Saturday, November 29, 2008

Let Us Pray for Italy


“Let Us Pray” for Italy Shackled from Head to Toe with a Plunging Economy


The Brookings Institution,
Washington, DC, United States

The Central Stupidity Agency,
Langley, Virginia, United States

Melvin “I Speak Bush” Sembler,
United States’ Ambassador to Italy

A N T H O N Y S T. J O H N

Never since the bubonic plague of the Middle Ages has Italy suffered such an intense dip in confidence in itself, its social institutions, and, most importantly that which has surfaced to be uppermost in most Italian minds, the state of its dismal economy at the opening of the twenty-first century. Wherever you look you see the symptoms of an It in dissolution—materially and immaterially. Italians are about to press The Panic Button. Expect the worst.
SOS from It! It is Caracasing! It is Argentining! Rome did not fall in a day; It will not, either. It is falling apart at the seams!

Will It be the first “Wall Street” dynasty to fall after The Fall of the Berlin Wall? Already, It—corrupt and unreliable—is being called “The Venezuela/Argentina of the European Union.” It is bending over backwards to be something it is not and risks imploding upon itself in much the same way Venezuela cracked in upon itself in the faces of Henry Kissinger, David Rockefeller and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. The post war and post-post war stranglehold on It is blowing back upon Washingtonian fuddy-duddies.

It has not come to its senses. It is coiling itself up in the sheathing of hate, xenophobia and racism. It is in the hands of a dangerously ill-conceived rightist movement ready to metastasise as the worst of any cancer might. It is succoured by lunatic fringe elements bent on loathing. Its demagogic squad is brimming with vituperation and squashing tactics. Its march to the extreme right has not been thwarted by individuals who respect the principles of democracy and who admire all others who differ from them. It is fragile. It is tired. It is in via di estinzione.

Listen to what Marcello De Cecco, professor of economy at the Università La Sapienza in Rome, has to say about It: “Gli italiani non sono felici. Non lo sono io, come italiano, e vedo crescere l’infelicità intorno a me…Decadiamo, abbiamo perso treni che—tutti lo capiscono—non passeranno più. Negli anni Sessanta eravamo certamente più felici. E non solo perché eravamo più giovani. L’Italia cresceva: le autostrade, per esempio, ed erano le più belle. A Milano nascevano nuove stazioni della metropolitana sfavillanti di luci. Ricostruivamo. Quello, certo, è un fattore di felicità indipendente dal reddito: l’entusiasmo…Ora tutto è cupo: natalità bassa, finanza pubblica al tracollo, produzione che decresce, Made in Italy in crisi e le nostre autostrade sono diventate le peggiori. Gli italiani viaggiano, sono informati: vedono, dietro la propaganda, che la nostra classe politica è poco apprezzata, che siamo politicamente irrilevanti, maltrattati, dobbiamo arrabattarci per crearci un ruolo. Da noi lo Stato non è mai esistito davvero, era sostituito dalla famiglia. Ora non c’è più neanche quella, siamo orfani. Ma la nostra unità di misura è sempre stata la famiglia, non siamo civiltà urbane, individualiste, come quelle degli inglesi o degli americani. Consiglio ai ricercatori, in Italia, di chiedere: lei è felice? Si? E se non lo fosse suo fratello, lei sarebbe felice lo stesso? E suo cugino? E il suo vicino? I compaesani? Quelli della regione? I connazionali? Dove ci fermiamo? Neppure questo è chiaro…Sarà l’anima contadina che riemerge…”

May I offer one clear-cut example of this decline? I take to task the most important industry in It—the tourist industry.

For centuries It revelled over the fact that the whole world wanted to visit It. I watched for six years in Caracas Venezuelans gloat over the everlasting flow of oil income flowing into their nation’s coffers, and they, too, finally came to abuse their privileged state and slowly lost control of the riches which might have been employed to enhance their nation’s sovereignty instead of seeing it stolen by unscrupulous Venezuelans often aided and abetted by powerful foreign interests. It has gone the same way. Surely, tourism remains a vital source of income still. But in the last few years It has been threatened a bit at the top of its empire: It has fallen from third to fourth place with France, the United States and Spain now in the tourist lead. And It is on its way to fifth place! Something is truly certainly rotten in It.

The reasons are multi-faceted but two enormous ones loom to the surface: corruption (in the Transparency International Hit Parade of Corruption Perceptions Index 2003, It is at a whopping 35th place—between Uruguay and Kuwait!) and gross , on-going incompetence (the Association Treelle [Life Long Learning] reports that Italians are the most ignorant in all of Europe; the level of instruction of adults between 25 and 64 years of age is among the lowest: 10% of the Italian population has a university degree and only 38 persons out of 100 read at least one book a year).

