmless except for his masculine and offensive remarks about women. If I were a women I would have punished him and voted for Lega!

6. dorigo - April 19, 2008

And who cares about italian voters. I am asking you if you are comfortable or not with it.

7. goffredo - April 19, 2008

“Who cares about italian voters?”
Had I said something like that all hell would have broke loose.

I do not feel threatened by Berlusconi. Annoyed and pledge vigilance, but not threatened. I do acknowledge that he would never gone so far in politics abroad. He is an italian phenomenon. But so are the idiots of the extreme left. But they, in my eyes, are more threatening! I imagine you feel in a specular way: you find Berlusconi threatening and the extreme lefy annoying and would pledge vigilance.

I do not all like what Berlusconi did, does, said, says and imagine he will say and do about many things. But I do not feel threatened. I felt threatened by the pre-election alternative: people like Diliberto, Giordano, Ferrando, Caruso, that made Prodi’s government sway and abort when real urgency was building. I felt threatened by Prodi for not recognizing he could not go on with them and yet he insisted and insisted and time kept flying.

I do not feel threatened by Berlusconi’s televisions as I never believed the story about the mind-blowing power of modern TV. Indeed the Lega made incredible progress inspite of almost no TV coverage and inspite of the fact that when rare programs did discuss the Lega, the editorial cut, in almost all cases, made the Lega come across as a racist, bigot, ignorant populist and protest movement. TV and printed information is important, but people know first hand (daily experience) about things that those that write editorials of the highest caliber do NOT know about, things that are not properly discussed in TV. TV and the press are NOT all-powerful and people are not stupid and not easily brainwashed these days. If you really want to to understand propaganda and brain-washing then go back in time when so many people really did think and behave as though USSR and China were paradises. Quite a control of information, all while Italy was in the Western block!

Veltroni is a nice guy and I think he was very brave and smart to say that he would run without the extreme left. That decision was the single factor that allowed Italy to make an extremely important transition. I was tempted to back him. But then I felt threatened because of him saying things like “We will raise the salaries of precari to 1300 euro.” (explain “precari” to people abroad). I find it so absurd and, yes, threatening because Italy, we all, cann’t survive policies like that! I do honestly think the PD party could grow and mature and be ready in five years, but a few thinks have to happen. They have to resist the temptation to go back and re-establish ties with the extreme left. To get my vote they also have to start thinking ways to get the economy to work and stop being paternalistic. And they have to STOP immediately thinking that the rest of the italians are stupid. The so called smart intellectuals, in reality just plain dumb arses, have to get off their high-chairs and recognize that the reiterated message given in Santoro’s program the other evening – that italians are stupid – is a terribly STUPID way to start doing an opposition in a modern country.

8. Jon Lester - April 19, 2008

A lot of people in our country is still out of present time. They still keep on thinking that communism is the right way and who do not understand this is ugly, dirty and bad. So, italians keep on punish them. In this latter five elections just two times right wing has losen: The first one Berlusconi and Lega went separated and the second time it was not a real victory by the left wing. I think there is something seriously wrong about left parties in Italy and a lot of things they have not properly understood yet. But what I hear from them are always the same refrains. These are the foundations of a neverending defeat.


9. Roberto - April 19, 2008

I agree, to tell Italians who vote Lega & Berlusconi they are stupid and ignorant is not likely to be the best way to win the next elections. Unfortunately, it is also true.

10. Andrea Giammanco - April 19, 2008

> leading a country and being responsible of its image in the world

Well, honestly I think you are a little biased. As I am, of course.
I have to admit that exactly the same episode, or even much worse ones (as when he said “kapo” to a german representative), would not bother me at all if done by somebody that I respect.
I’ve been told about many gaffes by Sandro Pertini (note for foreigners: a former President of the Republic). These were considered by most people as a reason to appreciate him even more, as a “person like us” who don’t always know how to behave in official occasions. (I’m sure that Berlusconi’s voters feel the same for him when he does the gaffes that disturb you so much.)
As italian abroad, I feel much more embarassed when people asks me “did he REALLY change this law in his favour? and you did permit that??”, or “did he REALLY change the electoral law in his own favour two months before leaving the government? and you did permit that??”. Because you can feel that when they ask this, they imply that they consider us as third world country; because only third world voters could decide that they don’t mind for such a serious stuff.
Instead, when Berlusconi just plays the role of a guy who keeps his humour despite being in a serious and powerful public role, well, of course this attracts a lot of attention abroad, but the comments are simply different. They are different because, when he does like that, the shame (if any) is really only for him. For the serious business, instead, the shame is on the voters.

