Sunday, December 09, 2012

Accountability In Politics Is Not Very Strong-- Not Here And Not In Italy Either


I thought Italian former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a billionaire with criminal, perverted and fascist tendencies, was in prison. I was wrong. And he wants to be prime minister again. In October of 2011, Berlusconi, suffering from a series of scandals around underage call girls, was convicted of tax fraud. With Italy's economy cascading out of control, he resigned-- in disgrace-- the next month. Ironically, now he and his right-wing party will run against Mario Monti's failed Austerity Agenda.
Berlusconi confirmed the long-expected news almost casually on Saturday, telling reporters at a training field of his AC Milan soccer club that he had reluctantly decided to run. In an entry on his Facebook page, he said he had tried in vain to find a worthy successor.

"It's not that we haven't looked. We have, and how! But there isn't one," he wrote.

The popularity of his People of Freedom (PDL) party is at an all-time low of around 15 percent and his international credibility is still in tatters a year after he was driven from office by his inability to tackle a mounting debt crisis.

Berlusconi's advisers urged him not to return, yet after a year of political, business and legal setbacks the scandal-plagued media tycoon probably felt he had nothing to lose.

He was sentenced in October to four years in prison for tax fraud, although a long appeals process will keep him out of jail and may overturn the ruling, and risks another sentence in an ongoing trial for having sex with an under-aged prostitute.

The share price of his Mediaset broadcasting company has lost around 40 percent since he left office, deprived of his political protection.

Even physically, Berlusconi seems a shadow of his former self. He has stayed in the background for most of the last year and, after several face lifts and hair transplants, often appears puffy and is finally starting to look his age.

Yet for all this, the aged gun-slinger should not be completely written off.

He still enjoys a hard-core of support among millions of Italians, and if there is one thing Berlusconi is good at it is fighting elections.

He has won three out of five since he first shook up Italian politics in 1994 and has always performed better than expected, unlike the centre-left which is famous for polling below forecasts at national ballots.

Another victory will almost certainly be beyond him but he may just garner enough support to deprive the centre-left of a clear majority, giving him a say in the make-up of whatever government can be formed after the election expected in March.

He is now likely to run on a platform that seeks to tap discontent towards the austerity policies of technocrat Prime Minister Mario Monti whom he has supported in parliament for the last year.

"I cannot let my country fall into a recessive spiral without end, it's not possible to go on like this," he said in a statement on Wednesday.

"Today Italy is on the edge of an abyss: the economy is exhausted, a million more are unemployed, purchasing power has collapsed, tax pressure is rising to intolerable levels."

The market reaction to his announcement was a measure of how he is mistrusted by investors, with Italian shares turning negative and its bond yields immediately rising.

Berlusconi doubtless knows his international reputation is irredeemable, but he cares much more about resurrecting his appeal to the self-employed, small businessmen and relatively uneducated masses who have always backed him in the past.

The centre-left Democratic Party's (PD) commanding lead in opinion polls, with more than 30 percent of backing, has been built up in the absence of any centre-right leadership and boosted by its much publicised primary to elect a leader.

The result of that ballot was another factor that convinced Berlusconi to come back.

By electing the dour, 61 year-old former communist Pier Luigi Bersani over the young, telegenic mayor of Florence Matteo Renzi, the PD gave Berlusconi the chance to play the anti-communist card that has served him well in the past.

A showdown between Berlusconi and Bersani, with a combined age of 137, may be an unappealing prospect for a country in desperate need of renewal, but it is one which Berlusconi believes at least gives him a chance.
Although former Republican Congressman Duke Cunningham won't be out of prison soon enough to run for his old San Diego-area seat in 2014, he can run two years later. And he's 5 years younger than Berlusconi. Like Berulsconi, right-wing huckster Tom DeLay has managed to manipulate the courts to stay out of prison, even though he's been found guilty several times. He's younger than either Cunningham or Berlusconi and, unlike either of them (at least so far) has appeared on Dancing With The Stars. He also claims God tells him exactly what he wants him to do. Obviously if God wants him to run again... "God has spoken to me. I listen to God, and what I’ve heard is that I’m supposed to devote myself to rebuilding the conservative base of the Republican Party, and I think we shouldn’t be underestimated."

In a post he did for Truthout Saturday, Government Ethical Standards Are Toothless, Unenforced, Donald Schweitzer isn't talking about Italy... and he prefaces his post with some common sense from Thomas Jefferson: "Whenever a man has cast a longing eye on offices, a rottenness begins in his conduct... Experience has shown, that even under the best forms of government those entrusted with power have, in time, and by slow operations, perverted it into tyranny."
Public opinion polls show that politicians are the most despised people in America. If you believe Jefferson, corruption is in their DNA.

...The US has hundreds of laws and statutes dealing with ethics and more than 5,000 federal employees at more than 130 federal agencies charged with interpreting them.

The authority of Congress to discipline its members is found in the Constitution, which states, "Each House determine the Rules of its proceedings, punish its Members for disorderly Behaviour, and, with the Concurrence of two thirds, expel a Member."

By 2004, the House had heard 150 cases of members accused of crimes. 12 of those members were convicted, but not expelled. Although the House is forgiving of its own failings, it has impeached 12 federal judges and two executives.

During the 85th Congress in 1958, Congress for the first time adopted a general Code of Ethics for Government Service for officials and employees in the three branches of government. The standards in the ten-point code are still considered ethical guidance in the House and Senate, although they were adopted by Congressional resolution rather than law and are therefore not legally binding.

The history of the ten-item code of ethics is similar to the history of the ten items carved in stone and given to Moses to schlep down the mountain. Neither document is obeyed or taken seriously by any politician.

...In the 34 years since the formation of OGE [Office of Government Ethics], none of the 5,700 employees working in the 133 executive agencies has found any wrongdoing to be significant enough to trigger enforcement of ethical standards. Similarly, Congressional oversight of the executive branch has ignored president/s who condone torture, assassination, imprisonment of whistleblowers they formerly encouraged, violate the Constitution at will and have been accused of war crimes by constitutional lawyers.
The problem permeates our entire society.

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