Luttwak on Italy and the Euro

From the LRB‘s “Opportunity Costs” by Edward Luttwak, Vol. 35 No. 22 · 21 November 2013

[...] Overy’s account of the ignominious defeat of Italian airpower is utterly fascinating, especially in current circumstances, because – permit me a brief diversion – it was a result of the same pathologies that today condemn the Italian economy to relentless decline under the euro, that most un-Italian of currencies, which Italy’s ruling élite is obliged to hang onto whatever the cost, in order ‘to be able to look Germans in the eye’, as one of that élite recently confessed to me. In other words, Italy should accept impoverishment because the ruling élite has to pretend that it is far more efficient industrially than it is or could be. In the process, the peculiar but very real talents that continued to raise real standards of living for decades after 1945 must be nullified in the hopeless attempt to compete with the Germans exclusively on German terms. The nation of Ferrari, Lamborghini and Maserati must compete only with Volkswagen. [...]

Instead of accepting Italian aviation talents for what they were – artisanal rather than mass-produced, with individualist ace-pilots rather than mass-trained war pilots – Mussolini just had to compete with the Germans. The disasters started as soon as German-style air fighting started, with the arrival of the Corpo Aereo Italiano at Ursel in occupied Belgium in late September 1940, to participate in the bombing of Britain. [...]

because of consistently unrealistic plans, utterly irresponsible command decisions and absurd priorities, 2293 Italian pilots were dead, invalided out or prisoners of war by the autumn of 1942, while only 1920 new pilots qualified in 1940-43 – and all for naught, since Italy could neither attack by air nor defend itself from air attack.

Radar, searchlights, anti-aircraft guns and night fighters: all were in short supply and incompetently used. Civil defence preparations relentlessly favoured form over substance as is still the Italian habit. In spite of very strict blackout regulations and years of theatrical drills, when RAF bombers arrived over Turin on the night of 10 June 1940, the city was entirely illuminated [...]

The Italian Football’s Six-Year (quasi) Rule

1970- Italy in World Cup final (lost to Brazil)

1976- missing (European Championship in Yugoslavia, but had a completely different format than today’s)

1978, 1980 – see below

1982- Italy in World Cup final (won against Germany)

1988- Italy in European Championship semi-final (lost to the USSR)

1990  – see below

1994- Italy in World Cup final (lost to Brazil)

2000- Italy in European Championship final (lost to France)

2006- Italy in World Cup final (won against France)

2012- Italy in European Championship final

Outside the rule, Italy reached the World Cup semi-finals in 1978 (finished fourth having lost the Netherlands and Brazil); the European Championship semi-finals in 1980 (finished fourth having lost to Czechoslovakia); the World Cup semi-finals in 1990 (finished fourth having lost to Argentina and then won against England).

 

Worse Than Berlusconi

(letter sent to the Editors of the International Herald Tribune)

Say what you will of Italy and its Prime Minister, there remains one powerful counterpoint to Silvio Berlusconi, resolutely bringing him a large amount of support: the intolerable pseudo-intellectualism that makes Frank Bruni and his (selected) Italian sources believe there is any correlation between “having a higher education” and “voting Left” (see Frank Bruni’s “The Affliction of Comfort”, IHT, 19 Sep 2011 ).

It doesn’t take much really to understand the utter inability to govern of a political side (such as the Italian Leftists) incapable for two decades of overcoming Mr Berlusconi and his supporters. To consistently lose against people despised as mentally inferior, it is the best evidence of being even more intellectually challenged than them.

International Herald Insanity

From: Maurizio Morabito
Date: Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 3:01 PM
Subject: Insane Ed’s and Op-Ed’s (IHT, 22 Feb)
To: Letters IHT

Dear Editors

it’s difficult to say if your line about the revolts in the Middle East is appalling or just insane. In the same pages (editorials and op-ed‘s, 22 Feb) where you appear at least in theory to support millions yearning for democracy and free and fair elections in the Middle East, you spend considerable ink arguing that the free and fair electoral wishes of millions of people in a major Democracy should be tramped upon.