And sorry if I’m provocative, but I have to say it: his behaviour in this episode (and in other similar ones) is, for me, in the “good things about Berlusconi” column. Of course the bad things outnumber the good things by orders of magnitude.

11. Matteo Martini - April 19, 2008

“Matteo, there is no connection between Bertinotti and PD”.

I hope you realize that, less than 20 years ago, Bertinotti and all the high brass of the PD were all part of the same party.

12. Luboš Motl - April 20, 2008

Haha, Berlusconi is cool, I like his sense of humor. And yes, I agree that in certain portions of Russia, it is more than humor! 🙂

13. goffredo - April 20, 2008

I too think many Italians are stupid! plus 1

14. Jon Lester - April 20, 2008

Roberto, Goffredo, keep on thinking that. It is the right way to keep on losing. And let me believe that this is the true stupidity.


15. dorigo - April 20, 2008

Hi all,

I do not like the bend this thread has taken. Goffredo has introduced one element of his liking – that is, a unfortunate sentence by a disgruntled loser – to demonstrate that the left in Italy has an attitude of superiority.

I understand why that makes him uncomfortable. For sure Goffredo knows many people of which he has a high esteem of who have voted for PD. And the same is true for who voted on the left. But Goffredo knows that in his workplace, he is a minority. And that is nagging.

I think discussing of empty categories like “people are stupid” and other commonplace ideas is a vacuous occupation, and I encourage readers here to avoid such topics. There will always be people who accuse of stupidity those who do not share their ideas, but we do not make much progress in discussing where they are or what influence (little) they have in our society).

Andrea, I disagree. His public behavior is part of the package, and it cannot be ascribed to the “good Berlusconi” column. I am indeed ashamed when people abroad pose me questions such as those you mentioned, but I am also embarassed if I have to criticize Bush or Sarkozy, when the retort is “rather mind about the clown you have in your country”.

Matteo, sure. 20 years ago. In the meantime PD is much closer to what was DC 30 years ago than to what PCI has ever been. Remember where Ferrara was 30 years ago, battling with a red scarf in front of FIAT ? Or Bondi ? There are people who have switched side or changed ideology not one, but five times in that amount of time. 20 years are like ages in italian politics.

Lubos, I pity your sense of humor, but who am I to object. Whatever works for one…

Jon, I think you misread Goffredo. He was being sarcastic.

Cheers all,

16. goffredo - April 20, 2008

Yes Jon. I was sarcastic and indeed Roberto was one more person added to the list of stupid people. In every nation there are stupid people. I get all tickled when I say to the very same people that say italians are stupid for voting berlusconi and lega that they were even more stupid for decades to think the USSR and China examples of worker paradise. They get all uptight when I say that I consider those who vote for the extreme to be stupid.

p.s. Tommaso. You are quite wrong to downplay how most people on the left consider those on the right. Fuksas, the fellow that so criticized the italians the other evening on Santoro’s program, is very VERY representative of left voting “thinkers”. He is educated (quotes Cicero, mentions Euclid) and he is a possibily a good architect. Clearly an intellectual. Why else would Santoro invite him and give him so much voice. But he is also a perfect and complete idiot and probably always was.

p.p.s. The work place would be far more boring if everyone got away thinking – without thinking – the same thing. Don’t you ever feel suspect when 99% of your colleagues sound more like parrots rather than independent thinkers? Too many times the so called thoughts of people smell more like fashion than substance and do not reflect courage or independent thought but an easy way out to cope with issues bigger than them. Rather than admit they are midgets and haven’t a clue regards issues that are bigger than them, they completely and acritically accept the world view of the dominant group world so that they can pump up their chests and feel important. No real ideas, just a satisfied sense of belonging. Pathetic!

17. dorigo - April 20, 2008


I think you sometimes get overcome by some sort of superiority complex. If you read back your comments in this blog you will maybe find out that you, too, oftentimes sound as if somebody put thoughts in your mind. Yet no, I do not believe that. Rather, I believe that in some cases -some, but not all- a view shared by many is not such because it looks appealing or makes people feel better by subscribing to it: it is such because it happens to be right, and people who think arrived at the same conclusion. It is true for things you say, and for things others say -not the same ones.

