Category Archives: Italy

Italy’s Puppet Master: Licio Gelli Dies Aged 96

Eric Margolis writes:

The French, who know much about intrigue, have a very useful expression, “an Italian scandal.” This means a scandal or plot that is so complex or tangled it defies understanding, and never gets solved.

The death of 96-year old Masonic Grand Master Licio Gelli this week reopened the mystery of Italy’s greatest and most murky political scandals. I’ve been following this wonderful case since the 1980’s. Gelli, a lifelong Fascist, was what was known in the US as “one of our SOB’s.”

As US Republicans hysterically warn of “terrorism,” it’s useful to look back to the Cold War years and see who really had – and has – clean hands.

Gelli first appeared as an 18-year old volunteer Black Shirt fascist sent by Mussolini to Spain to fight the Communists.

Soon after World War II, Gelli was recruited by CIA to help build “Gladio,” a top secret underground organized in 14 Western European nations of former fascists and other right-wingers designed to combat an expected Soviet invasion.

The Soviet threat eventually subsided, but Gladio, its far right members and its arms caches remained. In the 1980’s and early 90’s, Gladio and Gelli would be involved in numerous plots and intrigues known as “the years of lead” aimed at blocking Communists from power and paving the way for fascist coups. CIA and Britain’s MI6 were implicated.


Is Trump the American Berlusconi?

Carlo Invernizzi Accetti and Francesco Ronchi write for CounterPunch:

For a long time Italy’s Silvio Berlusconi appeared as an impenetrable phenomenon to foreign observers. He was routinely dismissed as an exotic anomaly tied to the idiosyncrasies of Italian political culture.

Today, he might not seem so unfamiliar. There are striking analogies between Italy’s former prime minister and the current front-runner in the Republican presidential nominee race — and not just that both are flamboyant billionaires and former entertainers running for office on anti-establishment platforms.

Although Berlusconi’s political fortunes now appear to be on the wane, looking back at reasons for his erstwhile success might shed light on the current fascination with Donald Trump’s US presidential bid.


Libya and the West’s moral bankruptcy

Ramzy Baroud writes for Arab News:

On April 26, 2011, a meeting that can only be described as sinister took place between the then Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The most pressing issue discussed at the meeting in Rome was how to deal with African immigrants.

Sarkozy, who was under pressure from his right-wing and far-right constituencies to halt immigration originating from North Africa (resulting from the Tunisian uprising), desired to strike a deal with the opportunistic Italian leader. In exchange for an Italian agreement to join a French initiative aimed at tightening border control (Italy being accused of allowing immigrants to cross through its borders to the rest of Europe), France, in turn, would resolve major disputes involving a series of takeovers, involving French and Italian companies. Moreover, Italy would then secure French support for a bid by Italian economist and banker, Mario Draghi, to become the head of the European Central Bank.

Another point on the French agenda was active Italian participation in the war on Libya, initially spearheaded by France, Britain and the United States, and later championed by NATO.

Initially, Berlusconi hesitated to take part in the war, although certainly not for any moral reasons: For example, because the war was deliberately based on a misconstrued interpretation of UN Security Council Resolution 1973 of March 17, 2011. The resolution called for an ‘immediate cease-fire,’ the establishment of a ‘no-fly zone’ and using all means, except foreign occupation, to ‘protect civilians.’ The war, however, achieved entirely different objectives from the ones stated in the resolution. It achieved a regime change, the bloody capture and murder of Libyan leader, Muammar Al-Qaddafi, and resulted in a bloodbath in which thousands of civilians were killed, and continue to die, due to the chaos and civil war that has gripped Libya since then.


What really goes on at G7? Interview with Nick Dearden

‘Nick Dearden, Director of NGO Global Justice Now, talks about what is really going on at the summit in the Bavarian town of Schloss Elmau. As the leaders of the richest countries on the globe meet to discuss improving the world, are they really just planning policies to benefit elites in Western countries? Plus what is The New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition and how is it making it easier for big corporations to buy up land in developing countries.’ (Going Underground)

Bilderberg Participant Profile: John Elkann


John Elkann is the grandson of the famous Italian industrialist, Gianni Agnelli. He is the Executive Director of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, a director of News Corp and the Economist Group, and a regular participant at Bilderberg meetings.