I am talking about Italy of course.

Are democracies to be supported only when voters follow your advice? Isn’t yours the very same attitude that made murderous dictators rest easily, safe in the knowledge that all it took them in order to get billions in US aid was to present any democratic alternative as not of Washington’s liking?

And so your dislike for Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi reveals you yourself as hypocrites, dreaming of getting the World you dream by pretending to care about distant people whose own dreams you wouldn’t think twice to destroy.

saluti/regards
Maurizio Morabito

Berlusconi Isn’t The Problem – Lack of Self-Respect Is

As an “ironing and cooking” Italian man “who does not ask my partner to make sure the pasta is cooked “al dente” when I get back home from work“, I am puzzled by Chiara Riffa and Rosa Raffaelli’s exhortation for more respect to be accorded to women in Italy (“Enough Machismo Italian Style“, IHT Printed edition, 19 Feb).

Ms Riffa and Ms Raffaelli’s goals are as laudable as daft and nonsensical are the chosen means of changing the status-quo. For example, as enthusiastically “reported” by IHT Rome-based journalists Rachel Donadio and Elisabetta Povoledo, the “women’s dignity” mass demonstrations of 13 Feb were overwhelmingly focused against Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi. That was a sure-fire way to degrade any “demand” to low-level party-political diatribe.

It is also unclear what yet another demonstration achieved, what if anything has changed or is going to change at least in the participants’ lives, and most of all how could a person, even a Prime Minister, affect the “dignity” of a mass of individuals (unless, perhaps, it’s North Korea we’re talking about). Like for everybody else, my “dignity” is all mine, and for me to nurture, not to abandon to the care of however-politically-powerful strangers. Actually, by associating themselves to the controversies regarding Mr Berlusconi, the “women’s dignity” demonstrators might have ultimately shown how low their self-respect is, and how weak their demands, all too easily manipulated for the sake of provoking a change in Government.

I can’t wait for the day when “machismo” will be an obsolete word, in Italy and everywhere else. Tough chance though, unless and until the problem is dealt with in a practical, truly apolitical way capable of positively affecting the day-to-day behaviour of millions of people; and unless and until the educated, cosmopolitan, financially-liberated victims of machismo will (at least!) start self-respecting themselves.

Political Views As Of Nov 22, 2010

Well, it looks like I am a mildly-conservative radical libertarian. How does that translate in the world of now?

  • In the UK: I am mildly sympathetic to the positions expressed by the former trotskyites of Spiked, even if I find them excessively meldrewsque at times. BNP aside, I can’t stand the UKIP,  the only political party whose leaflet I have given back to its startled distributors at my local station, as I find its very existence offensive to a tax-paying foreigner such as myself. As for Lab, Lib/Dem and Tories, well, the jury is still out in the quest of understanding what exactly they different one another from, once they are in power.
  • In Italy: I have voted for both centre-left (Prodi) and centre-right (Berlusconi) coalitions. I have been politically active in both coalitions. Funny thing is, I didn’t have to change my political convictions in order to do that. Right now I am politically active in Berlusconi’s “Popolo della Liberta'” political rassemblement, and can’t see any alternative in the sea of interrupted Italian politicians calling themselves “leaders”.
  • As if things weren’t complex enough, I am also a Roman Catholic and I strongly disagree with the Church’s involvement in politics, or its teachings about public attitudes to sex. That’s hardly the opinion of a potential candidate for the Presidency of the European’s People’s Party.

If anybody finds anybody of similar political beliefs as myself please do send me name and address, as it will be the second member of the Party!

Richard Black Is Not Alone

Anybody wondering how did BBC’s Richard Black manage to post as poorly argued a blog as today’s, wonder no more: a few hours earlier, BBC’s Duncan Kennedy from Rome wrote an article with a gem like this:

In Italy, politics has literally become a contact sport

Looks like Mr Kennedy is reporting despite showing little awareness of his surroundings: between 1947 and 2008, there have been more than 35 political/mafia massacres in Italy. And many more individual assassinations. A “contact sport” indeed.

