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A lifetime of bribes March 31, 2009

Posted by dorigo in history, news, politics.
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Do you remember Mario Chiesa ? Of course you don’t -seventeen years have passed since his arrest in flagrance of bribery, and, weren’t it for the explosive developments that ensued, his story would have only appeared as a one-column piece in local newspapers, and would have long been forgotten by now.

But Chiesa did make headlines for months in January 1992. The bribery system that was standing behind the curtains he took down as he spilt his guts bit by bit was one of gigantic proportions – italians were shown in a true coup de theatre how the current political system, led by Arnaldo Forlani’s Democrazia Cristiana and Bettino Craxi’s Partito Socialista, was one centered on systematic corruption. Politicians drew money from the business world in fixed percentages, and in exchange helped the businesses which paid those bribes; everybody thrived in this vortex of dirty funds. A few of the politicians got rich, but most of them contented themselves with their increased political means.The parties governing the country fed themselves to retain their power.

Of course, many had known about the whole thing for decades. The funny stories on Craxi and the Socialist Party were countless, and citizens who did not support the government with their votes felt a tad cleaner than those who did; all, however, stood in a sort of forbearance. But things changed overnight: Chiesa’s deposition constituted proof of the misdemeanor, and judges in Milano teamed in to expose the corruption with momentum.

Heads fell one after the other. Craxi fled to Hammamet, where he would spend the rest of his life in a gilded self-inflicted exile; others committed suicide; the toughest fought mightily in judicial courts, and some, as Mario Chiesa, did time. Those were the years of “Mani Pulite” (clean hands), which were saluted with relief by the largest part of the population.

Today, Chiesa is not the young, enterprising fellow he was back then. But he has apparently not lost his vice yet. He was arrested yesterday for charges of bribery, in a story of illicit drain of waste.

If I look back at these last 17 years, I cannot help smiling at the incredible turn-around which ensued. We once had a system whereby politicians received illegal funds to advantage businesses, and used those funds to retain their power. Now we have a system where the two subjects have become one and the same: this way, there is no more a passage of money: the politician and the businessman are the same person, which legislates in a perfect match of interests. He makes the laws that allow his businesses to thrive, and his businesses work to increase his political power. I do believe Berlusconi is serious when he says there is no conflict of interests in Italy: his is, in fact, quite the opposite: a matrimony.

Not a normal country – but maybe an amusing one February 18, 2009

Posted by dorigo in humor, news, politics.
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In the news today: the british lawyer David Mills has been found guilty yesterday of accepting at least 600,000 dollars in 1998 to produce false testimony, in order to help Silvio Berlusconi get acquitted in two separate trials where he was charged for corruption and other frauds -business as usual, for him.

The news is rather curious for two reasons. The first one is technical: in the trial, Mills and Berlusconi were being judged together, but the latter was excluded by virtue of a law, the infamous “lodo Alfano“, which the italian government passed a few months ago, and which prevents the Prime Minister (along with the President of the Republic, and the heads of the two parliament chambers) from being tried during his or her mandate.

Thanks to that ad hoc law, produced by a member of Berlusconi’s party-company, Forza Italia, and passed with urgency through the legislative iter, Silvio Berlusconi evaded a sure embarassment and the probable sentence of guilt for corruption in Mills’ favor. The aftermath of all this is that we now have a person who received money to produce false testimony and save Berlusconi in his two processes, but we cannot try who gave him the money. Note, the sentence says who Mills received money from -Silvio Berlusconi- but the corruptor is left out of the whole business. I find this peculiar.

The other detail is more hilarious -I would say Jonescan. David Mills, besides a 54-month imprisonment, faces the unpleasant charge of having to give 250,000 euros to the italian Premier’s office. That is because the italian State’s Bar, which represented the Premier’s office at the trial, obtained the sum as a reparation. So Mills received money by Berlusconi. He was condemned, Berlusconi got away with it, and now Mills has to go to the italian premier and
say, “Dear italian premier, here is the reparation money -but wait a second, haven’t we met already ?“.

Italy is not a normal country: in a normal country, a prime minister would have resigned from office, having been proven a corruptor. Not in Italy: here, if you get away with your sins, you are considered kind of cool.

But Italy is also a definitely entertaining country: for its politics, and for some of its politicians.

Davide for President! December 18, 2008

Posted by dorigo in Blogroll, italian blogs, news, personal, politics.
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I know, most of my readers come here for the physics, and most of them are not interested in italian politics. Why, I myself am rather disgusted by it -mostly because of the laws that our government is passing, which are coherently going in the direction of creating a classist society.

