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Italian Regional Report

by de Gondi Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 02:30:56 AM EST

In the past days hardly an hour passes in Italy without a dramatic turn of events. Just in the past hour the Court of Appeals rejected the plea to readmit Berlusconi's personal political entity in the Rome electoral contest while the Procura of Trani finally confirmed the indiscretions that have circulated throughout the day: Berlusconi is under investigation for extortion in public office, along with Augusto Minzolini, director of the banner state news program RAI 1, and the director of Agcom, Giancarlo Innocenzi, an ex-Fininvest sanfedista.

front-paged by afew


Friday morning started off with a whammer handed down by the Regional Administrative Tribune that rendered null Berlusconi's silencing of in depth news programs on the pretext of elections. His government had broadly interpreted the par condicio law (fair timeshare for political parties) extending its application to in depth news programs and private TV's. Sky and La 7 challenged the ban and won their case. The ruling automatically implied that the State television had to rescind their broadcasting ban too.

The Authority watchdog released a report showing that because of the ban, Berlusconi's personal political entity had become far overrepresented on all channels both public and private, with the exception of Sky and RAI 3, the Left's Indian Reservation which essentially exists to testify that Italy is a democratic pluralistic state.

The most popular news program, Annozero, had intended to broadcast a Special via internet and private radio on the 25th. It should now return on air on the RAI.

But what had started the day off was the scoop in Il Fatto Quotidiano, a maverick muckraking daily run by the best and brightest from the once glorious l'Unità under Furio Colombo which had been the bane of the rightwing during Berlusconi's second tenure (2001-2006). The scoop stated that the Procura of Trani had stumbled onto a case of extortion in public office while investigating an unrelated case involving usury interest rates on credit cards. One of the suspects, alleging acquaintance in high offices, attempted to block a news program exposing the case. Wiretaps were authorized only to discover the obsessive and near daily complaints of Berlusconi to the directors of Agcom and RAI 1 News. Now Agcom is the authority that presumably regulates fair representation in the media among other, while RAI 1 News has been turned into a bedroom mat with the nomination of Minzolini as director. Mr. Berlusconi's view on fair representation plainly means that no other views should be aired.  He would outright order these public officials to find a way to exclude opposition voices and the two directors complied, as the past months demonstrate. However, Agcom can not act on what has not occurred. So the programs had to be first aired to be then denounced, and Innocenzi would arrange for some stooge to do so, provoking deep irritation in other rightwing appointees to the point of one irate remark, "This doesn't even happen in Zimbabwe!" In effect, Zimbabwe is a score higher than Italy. It certainly isn't in a state of paralysis over the paranoid delirium and victimism of a crass billion dollar brat.

The bottom line is that Agcom, an authority that should protect consumer rights, contributed to banning in depth news programs on illegal pretexts. And since it appears its actions were fruit of an illegal agreement or conspiracy, the law tacks it down as bribery or extortion in public office.

That was Friday. Wednesday saw Berlusconi's 37th ad personam law passed through the Senate on two confidence votes- the 30th confidence vote since winning office, an all time record. Amusingly called "legitimate impediment" the law allows Berlusconi and all of his ministers to avoid court appearances for a period of 18 months without a plausible pretext. The law is clearly unconstitutional since all citizens can claim a circumstantiated and justifiable impediment not to appear in court on a certain date. The court and the parties will then agree on a further date. This law allows only a few dozen citizens to declare an unsubstantiated impediment that may extend in time to a maximum of 18 months thus blocking almost all of Berlusconi's trials.