If that’s the new standard of BBC journalism, expect Richard Black to dive ever lower.

Media And Democracy In Italy – What Freedom? And Whose Freedom?

PANEL DISCUSSION IN OXFORD, 21 OCTOBER 5PM

MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY IN ITALY – WHAT FREEDOM? and WHOSE FREEDOM?
Berlusconi and the case of La Repubblica’s ten questions

Taylorian Institute, Room 2
Wednesday 21st October – 5 pm

A panel discussion organised by
Italian Studies at Oxford and the Axess Programme on Journalism and Democracy
In collaboration with the Oxford Italian Society

Chair: John Lloyd
Director of the Axess Programme, Contributing Editor of the Financial
Times and Director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism

Enrico Franceschini
London Correspondent and London Bureau Chief, La Repubblica

Dr. Daniele Albertazzi
Senior Lecturer in European Media, University of Birmingham

Maurizio Morabito
Press Secretary, Freedom Party (PdL), London Circle

Prof. Andrea Biondi
Secretary, Democratic Party (PD) London Circle

for more information, please contact: italianstudies@area.ox.ac.uk

AXESS PROGRAMME ON JOURNALISM AND DEMOCRACY

Newsweek Explains Berlusconi

Eye-opening article by William Ward in Newsweek (of all places!) explaining the “miracle” called Silvio Berlusconi:

[...] As strange as this preference seems to outsiders, there are several very Italian reasons for Berlusconi’s ongoing hold on politics at home [...]

Italian voters have, in three general elections, chosen the devil they know over his dull and plodding opponents on the left. It’s not just for his showmanship; Italians also appreciate his hard work as a retail politician and electoral strategist [...]

he attempts to muzzle his opponents and highlight his achievements through the media [...] But in this he is merely following a well-trodden Italian tradition [...]

his frequent complaints that Italy’s magistrates (a highly politicized and overwhelmingly leftist bunch) have it in for him are not entirely unreasonable [...]

Italy Explained: Berlusconi, The Northern League And A Working Class That Votes Centre-right

The extraordinarily lucid analysis below is my translation of an article published by “Notizie Radicali”, the online newletter of the Italian Radicals, a political party currently associated to the centre-left Democratic Party.

The original publication date was 4 May 2009. Little has changed since then, despite all the Berlusconi sex scandals. The results of local and European elections in June 2009 have seen a further erosion on the centre-left of the Italian political spectrum.

Probably, the best thing the Democratic Party could do at the moment would be to dissolve itself and give somebody, anybody the chance to start anew.

(the text between square brackets is all mine)

When the Working Class Votes Centre-Right
by Valter Vecellio

The People of Freedom (PDL) at more than 50 percent. The Democratic Party (PD) at around 26 percent. The data from the Ipsos-“Sole 24 Ore” opinion poll is not news in itself, rather a further confirmation of what was already common knowledge.

Among professionals and the self-employed the coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi reaches a “People’s Republic”‘s majority, around the 70 per cent. But the actual “bleeding wound” for the PD concerns that section of the electorate traditionally linked to left, the workers. Among them, consensus for the governing coalition of Northern League (Lega Nord) and PDL exceeds 43 per cent. The PD appears stuck at much more modest 22.4 percent.

The Democratic Party certainly is paying for the competition with Antonio di Pietro’s Italy of Values (IdV). The IdV has been widening its base by leveraging on demagoguery and low-level “qualunquismo” [the mindset of being unable to tell one established party from another].

PD is also paying for competition from its left, from parties such as Communist Refoundation, the Italian Communists [several of them], the Greens, the Socialists. Although those will be unable to cross the 4 percent threshold for being represented at the European Parliament, they will all be eroding valuable points of consensus and percentage from the PD.