Why so many hate the fact that we have Berlusconi ruling Italy ? You think it is because they are sheep. Being one of the sheep, I think otherwise. I think it is because after 1992, and the revolution that was necessary to overcome a corrupt system, we feel we are back to square one, with a new form of corruption, where the one who takes the decisions is the one who gets rich from them. Sorry, a disturbingly simple-minded thought: but one shared by many who thought about it and came to that conclusion, rather than listening to it on Santoro’s show.

Don’t you think that your statement about 99% of your colleagues is very similar to the ones of the so despised Fuksas ?


18. Matteo Martini - April 20, 2008

“I do not like the bend this thread has taken”
Well, apparently, you are in a minority here.
The majority of the posters in your own blog have opinions quite different from yours.
I think this can be seen as a good thing, by the way.
Not a bad thing.

“Matteo, sure. 20 years ago. In the meantime PD is much closer to what was DC 30 years ago than to what PCI has ever been”

But the people who are at the top of the PD right now, are the same people who were small leaders of the PCI 20 years ago.
No change.
This is why people do not trust them.
The day we will have a truly new leadership of the PD, I will take into consideration voting PD.

19. dorigo - April 20, 2008

Hi Matteo,

who needs your vote… The day you will feel convinced by PD’s politics to vote for them, I will choose some other party for the same reasons. You have left in this blog too many comments about italian politics to play the part of a political side you do not belong to. In a former post you said you would have voted for Di Pietro if you had been in Italy… You are indeed in Japan, but you do not look sincere to me.

About the thread, please remember that in blogs the sentences that generate more comments are the most controversial ones. Whether the topic of a comment thread is liked or not by the audience of a blog has nothing to do with the number of comments. I do think people who read this blog are not really very interested on whether italian voters are stupid or whether leftist intellectuals are stupid.


20. goffredo - April 20, 2008

to read you say I sound like others have put ideas into my mind is quite ridiculous. I have never NEVER belonged to any political or ideological group and never will. I am VERY proud of that. Superior complex? In this case you can bet on it! Intelligence? No. Character? Yes.

21. Roberto - April 20, 2008

Dear Goffredo, about your reply:
I too think many Italians are stupid! plus 1”
I’ve found it a bit childish, ain’t it ?
I won’t continue on the “mille volte piu’ di me” (thousands times more than me) model – by the way, Matteo, I think this is the bend Tommaso was talking about. He looks to me like one who thrives in controversies, and actually likes a bit of opposition. Yet, he likes the discussion to stay rather on the civilized side.
Back to the subject of the supposed superiority complex of the left, I think there’s rather a diffuse inferiority complex within the italian right. Quite justified indeed by the almost total lack of right-wing intellectuals in Italy. It’s apparently a sore spot and, every time the right wins an election in Italy, which happens alas much too often, somebody pops up and say to the losing side “Hey, if you’re so clever, why then have you lost ?” It’s apparently too easy to forget that, even in a democracy, the winning side is not always the more clever, and even less often the better one for honesty, competence and unselfishness.

I still maintain that (on average, of course), Berlusconi’s voters are more ignorant and stupid than left-wing voters. And, thinking more about it, I start to doubt that saying so is such a poor strategy. When Berlusconi himself defined “assholes” (I’m willing to accept a better translation for “coglioni”, if proposed) the center-left voters, he lost the election by just a few thousands votes, against all predictions. And his statement didn’t prevent some of the assholes to actually vote for HIS side this time (which in this case actually could confirm the judgement itself – even Berlusconi can’t always be wrong).
Not that Silvio has a higher opinion about his own followers. Not earlier than a few weeks ago, he justified his opposition to the “par-condicio” rule by saying that a firm with a dominant share on a market can keep its position only if it has a correspondingly dominant share in advertising. If I were a right supporter I would not have liked to be likened to a Pavlov’s dog. But again, judging by the results, maybe he’s right.
By the way, just to put it clear, I’ve never considered USSR or China to be a worker’s paradise. In my own peculiar stupidity I’ve always considered these countries as practicing an extreme form of state capitalism. I don’t think I ever was really a communist, but I tend to present myself as one when confronted by unthinking anti-communism. And yes, I’ve often voted for the extreme left.

