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."
A history of the first African American White House—and of what came next
In the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration, he and his wife, Michelle, hosted a farewell party, the full import of which no one could then grasp. It was late October, Friday the 21st, and the president had spent many of the previous weeks, as he would spend the two subsequent weeks, campaigning for the Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. Things were looking up. Polls in the crucial states of Virginia and Pennsylvania showed Clinton with solid advantages. The formidable GOP strongholds of Georgia and Texas were said to be under threat. The moment seemed to buoy Obama. He had been light on his feet in these last few weeks, cracking jokes at the expense of Republican opponents and laughing off hecklers. At a rally in Orlando on October 28, he greeted a student who would be introducing him by dancing toward her and then noting that the song playing over the loudspeakers—the Gap Band’s “Outstanding”—was older than she was.
And the bright side of rising pessimism about the American Dream
Updated at 3 p.m. ET
One of the hallmarks of America’s supposed exceptionalism is its citizens’ extraordinary optimism. A 2014 study found that Americans were more likely to describe their day as "particularly good" than any rich European country. Nothing reflects this sunniness like the enduring parable of the American Dream, the idea that, only in America, even the poorest can transform their fortunes through hard work.
But there is a dark and deeply ironic element to American dreaminess. Americans are “too optimistic” about the odds of poor citizens getting richer “relative to actual mobility in the U.S.,” according to a new paper by the economists Alberto Alesina, Stefanie Stantcheva, and Edoardo Teso. As a result, Americans are less likely to support large federal anti-poverty programs—programs that would actually help the American Dream become reality for more people—since they believe that they are already living among throngs of Horatio Algers.
Unlike past presidents-elect, Donald Trump hasn’t expanded his support since the election. His belligerent attitude toward his critics may be one reason why.
Donald Trump always seems most grounded in chaos. He thrives on contradicting his aides, surprising his allies, disparaging his opponents. He revels in the tempest.
This combustible approach has touched a chord with his base of primarily non-college-educated and non-urban white voters who have felt eclipsed both economically and culturally and slighted by the nation’s leadership. But he will arrive at his inaugural Friday facing more resistance in public opinion than any newly elected president in the history of polling, and with lingering clouds over his legitimacy—symbolized by the surprisingly widespread House Democratic boycott of the ceremony. Trump’s agenda is polarizing enough, but the intensity of that opposition appears rooted even more in his relentless belligerence toward any critical voice or institution.
More clues that the Facebook founder is eyeing a run for office
There’s a long-running theory that Mark Zuckerberg has presidential aspirations. It makes sense to wonder. After all, if the civically engaged and ambitious billionaire leader of the most powerful media company on the planet wanted to take on a new challenge, why not try running a country? It’s not like he has many other opportunities for a promotion.
But only in recent weeks has a Zuckerberg run for the American presidency started to seem like a legitimate possibility. First there was his personal challenge for 2017: Zuckerberg’s aiming to visit and meet with people in all 50 states by the end of the year.
And not just that, but he framed the exercise in a way that sounds, well, political: “Going into this challenge, it seems we are at a turning point in history,” he wrote in a Facebook post. “For decades, technology and globalization have made us more productive and connected. This has created many benefits, but for a lot of people it has also made life more challenging. This has contributed to a greater sense of division than I have felt in my lifetime. We need to find a way to change the game so it works for everyone.”
This lack of discussion of civil-rights issues at the hearing was glaring, but it may be in line with DeVos’s advocacy of school vouchers and other school-choice programs in her home state of Michigan. As Kimberly Quick, a policy associate at the Century Foundation, notes, “Both historically and currently, voucher programs have served as a means for wealthier and white families to flee an increasingly diverse public school system, moving into largely unaccountable private schools that can exclude students based on a number of factors.”
“Trump is absolutely trying to attack our democratic institutions and to make the country more authoritarian,” one Democratic lawmaker warns.