Thursday instead treated us to a novel variant of the press conference. Berlusconi artfully reinvented reality, asserting that the exclusion of his political entity's lists in the regional elections of Rome was a conspiracy of judges and the Radicals. It is most interesting since his tirade is in stark contrast with the numerous films of the events, the declarations by police authorities, witnesses, and two court sentences- now three of this evening (Friday). Berlusconi's press got some yardage out of the fact that there was a Che Guevara poster in the background while the judge was being interviewed, a fact just as grave as Judge Mesiano's turquoise socks. The clou of the press conference was Berlusconi's insults to a freelance reporter for having asked a question about the Civil Protection scandal. Berlusconi created a scene that allowed him to avoid flooring further questions and turn the event into an anti-Left diatribe. Berlusconi called the reporter a villain several times, adding that the reporter looks in the mirror each morning and finds himself so ugly that he acts like a scum the rest of the day. By then the Minister of Defence, Ignazio La Russa, had approached the reporter presumably to physically prevent him from continuing and laid hands on him, even patting him on the head.

Today is Saturday. There will be a massive rally in Rome to ask for Berlusconi's demission. Known as the Violet Movement (il popolo viola), it follows in the footsteps of last year's student movement l'Onda, an ineluctable evolution of internet informed opinion and civic participation. All opposition political parties will also participate.

 Italy's highest court will have its say on the excluded list during the day.

In the meantime, all the other grave scandals implicating Berlusconi's closest collaborators have slipped out of the news.

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Again: it is an enormous pleasure to read ahead of the curve because of you De Gondi.

Something is building in Italy. It'll break one day.

If you'd like to indulge, is Berlusconi targeting any people in particular when he rants against "the Radicals"? Or is it just a consistent stratagem to turn himself into a victim of heinous conspiracies by everyone who does not suck up to him?

In the Netherlands, reporting about Italy comes on and off in NRC Handelsblad, but when it comes, it is blistering:

nrc.nl - International - Italian judges: 'Berlusconi danger to democracy'

The problem is that all these institutions find themselves under constant pressure. Judges and journalists are constantly under fire from government parties. Parliament and government have been infiltrated by the mafia.

According to Massimo Gianni, an analyst who writes for opposition daily La Repubblica, Berlusconi is playing a game of "smoke and mirrors in which appearances have replaced reality". "According to Berlusconi, the rule of law is a pointless obstacle. The reign of confusion is preferable," Gianni said.

Checks and balances like the free press, the judiciary, the president or parliament that become too critical are ridiculed and stripped of their legitimacy. Whoever dares interfere with the leader's business has a price to pay, Gianni said???.

Berlusconi has compared bothersome magistrates to "a subversive gang of Taliban members" who are "different from the rest of the human race, anthropologically speaking".

The prime minister has called journalists "communists" and thinks the president of the republic, Giorgio Napolitano, is little more than a pesky obstacle. Members of parliamen are supposed to obey their leader, as far as Berlusconi is concerned.

by Nomad on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 04:02:43 AM EST
It's Massimo Giannini. Here's one of his most recent articles on irresponsible power.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 05:47:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Il potere irresponsabile - Repubblica.it
Berlusconi è ancora troppo forte per essere finito, ma è ormai troppo sfinito per essere forte. Giustissimo.

greek tragedy, meet comic opera...

'The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.' Thomas Piketty

by melo (melometa4(at)gmail.com) on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 06:09:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
is Berlusconi targeting any people in particular when he rants against "the Radicals"?

I wondered why he mentioned the Radicals, too. But, note: in the Italian context, the Radicals was the name of a succession of liberal parties from the 19th century, and it is one of the two main roots of the current left-of-centre Democratic Party.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 08:25:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If you'd like to indulge, is Berlusconi targeting any people in particular when he rants against "the Radicals"? Or is it just a consistent stratagem to turn himself into a victim of heinous conspiracies by everyone who does not suck up to him?

The center-left candidate for the presidency of Lazio is the Radical Emma Bonino. Beyond that Radicals are known for militant postures in applying laws and rules. Their non-violent Gandhian tactics, such as hunger or thirst strikes, make them a unicum in the Italian political landscape. Although they have never had a solid constituency, they have managed to modernize Italian society through their oft winning focus on specific issues such as divorce, abortion, personal drug use, abolition of military service and euthanasia.