22. Matteo Martini - April 21, 2008

” but you do not look sincere to me ”

Oh, OK..

23. goffredo - April 21, 2008

Roberto Roberto. The old USSR and China examples of state capitalism? Just wonderful. Vote again for the extreme left and keep sounding like a communist when confronted with an anti-communist. Of course if you cann’t distinguish an antic-communist from a fascists that is your problem. But that is OK. Go your own way.


p.s. “asshole” and “coglione” (balls) do not refer to the same type of person. I know people that are “assholes” but not at all “coglioni”. I know “coglioni” that are not at all assholes. Diliberto is an asshole, not a coglione. Ferrando is both. Di Pietro is a little coglione but not an asshole. Berlusconi? Nobody would say he is coglione. Some think he is an asshole. I am sure you do.

24. chris - April 21, 2008

when i saw this picture, the term ‘russian mafia’ popped into my mind. i guess it is accurate to state, that both of them were responsible for some people getting shot already.

25. Andrea Giammanco - April 21, 2008

Sorry, this will be a long comment. For readability I will parse it in sections:)

Part 1: my opinion on the assertion “left-wing italian voters tend to be arrogant and to feel superior”: I agree.
I don’t have statistical arguments for this, but I have a theory which supports my empirical observation that left-wing voters tend to feel superior:
– as I will discuss in Part 2, the tendency to vote left-wing, in Italy, is correlated with culture (with the notable exception of those cathegories who have direct interests in voting right-wing, but this I will discuss in Part 2 too)
– cultured people tend to feel superior to uncultured people
– culture is correlated with wealth; wealth is correlated with arrogance

Please note that in Italy the arrogance of the left is such a well know cliche’, that it is shared by left-wing people themselves!
An example: self-declared left-wing director Virzi’, who tends to make movies about social issues, is almost obsessed by the category of the rich and fancy progressists, that he clearly hates, since almost all of his movies contain some scene with a rich-but-progressist person expressing disgust towards some poor-but-conservative (his general claim is that the poor people vote Berlusconi because they are kept uninformed about what is really in their interests; by the way, I tend to share this view to a certain extent).

Part 2: about the assertion that left-wing voters are on average more clever than right-wing voters: here I will divide in Part 2a, facts, and Part 2b, my own speculation.

Part 2a: unfortunately I’m not managing to find it anymore, but in the aftermath of the election a demographic study was shown, dividing the vote according to several variables.
There were no surprises, it was confirming the studies done after 2006 and 2001 (but I don’t remember what were the results after 1996 and 1994, sorry): there is an extreme polarization in categories which find a direct referent in one of the coalitions (people in commerce vote Berlusconi, since he directly does their interests – note: the way he does that is discussed in Part 3 – while public employees tend to vote PD), but there is also a correlation with the highest degree.
And yes, the more you studied the more is probable that you are a left-wing voter.
So, any surprise why the average left-wing voter believes to be smarter than the average right-wing voter?
(NOTE: I honestly believe that the percentage of morons is uniform in the population, and uncorrelated with the education and the IQ. If you are skeptical, just consider some of the people who wrote comments here: certainly more intelligent than most of the population, but still able to give the impression of being embarassing morons. I will not give names, although I have specific examples in mind, and maybe you are thinking the same of me in this moment;))

Part 2b: causes. Here I will not mention statistical data, nor rigorous proofs, but just my own theory, open to discussion.
As you probably know, left-wing parties accuse Berlusconi of controlling most of TV, and of making a propagandistic use of it.
And as you probably know, Berlusconi accuses the left of controlling most of newspapers, and of making a propagandistic use of it.
Well, who is right?
Berlusconi owns some newspapers, but they are not as popular as Repubblica, which is explicitly against him. Since a few years the other major italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera, declared its choice to support any coalition opposing Berlusconi (note: in 2001 it had been the opposite, they had declared to support Berlusconi).
Berlusconi’s newspapers, like Libero, are so shitty that you really need to be an extreme supporter of Berlusconi to be able to read it without disgust. Repubblica and Corriere are read by right-wing people too, despite their declared left-wing bias. Probably because left-wing journalists are many more than right-wing journalists, so it’s difficult for BErlusconi’s newspapers to reach a decent quality.
On the other hand the situation for TV is ridicolous, Berlusconi really makes a populistic use of it, acceptable only in a third world country.

