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Sticking it to the man:

Italy, as you may know, is in the midst of a general election (voting is on April 9th), and it's a pretty interesting campaign. I can't say that I always understand what's going on -- my Italian's getting better, but I'm a bit like a 2d grader reading the New York Times: a lot gets by me. Berlusconi ("Il Cavaliere," as some in the press call him) is an odd figure, by anyone's measure; I tried to explain to my fellow students in italian class the other day that, whatever else our political system might tolerate, it would never tolerate a President who was actively managing major media enterprises while serving as President. Which is precisely what Berlusconi does -- he owns or controls the largest TV networks, the largest music and movie distribution company, and the largest print publishing house in Italy, and he has continued to wheel and deal while leading the country. It's pretty strange. He is, the smart money seems to be saying, behind in the race with Romano Prodi ("Il Professore") -- we watched the first of two scheduled debates the other night, and even catching maybe 5% of what they were saying, you could see that Berlusconi looked uncomfortable and was constantly on the defensive.

He's also, it appears, about to be indicted for corruption and obstruction of justice, in a case involving an alleged $600,000 paid to British lawyer David Mills in exchange for perjured testimony in one of the other cases against Berlusconi. It's unlikely that this news, which just broke in the last week, will hurt him much, however -- he's got the John Street Effect working in his favor. The John Street Effect is named after Philadelphia mayor John Street who was running for re-election last year and was trailing opponent Sam Katz badly until news leaked out that Street's office was being wiretapped by federal agents as part of a wide-ranging corruption investigation (that has, subsequently, netted several high-profile political figures in its net). That news, it turned out, was the best thing that ever happened to Street's campaign, which, bizarrely, immediately picked up steam when the story broke. The news that he was quite possibly about to be arrested for corruption was somehow seen by many in Philadelphia as evidence that Street was really 'sticking it to the man.' Berlusconi has some of this same political mojo. It's most peculiar that John Street and Silvio Berlusconi -- each of whom, basically, IS the man already -- can get away with this sort of nonsense, but they can and do.

Robert Schwartz (mail):
Street is black, and the investigation energized a racial persecution narrative. He was less like Berlusconi and more like OJ Simpson.

When you mentioned "the John Street Effect" I thought you were going to discuss something related to insurance. John Street in lower Manhattan was, in ages past, the home of the insurance business, just as Wall Street was the home of the securities business.
3.19.2006 2:35pm
Grover_Cleveland:
Minor factual clarification: Berlusconi is prime minister, not President.
3.19.2006 2:43pm
The Original TS (mail):
I tried to explain to my fellow students in italian class the other day that, whatever else our political system might tolerate, it would never tolerate a President who was actively managing major media enterprises while serving as President.

What you're missing is that Italians expect politicians to have conflicts of interests, ulterior motives and even to be outright corrupt. They have excellent reasons for their cynicism. Tangentopoly, prime ministers secretly in the pocket of the Mafia, etc., etc.

Berlusconi, with all his conflicts of interest, was viewed as an improvement because his conflicts of interest were out in public view. Italians, having no hope of cleanliness in government, were willing to settle for transparency. Based on what had gone on in the past, this was, in fact, a big improvement.

It's unlikely that this news, which just broke in the last week, will hurt him much, however -- he's got the John Street Effect working in his favor. . . . The news that he was quite possibly about to be arrested for corruption was somehow seen by many in Philadelphia as evidence that Street was really 'sticking it to the man.' Berlusconi has some of this same political mojo.

Not really. The reason that this won't have much effect on the election is that everyone has heard it all before, ad nauseum. Berlusconi can't "stick it to the man." Berlusconi is the man.

Prosecutors have been trying to pot Berlusconi for years, with no success, albeit sometimes these attempts were frustrated by legislation passed by the Berlusconi government. Berlusconi claims these attempts are politicaly motivated. Unfortunately, there is an element of truth to that claim. The Italian legal system is very different from the anglo/common law system. It's an inquisitorial system and a judge with a wild political hair can really go after someone if they want.