Here he is the stylish Elkann at the 2014 Bilderberg conference in Copenhagen, in conversation with Evan Greenberg (board member of Coca-Cola):


And here is trotting after Alex Karp (CEO, Palantir Technologies, described by Forbes in 2013 as “a CIA-Funded Data-Mining Juggernaut”) and Klaus Kleinfeld (CEO of Alcoa, and director of Morgan Stanley and Hewlett Packard):



Corruption in Italy: a resilient equilibrium

Andrea Capussela and Vito Intini write for Open Democracy:

That corruption is widespread in Italy is a well-established fact. Its harmful effects on public finances, SMEs, the quality of public investments, productivity, and trust in the country’s institutions increases informality in the economy. This vicious cycle tends to keep corruption in Italy at a high level.

Nadia Fiorino, Emma Galli and Ilaria Petrarca have all shown that corruption in Italy is negatively correlated with economic growth for the period between 1980-2004. According to Fabio Monteduro, if Italy had corruption scores similar to those of relatively more virtuous countries, its economy would have grown two to three times faster than it has. In addition, citizens tend to show a lower level of satisfaction with democracy in countries where parties rely more heavily on clientelistic strategies.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, corruption in Italy does not seem to be a cultural issue. According to the latest survey by Eurobarometer, Italian respondents are consistently below the EU average in deeming corrupt practices acceptable.’


Inside the Mussolini Museum

Barbie Latza Nadeau writes for The Daily Beast:

BENITO MUSSOLINI, January 31, 1939Every year around Italy’s April 25 liberation day festivities, a group of unapologetic Italians hold a commemoration of their own—they mark the death of Benito Mussolini, who was killed on April 28, 1945, in Giulina di Mezzegra in northern Italy. But it is not to celebrate the event. In what is becoming a trend in Mussolini nostalgia, a growing number of Italians are finding the bright side of a very dark chapter in Italian history.

Commemorating Mussolini is not entirely new in Italy. For years, hundreds of skinheads and self-proclaimed fascists have made pilgrimages to Mussolini’s hometown of Predappio three times a year (at his birth, his death and the October anniversary of his 1922 march on Rome). They visit his old stomping grounds. They flock at the villa where he was born and lay flowers at the mausoleum where he was buried.’


Italian police: “ISIS flag” was jacket in tree

The Local reports:

Italian police: 'Isis flag' was jacket in treePolice were called to an apartment block in Porto Recanati, on Italy’s eastern coast, after locals raised the alarm that an Isis sympathizer may be within their midst.

The officers searched the building and questioned residents, but were unable to recover the mystery black cloth spotted hanging from a tree next to the apartment block.

On further investigation police discovered that the supposed propaganda tool was nothing more than a jacket, swept into the trees after being hung out to dry, Corriere della Sera reported on Wednesday.’


Berlusconi vows political comeback after sex case acquittal upheld

Stephanie Kirchgaessner reports for The Guardian:

‘Silvio Berlusconi has vowed to return to frontline Italian politics after the country’s top court cleared him of charges of paying for an underage prostitute and using his political clout to cover it up.

[…] The man who held Italy’s highest office three times – for a total of nine years – still faces other legal challenges and has separately been convicted of tax fraud. But Wednesday’s late-night verdict drew a definitive line under the case that did the most damage to the billionaire politician, transforming him from a world leader into a laughing stock that other presidents and prime ministers did not want to associate with.’


Europe’s ‘Minority Report’ Raids on Future Terrorists

Christopher Dickey reports for The Daily Beast:

[…] Worry hardly begins to describe the concerns behind the arrests over the last two days. But the legal foundation for detaining suspects varies from country to country, and may create loopholes through which potential terrorist attacks similar to the ones in Paris can still be organized.

Alain Bauer, one of France’s leading criminologists and an expert on counterterrorism, tells The Daily Beast that there’s widening recognition that surveillance tactics and strategies will have to change.

