Wednesday, November 30

Rome-TrenItalia-Bialetti Espresso Makers & other good things about Italy (including politics)

Of course, the absolute *best* news to come our way this month (other than the launch of my book!) was seeing Silvio Berlusconi get his comeuppance when finally he was delivered with the sorry news that It’s the Economy, Stupido.  [To his defense, he had relied on the Italian post office for it came a bit late].   A bon vivant and symbol of all that is wrong with Italy (skirting the law, sidetracking the women professionals in favor of the professional women strippers, proffering rampant nepotism & cronyism, suggesting people don’t pay taxes all the while treating the judiciary with gross disrespect), he was finally forced to step down.  He may be down but this does not signify he is out.  Although he did very little for Italy over the last 17 yrs wandering the lap dance halls of power, he has vowed to play on...
In fact, fans of Silvio's will find that his record album, Il vero amore was released this month.  If that's not a case of a politician lying right through his teeth, I don't know what is.  Tell us about True Love, Silvio!
We are now faced with the prospect of his delfin – Angelino Alfano, the strange alien life form now at the helm of his party who I am sure if he took off his mask is in reality Admiral Ackbar.  Italy: the next Death Star.
I may be a bit behind on reporting this news, but after recently purchasing two wonderful tiny Bialetti Moka espresso makers (you know, the old-fashioned ones that you set on the stove only after spilling costly coffee grains all over the kitchen counter and then wait as it spits up the black gold all over the stovetop), I discovered a whole section of spare parts for it hanging in grocery & appliance stores around town.  Offering – at long last – the little plastic handles and tops to your espresso maker that you have, over the years, melted down to irrecognizable clumps of their former selves. 
Perhaps if they’d offered this years ago, the rest of the world wouldn’t have switched to the handy spill-proof pods & electric coffee makers by now.  Regardless, I say stock up now before they can only be found in archeological museums.

Rome continues to beautify itself.  This time, completing the restyling of the romantic Parco degli Aranci (the orange garden) on the Aventino hill which offers a stunning – and silent – view of Rome.  Also, the park across from the Bocca della Verità was done up and now sports a labyrinth of greenery for you to enjoy. But for some real treats in the area, head up the tiny street nearby - via dei Cerchi - and on the corner before crossing into the Circus Maximus you’ll find Cristalli di Zucchero.  It's a slice of heaven serving tasty treats including those mouth-watering macarons in every sort of flavor – my favorite rose - bagel sandwiches and chocolate-covered ambrosia, food of the gods.
Across the street from there & up a few doors is a newish wine bar serving great food 24/7 and excellent happy hour buffets.  Next stop: Piazza Vittorio, Rome’s largest piazza (remember, St Peter’s square is in Vatican territory) will be getting its own facelift.  And around there, even more treats to be had amongst the foreign foodstuffs &amp, cheap Chinese shops, and Rome's oldest gelateria.
Now if the city only spent more time & money on cleaning up its outskirts or enabling recycling, we’d truly be a shining jewel in the crown of city planning.

Elsewhere around town, the Province of Rome has installed hundreds of solar panels in schools everywhere.  And That website for allowing the lowly customers a voice was launched in Italy (I personally can’t wait to start uploading reviews).  

And finally, Trenitalia finally got closer to their customers by starting a lost luggage contact point with their Ufficio Assistenza Clienti located at each rail station (Really?! Italy's Trenitalia has a customer service center??! Hopefully it'll be an improvement on the one I went to at Rome's airport - with the doors locked and no one in the office once I infiltrated the premises or the one in Torino where the doors do not open automatically).  Of course, this news doesn't bode well when their illustrious website still informs you that you must file a complaint with the local police dept instead.
Luggage-less English speakers can also try their luck at calling the Phone Center (they speak English) but...that costs you money and...I wish you luck.
Regardless, this is still great news arriving only 172 years after people started losing their bags on trains since taking to the rails under the Naples' Reign of the Two Sicilies.  
But hey, as the Trenitalia motto reads:  Always better late than never.

