Stilwechsel

A change of style.

On 22 Feb 2014, Italy’s new prime minister, Matteo Renzi, and his cabinet were sworn into office. Eight of the sixteen cabinet ministers were women, apparently a first in Italy. It’s also one of the youngest cabinets in Italy’s history, with a relatively low number of ministers.

Mr. Renzi said he wants to start reforming Italy’s election laws and institutions this month, with labor market reform in March 2014, public administration reform in April 2014, and tax reform in May 2014.

Background gleaned in February 2013 from international reporting trying to make sense of Italy’s post-2013-election carnage:

Italy’s complex governing problems arose from post-Mussolini fears of a strong Prime Minister and the arcane electoral laws passed by Silvio Berlusconi in 2006. According to the 27 Feb 2013 F.A.Z., problems to be fixed included:

A weak prime minister who could not, e.g., fire ministers from his own cabinet. Tiny majorities were inflated by being awarded bonus seats in both sides of the legislature, in the interest of increasing governmental stability; this must have contributed to Italian voters’ furious sense of powerlessness. Young Italians were in fact powerless, having been deliberately disenfranchised: the minimum voting age was 18 to vote for House members but 25 to vote for Senators! Some election rules were so abstruse it seemed like deliberate confustication (surfed successfully in 2013 by Mr. Berlusconi’s intense campaigning in the more populous regions):

  • Parties had to win at least 4% to enter the Italian house of representatives, unless they were in coalitions that won >10% in which case they only needed to win 2%; but the “best loser” party was also allowed to keep its House seats at even <2%.
  • Senate seats were won regionally and the minimum for a party to enter the Senate was 8% in each region, unless the party was in a coalition with ≥20% in which case it needed only ≥3%.

Update on 13 Dec 2013: Prime Minister Enrico Letta’s election reform will be eliminating state financing of campaigns; it will be gone by 2017 said Spiegel.de. Campaigns in Italy will be financed only by donations from individuals and companies. The parties had been receiving payments from the government based on the number of votes they collected in elections. This will be reduced to 60% in 2014, 50% in 2015, 40% in 2016, and then zeroed out. The new law limited the tax-deductible donations to Italian political parties to max. 300,000 euros per person and 200,000 euros per company.

Germany uses a similar public-funding system for political parties but, said Spiegel.de, only gave 145 million euros to its political parties in 2012 while Italy spent 182 million euros. Mr. Letta’s predecessor Mario Monti had already begun reducing the heavily criticized funding (down to 91 million euros in 2013), which had had the reputation among some Italian voters of making Italy’s political parties a “Selbstbedienungsladen,” a help-yourself shop, for politicians.

It seems Mr. Letta’s plan to eliminate public campaign financing entirely would ultimately reduce democracy in Italy. Large companies could live very comfortably with that kind of power, as we can see in the U.S.A. before and especially after the Citizens United decision by the U.S.’s Supreme Court.

(SHTEEL vecks el.)

“In einer Demokratie akzeptiert man Urteile!”

In democracies, you accept court verdicts!” thundered Italian prime minister and lawyer Enrico Letta before the vote of confidence with which media billionaire Silvio Berlusconi’s political party tried to take down the Italian government after the cavaliere was found guilty of a criminal charge, eliminating his senatorial immunity from future prosecutions. Unexpectedly, several Berlusconi ministers broke with their party, including Mr. Berlusconi’s “Ziehson” or adopted son or protégé, Angelino Alfano.

The statement may have come from this section of Mr. Letta’s speech:

Uno stato di diritto si basa sul principio di legalità, e in uno Stato democratico le sentenze si rispettano si applicano, fermo restando il diritto alla difesa, senza trattamenti ad personam o contra personam, che va riconosciuto a ogni cittadino italiano.”

Update on 19 Oct 2013: An appeals court in Milan decided that Silvio Berlusconi cannot hold public office for the next two years.

(Inn   eye nah   dame aw crah TEA   oct sept eared   mon   OOR tie là.)

Trennungsjournalismus vs. Journalismus der richtigen Zusammenhänge

“Separation journalism vs. journalism of correct connections.” A NiemanLab.org book review said Jay Rosen wrote that U.S. journalist ethics have been about getting the separations right and should move on to getting the connections right.

Bob Garfield made a seemingly related comment about journalistic problems with lack of context in the 02 Aug 2013 episode of National Public Radio’s “On the Media” when he said, “Journalism is pretty terrible at covering ongoing conditions. It tends to be very good covering the acute. Poverty and de-industrialization, they’re just hard to cover because they require constantly paying attention to things that are changing only very incrementally, right?” I think he went on to indicate the longer term was only two weeks though.

The wonderful Seymour Hersh mentioned the recognizing relevance problem—after substance’s having been neglected too long in favor of style—in a talk at Boston University from what may have been the first year of President Obama’s first term because health reform hadn’t passed yet.