“Counterterrorism used to be like counternarcotics,” says Bauer. “You wait and you wait, and then you get another guy, with the idea that you are working your way eventually to the boss. But time, which was the ally of counterterrorism in the past, is now the enemy.” In the old days, suspects were followed from training camp to training camp, from connection to connection, as authorities mapped out whole networks. But the Internet allows connections to be made very quickly, and inspiration for attacks to take effect without any direct connection at all.’


Secret mafia initiation society captured on camera for the first time

Hannah Roberts reports for the Mail Online:

Police in Italy have captured a secret initiation ritual by Italy’s most feared and powerful mafia on camera for the first time near an old farmhouse near Lake Como‘Police in Italy have captured a secret initiation ritual by Italy’s most feared and powerful mafia on camera for the first time.

In a scene seemingly straight out of the Godfather films, the ‘men of honour’ met at an old farmhouse near Lake Como to swear an oath of allegiance to a secret society within the mafia known as the ‘Santa’ .

In a separate ceremony recorded by police, the alleged mafiosi took oaths in the presence of a revolver and cyanide capsules to symbolise the penalty for betraying the clan.

The rituals were captured as part of an investigation which led to 38 arrests in the north of Italy this morning.

Three mafia clans based north of Milan, in the provinces of Como and Lecco in the Lombardy region were being investigated.’


The new ‘Blair rich project’: Pushing the Trans-Adriatic pipeline against Italians’ objections

Claudio Gallo writes for RT:

Trans Adriatic Pipeline (Image from by Genti77)‘[…] Yo, Blair – what are you doing this time? He is pushing a huge global project in the name of some big guys who care less than nothing that the local people don’t want it.

The scheme is, as always, a case of powerful elites against ordinary people, and guess which side he is for? He is gazing now at Puglia’s southern coasts in his capacity of facilitator of Ilham Aliyev, Azerbaijan’s president, nominated in 2012 for Person of the Year by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the TAP consortium of energy, Trans Adriatic Pipeline, formed by British oil giant BP (20 percent), Azerbaijan’s state oil company SOCAR (20 percent), Norway’s Statoil (20 percent), Belgium’s Fluxys (16 percent), France’s Total (10 percent), Germany’s E.ON” (9 percent) and Switzerland’s di Axpo (5 percent). It’s a 2,000-mile pipeline transporting gas from Shah Deniz-2, the biggest Azeri gas field in the Caspian Sea, across Turkey, Greece and Albania to Italy.’


Italy’s fears that corporate-sponsored restoration projects will lead to the Disneyfication of its cultural heritage

Anthony Faiola reports for The Independent:

The Colosseum in Rome‘They have clothed the world’s wealthy fashionistas and bejeweled Hollywood stars. Now, Italy’s kings of fashion are poised to give this nation’s crumbling monuments a makeover to restore them to their former glory, something the cash-strapped Italian government cannot do.

But as Italy courts private cash to rescue some of the globe’s best-known relics of the ancient world, a debate is raging over the commercialisation of history. The Italians have been careful to avoid, say, the kind of US-style rebranding that could lead to Prada’s Pompeii or the Leaning Tower of Gucci. But critics are already fretting about corporate exploitation of Italy’s national patrimony.’


Italy Falls Back Into Recession, Raising Concern for Eurozone Economy

Jack Ewing and Gaia Pianigiani report for The New York Times:

‘The Italian economy shrank in the second quarter, according to an official estimate on Wednesday, taking economists by surprise and provoking concern that violence in Ukraine and tension with Russia could be pushing the broader eurozone back into recession.

Italy’s gross domestic product contracted 0.2 percent from April through June, compared with the first quarter of 2014, Istat, the Italian statistics office, said in a preliminary estimate. It was the second quarterly decline in a row for Italy, meeting the most common definition of a recession. In the first quarter, output shrank 0.1 percent compared with the previous quarter.

The decline dashed hopes that Italy, the third-largest eurozone economy after Germany and France, was finally emerging from a decade of stagnation. And it may be one of the first concrete signs of how tension with Russia is hurting the European economy, analysts said.’