Tuesday, November 22

Letter from Paris

Paris - the City of Lights - quite necessary due to the grey haze and often rainy days that is a part of its cityscape.  Although if you wake up early and hit the streets you can sometimes find cloud formations and skies that would wake the senses of any a fine artist.
Having lunch in a café, I was startled out of my amazing Japanese meal when the elderly and elegant woman next to me started yelling -- calling for the owner to come to the front immediately. I was stunned by her total composure (she just kept right on supping) in the throws of what seemed like a total Bella Figura breakdown.  The New Yorker in me figured she was just another loose screw in the machine that makes up our civil society.
Finally turning my attentions away from her and in front of me, I realized the reason for her alarm: four gypsy kids had meandered into the crowded locale so they could meander out with a five-finger special: your bag, wallet, cellphone, or anything from the pockets of your coats hanging on racks or seat backs.  With all the raucous, they turned and ran out immediately, and straight into the arms of a local policeman who then popped his head in to see if anyone was missing an item.  He stepped back out to shake the kids down and recover their stash.  
This was not the only instance of security I found in this bustling city.  Your arrival at Orly (and probably a few other airports and train stations as well) is greeted with machine-gun wielding soldiers strolling the arrivals and departures areas.  Coupled with those lime green plastic garbage bags waving in the wind like a humungous Christo exhibit installed throughout every single arondissements which have taken the place of metal garbage cans, well, you can see that these Parisians take their security seriously.
I realized that not only were these the first gypsies I've ever seen around town, it was certainly the first time I've seen them so bold as to enter a restaurant.  In Italy, this doesn't seem to happen although instead we have a nightly infestation of wandering vendors selling Chinese gadgets and unscented roses who make their way in amongst the diners.  But at least these guys are fairly harmless and don't seem to steal (and, I must admit, I harbor a secret desire to buy some of that junk every so often...).
Nonetheless, I found that the vigilance of both the customers and the proprietors when it comes to protecting our private property and our dining experience quite impressive.  I imagine that in our always compassionate Italy, there is the idea that "they're just trying to make a living" which allows our vendors in the door. And the idea that "gypsies are people too" which allows them to roam the streets and pick-pocketing tourists to their heart's delight under the blind eye of our law enforcement officials.

Sunday, November 20

Tons of travel tips for Italy

Friends who run a wonderful B&B - The Beehive - and apartment rental service Cross-Pollinate in Rome have been penning quite a few pointers on their blog for years.  It is filled with excellent tips for anyone coming to Rome, with a touch of user-friendly advice as given by their lovely daughters often featured in the videos.  I loved the quirky stuff so much, I thought I would bring you one as a guest post feature.  
This one is on how, exactly, to drink from the Nasoni (or Big Snout) Water Fountains of Rome just like a native.  They also provide another on shopping tips, or purchasing train tickets from Rome Termini Station (right near the Beehive) to Fiumicino - Leonardo Da Vinci airport.  You can even download on their home page an exceptional 'insider's guide' to all things Roman while there.  Their cross-pollinate blog posts are also filled with cool tips and neat stuff to make any trip that much more pleasurable.  So be sure to buzz over there sometime and check out what hoteliers Steve & Linda (& their girls) have to say.

note: all live links are in grey above

Thursday, November 17

Berlusconi, Monti & the Spread

All the Prime Minister's Women / This picture was posted on the Informare Controinformando News Facebook Page and compares the women Ministers of the previous Administration to those of the newly minted Monti Administration.

Above, we have (the titles above are incorrect)

Minister of Justice - Paola Severino - Lawyer, Four time Vice President of the Council of Military Magistrates, with a stellar defense career, she has been listed as one of the richest public officials.

Minister of the Interior - Anna Maria Cancellieri - Commissioner of Parma, Bologna,, Prefect & Sub-Commissioner of Milano.

Welfare Minister - Elsa Fornero - Economist, specialized in pensions, & Prof of Policy & Economics, Vice Pres on the oversight board of one of Italy's top banks, Intesa Sanpaolo & advisor for Russia & E. European banks

Below, our previous ministers:

Minister of Tourism (Italy's most important industry) - Michela Vittoria Brambilla - Former model, Voted Miss Elegance for Emilia, worked for Mediaset (Berlusconi's TV co.) - Studied some philosophy & obtained journalist credentials

Minister of Education - Mariastella Gelmini - Graduate in Law/Administration outside track, President of the City Board of Desenzano del Garda (a small tourist hamlet)

Minister for Equal Opportunity - Mara Carfagna - Former topless model, ballerina & voted Miss Cinema at the Miss Italy contest - Graduated with honors in jurisprudence before working on Berlusconi's campaign in Campania.

Let's just hope that these women with the credentials can now be the ones to turn heads.

Sunday, November 13

Don Silvio's Curtain Call

I found it perfectly fitting that the Prime Partier's departure from Parliament was met with spontaneous all-night parties, the likes of which could only be found in his Sardinian hideaway (sans pole dancers, of course).  But before he handed over the reins to our serious President to consider, like a tired-out Don (although they get facelifts to hide their identities, not to flaunt them) he got into his limo to allow the competing family to control the clan.  I would have loved to witness the scene, with no bargaining chips left, of Silvio heading to the table--cards in hand to give his "conditions" for leaving well enough alone.