Berlosconi has, no doubt, done lots of illegal things. But, this being Italy, you have to consider that against the background of what was going on in the 70s and 80s. Everyone one who wanted to accomplish anything was forced to deal with the corrupt system on some level and was, in turn, corrupted by it. There's no evidence that Berlusconi was involved in anything that thousands of other people weren't doing as well -- and that's why Berlusconi's past is tolerated by many Italian voters.
3.19.2006 2:47pm
tefta (mail):
These kind of shenanigans seem to work just fine in Italy, but it shows how mistaken Ruthie and Sandie and the boys who sit on the left side of the bench are to want us to consult international law, presumably including that of Italy, instead of sticking to our knitting and consulting only the U.S. Constitution and U.S. law.
3.19.2006 3:08pm
Bottomfish (mail):
Regarding Street, I think I understand the reasoning. All politicians are corrupt and would end up being convicted if the FBI investigated them. But most of the time they aren't even investigated. Therefore, if a black politician is investigated and convicted, racism must be the cause.
3.19.2006 3:29pm
Cornellian (mail):
You forgot to mention the part about how he, as Prime Minister, enacted laws to block pending lawsuits against him. Absolutely incredible that Italian voters tolerate that sort of thing.
3.19.2006 3:55pm
The Original TS (mail):
You forgot to mention the part about how he, as Prime Minister, enacted laws to block pending lawsuits against him. Absolutely incredible that Italian voters tolerate that sort of thing.

As I say, you have to appreciate the mindset of the Italian electorate. Even many of his political opponents are ambivalent about many of these criminal charges. They understand perfectly well that ANYONE who rose to the top ranks of business or politics had to walk with the devil, at least for a while. Many, probably most, of them, have been involved in things as bad or worse or know friends and family who have. In the 70s and 80s most Italians had personal experience of corruption even at the local level, the company they worked for "won" a big government contract, people pulling strings to get a government job for someone, etc., etc. It's very much a "Let he who is without sin cast the first stone" sort of deal.
3.19.2006 4:06pm
Adam (mail):
The Street thing was a bit more crude than that -- it was spun by Dem politicians left and right as "the FBI always takes down black leaders", and it gave Street's base a reason to rally behind him that they lacked before. Moreover, Street's opponent was neutralized, because he was afraid that by focusing on the FBI investigation *he* would be accused of racializing the campaign.
3.19.2006 4:52pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
It's most peculiar that John Street and Silvio Berlusconi -- each of whom, basically, IS the man already -- can get away with this sort of nonsense, but they can and do.

Well, look how the Republicans act like they're a helpless minority in this country, and how George W. Bush is able to pose as some sort of anti-Establishment figure.

Given some of the things that the American media (&hence, voters) have been indifferent to, I think we're going to look a lot more like Italy in another 10 years.
3.19.2006 5:09pm
Mike BUSL07 (mail):
Anderson, if you lament the wide acceptance of the notion that Bush is constantly besieged, ever on the cusp of falling into the abyss, then you might have a bone to pick with the media, who report Bush news only if they are negative.

Given some of the things that the American media (&hence, voters) have been indifferent to, I think we're going to look a lot more like Italy in another 10 years.

For reasons completely different from yours, I agree, and , umm, Italy, if we are lucky.
3.19.2006 5:50pm
Justin (mail):
MikeBU,

Whatever fantasyworld you live in, Bush hasn't had nearly the negative news he's deserved. His illegal wiretapping, blogs excepted, has either received positive or no attention. (Impeachment was being talked about since Whitewater in the 1990s, and all three major news outlets, as long with all the cable news networks except one show on MSNBC, have sworn to not bring up the word for actions more deserving of impeachment than Andrew Jackson's or Bill Clinton's by any objective measure). The war on Iraq was reported as a success until that paradigm was simply untenable, and even today the current civil war is not reported as such. He is given credit, without support, for an economy that has been more or less stagnent since he took office - a new paradigm has taken place that puts Clinton, not Bush, in office during the recession. Only Katrina actually rattled his administration - but the media failed to actually blame the President for that, directing their anger at fall guy Brown and then fall guy Chertoff when that became untenable. I mean, God, you have a picture of the President looking absolutely uninterested in news that thousands may die, and that gets played like once, on MSNBC, on said show mentioned above (and also on Bill Maher, if I recall correctly). And Bush got a complete pass on lying in the debates (again), and somehow the press decided that Kerry, not Bush, was the one trying to win via the homophobe vote. Not all of us get our news from Crooks and Liars and DailyKos, which, admittedly, has been pretty negative to the President. So what?




Has Bush received SOME negative press? Sure, so did Clinton. But compared to his results, his press has been the most positive since his father, who received staggeringly good press up until Clinton punched him out over the Economy. The guy with good press before that? Reagan. Before that, you have to go back to the relatively moderate Kennedy in what was basically a different time to find a Presidential media darling.