Berlusconi’s Acquittal: Italy’s Still Bunga-Bunga Country

Tom Gill writes for CounterPunch:

‘[…] Over the last two decades – a period during which he has dominated Italian politics –  Berlusconi has featured in at least 20 major court cases in which he has been accused, but, nearly always not convicted, of corruption, bribery, fraud, false book-keeping, money laundering, tax evasion and other crimes. This, thanks in no small way to dozens of ‘ad personam’ laws and the best lawyers his billions can buy. The only charges that have stuck are for a £300 million tax fraud charge, for which he’s doing a few hours of community service in a facility for Alzheimer’s patients, conveniently located near Milan.

The political repercussions of all this are rosy for Berlusconi. As leader of a major (if no longer the leading) party, he could yet mount a comeback. And Silvio knows he can count on a little help from his friends. In particular, Democrat leader and PM Matteo Renzi, who has publicly shown nothing but the utmost respect for the tax convict (for which Berlusconi’s TV channels and newspapers have amply rewarded Renzi with good press). Most importantly Renzi needs the media mogul’s support to push through his neo-liberal ‘reform’ process.

Berlusconi’s political death certificate has been signed by journalists, political opponents and commentators many times, most recently when he was ousted in 2011 for getting on the wrong side of the ‘markets’, and then when he was booted out of Senate in November, following his definitive tax fraud conviction. It is a fair bet that 77-year old Berlusconi will only really be ‘dead’ when he’s six feet under.’


Pope Francis condemns the West’s declining moral standards

Tom Kington reports for The Telegraph:

The Pope’s half-joking reference was part of a message about everybody having the right to be baptised‘Pope Francis has condemned the “moral decay” of the city of Rome, citing the child prostitutes that ply their trade and the busy soup kitchens of the Italian capital. In a broadside against declining moral standards in the West, the Pontiff cited the darker sides of the streets of his adopted home as an example of modern society’s failings.

Despite it being the home of the Vatican, Pope Francis said, “The Eternal City, which should be a beacon to the world, is a mirror of the moral decay of society.” In a wide-ranging interview with Rome daily Il Messaggero, he also lashed out at political corruption, joblessness and Europe’s low birth rates. He claimed that many Europeans found it easier to own pets than raise children.’


Mussolini’s Blackshirts Win the 1938 World Cup

Simon Martin writes for The Guardian:

Italy's team perform the fascist salute in 1938

‘The recollection of Italy’s 1938 World Cup first-round match with Norway by the national team coach Vittorio Pozzo encapsulated fascism’s single-minded, uncompromising approach to retaining the trophy it had won at home four years earlier.

Aware of the game’s cross-national appeal and powers of propaganda, the fascist regime invested hugely into rationalising and regenerating the Italian game. Slow to industrialise, Italy was a latecomer to football with the game’s boom coming either side of the first world war. Winning the war but losing the peace brought widespread disaffection which, combined with the threat of communism, fuelled the rapid rise to power of Mussolini and the fascist regime.

Having established dictatorship Il Duce turned his attention to trying to mobilise the nation behind the regime. Sport was fundamental in this and despite his initial lack of enthusiasm and unquestionable deficit in talent, football, or calcio as fascism’s linguistic nationalism demanded, became its keystone.’


Mayor of Venice resigns after corruption inquiry

From BBC News:

Giorgio Orsoni posing with a model boat during a visit to France (15 February 2014) The mayor of the Italian city of Venice, Giorgio Orsoni, has resigned amid a wider investigation into alleged corruption over new flood barriers. He and 34 other officials were arrested last week on suspicion of embezzling around 20m euros ($27m, £16m) in public funds earmarked for flood defences. Mr Orsoni stepped down a day after being released from house arrest under a plea bargain. He agreed to a four-month sentence but is unlikely to go to prison. The sentence still requires court approval.’


Italy will include prostitution and illegal drug sales in their GDP calculations to boost stagnant economy

Andrew Frye and Chiara Vasarri report for Bloomberg:

Italy will include prostitution and illegal drug sales in the gross domestic product calculation this year, a boost for its chronically stagnant economy and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s effort to meet deficit targets.

Drugs, prostitution and smuggling will be part of GDP as of 2014 and prior-year figures will be adjusted to reflect the change in methodology, the Istat national statistics office said today. The revision was made to comply with European Union rules, it said.