foto from imdb
He stated that his right-hand man, the guy really pulling the political strings, someone as close to him as you can get to Don Vito's Hagen, Gianni Letta, should be Vice Premier under a new government.  It was his last-ditch attempt as master puppeteer to manage the machinations of the country that had seemingly lost its way, no fault of his own.  Letta has been the guy in charge while Don Silvio (self-proclaimed "Part-time Prime Minister") jetted around strutting his showman stuff while generously opening his heart and wallet to those that needed him:  the lonely hooker with a heart (Ruby Heartstealer, in fact, straight out of central casting) who was gifted with thousands so she can get a leg up (purportedly to "open her beauty salon and get off the streets"), "loans" to "friends" like aging Talent Scout Lele Mora who in return for his booty, brought in the booty, and childhood buddy, Lucio Stanca (former head of IBM) who learned that 58 million euro could quickly buy you a website for $5.99 on GoDaddy ( 
While his minions gathered around him to bid him Addio, his beloved Tessio, Umberto Bossi, would betray him in the end.  Sollozzo, aka Roberto Formigoni, showed his loyalty by flipping off the crowd as he entered the Don's residence.  His delfin, his Sonny boy, the highly disagreeable and unfathomably homely Alfano (now party head) was angling for position, but, like Sonny, no one took that too seriously.  
But in the end, Letta, understanding that it might be his head next, demurred and Italy's President gave Silvio a condition of his own: In the final scene, we have the Don, as he nods his approval agreeing at last that he would not return on the ballot box.  As he leaves to go back to his palazzo, seeing his likely future perhaps even behind bars, he utters one final departing monition:
 "We can pull the plug on Monti*, anytime we want."

* Economist Mario Monti, head of Milan's University of Bocconi and a Technocrat who will most likely head a provisional government.  

As for Monti, formerly with Goldman Sachs along with his buddy Draghi now at the European Central Bank, who remarked how beautifully this gorgeously sunny Roman day was starting (he's from Milan, after all), a comedian had this to consider:
So, let me get this straight:  These banks fail, leaving the State to bail them out.  Once back in business, they leave the States to fail, who then turn around and make these same bankers head of those very same States.
And in a plot twist worthy of Mario Puzo, the curtain closes on Italy.

Forza, Italia!

In Italia, quando si calpesta la cacca in strada lo si considera un buon auspicio.  Ora che lo stivale dell’Italia si trova proprio nella merda…che cosa ci possiamo aspettare?
Desidero pertanto offrire la mia panacea (o l'utopia).

Possiamo davvero aspettarci di cancellare secoli di clientelismo politico, irremovibile maschilismo, decenni di radicato socialismo…e spazzarli via con un colpo di bacchetta?  Il venerato "ViadiMedici Incantesimo?"   Con l’aggiunta di un pizzico di ‘occhio di meritocrazia’?  Buona fortuna, Mr. Monti.

Ma, se non sei Silente (e siccome lui è gay, non credo che la chiesa lo approvera’...gia’ vogliono il mago Harry nell’aula dell' Inquisizione), non credo che le riforme votate dalla Camera possano aiutare l'Italia oggi più di tanto (anzi’ molte di esse aprono la porta anche a future opportunita’ di corruzione)…Ma di certo potrebbero mettere il paese sulla strada giusta per il futuro.  A mio avviso, è la mentalità di un popolo intero che deve cambiare. E 'come se l'intero paese avesse bisogno di prendere un periodo di pausa e di andare ad emigrare in un altro paese, persino in Francia per un po'.  Per constatare la rapidità con cui le tradizioni che hanno messo in ginocchio il ns paese verrebbero scartate non appena sbarcate altrove. 

[Basta chiedere a qualsiasi cervellone che ha lasciato l'Italia (siamo l'unico paese esportatore di laureati a questi livelli) e vi diranno che l’hanno fatto per andare avanti; giovani, ambiziosi e di gran talento  (spesso donne) in cerca di meritocrazia.  Persino il fiorentino Bini-Smaghi, appena lasciata la Banca Centrale Europea ha accettato un posto a Harvard, piuttosto che tornare al covo di ladri a casa.]  Ma sto divagando.

Come promesso, come puo’ l'Italia ridurre i costi senza imporre alla classe borghese di sostenere le spese di un paese intero?  [Quei dipendenti privati e statali le cui tasse vengono prese alla fonte e che non sono in grado di nascondere il reddito].  E, allo stesso tempo, come puo’ l’Italia diventare più competitiva?  Non ho la formula magica, ma anche una piccola dose di pozione magica potrebbe servire.  
Ecco una dose della mia Magia Monti che potrebbe dare un taglio a spese enormi e senza senso, aggiungere un minimo senso di responsabilità (parola che ha perso il suo significato negli anni di Berlusconi), affrontare la corruzione e forse rendere i cittadini orgogliosi del proprio Paese.  Ma bisogna iniziare dalla leadership.   Quindi, proprio voglio incominciare da li':


- Tagliare i numeri           L'UE ha richiesto che l’Italia "provi" a tagliare il Parlamento. Per me Napolitano dovrebbe scioglierlo subito e permettere solo alla metà dei membri di rientrarci.  Anzi, aggiungiamo la clausola che i Parlamentari debbano essere eletti e non scelti dal partito.  Come potremmo monitorarne il successo?  Paragonandoci con il Regno Unito. Entrambi i paesi hanno dimensioni simili e PIL simili, eppure non sembra che i politici del Regno Unito stiano soffrendo la fame (a dire il vero...sembra proprio il contrario).  Un corollario a questo atto sarebbe:  se uno è sotto inchiesta o è stato gia’ colpevole, ‘No Party’.  Di qualsiasi tipo.