So you're entirely wrong, and that's a huge surprise, because if you were right, that would have been the standard for most Presidents, Reagan and Bush I excepted.
3.19.2006 6:35pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
then you might have a bone to pick with the media, who report Bush news only if they are negative

Mike, welcome back to the U.S. after your 4-year absence. While you were gone, the media cheered Bush's trumped-up Iraq war, helping spread disinfo through Judy Miller's articles for The Ur-Liberal Media Organ, the NY Times.

See this bit from the NYRB if you'd like some other examples.

For the record, Bush is is a different &lesser order of duplicity from Berlusconi. But it certainly appears that, if Bush *were* doing what B. has been doing, a substantial minority of the U.S. public would refuse to credit the accusations (no matter how well supported), and to praise the President for "standing up to the negativity of the liberal media."
3.19.2006 6:35pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
(Bush "is in," of course, not "is is"---I wasn't trying to invent a new form of emphasis.)

Much better comeback, Justin.
3.19.2006 6:36pm
BU2L (mail):
Justin,

I admit that since you opened your post with an ad hominem attack, I didn't read the rest of it. I only hope that your apparent bitterness makes you as miserable as it appears to.

I forgot where I read this, but there is an argument that most people who support Bush, do so because of who his enemies are. (I might have read this here). I don't particularly care for many of Bush's policies - his views on abortion, gay marriage, government size and the debt, to name a few. I also think that a smart 2Lt. could have come up with a better plan for "phase 2" of the war. But as long as Bush antagonizes people like you, he'll have a vote from people like me.
3.19.2006 8:04pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I don't particularly care for many of Bush's policies - his views on abortion, gay marriage, government size and the debt, to name a few. I also think that a smart 2Lt. could have come up with a better plan for "phase 2" of the war. But as long as Bush antagonizes people like you, he'll have a vote from people like me.

In other words, a frank confession of irrational political behavior, motivated by emotion alone. Italy, here we come!
3.19.2006 8:10pm
BU2L (mail):
au contraire... i vote for bush, and not for the democrats, because i'd sooner tolerate the former, then give the country see the country controlled by people like justin. note, by "people like i justin," i don't mean "liberals" or "democrats," but the far-left, BDS sufferers who seem to have an unduely strong influence among democrats.
3.19.2006 8:17pm
BU2L (mail):
give the country
3.19.2006 8:19pm
therut:
Hey what happened to the usual Sunday open thread??? I look forward to that every week.
3.19.2006 8:59pm
durka durka (mail):
3.19.2006 10:17pm
Justin (mail):
Mike, so what you're saying is you voted for Bush because you found that Bush's policies were bad for America, but less bad than liberals pointing out that Bush's policies were bad for America?

And you don't want people like ME running the country? Gosh.
3.20.2006 1:07am
Nazim (mail):
I agree completely with the description of Berlusconi having a de facto monopoly on the media (currently he even presides over the state owned television broadcasters). But television media is more complex and does not allow the relationship to be described as strict control: even he (and his business) would suffer if all his channels broadcasted only items in favor of him. ON the other hand, this makes me think about the spineless US media in the first 5 years of the W Bush presidency. Many of the news items being paraded today were pretty much the same years ago, but nobody seemed to have the guts to question them back then, not even pre-eminent liberal publications like the NYT. These ought to be ashamed, and some journalists have apologized for sleeping on the job. Further, although W Bush does not own media assets, he has considerable other personal and ownership interests that seem to be at odds with some of his duties. Are these not one or two steps up from media control on the slippery slope of conflict of interests? In the US, because of the scale of things, there is a considerably larger divide between the electorate and the president (this is also due to this ridiculous all-or-nothing voting organization), and therefore the argument of vote as direct political expression is diluted to the extent that it only signals consent or dissent with the perceived persona, while in smaller scales of voting it can signal agreement or disagreement with specific recent policies or news items. I think the issue of media control and politics is much more complex than may even be possibly fully analyzed (at least by simpletons like me), and, for example, although I don't like what's going on in Italy, I can't come up with a reasonable solution to that problem (possibly aside from a violent-yet-bloodless revolution that puts me at the helm of the country). When the electorate has elected a media icon to Berlusca's position (setting aside the fact that the Italian parliment put him there, not the electorate, but that's just splitting hairs) is it legitimate to take the media out of him? and how exactly does one do that? Eminent domain and sale to the highest bidder? Would he get a fair market price for that?