Renzi, 39, is committed to narrowing Italy’s deficit to 2.6 percent of GDP this year, a task that’s easier if output is boosted by portions of the underground economy that previously went uncounted. Four recessions in the last 13 years left Italy’s GDP at 1.56 trillion euros ($2.13 trillion) last year, 2 percent lower than in 2001 after adjusting for inflation.’


Italy’s Berlusconi says he was forced from office by EU ‘plot’

From Reuters:

CREDIT: REUTERS/STEFANO RELLANDINI‘Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi repeated accusations on Wednesday that he was forced out of office at the height of the euro zone crisis in 2011 as the result of a “plot” by European Union officials. Berlusconi’s comments followed the publication in Italy of extracts from a new book by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner which suggested that EU officials had approached the U.S. government with a project to force Berlusconi to resign.

“They wanted us to refuse to back IMF loans to Italy as long as he refused to go,” Geithner’s book “Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises,” was quoted as saying by daily La Stampa. Geithner said the United States rejected the approach, saying “We can’t have his blood on our hands”.’


Silvio Berlusconi sentenced to community service at old people’s home for tax fraud

Kashmira Gander writes for The Independent:

Former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to complete community service by helping senior citizens at an old people’s home for a year, after he was convicted of tax fraud. A Milan court ruled that the 77-year-old will spend four hours a week helping elderly people in the Lombard region where he lives.

While his conviction means he cannot run in the upcoming Italian elections, as head of the Forza Italia party he remains influential in the country’s politics. As the ruling permits him to travel to Rome each week from Tuesday to Thursday and come and go from his respective residences in Roma and Milan between 6am and 11pm, he is effectively free to participate in political campaigns.


Italian Far-Right Activists Almost Drown Attempting To Prove How ‘Easy’ Illegal Immigration Is

Jessica Elgot reports for The Huffington Post:

lega nordItalian right-wing activists have reportedly had to be rescued from drowning, after a stunt attempting to show how easy it is to cross between Italy and Tunisia went embarrassingly awry.

Last week, seven hapless members of the anti-immigration party Lega Nord attempted to make a point about the volume of asylum seekers coming from Africa to Europe, by sailing a rubber dinghy from Italy to Tunisia, flying the party’s flag.

But just off the cost of Malta, the dighy’s motor caught fire and the men were forced to call for assistance, according to Malta’s Independent newspaper.


Secessionism on the March in Europe

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

Several thousand protesters from across the continent turned out today [March 30th] in the European Union capital city of Brussels. Several nations were represented, none of them currently recognized, and all had the same message: secession now.

Officials like to portray secession as a fringe tactic that comes up only in places like Crimea, and then only at the behest of a foreign power hoping to capitalize on it. That’s less and less the case, as secession grows in appeal across Europe.

Scotland aims to separate from Britain, and Catalan hopes to leave Spain. Even Brussels itself is in the midst of a major secession fight, as Flanders hopes to reassert itself as an independent nation, with Brussels as its presumptive capital.

Italy is the king of secessionist movements though, with three distinct major movements going on at once. Venice has already held a referendum on resuming its independence, while Tyrol is mulling a similar division, and Sardinia hopes to go the route of Crimea, ditching Italy in favor of Switzerland.

At the core of all these movements is a single question: is there an inherent right to self-determination, or is secession only acceptable when the major world powers feel it is convenient. It’s an argument that officials are likely to continue to bicker about, but which the secessionist movements see as obvious.

Pope Francis tells mafia to repent or ‘end up in hell’

Lizzy Davies reports for The Guardian:

Pope Francis  has made his strongest attack to date on the mafia, telling organised crime bosses they will end up in hell if they do not “convert” and give up their lives of “bloodstained money [and] blood-stained power”. In an echo of John Paul II’s appeal to mafia dons to renounce their “culture of death”, the Argentinian urged mafiosi to “stop doing evil” as he held an unprecedented meeting with hundreds of victims’ relatives in Rome.

“I feel that I cannot conclude without saying a word to the protagonists who are absent today – the men and women mafiosi,” he said, quietly but forcefully. “Please change your lives. Convert yourselves. Stop doing evil.”