- Tagliare i costi               Se si innalza l'età pensionabile a 67, allora ciò deve essere applicato a tutti i cittadini. Compresi i politici.  E, per buona misura, per sollevare il ns morale collettivo, deve essere retroattiva. Tutti coloro che sono al di sotto dei 67 anni attualmente vivono dei ns risparmi; mi dispiace, ma da oggi in poi avrete un piccolo taglio di stipendio. Fin da subito.  Aspettate il vostro turno e non disperate; state tranquilli, perché l'Italia si vanta di un'aspettativa di vita molto lunga, quindi sarete ancora in grado di godere i vs quatrini quando sara’ il momento…esattamente come tutti gli altri (poi c’è da precisare…potreste contare ancora su tutte le tangenti per vivere – senza preoccuparvi del fisco). Quindi non lamentatevi.

- Tagliare le Auto             Oltre a bloccare le 19 Maserati per il Ministero della Difesa (con i cui risparmi potremmo comprare treni per i pendolari del Lazio – sono pur sempre veicoli con autista)…rimuoviamo tutte le autoblu che portano uomini dei Comuni, delle Regioni e dello Stato (che sono quasi tutti maschi, tranne quando le loro amanti vengono accompagnate a fare shopping).  Anche qui, il numero di coloro che effettuano il servizio di scorta (e non escort) sarà basato sui parametri del Regno Unito. I poliziotti torneranno ad occuparsi delle ns strade e non piu' ad occupare le strade, bloccando il traffico di volta in volta.

- Tagliare i Benefici         No, il popolo italiano non sovvenzionerà più un barbiere che guadagni più di un Direttore di Banca e quant'altro. D'ora in poi, pagate di tasca vostro il taglio di capelli, i vostri pranzi da gourmet, e no, non si può addebitare la spesa a noi.

- Tagliare gli Stipendi     Chiamo questo l’Obama Test:  nessun politico, né “consigliere” della pubblica amministrazione (comunale, regionale, provinciale o statale) guadagnera’ più del Leader del Mondo Libero.  Retroattivo. Tu vuoi essere un incaricato di pubblico servizio?  Allora, ritorniamo a sottolineare l’idea di “servizio”.   Se sei un funzionario qualsiasi (anche se fuori lavoro sei un ‘high class escort’ come la Minetti), la tua busta paga sarà uguale ad uno che lavora all’ufficio postale (non ti preoccupare, puoi sempre arrotondare per arrivare a fine mese come escort…).  I manager verranno pagati come un funzionario di banca, poi direttori di filiale della Banca, e via via finchè arriviamo al Presidente del Consiglio (dimensioni della popolazione: ¼ degli Stati Uniti, allora puoi percepire ¼ della retribuzione di Obama).   Intanto, ricevi sempre i tuoi appartamenti gratis e tangenti a go-go, così avrai i tuoi benefici lo stesso…Ma le nostre entrate fiscali non verranno  più utilizzate per pagare per le tue serate ad Ibiza.

- Ridurre la burocrazia            Si tratta di una clausola proposta nel pacchetto corrente, e a me sta bene, a patto che non è il nipote, figlio o amante quello assunto per portarle a termine.   Anzi, suggerisco una minima sentenza di 10 anni per nepotismo (applicato anche alle università dove la pratica è diffusissima).  Cosi’ vediamo quanti desiderano di sistemare il proprio figlio lobotomizzato nelle alte cariche di governo o di business.  (Propongo che questa legge sia anche retroattiva e di applicarla nel caso di società in cui il Stato sia socio, come Alitalia. Così Elkann non sarebbe più al timone della FIAT -- può andare a formare una propria azienda, se è così talentuoso - e poi valuteremo i risultati).

- Tagliare il sistema di finanziare i partiti       Non c'è da meravigliarsi se l'Italia ha così tanti partiti. Mettono miliardi (pre-lira!) di fondi dal governo direttamente nei loro forzieri.  Questa pratica deve cessare immediatamente.  I partiti possono farsi finanziare dai loro padroni (invece di riempirsi le tasche e le loro pareti di capolavori).   Lasciate decidere la gente e le aziende se aiutare la loro causa.  Si tratta di un sistema marcio, vero, ma è meglio di quello che abbiamo.  Gli italiani non dovrebbero pagare per sostenere i partiti a scapito dell'istruzione e gli anziani, dei servizi comunali e degli asili nido.