Any fundamental economic industry cannot flourish very long with these two burdens harnessed to its back. And this is a terrible tragedy when we intuit that tourism is the core industry of a nation in serious economic difficulty. With many other business sectors floundering in It, it would be sensible to think that It could revert to tourism in time of unsmiling financial complicatedness and hope, then, to restructure taking advantage of the monetary introit so garnered from tourism. Little, sadly, has been accomplished up to now to solidify the basic composition of the tourist trade, and it should not come as a surprise to anyone that—a few years back—one hotelier told me it wasn’t necessary for him to fix his elevator because every year his hotel was filled to capacity! Why should he squander his cash? If the United States would stop wasting its money on poor countries, he argued, and gave It funds to repair its infra-structure, he would gladly accept a donation which he would use to fix his lift! It has come to that in It!

Years ago there was an urgent need to create a ministry for tourism in It: The Ministero dell’Informazione e Turism. Why one does not exist today is something of a mystery. If tourism is the Number One Business in It, why should it not be bedecked with a ministry? An organization dedicated exclusively to promoting the interests of tourism would be exceptionally positive for the financial status of the plummeting economy of It.

The Ministero dell’Informazione e Turismo would be expected to tackle the tourist problem on two fronts: trying to modernize and develop the internal structure of It’s tourist industry; and, making a play to lure business from places which traditionally have not been It-orientated for vacations and congresses of international importance.

The It internal tourist order is worse than medieval—it is corrupt and incompetent. Brochures by the thousands are printed but not distributed. Glossy tourist magazines are mailed but they arrive a month and a half late. One agritourist entrepreneur told four German executives housed on her property that they, who had complained about cobwebs in their bedrooms, should realize that “those cobwebs are medieval cobwebs and should not be removed!”

It’s efforts to entice external tourism are almost nil. Why should It have to work at drawing in sightseers from other parts? It has been a long-time practice to wait for the holiday-makers to come on their own—with out making an effort to tempt them in. This dangerous posture is sure to bring further calamitous outcomes to an already free-falling Italian economy. Ora pro nobis?

My dearest friend, Carlo Gattai, once the agile Tuscany Region’s assessore for tourism and now president of the active International Meetings Conventions & Incentives Fair, at the BTC International, has helped me enormously to comprehend what is going on tourist-wise in It. Blood, Sweat and Tears. When I told him how the Ministerio del Informacion y Turismo of Venezuela in Caracas had been organized, he almost cried. I told him we had the top two floors of a huge apartment building complex in Parque Central and not the closed quarters he had to work with in his office while he tried to attract the tourist trade for It. I told him that in Venezuela we did not have to put stacks of water bottles and paper supplies in the office’s bathroom as he did in his droll Florence headquarters. More tears came to his eyes when I explained how Venezuela, in the 1980s, had it in its mind to develop its tourist industry even though it did not have many professional people to help in this endeavor. Venezuela sought to have top-notch individuals to lend a hand; but, It doesn’t even think to ask help when it sorely is in need of it. Carlo lamented that his workers were often unprepared, incompetent. They claimed to speak languages but did not. They bragged that they could write in other languages but could not. They talked confidently about their efficiency but were always bungling. Carlo, in one of our meetings, went to the window and dried his eyes humid with sadness. If only he could be part of a ministry—finally the Italian Ministero dell’Informazione e Turismo! No way. No one is going to change the minds of Italian politicians.

I want to make a film about the Parmalat scandal. Here is the plot: Three or four guilty accountants are rounded up for a trial. They are told they will have the best Italian lawyers and their fees will be paid with stolen Parmalat funds hushed up in Swiss bank accounts. It would be impossible to send to jail all those who participated in the Parmalat heist, so these three or four are needed to make it look as if all the bandits have been captured. Their trial will drag on for years and Italians will forget all about them. Finally they will be acquitted because of a being short of sufficient evidence or because of some medieval technicality. At the end of the film, because there is a full moon, the now-exonerated crooks will sue It for damages incurred as a result of the false charges levied against them. I am not kidding. And millions of Italians will go on saying out loud: “It pays to steal in It!!!”

Let’s stop kidding ourselves, gang. The real difficulty here is that there are many other Parmalats (Cans of Worms) that are going to be exposed to us in It’s very near future. It is going to be a bigger problem than Iraq is. It has not even come near to touching bottom yet. Calcio? Wait until everyone sees what condition Italian banks are in! Wow! That will be a 9.9 on the Richter scale. And don’t trust the Italian newspapers to tell you the truth: they are rated 53rd (between Macedonia and Panama!) on the second World Press Freedom’s 2003 ranking! Factum illud, infectum fieri non potest.

1 January 2004

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