Not-so-related:
These kind of shenanigans seem to work just fine in Italy, but it shows how mistaken Ruthie and Sandie and the boys who sit on the left side of the bench are to want us to consult international law, presumably including that of Italy, instead of sticking to our knitting and consulting only the U.S. Constitution and U.S. law.

Another VC entry addressed this more fully. Int law should not be consulted when trying to understand what US traditions are. But when the inquiry is as to what is normal or reasonable, it seems only legitimate to look around and see what's going on elsewhere. And if things were to become strained in the US (such as the current media control exercised by the Berlusca), I only hope US courts will have the guts to look elsewhere (although hopefully not necessarily Italy at this time) to describe the humane. The courts are courts of justice, and nobody should be callous enough to somehow oblige them to enforce unfair laws if they can find a way not to. I purposely do not want to start a discussion on what is fair here, but there is a history of states that have managed to co-opt their judicial branches into implementing what today everyone considers unfair policies.

Another aside: by Italian standards, the US Supreme Court ranges from center to right, and there is no left on the current bench. I thought this small comparison to other countries' standards might be in some small way illuminating...
3.20.2006 9:02am
Anderson (mail) (www):
Hey what happened to the usual Sunday open thread??? I look forward to that every week.

Prof. Kerr took it with him.
3.20.2006 9:51am
stranger from a strange land far away (mail):
It's by no means uncommon that people vote against someone they can't stand -- Europeans do it all the time -- and the only way to do this is to vote for his or her opponent, even if you think this person (or political party) might be only marginally better. Nothing particularily irrational about that.
3.20.2006 12:11pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
But, Stranger, the issue here was voting for Bush to vote against his opponent's *supporters*, or rather, an allegedly shrill subset thereof.

The commenter above did not suggest that Bush was an improvement over Kerry.
3.20.2006 1:11pm
Al Jackson (mail):
There was more to the John Street Effect than the corruption investigation. Sam Katz aired an ad in which John Street was shown physically assaulting a fellow city councilman. Philadelphians liked the ad: they thought it showed Street was a tough guy who got things done. I can't explain the mentality, except to note that the entire city has a massive inferiority complex toward NYC. Imagine a 5'4" Sopranos wannabe and multiply by 1.5 million. I exaggerate, but not by much.
3.20.2006 1:14pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Sam Katz aired an ad in which John Street was shown physically assaulting a fellow city councilman. Philadelphians liked the ad

We have a city councilman like that here in Jackson, Miss. When your constituents are thugs, being a thug gets you votes.
3.20.2006 3:24pm
Houston Lawyer:
Shouldn't they call it the Bill Clinton effect instead? Or do you only get the label if you are only suspected of lawbreaking?

Republicans love the impeachment talk. It energizes the base and that's why you don't hear it from the MSM. Please, please don't throw us into the briar patch.

I'm still waiting on Kerry's release of his military records.
3.20.2006 6:17pm
Justin (mail):

Houston, please google "Kerry releases military records" and read the first link, the Boston Globe article entitled "Kerry releases military, medical records." I'd post the link for you, but my computer is being antsy.

I love how MSM gets attacked as being liberal for talking about all the bad things the President has done, and comparing him to Bad Men of the past, and now here comes Houston Lawyer telling us that the MSM is liberal for NOT talking about all the bad things he has done, and NOT comparing him to Bad Men of the past. Thanks for the useful provable test.
3.20.2006 6:43pm
Justin (mail):

Houston, please google "Kerry releases military records" and read the first link, the Boston Globe article entitled "Kerry releases military, medical records." I'd post the link for you, but my computer is being antsy.

I love how MSM gets attacked as being liberal for talking about all the bad things the President has done, and comparing him to Bad Men of the past, and now here comes Houston Lawyer telling us that the MSM is liberal for NOT talking about all the bad things he has done, and NOT comparing him to Bad Men of the past. Thanks for the useful provable test.
3.20.2006 6:44pm
Houston Lawyer:
Yes, Kerry "released" his records to the Boston Globe. That is not the same as releasing them to the general public as President Bush has done. I don't trust the Boston Globe to do opposition research on Kerry. I'm still waiting on an explanation of the Christmas in Cambodia and Magic Hat stories.

Only the truly believer lefties believe that the MSM is less critical of Bush than they were of Clinton. Somehow, with unemployment below 5%, most of the American public seems to believes that we are in a recession. Apparently good news doesn't happen during Republican administrations.
3.21.2006 9:57am