- Tagliare l’assenteismo         Vuoi mobilità per i Statali? Mentre mi fa piacere la clausola di rendere più facile licenziare i lavoratori (specialmente gli anziani – con l’ovvia eccezione dei politici…) che dire ai nostri rappresentanti? Non si presenta in aula per votare?  Si addormenta sul posto di lavoro?  Vede porno sull'iPad? Tre colpi e sei fuori. Se ci comportassimo cosi’ nelle aziende…perché non possiamo dare un esempio con i nostri funzionari pubblici?

- Tagliare il Maschilismo    Tutti sanno ormai che le donne nella politica e nella comunità fanno più di ogni altra cosa per la crescita e la sostenibilità.  Ora basta escluderci dalle stanze dei politici (con l’eccezione dei ‘dopo-lavoro’ come ad Arcore) e imponiamo la quota del 50% di rappresentanza femminile.  Rispettando tali quote, non avremo assistito muti all’assunzione di 42 manager uomo all'Expo di Milano, tenendo le donne fuori dal discorso politico,  invitate solo se ci spogliamo (chi non si ricorda la Partita dell’Amore?). Non si vede il collegamento tra essere il fanalino di coda per il discorso delle donne in politica e essere il fanalino di coda in Europa?  Non preoccupatevi, potreste sempre basare le vs scelte sui favori sessuali...come abbiamo visto con il voto Berlusconi; a volte anche una puttana ha un cuore.  Basta che le donne, una volta arrivate ai vertici, non si comportino come gli uomini.

- Pagare per la sua parte        I partiti devono pagare la propria parte per la pubblicità, per la sbalorditiva quantità di manifesti che occupano 2 metri e mezzo di spessore davanti a tutte le fermate degli autobus o nei cantieri, e poi pagare per la pulizia (proprio come fanno i fruttivendoli al mercato). Sarebbe il caso di far pagare loro anche il riciclaggio di tali manifesti. Forse servira’ una volta per tutte per fermare questa forma di inquinamento causata dai loro assurdi manifesti…

- Google It        Iscrivere il paese intero a Google Governo o Google App for Public Policy (il servizio di monitoraggio ai fondi pubbici).  Così il popolo potrebbe seguire in diretta le proprie spese.  Napoli ha appena ricevuto 2 milioni per una nuovo patumiera?  Oppure, i soldi destinati all'istruzione sono finiti ad una scuola di modelle a Parma? Non ci penso proprio. I ladroni, quando smascherati, dovrebbero pagare tre volte tanto in sanzioni.

Solamente cosi’ potremo iniziare a togliere lo Stivale dalla fogna in cui si trova.

Friday, November 11

Italy's Reforms...Let's start with the Politicians

Compare Parliamentarian 
w/yr avg Giuseppe
Annual Pay - Benefits -
Annual Working hours
Yrs til pension - Vacation Days
While everyone's waiting for Italy's boot to drop...I'd like to offer my own version of a panacea (or utopia as the case may be).  Can we really expect to get centuries of political patronage, immovable chauvanism, decades of socialist perks wiped away with one flick of a wand?  The revered “ViaMedici Spell?”  Add a pinch of eye of meritocracy too?  Good luck Mr. Monti.  But, unless you’re Dumbledore (and if he’s gay I don’t think that would ever pass muster with the church…they want Harry in the Inquisition Room already), I don’t think the EU’s quick-fix reforms can help Italy so much today (see my previous post as to how open many of them lead to more graft & corruption), but, certainly they might put the country on the right track for the future.  But still, entire mindsets have to change.  It’s as if the entire country needs to take one grande leave of absence and go immigrate to Australia, Canada, the UK or the USA for awhile.  And see just how fast those time-held traditions fall away.  Ask any brain who’s left Italy (the only country in the EU exporting graduates at this accelerated rate) and they will quickly tell you, they did it to get ahead; young, ambitious, and talented (and often female) due to meritocracy.  Heck, even Florentine Bini-Smaghi just left the European Central Bank for a position at Harvard rather than return to the den of thieves back home.  But I digress.
As promised, what are some ways that Italy could cut costs without forcing the middle management to pay the entire country’s way?  [Regular employees of companies & the govt get regular paychecks and so taxes are taken out at the source and therefore the middle can’t hide the income, thus supporting all the millions who do].  And, at the same time become more competitive?  I don’t have the magic spell here, but, every little potion might help.  Here’s a dose of my Monti Magic that would cut audacious spending, add in some sense of responsibility (a word that lost its meaning in the Berlusconi years), tackle corruption, and maybe, by example, make the citizenry proud of the Paese again.  But, it has to start with the leadership.  So, that’s where I’ll start too:

-       Cut the Numbers    The EU has asked that they “try” to cut Parliament.  I say, Napolitano dissolves it and only allows half of them back in the front door.  To this, we add a clause that they must be elected officials and not hand-picked by the party.  How will we monitor the success?  Holding them to a UK bar.  The countries have similar sizes & similar GDPs, yet it doesn’t appear the UK politicians are going hungry (in fact…the opposite might well be true)…A corollary to this is, if you’re under investigation or have already done time, no party.  Of any kind. (This would be nice in the USA as well).
-       Cut the Costs    If you’re gonna raise the retirement age to 67, then it’s gotta be across the board.  Politicians too.  And, for good measure, and to increase morale (which is at an alltime low), it has to be retroactive.  All you under-67 politicos currently living high on the hog are getting a paycut.  Today.  Wait your turn, and don’t despair, Italy has such a long life expectancy, you’ll still be able to enjoy the dough when it's given to you like everyone else (and besides, you have all your kickbacks to live on – tax free).  So no complaints.
-       Cut the Cars    All the limos going to all the boys in office (and they’re almost all boys except when their lovers are being picked up from a shopping spree) from local City govts to Regional ones to State (national) ones lose their multi-car/multi-policeman chauffeur services.  Again, the number and position of the people who do get an escort (not in the Berlusca sense) will be based on the UK.  And, the policemen get to go back to policing the streets and not policing your soirées.
-       Cut the Perks    No, the Italian people will no longer subsidize a barber who makes more than Bank Directors and whatnot.  Pay for your own haircuts, your own gourmet lunches, and no, you can't charge it back to us.
-       Cut the Pay    I call this the Obama Test:  No politician nor government hack is allowed to make more than the Leader of the Free World.  Retroactive.  You want to be a public servant?  We’re going to put the "Servant" back into the name (think of it as getting 'closer to your people' - most of whom--especially the youth are working as slave labor).   Low-level minions (even if you’re a hooker like Nicole Minetti) must make the same as a Post Office teller (you can still turn tricks on the side, it's not a felony here).  Managers paid like Bank Tellers, then Bank branch managers, and up we go to Leader of Italy (population size: ¼ of the USA, so you get ¼ of Obama’s pay).  Besides, you’re getting free apartments and bribes so just put up or don’t go into politics to begin with.  But our tax revenues are no longer paying for your nights in Ibiza.
-       Cut the Red Tape    This is a proposed clause in the current package, and I’m all for it, as long as your nephew, son or lover isn’t the one hired to see them through.  In fact, I would make it a mandatory 10 yr jail sentence for nepotism (applied to Universities as well where it's rife) and see how fast you want your lobotomized offspring to fill your shoes (this should be the case with any companies in which the State is a partner, so Agnelli's 20-something nephew would no longer be at the helm of FIAT.  He can go start his own company if he's so talented - and then we'll see how well he fares).
-       Cut the Spoils System    It’s no wonder Italy has so many political parties.  They reap gazillions (pre-lira!) in payments from tax revenues directly into their coffers.  It's so much you'd think that none of them would be trying to cash in on more govt handouts than they already get. This should be stopped immediately.  Parties can fund themselves from their patrons instead of lining their own pockets and their own walls with masterworks.  Let the struggling citizenry and companies decide, just whom, is going to help their cause.  It's a rotten system as well, but it's better than what we've got.  Italians shouldn’t have to pay to sustain the parties at the expense of education and the elderly, our trash pickup and tiny tots. 
-       Cut Absenteeism    You want mobility in State jobs?  While I applaud the clause for making it easier to fire people, what about our representatives?  Not showing up for votes?  Falling asleep on the job?  Checking porn on your iPad?  Three strikes and you're out.  You would be if you were in a private job as well so…why can’t we make an example of our public officials?
-       Cut the Machismo   Everyone knows by now that women in politics and in the community do more for its growth and sustainability than anything else.  Stop the pussy-footing (perhaps post-Bunga Bunga that’s not the best word choice) and make it mandatory for 50% women representation.   Quotas would not have given us 42 male managers of the Milan Expo, women shut out of the political discourse, and only invited in if our clothes are off.  Can't you see that there's a direct link to being the last in Europe for women in politics and last in Europe?  Don’t worry, you can still make it contingent on sexual favors…because as we saw with the Berlusconi vote, sometimes even a whore has a heart.  Women may just step up to the plate and not behave like the men in the process. 
-       Make Money   Get those parties to pay their fair share for advertising, to pay for the mind-boggling tonnage of posters that rest 8 feet thick at any given bus stop or construction site, and pay for the cleanup (just like the mercato people do).  While we're at it, pay for the recycling of said posters as well.   Maybe they’ll stop littering the city with their nonsense if they had to actually foot the bill for their eyesores and abject waste.
-       Google It – Sign up the entire country for Google Government or Google Tracking App for Public Policy.  (click on title)  We get to follow the money.  So, Naples just got $2 million for that new trash can?  Or, money for education went to a modelling school in Parma?  I don’t think so.  Scoundrels, when caught would have to pay back three-fold in penalties.