Nevertheless, the fact that Berlusconi has managed to wrestle consensus from the centre-left is beyond dispute. A trend in this direction was already clear after the general elections of April 2008. In fact, surprising and inconvenient truths can be found in a very useful report, “Winners and losers in the elections of 2008” published by “Itanes” (Italian Election Studies), a research group started in the early 90s by the Cattaneo Institute in Bologna and guided by a “student” of Giovanni Sartori, Professor Giacomo Sani.

Those are surprising and inconvenient truths, of course, for the losers, not for the winners. According to the report, the PD has paid a combined effect: on the one hand the phenomenon scholars call “selective abstention”, affecting PD voters much more than PDL ones. On the other hand, there has been a real-and-present migration of support.

To put it simply: for every three PD voters of the past, one decided not to vote in the general elections of 2008, and one voted for the opposing coalition.

The centre-left as a whole“, we read, “suffers from the flows of mobilization and demobilization a loss of around 4 per cent of the electorate .. . whilst the PD sees the disappearance of the votes of around 10 percent of those who had chosen the Olive Tree coalition in 2006, in favour of parties of the centre-right.”

The end result is that nowadays, the traditional centre-left electoral base has more overall confidence in the governing by Berlusconi than in the opposition by the PD. But we can go beyond that, by reading a well-researched book “Padanian Breed” by Adalberto Signore and Alessandro Trocino.

It is a book that chronicles twenty-five years of Umberto Bossi’s Lega Nord, and it is not lacking in surprises: despite some “folksy” and “noisy” [i.e. bordering on the loony] public statements by Lega Nord leaders, the authors tell of a a political party made up of activists running local public Offices to the voters’ appreciation, regardless of the social group to which the voters belong.

In Lombardy or Piedmont, it is nowadays no longer considered odd to find members of the communist-leaning workers’ trade union CGIL also belonging to Lega Nord and/or having no qualms to vote for centre-right candidates.

At present, what is new is that how the above phenomenon has become consolidated and disseminated. An entire section of the Italian society doesn’t vote to the left any longer, tired of in-fighting, demagoguery, and inconclusive statements of intent. It is a situation exposed to little or no avail by those in the PD nearer to the electorate, for example the Mayors of Turin Sergio Chiamparino, and of Venice Massimo Cacciari.

Like the mythical Cassandra, nobody listens to them speaking the truth: instead Veltroni, assisted by a strategist of no strategy called Goffredo Bettini, collected a string of ever bitterer defeats, before resigning. Now we have Dario Franceschini seeking to unite the pieces of a vase broken in a thousand pieces. The outcome of all those efforts is reflected in the results of the Ipsos-“Sole 24 Ore” survey: bitter results, for the PD, but also a confirmation of a situation whose cause is to be found in the PD itself.

As things stand, the PD can only wait for its final decay. Its leaders have done their utmost to reach that goal, and now they are reaping what they have sown.

Berlusconi and the Financial Times – Clueless Influence of Context-challenged Reporters

(this letter has been censored by the Financial Times)

– in reply to “Baleful influence of Burlesque cronies”, FT, May 27

Sirs

As activists in the Italian “Freedom People” (“Popolo della Liberta’”) party’s supporters group in London, we would like to express our sincere thanks for having graced Your esteemed newspaper with a brand-new Editorial about our Party’s President and Prime Minister of Italy, Silvio Berlusconi (“Baleful influence of Burlesque cronies”, May 27).

In fact, one doesn’t have to evoke the ghosts of powerful Cardinals in Paris at the time of the Bourbons, to understand that there is no such a thing as bad publicity. Who knows what people would do to be the object of Your attention, and there we have Mr Berlusconi getting it for free…surprisingly (or not) at a time when the UK political class has been shown to be far from perfect as a result of the MP’s expenses scandal!

Your very choice of words (“very wealthy, very powerful and increasingly ruthless man”) sounds like a deep-seated admiration of Mr Berlusconi. Surely there is nobody left nowadays thinking that “ruthless” would be a derogatory term for a politician?