So, now I go to the conclusions. Let’s assume, for the sake of simplicity, that TV and newpapers exactly compensate in terms of votes (we could discuss forever if this is the case).
Well, the amount of newspapers that you read is correlated with culture. The amount of tv that you watch is anti-correlated with culture.
Do you see my point, now?

I think that parties are very well aware of this.
Berlusconi chooses a kind of propaganda based on simple slogans, and he wins. Same the Lega. When left-wing representatives decide to imitate him, as Veltroni did now, they lose votes on the left-wing side, in a desperate attempt of winning something on the right-wing side.

Part 3: caveat for foreigners: Berlusconi represents something different from what you can think from the label. He is not a liberalist, although he tends to claim so. We have no liberalism in Italy, people doesn’t understand liberalism and would never accept it.
The only attempts at liberal laws were done by the Prodi governments in 96-98 and 06-08 (abrogation of the licenses for general small commerce, for pharmacies, and recently for taxis), and were met with very violent opposition by the categories hit by the reforms, which wanted to keep their privileges. Berlusconi promised to these categories that there will be LESS liberalism.
Berlusconi’s “ideologue”, Giulio Tremonti (proclamed a genius of finance and economy by right-wing parties, and a moron by several liberal economists), fights since years for the introduction of protectionism.
Yes, I didn’t misspell: PROTECTIONISM.
One can be pro or against liberalism; but we are not discussing about that now!
We are not debating about Thatcher or Reagan, not about liberalism versus socialdemocracy; Berlusconi is not a small Reagan, not even a very-very-small Reagan, but something different; foreigners outside Italy often do this mistake: they think that we are discussing about that, but we are not.

26. Randall - April 21, 2008

The problem here is not about stupidity, it is simply that the majority of Italians do not think that several behaviours (of which Berlusconi is a sort of champion) are a problem at all.

This influence the ethic of people and clearly we have two italians in Italy: the one that consider these things a problem (PD) and the one who don’t (Pdl, more or less).

I guess that the real discussion should vert on this point: why do many people not consider, for example, saying that a famous Mafioso like Mangano is a sort of hero is not a problem?



27. chris - April 21, 2008

dear Andrea,

sorry, i should probably shut up since i know next to nothing about italian politics. still, i think i can contribute something about the outside perception.

the problem with berlusconi seen from an outside is not at all whether he is liberal or not. he might be whatever and his political course might be whatever. the problem is, that he does not come over like any other politician but bluntly speaking like a mafia boss. he might do wonders for the italian economy, he might be liberal or whatever. he has utilized his political power to stay out of prison, that is what sticks. he just simply has the image of a criminal. and he was elected by the italian voters. well, i guess you have to live with it.

28. goffredo - April 21, 2008

I’ll try to re-state what I said at the very beginning (my first post, the one that made reference to what people consider important when voting, not the second one that made reference to the stupidity of the Berlusconi voters and where I had fun giving the same medicine to the left).

People in Italy are quite normal and are very concerned about how the country has stalled. They are not stupid or unethical. It is true that in many ways people are numb and little concerned about Berlusconi’s inopportune behaviour with the likes of Putin or with the sick reference to presumed heroic qualities of the mafioso Mangano. I will saying something about this at the end. But please don’t ever forget that the mafia and cammorra are not the only problems of Italy. There is also has been (even very recently) terrorism, black and red. I and many have always found unethical the presence of red ex-terrorists in parliament. Let me make it clear that I am sickened too by those that are ex black extremists. The point I am trying to make is that in Italy there are many unethical things and to devide Italy up into those that find Berlusconi unethical and those that don’t is just to simplistic. Indeed it seems to me quite biased. But this is quibbling. It is just wrong!

Priorities are different for different people. Some people are honestly offended by Berlcusoni. Others are offended by the behaviour of the Prodi government and especially by that of parts of that government. Some are offended by both.
Most people that voted for Berlusconi and Lega are quite normal and are not really offended by anyone but are simply concerned about policies that affect their daily life, not only here and now but also tomorrow (their children, albeit forgetting their grandchildren). Without a tomorrow people get depressed.

