The Italian leader who seems to have survived every sort of scandal there is might finally succumb to the dropping economy
Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi at a meeting in Rome / Reuters
Update, 2:30 p.m.: Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is to resign following the approval of "key economic reforms," reports the BBC. This is Berlusconi's third term as prime minister. Though his political persistence is legendary, it looks for now as if economic troubles have accomplished what countless scandals--several arguably more serious than the Watergate scandal that forced an American president's resignation--could not.
How do you say "it's the economy, stupid," in Italian? On the face of it, those thinking the economy determines all political fortunes should be thrilled by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's current troubles, which include pressure to resign and a crucial vote today that could force early elections. What better proof of their theory? This is a guy who, just to name a few of his shenanigans, appointed a former topless model "Minister for Equal Opportunity," almost certainly bribed a witness in his corruption trial, tried to shove political debate off the airwaves (which he largely owns), cavorts around with underage girls, and makes inflammatory and diplomacy-damaging public statements about the superiority of Western civilization: how has he not been chucked already? Apparently, a debt crisis was required.
Of course, if all Italian politicians needed to push for early elections was disastrous economic performance, one does wonder what took them so long, especially given the great cover they had from Berlusconi's rotten polling. As the Financial Times' Rachel Sanderson pointed out at the time, local elections in May were presented by Berlusconi as "a referendum on himself," wherein he was pretty well trounced. November 1, Bloomberg reported Italian IPR Marketing's poll results showing that confidence in Berlusconi "fell two percentage points to 22 percent from a survey last month." That, of course, means that he wasn't in a great place last month, either.
Take a look at this rendering of Italian GDP over time, courtesy of Google's visualization of World Bank data. See that giant peak at the end? That peak is when Berlusconi began his latest stint as prime minister (he also held the office from 1994 to 1995 and from 2001 to 2006). That dive is what happened immediately after. Though one can hardly blame Berlusconi for the worldwide financial crisis or a resulting recession, it's not like Herbert Hoover caused the Great Depression, either, and he still got scrapped for it.
There's another fascinating thing about this graph. See the dip in the early nineties that appears to be the next largest dive after the current one? The prime minister who presided over that, Giuliano Amato, only got one year before losing office (although his real problem was dealing with corruption investigations in which he was never directly implicated; The Economist graded him rather well on budget issues). But then he got a second try from 2000 to 2001.
You could even argue that Berlusconi's already been removed once over the economy. Bruno Mascitelli and Emiliano Zucchi floated precisely that theory in the Journal of Contemporary European Studies in August 2007. Though the economy as a whole may have superficially appeared to have done all right, there was a "noticeable decline in economic and business confidence expressed by both Italian families and, more importantly, by Italian business" during his 2001 to 2006 term as prime minister, they argued. "Promising much, as Berlusconi had, and delivering little, as the reality demonstrated, may well have been decisive in the decision taken by Italians to deny Berlusconi [another] term," they wrote at the time.
His reputation obviously recovered, though, as he resumed office in 2008. Quirk of the parliamentary system though it may be, Italian politics appears to be pretty forgiving to those with economic black marks.
That's not to say the parliamentary system explanation for Berlusconi's longevity is by any means the most fun. Take, for example, another 2007 academic paper, "When Likeness Goes With Liking," this one in Political Psychology and put together by a team largely from the University of Rome "La Sapienza." The authors found that, in both the U.S. and Italy, "people saw their own personalities as being more similar to those of the candidates they prefer." The team's results could not establish the "mechanism" by which this occurred -- i.e. whether people liked Berlusconi because they identified with him or whether they identified with him because they liked him.
The social and political sciences are messy and complicated. Results are rarely about a single factor, and a single factor doesn't always produce the same results. Of course, if these last paper's authors could have established that Berlusconi's three-time success was in part about Italian wish fulfillment, what a conclusion. Just imagine an attempt by James Carville to formulate campaign strategy in Italy: "It's the economy, stupid. Also, the prostitutes."
For decades, the candidate has willfully inflicted pain and humiliation.
Donald J. Trump has a cruel streak. He willfully causes pain and distress to others. And he repeats this public behavior so frequently that it’s fair to call it a character trait. Any single example would be off-putting but forgivable. Being shown many examples across many years should make any decent person recoil in disgust.
Judge for yourself if these examples qualify.
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In national politics, harsh attacks are to be expected. I certainly don’t fault Trump for calling Hillary Clinton dishonest, or wrongheaded, or possessed of bad judgment, even if it’s a jarring departure from the glowing compliments that he used to pay her.
But even in a realm where the harshest critiques are part of the civic process, Trump crossed a line this week when he declared his intention to invite Gennifer Flowers to today’s presidential debate. What kind of man invites a husband’s former mistress to an event to taunt his wife? Trump managed to launch an attack that couldn’t be less relevant to his opponent’s qualifications or more personally cruel. His campaign and his running-mate later said that it was all a big joke. No matter. Whether in earnest or in jest, Trump showed his tendency to humiliate others.
