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."
In an interview, the U.S. president ties his legacy to a pact with Tehran, argues ISIS is not winning, warns Saudi Arabia not to pursue a nuclear-weapons program, and anguishes about Israel.
On Tuesday afternoon, as President Obama was bringing an occasionally contentious but often illuminating hour-long conversation about the Middle East to an end, I brought up a persistent worry. “A majority of American Jews want to support the Iran deal,” I said, “but a lot of people are anxiety-ridden about this, as am I.” Like many Jews—and also, by the way, many non-Jews—I believe that it is prudent to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of anti-Semitic regimes. Obama, who earlier in the discussion had explicitly labeled the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-Semite, responded with an argument I had not heard him make before.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
A scholar’s analysis of American culture presumes too much.
Last week, Gawkerinterviewed Robin DiAngelo, a professor of multicultural education at Westfield State University. She discussed aspects of her thinking on whiteness, which are set forth at length in her book, What Does it Mean to be White? I’ve ordered the book.
Meanwhile, her remarks on police brutality piqued my interest. Some of what Professor DiAngelo said is grounded in solid empirical evidence: blacks and Hispanics are disproportionately victimized by misbehaving police officers; there are neighborhoods where police help maintain racial and class boundaries. And if our culture, which she calls “the water we swim in,” contained fewer parts racism per million, I suspect that police brutality would be less common.
Advocates say that a guaranteed basic income can lead to more creative, fulfilling work. The question is how to fund it.
Scott Santens has been thinking a lot about fish lately. Specifically, he’s been reflecting on the aphorism, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” What Santens wants to know is this: “If you build a robot to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?”
Santens is 37 years old, and he’s a leader in the basic income movement—a worldwide network of thousands of advocates (26,000 on Reddit alone) who believe that governments should provide every citizen with a monthly stipend big enough to cover life’s basic necessities. The idea of a basic income has been around for decades, and it once drew support from leaders as different as Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon. But rather than waiting for governments to act, Santens has started crowdfunding his own basic income of $1,000 per month. He’s nearly halfway to his his goal.
Even for people with generous insurance plans, a trip to an in-network doctor can result in thousands of dollars in unexpected charges. Can anything be done?
It shouldn’t take a Harvard expert in health policy to understand a doctor’s bill. But sometimes, it does. In August of last year, Liz was a medical student whose doctor found a lump on her tonsils. Her primary-care physician referred her to an in-network ear-nose-and-throat specialist.
Liz, who asked to go by her first name, expected the usual $20 copay. Instead, she was charged $219.90—wrongly, in her view—for separate physician and facility fees. Under the terms of her plan, Liz says, she should not have been responsible for those charges. After a polite letter to her (“Thank you for your recent grievance...”), Anthem Blue Cross upheld the charges.
A few months later, Liz convinced Anthem to wipe much of the bill. But here’s the thing: By that time, she was studying health policy as a master’s student at Harvard. “It took me hours of going over the insurance policy and hours of arguing with the insurance company over that insurance pamphlet,” she said. (Later, Liz realized she had been doubly insured that month—her Harvard insurance had already kicked in—and she got the other plan to take care of the remainder of the balance.)
In September 2009, the second platoon of Charlie Company arrived in Afghanistan with 42 men. Ten months later, nearly half had been killed or wounded, mostly in the Arghandab Valley—a key to controlling southern Afghanistan. Now these 82nd Airborne troops were getting ready to leave the Arghandab behind. They had one more dangerous job to do: a joint mission with the untried artillery unit that would replace them patrolling the fields, orchards, and villages they called the Devil’s Playground.
July 11, 2010, 11:09 a.m.
Staff Sergeant Christopher Gerhart’s stomach rolled, queasy. He stood alone under a trellis heavy with fat bunches of white grapes, planted his hands against a mud wall, and stared at the ground, head rocking as “Love Lost in a Hail of Gunfire,” by the heavy-metal band Bleeding Through, blasted from his headphones. Gerhart had already deployed three times to Afghanistan and once to Iraq. Promoted 10 days earlier, he was 22, brash and outgoing. “You grow up quick out here,” he’d told me. “You’ve got to. You can’t be a little kid when your buddy gets blown up next to you.”