The extreme left lost deservedly (from my point of view) and the Veltroni party did not have the credibility, ability or simply enough time to attract new voters. People did not vote massively for Veltroni for reasons that have little to do with ethics or stupidity.

Ultimately the reason Italians have become numb to the ethical problems Berlusconi pose is due to the behavior of the left. They attacked Berlusconi in all possible ways. The issues against Berlusconi were and are legitimate. But what did the left do wrong? Over exposure! Too little credible “politics” (how to run a country), too little concern for the daily and future problems – the tomorrow – of italians! The single problem was to get Berlusconi. Indeed once they won the previous elections, their program was inconclusive confused and full of contradictions. Why? Because only obsession was to beat Berlusconi, not to run the country in a modern competive way. Prodi was a disaster not because he had a small margin but because he didn’t have a compact program! Veltroni did not convince because he couldn’t avoid people thinking about Prodi. The Lega made progress because Berlusconi is not trusted. Many ethical people up north, that once voted left, now vote for Lega. Those that insist on voting for Berlusconi or decided to do so just this once think that he stands a better chance to change Italy, for the better, not for the worst, than Veltroni.

Over the years the left has bombarded the Berlusconi and Lega voting italians with all kinds of insults. To phrase the question of why italians voted this way in terms of ethics instead of stupidity is just another way to widen the gap.

29. dorigo - April 21, 2008

Dear all,

I am sorry for not having been able to contribute to this thread today, but I am swamped by preparing for tomorrow’s seminar. I will reply to what I find requires a reply tomorrow.

I only want to tell Jeff here that I find his sentence “Prodi was a disaster not because he had a small margin but because he didn’t have a compact program!” monodimensional. Prodi did very well because despite the narrow majority he had, he was able to start reducing the immense italian deficit. Italy will never be an economic power until we get rid of the interests we have to pay on our debt.


30. dorigo - April 22, 2008

Hi all,

After an extenuating day at work, I find myself unable to add something meaningful to this thread, that moving from a rather empty diatriba has generated way too much content to be handled systematically.

So I can only nit-pick from your comments to add my own two cents here and there.

In general, I share Roberto’s claim of an inferiority complex of right-wing voters. Indeed, intellectuals from the right are a rare species.

Jeff’s distinction of coglione and asshole is one-sided but admittedly funny and I can almost half-agree with him on that one.

Andrea’s analysis is as usual cunning and I share his opinion. In particular, as simple as it sounds, the distinction between people who watches television and people who reads newspapers is quite real.
And about protectionism, I think we will soon see a very good example with Alitalia. The news that Berlusconi asked Prodi to lend 300 million euros to Alitalia today are just an appetizer.

Randall, it is quite painful to be reminded of the fact that we do not even get outraged any more by Berlusconi calling a hero a convicted mafia man. Andrea, can you tell me you do not get ashamed by things as such ? You formerly said you do not get upset by what Berlusconi says, but would you reconsider it in this case ?

Jeff, until you admit that in a modern country it should not be allowed to somebody to govern the country increasing his wealth by the decisions he takes (his wealth has increased by several times after he descended in politics, and please do not argue it is a coincidence because you would look ridicule), we cannot make any progress and I will not argue with you about other less important questions.

Cheers all,

31. goffredo - April 23, 2008

Dear Tommaso
you do have a point regards the Italian system that does allow a Berlusconi to get so far in politics, but I would like to point out that it is you that started this thread bring up a not-important-at-all behaviour of Berlusconi (Putin incident). So I you want to lead the way in attacking the Italian system thru the example of Berlusconi then do not bring up less important issues.

32. dorigo - April 23, 2008

Ok Jeff, I started this thread because I posted something.
But the thread developed along a different path, and I was not the one steering the path… My point about why Berlusconi cannot be tolerated as a premier stays and of course lives a life independent of this thread. But I think too much ink has been written on the matter: it is more vacuous but more entertaining to discuss the istrionic acts of Silvio.


33. Amara - April 23, 2008

Hi Tommaso, this is a good topic to explore how Berlusconi is perceived inside and outside of Italy, in any case.