In a unique, home-spun experiment, researchers found that centripetal force could help people pass kidney stones—before they become a serious health-care cost.
East Lansing, Michigan, becomes a ghost town during spring break. Families head south, often to the theme parks in Orlando. A week later, the Midwesterners return sunburned and bereft of disposable income, and, urological surgeon David Wartinger noticed, some also come home with fewer kidney stones.
Wartinger is a professor emeritus at Michigan State, where he has dealt for decades with the scourge of kidney stones, which affect around one in 10 people at some point in life. Most are small, and they pass through us without issue. But many linger in our kidneys and grow, sending hundreds of thousands of people to emergency rooms and costing around $3.8 billion every year in treatment and extraction. The pain of passing a larger stone is often compared to child birth.
Who will win the debates? Trump’s approach was an important part of his strength in the primaries. But will it work when he faces Clinton onstage?
The most famous story about modern presidential campaigning now has a quaint old-world tone. It’s about the showdown between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy in the first debate of their 1960 campaign, which was also the very first nationally televised general-election debate in the United States.
The story is that Kennedy looked great, which is true, and Nixon looked terrible, which is also true—and that this visual difference had an unexpected electoral effect. As Theodore H. White described it in his hugely influential book The Making of the President 1960, which has set the model for campaign coverage ever since, “sample surveys” after the debate found that people who had only heard Kennedy and Nixon talking, over the radio, thought that the debate had been a tie. But those who saw the two men on television were much more likely to think that Kennedy—handsome, tanned, non-sweaty, poised—had won.
Communal living is hardly a departure from tradition—it's a return to how humans have been making their homes for thousands of years.
For most of human history, people were hunter-gatherers. They lived in large camps, depending on one another for food, childcare, and everything else—all without walls, doors, or picket fences. In comparison, the number of people living in most households in today’s developed countries is quite small. According to the Census Bureau, fewer than three people lived in the average American household in 2010. The members of most American households can be counted on one hand, or even, increasingly, one finger: Single-person households only made up about 13 percent of all American households in 1960. Now, that figure is about 28 percent.
Belonging to a relatively small household has become the norm even though it can make daily life more difficult in many ways. Privacy may be nice, but cooking and doing chores become much less time-consuming when shared with an additional person, or even several people. Water, electric, and internet bills also become more bearable when divided among multiple residents. There are social downsides to living alone, too. Many elderly people, young professionals, stay-at-home parents, and single people routinely spend long stretches of time at home alone, no matter how lonely they may feel; more distressingly, many single parents face the catch-22 of working and paying for childcare. Living in smaller numbers can be a drain on money, time, and feelings of community, and the rise of the two-parent dual-earning household only compounds the problems of being time-poor.
A new study of pregnant women finds nausea and vomiting are associated with a reduced risk of miscarriage.
People are always saying the wrong thing to pregnant women.
Expectant mothers hear everything from the obnoxious (“You’re huge!”) to the outright bizarre (“If you eat that Sriracha, your baby will come out bald”).
Then there are the well-meaning—yet utterly unhelpful—superstitions and platitudes: “I can tell from how you’re carrying that it’s a girl.” (No, you can’t.) “At least the terrible sleep you’re getting now is great preparation for all those sleepless nights you’re going to have with baby!” (Bone-splitting exhaustion is not something you need to practice ahead of time.) “But morning sickness means your baby is healthy!”
Actually, there might be something to that last one.
Pregnant women have long been told that feeling miserable every single day for several months may indicate that a developing baby is doing well—especially in the first trimester, when nausea and vomiting are most common. Now, there’s more science to support the idea.
The American republic was long safeguarded by settled norms, now shattered by the rise of Donald Trump.
A long time ago, more than 20 years in fact, the Wall Street Journal published a powerful, eloquent editorial, simply headlined: “No Guardrails.”
In our time, the United States suffers every day of the week because there are now so many marginalized people among us who don't understand the rules, who don't think that rules of personal or civil conduct apply to them, who have no notion of self-control.
Twenty years later, that same newspaper is edging toward open advocacy in favor of Donald Trump, the least self-controlled major-party candidate for high office in the history of the republic. And as he forged his path to the nomination, he snapped through seven different guardrails, revealing how brittle the norms that safeguard the American republic had grown.
In the waning moments before this evening’s first debate, let me note another remarkable story by David Fahrenthold in the WashingtonPost that in any other campaign would by itself qualify as major news.
Fahrenthold reports just now another entanglement between Trump’s business interests and his ostensibly charitable foundation. You should read all the details in his story, but in essence: Trump directed some of his business partners to take at least $2.3 million in money they owed him as normal business expenses, and instead send that money to the Trump Foundation as “donations.”