And we fully agree with You in saying the Mr Berlusconi is no harbinger of fascism (yes we are pleased to see that You feel the need to repeat that same concept again and again!).

But please let us dare a little criticism of Yours. What influence, malign or otherwise, has prevented You from explaining in a little less than 500 words what exactly Mr Berlusconi’s “malign example” would be? Or is your worry about the “media sapping the serious content of politics, and replacing it with entertainment” stemming from first-hand experience with Tony Blair’s “Cool Britannia”, and with many years of journalistic manipulation in Britain by the now-forgotten Alistair Campbell?

And perchance next time You will find some time to mention some other facts that Your readers need to be told in order to be able to understand the Italian political zeitgeist. Mr Berlusconi has been under investigation almost uninterruptedly for 15 years. Such investigations curiously began exactly at the time he entered politics, yet the exact accusations against him have been constantly changing. And all along Mr Berlusconi’s opponents have been transfixed by his personality, to the point of making their hatred and personal attacks their very raison d’être…so much so that the Italian opposition is nowadays hitting evermore far below the political belt, with innuendos about Mr Berlusconi’s sex life, age, mental health, personal probity and even his ability as a father.

It seems like the only things Mr Berlusconi has not been accused of are the beating up of old ladies in the street and the torturing of house pets. Perhaps Your Rome correspondents would like to be the first ones going down that route?

Or perhaps they, and You, will decide that the time has come to begin reporting about Italian politics in a thoughtful, comprehensive, non-partisan manner that goes beyond caricatures and prejudices? We are confident you know what we mean – because it would be like going back to the be part of the best the news media has to offer, exactly as you suggest, dealing the “serious content of politics”, rather than engaging in entertainment.

Maurizio Morabito(*) and Ilaria Filippi(**)
“Freedom People” (“Popolo della Liberta’”) Party’s Supporters Group in London

In Italian University Education, A Crisis Being Wasted

(letter sent to the IHT)

Zoe Bray and Andrea Calderaro of the European University Institute in Fiesole, Italy, describe the Italian Government’s planned funding cuts as an “assault on an already fragile education system (Letters, IHT, Dec 12).

Perhaps so. But one wonders why “people [brought] together from all walks of Italian life” protesting against those cuts, have been (and still are!) so acquiescent to the one issue that hobbles every single University in Italy: namely, the incredible and totally unrestrained domination by the “Professori Ordinari”, the tenured professors that literally hold the power of academic life and death (and more).

For decades now, there have been plenty of Professori Ordinari in the Italian Parliament, and in successive Governments from all sides. Still, as Bray and Calderaro correctly point out, the education system has been based “in large part [on] the voluntary work of researchers“. Furthermore, nepotism abounds.

Funding cuts or not, the status quo is evidently untenable. Rather than sterile protests against a Government that is more or less obliged to restructure the infamous Italian public accounts, one would hope those working and studying in Universities could take advantage of the current crisis, and force the tenured professors to give an account of their flawed stewardship.

The Three Leaning Towers Of Pisa

While the Leaning Tower of Pisa’s Piazza dei Miracoli is world-famous, its just-as-leaning Pisan siblings are virtually unknown.

One is the Bell Tower of the Chiesa di San Nicola:

Leaning tower of the Chiesa di San Nicola in Pisa

It is half a mile south from the Leaning Tower. It is actually an almost identical twin, albeit attached to its church and with the columnade on the inside.

The other church tower that failed to remain vertical is a few miles to the east, by the Chiesa di San Michele degli Scalzi.

Leaning Tower of the Chiesa di San Michele degli Scalzi in Pisa

In this case, the whole church is leaning to one side too. Apparently, the builders noticed there was something odd about their work, and completed the bell tower with light bricks instead of the heavy stones they had started with.

Rotten (Italian) Football (and Inept Police)

First let me place the blame squarely onto the Police for the homicide of Chief Police Inspector Raciti in Catania on Friday night, by a group of football “killer” fans.