The meeting in a church near Vatican City was the first time a pontiff had taken part in events tied to a day of commemoration held annually by the anti-mafia organisation, Libera. During a prayer vigil, the names of 842 victims were read aloud.


Venice votes on whether to secede from Italy

From The Week:

An online referendum is being held in Venice this week on whether the city and its surrounding region should separate from Italy.  Over two-thirds of the area’s four million voters favour independence, according to recent polls. The non-binding referendum was organised by local politicians and activists who want to break from Rome, the BBC reports. Prior to its conquest by Napoleon in 1797, Venice was an autonomous power for more than 1,000 years. Campaigners have been inspired by Scotland’s vote on independence, the Daily Telegraph says. Analysts say that those in favour of separation hope to distance themselves from the more profligate south of the country.


Italian police investigate Skype use for ‘porno blackmail’

Philip Willan reports for IDG News Service:

Italian police in Genoa have opened an investigation into the use of Skype to trap victims into online sexual indiscretions, which are recorded and used as a pretext for extortion. A first complaint was lodged with the police last September by a Genoese businessman, said Alessandra Belardini, a deputy police chief with the postal and communications police. Magistrates in the northwestern port city of Genoa are now investigating a total of 11 examples of a growing worldwide phenomenon that is rarely reported to the authorities.

The Genoa case involves four attractive young women who allegedly struck up online friendships using social media, such as Facebook, Badoo and Chatroulette, and then enticed their victims into increasingly explicit sexual behavior to be recorded by webcam on Skype. Police are investigating the possibility that the scam was organized by a male resident in another European country.


Near-Bankrupt Rome Bailed Out As Italy Unemployment Rises To All Time High, Grows By Most On Record In 2013

From Zero Hedge:

A few days ago, we reported that, seemingly out of the blue, the city of Rome was on the verge of a “Detroit-style bankruptcy.” In the article, Guido Guidesi, a parliamentarian from the Northern League, was quoted as saying “It’s time to stop the accounting tricks and declare Rome’s default.” Of course, that would be unthinkable: we said that if “if one stops the accounting tricks, not only Rome, but all of Europe, as well as the US and China would all be swept under a global bankruptcy tsunami. So it is safe to assume that the tricks will continue. Especially when one considers that as Mirko Coratti, head of Rome’s city council said on Wednesday, “A default of Italy’s capital city would trigger a chain reaction that could sweep across the national economy.” Well we can’t have that, especially not with everyone in Europe living with their head stuck in the sand of universal denial, assisted by the soothing lies of Mario Draghi and all the other European spin masters.” And just as expected, yesterday Rome was bailed out.

As Reuters reported, Matteo Renzi’s new Italian government on Friday approved an emergency decree to bail out Rome city council whose mayor had warned the capital would have to halt essential services unless it got financial help.

The decree transfers 570 million euros ($787 million) to the city to pay the salaries of municipal workers and ensure services such as public transport and garbage collection. Renzi, under pressure from critics who say Rome is getting favorable treatment, attached conditions to the bailout.

Rome must spell out how it will rein in its debt, justify its current levels of staff, seek more efficient ways of running its public services and sell off some of its real estate, the government decree said. Rome’s finances have been in a parlous state for years and it has debts of almost 14 billion euros which it plans to pay off gradually by 2048.

The city has around 25,000 employees of its own with another 30,000 or so working for some 20 municipal companies providing services running from electricity to garbage collection. ATAC, which runs the city’s loss-making buses and metros, employs more than 12,000 staff, almost as many as national airline Alitalia. Rome’s administrators say it needs help with extra costs associated with housing the central government, such as ensuring public order for political demonstrations, and to provide services for millions of tourists.

Here is the punchline, about Rome’s viability, not to mention Italy’s and Europe’s solvency:

The city of some 2.6 million people has been bailed out by the central government each year since 2008.

What is certain is that this year will not be the last one Rome is bailed out either. In fact, it will continue getting rescued for years to come because contrary to the propaganda, the Italian economy continues to get worse with every passing month, yields on Italian bonds notwithstanding.