But politics is not bad by itself. Rather, it is a noble occupation, which unfortunately often corrupts itself, becoming malpractice. But I do believe that there are good and bad politicians: not all are corrupt, not all are there to do their private interests.

Next spring italians will be called to renew the local administration in many cities and provinces. And I salute with enthusiasm the candidacy of Davide Zoggia (see picture, right) for President of the Province of Venice. Davide is a friend, but he most of all is one of those rare politicians who are moved solely by the will to improve our society for the benefit of all. He has led the Province of Venice excellently in the last four years, obtaining the respect of his enemies and managing well the difficult reality of Venice and its hinterland.

So, this blog supports Davide Zoggia. Please visit his blog if you want to know more about him and his projects.

Latorre, please resign! November 19, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, politics.
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That italian politics stinks from afar, that politicians belonging to apparently belligerent parties befriend each other in their private life, that there are transversal groups, septs, freemasonry, and mafia collusions, is not a secret to anybody who has followed the history of this sorry country for long enough. However, when one sees with one’s own eyes these dirty manouvers, a sense of disgust cannot be avoided. It is the case of today’s news, which bring the proof of the misconduct of Nicola Latorre (right), vice-president of senators of the Democratic Party (PD).

The facts: during a heated debate on the TV studios of “La sette”, a private national network (the biggest not owned by Berlusconi), the politician representing the government, Italo Bocchino, is in straits under the attacks of Massimo Donadi, a member of Italia dei Valori (IdV), Antonio Di Pietro’s party. Donadi accuses Berlusconi’s government of ingerence in the choice of Leoluca Orlando (also IdV) as the head of the commission of vigilance on TV networks. The choice is a privilege of the coalition which opposes the government, for obvious reasons; but Berlusconi has vetoed Orlando’s name, creating a annoying situation.

Bocchino does not know how to reply to Donadi’s accusations, but fortunately he is sitting next to Latorre, who surprisingly comes to his rescue. Latorre is shown by TV footage as he takes Bocchino’s pen from his hand, writes something on the edge of Bocchino’s newspaper (see frame on the left), and offers his note to Bocchino, clearly drawing his attention. The note is a very effective suggestion on how to counter Donadi’s arguments. Next thing you know, Bocchino uses the suggestion, getting out of a very embarassing blank.

There is not just footage to prove Latorre’s misconduct. The bit of paper, which is torn from the newspaper and folded by Latorre after Bocchino has read it (see picture above, where Latorre is on the left), has been collected, and is now in possession of the journalists of La Sette: Latorre’s handwriting is irrefutable proof.

I think this episode should not be forgotten, and I think Nicola Latorre should immediately resign from all representative charges for PD. I would not mind if he resigned his mandate as senator too.

Italian Universities and Research Institutes save Banks. Who will save italian research ? October 10, 2008

Posted by dorigo in humor, news, politics.
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(This post is partially flawed by a wrong interpretation of the faulty italian in the decree it mentions. I do not take it off since I still subscribe to most of what I wrote below. See note at bottom).

Italian credit institutes are not immune to the huge financial crisis we are witnessing throughout the world markets. The first ones are already yielding to the pressure (Unicredit for instance), and many will follow suit. Of course, the italian government must throw a life jacket to these benefactors. The problem, however, is that there is no money to spend in Italy’s budget. What is Berlusconi’s finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, going to do ? Will Giulio manage to save the sinking banks ?

Worry not. Banks will be saved. If that means burning a few billion euros and paralyzing a few Universities and research institutes, hitting their ordinary administration with unforeseen cuts that impinge on the flesh of their budget, the part which goes to pay salaries and bills, too bad. After the invention of the concept of “creative finance”, minister Tremonti will now appeal to the concept of “creative research”, whereby experiments will be built with scavenged scrap metal pieces and computing will be performed on private-owned cell phones. Did you know that the computing power of the hundred million cell phones owned by italian citizens would be enough to manage a medium-sized particle physics experiment ? Let’s release that potential!

Unfortunately, there is little to laugh about. It is all written down in a document issued yesterday, the Decreto Ministeriale number 155 titled “Misure urgenti per garantire la stabilita’ del sistema creditizio e la  continuita’ nell’erogazione del credito alle imprese e ai consumatori, nell’attuale situazione di crisi dei mercati finanziari internazionali” (urgent measures to guarantee the stability of the credit system and the continuity of supply of credit to businesses and consumers, in the present situation of crisis of international finance markets). Here are the salient parts:

Art. 1: 1.The minister of Economy and Finances is authorized, even in dispensation from accounting rules of the State, to subscribe or guarantee capital increases decided by italian banks which present a situation of patrimonial inadequacy certified by the Banca d’Italia. […] 7. With a decree by the President of the Council of Ministers […] the resources to fund the operations are identified […]: a linear reduction of financiary allotment […] of the ordinary fund to Universities; of resources allotted to research […].