I am not saying the police personnel on the ground had any fault. My anger is at those in charge of managing public order, from the local Police Chief up to the Italian Home Minister.

They knew well in advance where, when, how, by whom and against whom, fans of football club Catania were going to strike: and still, they let the situation degenerate, to the point that large numbers of people had no qualms in assaulting the Police

Crowd control is based on instigating fear to prevent problems, not in becoming sitting ducks for rocks and home-made bombs. 

Police people that find themselves in a situation like Friday’s are like a bank that gets robbed after having been told all the details of the robbery; or a surgeon that is surprised to find in the patient the very tumor he or she diagnosed.

For me, the lasting impression of Saturday’s incident will be of a State that cannot bring the Rule of Law within a couple hundred meters of the stadiums

================================

Commentators keep repeating that violent fans are no true football fans. It is hard to believe them anymore, having heard the same mantra for decades.

Perhaps it is much nearer to the truth to say that “killer” fans are part-and-parcel of contemporary Italian football.

Its whole structure has in fact plenty to blame itself for having let the rot overcome any good it had had inside, becoming a “Sleaze&Aggression” ensemble that rejects violence only in words.

And so club presidents and managers lament conspiracies only to join any they are made privy of. Players busy themselves tricking the referee either by diving untouched, or by committing hard-to-see fouls without any sense of fair-play.

Referees develop embarrassing relationships with football clubs (and I don’t mean of a sexual variety).

After the football league’s previous managers had been found asleep if not worse during the Summer 2006 match-fixing scandal, the new ones proceeded to water down any punishment, not to mention claiming the miracoulous occurrence of having lowly Reggina manage to collect more guilt than multiple championship winners, powerhouses Lazio and AC Milan.

(I am not angry at “sport” journalists: more, at “normal” journalists, forever oblivious of ongoing scandals)

================================

Is there a dark side to Football? For some reason, other sports such as Rugby Union do not attract any fan violence.

Perhaps, because they don’t inspire any.

There is indeed something very wrong in the very game of Football: ambigous rules on when and how to stop the opponent; the injustice of having a team with a single good player win over a team with a single bad player, perhaps thanks to a single penalty dubiously rewarded by an all-too-powerful referee; the exceedingly strong link to the city or village a team is named after, making the players akin to the local militia of ancient times.

It’s all part to a “temptation to violence“, like semi-transparent clothes that subliminally “inspire” whilst pretending not to.

All in all, Football (like Basketball, like Waterpolo) is inferior to Rugby Union or Volleyball, because one can bring the family to follow the latter group more or less everywhere around the world.

It’s for these reasons that I don’t believe that, were Football to be banned in Italy from tomorrow, its “killer” fans would simply move their violent instincts elsewhere. There would be lots less violent instincts.

================================

Fact is that Football defects’ outlined above compound with other typical Italian issues: a weak sensibility for the Rule of Law, sometimes in the Government itself; a weak State when confronting the Mafias; way too many examples of people getting rich by dubious means; rampant sleaze and corruption in some kind of collective delusion where everybody else is stupid.

================================

What shall we do then? Wait for Italian society to change inside out? Petition Platini and Blatter to change Football by outlawing all physical contact (or by allowing it freely), and by introducing instant replay for the referees?

For the time being all I’d wish is for the economical interests of all the “actors” of the Italian Football Circus to be severely dented by the latest uproar. Perhaps that’ll inspire them into doing something better about their game than throwing it to the dogs.

In the meanwhile, let’s not kid ourselves: lasting changes there will be none, at least not until clever idiots keep zooming forward at the sight of a red light.

I’ll be cheering Mexico during the World Cup

1. Italian football is too rotten to deserve participating, let alone win this year. I only wish they'd retire the squad now

2. I can't root for England. They'd be boasting about a World Cup win for the next 2,000 years

3. I can't root for Brazil. It's just too simple for them to win everything

4. I like Mexico

5. Mexico have a slim, remote non-zero chance of doing something good this year

6. The Mexican flag has got the right colours 8-)