A steadily growing number of congressional Democrats are refusing to attend Donald Trump’s inauguration, sending a message of resistance at the outset of Trump’s presidency. It’s less clear, however, what exactly that message is, and whether it will do the Democratic Party much good as it attempts to find its way in the Trump era.
The high-profile protest was galvanized by the president-elect’s rebuke of civil rights icon John Lewis as “all talk” and no action” over the weekend after the Georgia congressman said he does not view Trump “as a legitimate president” and did not plan to attend Trump’s inauguration. At the latest count, more than 60 Democrats in Congress have now announced they will not show up. Painting a bleak picture of what the country now faces, some Democrats warn that the incoming Trump administration could fundamentally erode American democracy.
Curfews, sports, and understanding kids’ brain chemistry have all helped dramatically curb substance abuse in the country.
It’s a little before 3 p.m. on a sunny Friday afternoon and Laugardalur Park, near central Reykjavik, looks practically deserted. There’s an occasional adult with a stroller, but the park’s surrounded by apartment blocks and houses, and school’s out—so where are all the kids?
Walking with me are Gudberg Jónsson, a local psychologist, and Harvey Milkman, an American psychology professor who teaches for part of the year at Reykjavik University. Twenty years ago, says Gudberg, Icelandic teens were among the heaviest-drinking youths in Europe. “You couldn’t walk the streets in downtown Reykjavik on a Friday night because it felt unsafe,” adds Milkman. “There were hordes of teenagers getting in-your-face drunk.”
The president-elect filled out his Cabinet on Thursday by nominating former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue for agriculture secretary.
Updated on January 19, 2017
A day before his inauguration, President-elect Donald Trump has filled out his Cabinet.
Trump on Thursday morning announced the nomination of former Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue as secretary of agriculture, completing a search that took the duration of his presidential transition.
Perdue, who served as governor from 2003 to 2011, grew up on a farm in Georgia and earned a doctorate in veterinary medicine. “Sonny Perdue is going to accomplish great things as Secretary of Agriculture,” Trump said in a statement. “From growing up on a farm to being governor of a big agriculture state, he has spent his whole life understanding and solving the challenges our farmers face, and he is going to deliver big results for all Americans who earn their living off the land.”
For one thing, she’s never attended or taught at a public school.
Betsy DeVos is likely to be confirmed as the next secretary of education. There’s nothing unusual about the Senate supporting a president-elect’s choice to lead the U.S. Department of Education. But DeVos is a more controversial choice than nominees in recent memory.
At his hearing, the outgoing education secretary, John King, faced friendly questioning from the senators on the education committee in charge of moving nominations forward, including from the Republican chairman, Lamar Alexander. King’s predecessor, Arne Duncan, was confirmed in the Senate by a voice vote. It’s not just Democrats who have had easy confirmations, either. Both of George W. Bush’s education secretaries—Rod Paige and Margaret Spellings—were also confirmed by voice vote and received praise during their hearings from Republicans and Democrats alike.
Republicans love to blame the Environmental Protection Agency for some of the country’s economic woes. Is that a fair assertion?
It was in the early days of Ronald Reagan’s campaign for president that America first started frequently hearing the term “job-killing regulations” in response to an increasing number of environmental laws. Reagan criticized the Carter administration for doing a terrible job with the economy, and said these failures were related to Carter’s “continuing devotion to job-killing regulation.” Reagan used this phrase a lot on the campaign trail, according to Cary Coglianese, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and the editor of Does Regulation Kill Jobs?
Within a few years, other Republicans had picked up the term. As Coglianese writes, California’s governor Pete Wilson in 1991 blamed environmental regulation for imposing “job-killing burdens” on the state’s economy, for instance, and Oklahoma Senator Don Nickles called Clinton-era rules “the most intrusive, expensive and job-killing regulation handed down.” Michele Bachman, the congresswoman from Minnesota, in 2011 said she wanted to rename the Environmental Protection Agency “the job-killing organization of America” and Mitt Romney lamented that “Day by day, job-killing regulation by job-killing regulation, bureaucrat by bureaucrat, this president is crushing the dream.”