“[T]here’s no knowledge. I can’t tell you how many times… just last weekend, a senior official was interviewed live, maybe to camera, but the interview was broadcast live on a major show by somebody who didn’t really understand what he had said. He gave away something, and the person wasn’t smart enough, though a very eminent person, wasn’t smart enough to jump on it. So you have a lack of acumen too, because it’s all gone stylish. And so there you are.”

Lacking the information you need doesn’t mean you’re not smart. But it’s everyone’s tragedy if it’s not remedied.

Speaking of style/substance and context’s deep undercurrents: In the 1990’s my fellow German history majors and I were instantly suspicious of German television news anchors who smiled. In addition to exceeding what was necessary in the exquisitely minimalist atmosphere of the time, and implicitly giving permission to models that ultimately drove news into entertainment, they appeared to be knowingly or unknowingly siding with encroaching private media empires that were trying then to undermine the decent public television channels you could still find in Germany. Some of those entrepreneurial, debt-fueled private channels have since gone broke while others resemble empires. There have been changes at the top as well: British media mogul Robert Maxwell was found floating dead next to his yacht, and Bavarian media mogul Leo Kirch died of old age after suing Deutsche Bank for accidentally bankrupting his company by managerial loose talk. For a time, Australian media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s interest in purchasing German media scared people so much they hoped Italian media mogul Silvio Berlusconi would get them instead. Today I think the smiling-news-anchors “tell” no longer applies—you can be a very good German news anchor now and occasionally smile on television!—but persistently mugging for the camera might remain a bad indicator. Sounds terrible in the context of 2013 U.S.A., criticizing someone for smiling!

F.y.i., here is NiemandLab.org’s interesting Rosen-brainstormed collection of ideas about contemporary deliberate U.S. journalistic separations:

  • Editorial functions are separated from the business side.
  • The news pages are separated from the opinion pages.
  • Facts are separated from values.
  • Those who make the news are separated from those who cover the news.
  • Truth-telling must be separated from its consequences so that journalists can “tell it like it is.”
  • The newspaper is separated from other institutions by its duty to report on them.
  • One day is separated from another because news is what’s “new” today.
  • A good journalist separates reality from rhetoric.
  • One’s professional identity must be separated from one’s personal identity as a citizen.
  • How one “feels” about something is separate from how one reports on it.
  • The journalist’s mind is separate from the journalist’s soul.

(TRENN oongz joor nah LEEZ moose   VAIR seuss   joor nah LEEZ moose   dare   tsoo ZOM en heng eh.)

Alle Bürger sind in ihrer Würde gleich vor dem Gesetz, ohne Unterscheidung von Geschlecht, Rasse, Sprache, Religion oder politische Meinung

Fundamental rights defined in the current version of the Italian constitution read by a protester into a bullhorn before the Italian supreme court on the day that court upheld Silvio Berlusconi’s criminal conviction.

This might be from Art. 3, “Tutti i cittadini hanno pari dignità sociale e sono eguali davanti alla legge, senza distinzione di sesso, di razza, di lingua, di religione, di opinioni politiche, di condizioni personali e sociali.”

All citizens are in their dignity equal before the law, without differentiation of sex, race, language, religion or political opinion [or personal and social conditions].

(OLL ah   burgher   zint   in   ear ah   VOORD eh   gly chh   fore   dame   geh ZETS.)

Demokratiequalität

“Democracy quality.” Twenty years after “the West” set up ways to monitor, motivate and report on the democratization of former Eastern bloc and other countries around the world, it appears some Western countries could also use some polish. Timm Beichelt of the Europe University in Frankfurt (Oder) wrote inter alia in his essay “Verkannte Parallelen. Transformationsforschung und Europastudien” that many eastern European countries have done quite a good job of organizing new structures while, e.g., France and Italy would have trouble with freedom of the press as measured by now-standard democracy indicators. Italy because of Berlusconi’s media empire, but France…?

(Dame awk rah TEE qvoll ee TATE.)

Sperrminorität

“Blocking minority.” If, for example, Bersani’s (center-left) coalition gains control of Italy’s House but Berlusconi’s (center-right-f’tang-f’tang-biscuit-barrel) coalition wins enough votes in the Senate, Italy will be ungovernable because Bunga-Bunga will have the ability to block legislation. Hopefully, Bersani and Monti, perhaps even with television comedian Grillo’s help, will gain enough seats to call for another election, which will be blessed with better turnout. Spiegel-Online ventured to note that the new parliament might consider passing some electoral reforms before the new election, to stabilize the Italian government and make Italian politicians seem more reliable to voters.

(SHPERRRM ee nore ee tate.)

Rattenfängerei

“Rat catchery,” how departing Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti referred this week to billionaire media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi’s ridiculous campaign promise to pay voters’ real estate taxes out of his own pocket, hot air intended to encourage poorly-informed people to hitch their wagons not to a 21st-century democratic system but to a strong-seeming man no matter what ethics he displays.

(ROTTEN feng err EYE.)

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