Pepe Escobar: Reliving Machiavelli in Florence

Pepe Escobar writes for Asia Times:

2014 has barely dawned, and I’m standing in a cold, rainy evening at the Piazza della Signoria in Florence, staring at the round plaque on the floor – ignored by the throngs of Chinese tourists – celebrating the hanging and burning of the monk Savonarola in May 23, 1498, accused of conspiring against the Florentine Republic.

Yet I’m thinking – how could I not – of Machiavelli. He was only 29 on that fateful day. He was standing only a few feet away from where I am. What was he thinking?

He had seen how Savonarola, a popular Dominican preacher, had been hailed as the savior of the republic. Savonarola rewrote the constitution to empower the lower middle class; talk about a risky (populist) move. He allied Florence with France. But he had no counterpunch when the pro-Spanish pope Alexander VI imposed harsh economic sanctions that badly hurt Florence’s merchant class (a centuries-old anticipation of US sanctions on Iranian bazaaris).

Savonarola had also conducted the original bonfire of the vanities, whose flaming pyramid included wigs, pots of rouge, perfumes, books with poems by Ovid, Boccaccio and Petrarch, busts and paintings of “profane” subjects (even – horror of horrors – some by Botticelli), lutes, violas, flutes, sculptures of naked women, figures of Greek gods and on top of it all, a hideous effigy of Satan.

In the end, Florentines were fed up with Savonarola’s hardcore puritan antics – and a murky papal Inquisition sentence sealed the deal. I could picture Machiavelli exhibiting his famous wry smile – as the bonfire had burned exactly one year before at the very same place where Savonarola was now in flames. The verdict: realpolitik had no place for a “democracy” directed by God. God, for that matter, didn’t even care. It was only human nature that is able to condition which way the wind blows; towards freedom or towards servitude.

So this is what happened in that day at the Piazza della Signoria in 1498 – in the same year Lorenzo the Magnificent died and Christopher Columbus crossed the Atlantic on his third voyage to “discover” the New World; no less than the birth of Western political theory in the mind of young Niccolo.


Enrico Letta steps down as prime minister of Italy

Italian flag and euro banknotesFrom The Guardian:

Enrico Letta has stepped down as Italy‘s prime minister after the leadership of his centre-left party deserted him for Matteo Renzi, a telegenic and smooth-talking rival who cites Tony Blair as a role model and now looks likely to become the country’s youngest premier in modern history. At the conclusion of a power struggle between the two Democratic party (PD) heavyweights, Letta tendered his resignation to the president, Giorgio Napolitano, on Friday at the Quirinale palace. A statement from the head of state’s office said Letta’s resignation had been “irrevocable” and that Napolitano would begin consulting parties on the next government on Friday afternoon.

The PD’s national committee voted on Thursday to back a motion put forward by Renzi, the party leader and mayor of Florence, calling for a new government capable of opening “a new phase” of reform and pulling the eurozone’s third-largest economy “out of the quagmire”. While it did not directly refer to Renzi, there was no doubt who the party would be backing as Letta’s successor. Although the outcome is not certain, Renzi, 39, is now expected to be asked by 88-year-old Napolitano to form a new government without Italy returning to the polls for the second time in as many years.


Disposal of big bomb will force 45,000 from northern Italy homes

From Stars & Stripes:

A 4,000-pound British bomb is to be defused, hauled away and blown up in the springtime, officials say.

According to Italian news accounts, the bomb, discovered in October, was dropped in November 1944 on what was then Dal Molin Airport. Defusing and removing it will require moving some 45,000 people from the area at a cost of about 1.5 million euros, Italian media have reported.

The all-Italian effort, called “Operation Old Lady,” apparently because the bomb has been in the ground for 69 years,is to be carried out by the 2nd Regiment of the Julia Alpine Engineers.

Operation Old Lady is expected to last for several hours. The plan is for citizens within 3 kilometers of the site, and soldiers from Del Din, home of the 173rd Infantry Combat Brigade Team (Airborne), which is adjacent to the site, to leave their abodes starting at 6 a.m. on a yet to be determined Sunday morning. Everyone is expected to be able to return to the area by the afternoon.