Berlusconi's stale tactics, that alternate between playing the victim and vehement rhetoric, does get his followers to "suck up to him."

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 12:44:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let me add that Francesco Rutelli came from the Radicals (though having checked, I find he was about the only Radical in La Margherita... messed that up).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 01:26:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
What is the importance of these regional elections? Of course, being unable to enter big regional elections is always bad for a party, it reduces seats and so on. But does the regions have any power that relates to the issues that appears to always be on Berlusconi's mind - the prosecutions against him for his various crimes?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se
by A swedish kind of death on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 04:07:50 AM EST
Regional elections are very important in Italy not only as a midterm test of the national government and the effective weight of the opposition but above all because Italian regions wield enormous power in administering regional budgets on such money makers as national health and public tenders.

In Lazio the key battle is the enormous public health system debt that involves the Angelucci clan and its Vatican allies that support the rightwing candidate. With the leftwing government of Piero Marrazzo they were able to get their way presumably through their knowledge of Marrazzo's sexual inclinations. If the Radical candidate Emma Bonino wins, this power group will likely be heavily penalized.

In Lombardy there is Milan Expo in 2012. Whoever runs the region will favour his own clans.

It boils down to sheer greed, corruption versus a modicum of honest governance.

by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 05:35:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Amusingly called "legitimate impediment" the law allows Berlusconi and all of his ministers to avoid court appearances for a period of 18 months without a plausible pretext.

I don't know why this angers me so much - I guess it because is the most blatant nose-thumping in the whole affair, it's saying loud and clear in view of everyone 'if I cannot be above the law I'll lower the law'.

Context:

Berlusconi will now have to undergo a trial as the corruptor. He had passed a personal law that granted him temporary immunity from prosecution while in office. The law was recently struck down as anti-constitutional, forcing Berlusconi to write a new bill, called "legitimate impediment," to block the trial. However, his legislative engineering also suspended the statute of limitations which is now set in 2012. At this pace he need only churn out self-serving laws until the bribery case will be extinguished due to the death of the defendant. [February 25, 2010]
Fran:
The revival of the charge against Mr Berlusconi for allegedly giving the bribe follows a decision by the Constitutional Court in October to overturn a law that the Italian Prime Minister pushed through Parliament last year, giving himself immunity from prosecution.
B's lawyer immediately declared that his client had a legitimate impediment and would therefore not attend the hearing. [November 27-8, 2009]
it is an old defense tactic to avoid an in absentia trial by resorting to legitimate impediment to attend a trial session. An in absentia trial would move along quickly to its conclusion since the defense has either willfully renounced to be present or is at large or the judge has declared the defendant in absentia with a motivated decision (as I recall).

Berlusconi seeks to have his trials prolonged indefinitely just as all of his cohorts (Previti, Dell'Utri, etc.) by systematically presenting overriding impediments that prevent him or his lawyers to attend the trial that day. His lawyers or himself are often either sick, wounded (broken this or that) or in parliament or whatever may be construed as a plausible excuse. Since the statute of limitations ticks on until the supreme court, anything goes.

The judge has ruled that all sessions will be held on Mondays and if there is a "legitimate" impediment, the ssession will be held on the next available day of that same week. This ruling is designed to foil the defense's game of putting the trial off indefinitely.

If in the long run trial sessions are regularly put off, the judge could have grounds to declare an in absentia trial- which would probably be appealed anyway, thus putting off the trial once again until a higher court confirms or rejects the decision.

The best thing to do would be to reform the law on the statute of limitations: simply eliminate limitations once the trial has started. There would no longer be a reason to drag trials on for years. [18 November, 2009]

(my emphasis)

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 05:37:50 AM EST
Thanks very much for putting those quotes together.
by de Gondi (publiobestia aaaatttthotmaildaughtusual) on Sat Mar 13th, 2010 at 05:50:13 AM EST
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