If the politicians kick-started this, I think the rest of the country would start to pull itself up by its bootstraps.

p.s.  Alex of Italy Chronicles details the record-breaking pay of Italy's politicians...Making well over 3 times the EU average.  This is meritocracy at its absolute worse.

I’ll tackle the rest of the country tomorrow…(I'm starting to feel like Tremonti myself)...
And, if you agree with this, please spread the love (hey-it is 11.11.11 after all) and "Like" my new Burnt facebook page!

Wednesday, November 9

Italy's Reforms: A Debt Crisis Primer

- The EU starts backseat driving -
From where I sit, cyberspace was totally on fire with news of Berlusconi's impending resignation.  An eternal cynic, let's just say, I'll believe it when I see it.  Like many of his promises, he mixed his departure date into such a minestrone, that Italy's President Napolitano had to step in and stir the pot, promising that Silvio's timer had signaled his goose was now cooked.  So, if you want news on Berlusca's getting burnt, just google it.  
As for me, I'm more interested in the three-card monty he's been playing with the EU and IMF authorities.  He promised the EU reforms, but again, there was the typical Italian vagueness to his document that today provoked a 39 page letter asking for actual details on each of them.  
So, while everyone is rejoicing with a Ding Dong Berlusconi's Gone chorus, what has he wagered with his bargaining chip that the Italians are going to end up paying for, in spades?  [His last reform package was deemed unhealthy by the President, not for the reform content ingredients, but because all the pork he had ladened it with benefitting only him and his constituents: his party cronies.
So, here's a brief summation of the Legge della Stabilità - Stabilization Law and its later addenda submitted by the EU, color-coded for easy reference.  

Human Capital / 
This supposedly takes on schools and research, including new doctoral programs (like at Gran Sasso lab) along with clauses for 'digital innovation' like automated paychecks.  
I can't for the life of me figure out what with kickbacks how any of this, at least as presented, leads to austerity measures.  It looks like throwing new money to resolve old problems.

Small businesses get three years' tax breaks for hiring young people as apprentices, trying to give a leg up for hiring women, and letting people telecommute.    
Again, all I can see are businesses saying they've hired the young just for the breaks and then firing them the day the contracts expire.  Taxes will be higher to pay for the breaks.

Word on the street (but not yet in the final document) that the retirement age would be raised to 67 yrs for both men & women [Women in Italy used to get a few year's break given that they have double the workload (home & office) and the burden of taking care of their offspring until well into their 80s].
This is good & well, but of course, lawmakers can receive their pensions after only 35 months in office (and at any age).  Where's the belt-tightening?

Liberalization of Markets / 
Reorganization of local transport???  Forgive my ignorance, but what does that have to do with the price of pasta in Parma?  It looks like we're having a hey-day of issuing new government contracts for politicians to grease their palms further...
Reform of Professional Orders  Like Judges, Lawyers, Doctors and whatnot and of course, Healthcare Reform (read: cuts)
Aside from closing hospitals and firing staff (already in progress), I'm not sure how the rest saves us money, but, I'll give it a pass for now.

Here we have a reform of the (grossly incompetent, overblown, over-staffed, under-achieving ridiculous arm) ICE (Istituto Commercio Estero), a monstrous octopus whose job is to "promote Italian goods abroad".  I don't believe in these parking lots for political cronies and their extended families and would be all for it, if I didn't think it would end up as 'more of the same'. 
I would suggest instead (oops, that's supposed to be tomorrow!) a swift course in building user-friendly websites without Google Translate, made by professionals and not some html dropout, along with figuring out how to get items delivered without getting them stolen in the mail or without having customers spend a day home from work waiting for the delivery guy...
This would go far further in promoting Italian products abroad than anything any government agency could ever pull off.  Not to mention that a "reform" sounds like whoever is in power in 2012 gets to put his buddies in place.  I cite Berlusconi's pal Stanca from IBM who breezed through 58 million euro (that's over $85 Million) just to build the website (click here for my writeup).  This is the true reason why Berlusca wants to stay in power to "see through" the reforms and his party pals don't want elections. 
Italy's the no. 1 exporter of wines in the world, no thanks to ICE.

In this category, they are looking at initiatives to improve Italy's bandwidth and subsequently, e-commerce.  Sounds good to me, but...I still don't see how we're saving money here...

They're also planning on going after fake companies offering auto insurance (but as of this reading I don't see them going after the fakes getting pensions, the false invalids, the fake companies, the companies faking receipts, the companies and people faking their taxes)...Sorry, ahead of myself again.

There's a provision for simplifying the tourism sector.  How about just butting out?  People love to visit Italy. See website above.  'Nuff said.

Other provisions include incentives for auto dealers, improving energy efficiency & distribution, and other improvements for ports and highways.