About six weeks ago, I made an offhand comment on an email list that I’m on, saying: ‘Unfortunately Berlusconi is running for office instead of serving time in jail’, and an Italian (living somewhere in northern Italy) wanted to know why Berlusconi deserves to be in jail. I first thought he must have lived in a bubble for the last ten years, then I wondered what _is_ the impression that the average Italian has of Berlusconi? Perhaps some of your readers have similar viewpoints as the fellow who asked me. My former Roma scientific colleagues are probably not ‘average’ (their opinion is almost uniformly negative about Berlusconi), and since Berlusconi is popular enough to continue to be reelected, then I might not be understanding well the situation.

I answered this fellow’s question with data (the formal legal charges against him and the status of those, etc.) but I don’t know if I was convincing. If anyone is interested in exactly what I said, then ask, and I can copy/paste it here.

34. goffredo - April 24, 2008

Ciao Amara
yes please copy/paste what you said.

If I were an outisider I would have asked you:
If Berlusconi should be in jail then why isn’t he? What is so wrong about the italian system that allows him to “get away with it”?
Is Berlusconi the cause or the effect, e.g. the cause of disease or the symptom?

35. Amara - April 24, 2008

I answered in three parts, the first I think is the most important and is Berlusconi’s criminal offenses. The second two parts are about his effect on science and technology and his record as a failed reformer. Most of my reference material has come from The Economist.

Before I paste this stuff (maybe just the first, for now), my answer to your commonsense questions (as if you were an outsider) would be: 1) Berlusconi changed the laws to keep him out of jail, 2) The Italian justice system is easily politically manipulated and in my opinion, broken, and 3) I don’t know! (the most valuable of your questions 🙂 )

Criminal Offenses
The formal charges are (some are multiple times): tax fraud, false accounting, illegal financing of a political party, bribery, misappropriation of funds. Most of these ran out by statute of limitations. When Berlusconi evades criminal charges, he changes the laws, or he changes the judges or he alters other parts of the judicial system. When Berlusconi wants to expand his business, he initiates bills to ensure that his businesses grow.

From “Dear Mr Berlusconi…” Leader article, Jul 31st 2003 From The Economist print edition Why we are sending an open letter to the Italian prime minister

“This is not a matter of a rich businessman now applying his talents to reforming Italy and giving it a greater voice in the world, though no doubt Mr Berlusconi is sincere when he says he would like to do those things. It is a matter of a rich businessman using his political power to foster his businesses, both by defeating judicial investigations against him and by enacting new laws and regulations in his own interest. The Economist is thus concerned about Mr Berlusconi both as an outrage against the Italian people and their judicial system, and as Europe’s most extreme case of the abuse by a capitalist of the democracy within which he lives and operates. Far from being, as he claims, the man who is creating a new Italy, he is a prime representative, and perpetuator, of the worst of old Italy. Ironic, really.”

Here I’ve collected and globbed together the most relevant articles about his fitness as a prime minister; the last 25 pages of this 50 page compendium concern his last 9 criminal indictments:

36. goffredo - April 24, 2008

Hi Amara
thanks. I will try to be as little obnoxious as possible. Let me say up front that I am not acritically in favor of Berlusconi and I am not a fascist. And I do not think I am an un-ethical person. Indeed I you read to the end I hope you get the feeling that I am more of an idealist than most people. Stupid? Moron? Some on this thread think I am. I’ve read and continue to read History and am aware of ways people and groups took power in the past and of how information can be manipulated so that coherent stories can be built up to convince people to think one way instead of another.

I read just one of the articles in your link. I hope to read a few more and glance at the rest. What troubles me, and certainly troubles you and Tommaso, is that the claim that Berlusconi should be in jail or is not fit for prime minister does NOT make really big waves in Italy or abroad. I do NOT think it is because italians are unethical or stupid (as was suggested in ths thread). That could explain his importance in Italy but, the trouble with this theory is that there is not cut-off (see below) and it diverges. Is is because italians have been over-exposed (I suggested this a mistake of the left)?