At least, these cuts to Universities and research institutes are motivated by an international crisis. The 132,000 layoffs in the public school system, recently passed by another decree, are instead motivated just by the will of Berlusconi’s government to reduce taxes -particularly to those who suffer the most: those poor souls who, earning several hundred thousand euros a year, see their income heavily curtailed. Berlusconi is a real Robin Hood: an upside-down one. He now steals from Universities to fund banks: he’s just amazing. I wonder if his next move will be to close public hospitals to fund an increase of troops in Afghanistan – but I fear reality will continue to outdo fantasy.

UPDATE: Ok, this will remain as an example of how the current state of affairs in italian politics has made us all a bit paranoid. Indeed, after a commenter below pointed it out, I found out that the bureaucratical language of the decree leaves room to two opposite interpretations: the first is that the funds to University and research are excluded from the curtailing, the second, as I reported naively, is that they are part of the pool of funds which will be cut.

I now believe the “correct” reading is the one which excludes University and research funds, along with a list of others, from being reduced to increase bank capitals. A sigh of relief.

Not a Say of the Week but… October 10, 2008

Posted by dorigo in humor, news, politics.
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I cannot log this in as a Say of the Week because it is a bit over the top, but I thought I’d record it here anyways, since it was well worth a sound laugh as I read it:

Bella donna, ma che tariffe!“.

Translating this is taking some of the punch away, at least for someone with a mediocre lexicon such as myself. I need to try anyways for you spoiled English monoglots:

“Beautiful woman, but what fees!”.

It is the ironic comment pronounced by Sabina Guzzanti, an italian comedian who had personally attacked the minister for equal opportunities, Mara Carfagna, during a show. Guzzanti had lingered on the topic of the sexual encounter between the ex-cover girl and the italian premier Silvio Berlusconi, which had allegedly fruited Carfagna a seat in the italian parliament. In response, Carfagna sued Guzzanti yesterday, asking for a million euro as a compensation for the defamatory remarks. The fees Guzzanti alludes to are of course the parliament seat itself and the million euros.

Berlusconi’s plan for universities and research October 2, 2008

Posted by dorigo in news, politics, science.
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Just so you know what is going on in Italy as far as funding for research, fixing the precarious position of young researchers, and politics on instruction and universities are concerned, I paste below a quick-and-dirty summary of a piece by Rino Falcone, from the Osservatorio Ricerca (research observatory).

The politics of Berlusconi and his ministers Tremonti (economy), Brunetta (public affairs), and Gelmini (instruction) on University and Research are determining a future prospect for Italy which is outside of the Lisbon agreement, that is outside the european strategy which identified in knowledge the central pivot point of the new economic and social development.

We report below the list of disastrous actions of the italian government:

1) money to abrogate a tax (called ICI) on the ownership of one’s residency for families with high incomes is coming in part on a reduction by 467 million euros the national funding of Universities (6% of the total, which however can only reduce the compressible expenses like maintenance, metabolism, etc., which is 13% of the total);

2) a law (number 133/08) foresees a reduction to 20% of the turn-over for universities (among 5 retirees, only one new hire) in 2009-2013 with a reduction of funding increasing from 64 million euros in 2009 to 455 million euros in 2013. For research institutes there will be a 20% reduction in 2009.[…]

Adding the cuts to universities from ICI and turn-over, in 2009-2013 there will be a reduction of almost 4 billion euros (5.6 billion dollars).

3) In 133/08 the possibility is given to universities to become private foundations. The risks to the autonomy of teaching, besides to those research fields not palatable on economic grounds, are clear. […]

4) Law 133/08 foresees, even for research institutes, a reduction of personnel by more than 10%. […]

5) finally, and most serious, since it attacks the weakest as well as the most valuable part for an investment in the future, is a combination of articles of the various laws which limits to three years the non-permanent contracts with researchers, in institutions where hiring of permanent personnel is almost non-existent these years.

The picture emerging from the above is quite clear:

– economical cuts which cannot be withstood by the research institutes and universities;

– waste of the most valuable resources for a country: young, talented researchers in science. It is not by chance that everywhere in the world young italians get quickly hired in qualified positions.[…]

I am reminded of a funny cartoon by Gary Larson I saw attached on a wall in the office of my friend Francesco Vianello in Bruxelles:  a symposium with dinosaurs of all kinds, the speaker saying “The picture’s pretty bleak, gentlemen: climates are changing, mammals are taking over, and we all have a brain the size of a walnut”.