So, how are we going to pay for all this?  
For starters, they've already raised the VAT tax on a few items (like highway tolls), although they left businesses alone as it would have put another dagger into the already-dead economy.
Gas prices are through the roof because of additional taxes levied to help pay for the devastation from the flooding of the towns (now dozens and counting) in Cinque Terre, Genoa, Matera, now Messina.  I'm sorry, but if I want to donate €90 to Genoa, I'll do it by my own volition -- I absolutely abhor this "taxation without representation" -- the basis of which created "These United States."  And besides, if they didn't ruin the landscapes by over-construction to begin with, we wouldn't have to cough up the gazillions now to resurrect these places...
I've found a few mentions of selling off State properties both in Italy and abroad, and others still occupied by the Defense Dept. [but no mention of halting orders on say, the 17 Maserati's recently purchased by the Ministry of Defense. "They're Italian-made, before they were Audi's", the Minister stated in his defense.  So are FIAT 500s.  And besides, perhaps Audi's last longer.] 
One thousand teachers will be let go (none in Parliament, however).  State employees will no longer get a free lunch (but Parliamentarians will).  
Unemployed who want to apply for State job bids will have to pay for their admission (€10-€15).
Cuts to Carabinieri & Police (most of whom are used to escort politicians anyway)
Cuts to the Monopoly Administration (insert your own joke here).
Different use for monies coming from Telecoms bids (4G).
Cuts to administering all the pay & pensions schemes & their over-loaded bureaucracies.

Tomorrow, I will give you my own list of proposed cuts that most every red-blooded Italian could not only live with, but would embrace wholeheartedly.  If only the EU would force Italy's hand in this direction (along with Greece's and their own corrupt systems) instead of relying on thinking debt goes away by raising the retirement age and other half-measures as the ones above suggest.

Sunday, November 6

The Flooding of Genoa & the Cinque Terre...A pre-announced tragedy?

"In 1970 the same flooding occurred and 44 people died in the mud.  The lesson went unlearned.  Little or nothing has changed as we have seen in Genoa.  Politicians talk about building a bridge to Messina while sitting infirm when it comes to investing in our basic infrastructure.  We continue building haphazardly without any consideration for the societal or environmental risks, without thinking of services nor the caprice of Mother Nature.
There's not an Italian alive who wasn't left in utter astonishment in the face of an event that we were not only waiting for, but we thought we would be totally prepared for once it hit.  Yet once again we were presented with a tragedy in three parts: mediocrity, charlatanism, and superficiality.  
What must happen before our Country can one day count on an modicum of seriousness and rigor?  Upon efficiency and a sense of responsibility?  When will we became a civilized Country?  
Each and every time a disaster occurs in Italy, like clockwork, we uncover an absolute sewer festering underneath.  Just think about the garbage in Naples, the Aquila earthquake, and the squalid, criminal speculation that time and again reveals its ugly head.  There are thousands of examples.
Who knows what other miseries are lurking just below the devastation of Genoa!"

--- Excerpt from an opinion column "Tragedia che si doveva evitare" (An Avoidable Tragedy) by Vincenzo Cerami of the Rome newspaper, il  Messaggero on the Genoa floods in which authorities claimed the tragedy (6 dead) could not have been avoided.  
After the U.S. GOP blocked a $60 billion bill for infrastructure spending recently in the USA this week, we could well say the same thing (I'm thinking of New Orleans, or the flooding across the U.S.).

Thursday, November 3

Tante Belle Cose - October in Italy

picture from Shakespeare's Den
This past month in Italy events revealed the depths of the daring dichotomy of all things Italian:  
Where we stand, Italians are worried about the fact that Italy might go the way of Greece but then again, Berlusconi might be the collateral damage (not that the Left would do any better).  
We had a march on the government but our moment of populist activism was over-shadowed by the hoodlums in hoodies smashing windows and lighting cars on fire.
We heard that Carla Bruni had a baby girl which might put a dent in her singing career, while Berlusconi put off his own record release given the seriousness of the financial crisis he's clearly been too busy penning tunes in order to resolve.
They've added a countdown clock for the opening of Rome's third subway line, but it looks like it won't be ready for when and if Rome wins the hosting of the Olympics. 
I have discovered that the next-to-impossible website selling tickets to Rome's magnificent Auditorium offers a 10% discount if you use your American Express Card.  This is an absolute first, seeing that most establishments don't accept the Amex let alone one with a discount.  Now, if they would just post signs telling us how to get there and go home again, it'd be perfect.
And, some of the best news yet:  
- Italy is now the no. 1 wine producing country on earth (and, Dutch scientists have discovered that red wine has even more benefits including reducing diabetes risk and increasing metabolisms).
- And Rome's Senior Citizen housing and hospitals are now allowing dogs in for Pet Therapy.  I have seen the benefits that my little Trevor used to bring and can attest that dogs are not only a senior's best friend, they're often their only friend.