There is a third possibility: maybe it is because in Italy there really is NO handle and address the problem “Berlusconi”. In other words it might be not at all obvious to classify what Berlusconi did and does as illegal. Maybe interpretation and especially circular reasoning is playing a fundamental role and everything is strongly subject to bias. By circular reasoning Berlusconi is absolved by some (the most, too many) or condemned (by few, too few). If this is NOT the case, that is if things REALLY were CLEAR, as you feel and you tried to tell your foreign friends, then the TOTALITY of italian commentators would be clear on this, while in fact they are not! Berlusconi would NOT have been allowed to present himself or, worse/best, he would have been carried off to jail. Veltroni would have explicitly attacked Berlusconi on these OBJECTIVE grounds, while instead the debate was not at all on this issue and the other charismatic figures (leaders) and voters of the PD did NOT lynch Veltroni for not trying. The vast majority of people would have demanded he leave politics or be slamed in jail. Why is it that Berlusconi is tolerated and actually respected, at least formally, by so many, incuding the “modern” left PD party? Why is that President Napolitano doesn’t say “I refuse to talk to this criminal!”. Instead he and Berlusconi chat on the phone and only occasionally does some friction emerge, more often than not created by Berlusconi. If you say that President Napolitano stays within his lawful bounds and must interact in a civil way with Berlusconi, first while he was the head the opposition, now as he is the head of the new democratically elected government, then I am trouble because ends don’t meet. And as an idealist, although a pessimistic one (an optimist with experience), I do not understand how Berlusconi can be a criminal and at the same time be recognized by his opponents and the system as a respectful member of the establisment. Something doesn’t fit. Of course Italy is a strange place and maybe Napolitano on Berluconi’s pay list too.

Amara. How systematically are you willing to push your interpretation of Berlusconi? Where are things clear and where are things dominated by italian chiaro-scuro effects, where things take on meaning according to how one places the lighting, how one turns the lights down or even turns on psychedelic and strobe lights that distort the image and take the viewer into a imaginary landscape.

With respect


37. Amara - April 25, 2008

Dear Jeff, I guess you are wondering what are my limits?

Of the criminal charges against Berlusconi, in my personal code of ethics, the most egregious is Berlusconi’s manipulation of the justice system. It is possible that outsiders (who know Italy less than I do) have the same type and level of tolerance threshold.

Outsiders assume Italy is a democracy, and use the basic concepts of a democracy when evaluating Italy. Among the basic concepts is a rule of law that says that _all_ members of society are bound by a set of clearly defined and universally accepted laws. In a democracy, the rule of law is manifested in an independent judiciary, a free press and a system of checks and balances on leaders through free elections and separation of powers among the branches of government. I would say that Italy does not have a proper functioning rule of law.

But maybe one shouldn’t consider Italy a democracy (I’ve called it a Banana Republic, for example during my most frustrated times living there). Or to be fair, maybe one should consider it a ‘flawed’ democracy.

In this Democracy Index, Italy has a world ranking of 34, falling into the ‘flawed’ democracy category. If you look at page 9 and 10 of the Full Report, one of the places Italy fails is the ‘functioning of government’. Such a low score in that category compared to fully functioning democracies would support my personal perspective.

38. goffredo - April 25, 2008

dear Amara
I agree that Italy is a flawed democracy. With your new words you are close to my position.

39. dorigo - April 25, 2008

Hi Amara, Jeff,

I have one or two comments to make, but it will have to wait – I am leaving to the mountains for a weekend, and will have no internet.


40. Vera - April 27, 2008

I’m Italian and I am very worried about Berlusconi: I was not surprised at this _wonderful_ beginning, because I know the man and I expect far worse than this from him. The alliance with fascist, the words about mafia worry me. The most irritating and scaring thing is that Italians behave like this were absolutely normal. I don’t think they are stupid (at least not all of them) but surely they don’t care at all about Italy, and even more, about democracy. Until they have money, they are indifferent to fascism, to mafia, to every possible thing. Ok, money is important, and I, for instance, am not certainly rich, but DAMN IT! Money and success are not the only things to care for! They will not react, they will cross their arms without DOING anything!
Certainly the influence of the mass media, and of Berlusconi’s mediatic power has its influence, and I mostly agreed with the episode of Annozero Jeff has mentioned. But this influence is not an explanation.
As for Veltroni, I like him very much and I was eager and happy to vote for him (something which is rare in Italy…) and I hope the other members of PD will not start questioning his methods and let him work. On the other side, I must say I was happy for Bertinotti’s disaster. Not that I don’t want a comunist or socialist party in our Parliament, I just think they are too distant from real problems: they passed two years questioning their own government and discussing about symbols and stuff like that instead of DOING something useful.

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