Elite Italian Media Also Throwing Hissy Fits About Beppe Grillo and “Populism”

Reader craazyman asked for mathematician and sometimes guest writer Andrew Dittmer to explain what is going on in Europe. Unfortunately, Andrew has many projects and Europe is rather large and complicated to sort out right now. Nevertheless, he did decide to help by translating some lead editorials from the Corriere della Sera to shed light on the reaction of the elite media to the recent elections.

Corriere della Sera is the Italian analogue to the New York Times. It is the most prestigious newspaper in the nation and is center-right, which is also equivalent to center-left in the US. One big difference between the US and Italy, however, is its elites, particularly its top writers, are better educated than Americans. Just as when I was young, secondary schools in Italy cover what would be college-level material in the US. They have a far better grounding in the classics, rhetoric, and history than Americans of a comparable social position would have. That means, in some ways, they should be more aware of their writing ploys than most American commentators are. Yet at the same time, their economic views seem to come straight out of the Economist.

It is also critical to understand why Grillo and Berlusconi are so upsetting to the orthodoxy. It isn’t just that Berlusconi is corrupt or that Grillo is an utter wild card. It is that Italy has a controlled press, which puts a whole ‘nother filter through which political figures are seen. As reader Lidia explained:

Middle-class Italians who aren’t politically-connected have sided with Berlusca against the left and center-left. They are incredibly suspicious of Grillo, even many “youngsters” of thirty and forty, because they are unused to Free Discussion on the Internet. They don’t get democracy and they don’t get the Internet; someone must always be “behind” it, sponsoring it. The idea of having an independent voice is so unusual as to be shunned.

Political discussion is officially restricted to the (party-run) newspapers which are publically financed. [Berlusconi himself was an upstart challenging this system when he started out years ago buying up the first small private TV channels and expanding them into his media empire.] The remaining publically-managed airwaves are neatly divided up with each significant left/center-left party essentially running one of the channels.

You cannot even publish a local shopper or a parish newsletter without an officially-LICENSED “journalist” as political control/cover. It’s illegal to do so. When I asked a leftist why anyone just couldn’t print up a newsletter, he responded—aghast—”but then there’d be no CONTROL!”.

Grillo, in his use of the free Internet as a medium and his rejection of public funds has poked entrenched interests, both ‘right’ and ‘left’, in the eye, and many dislike this lack of decorum purely on an aesthetic level, I am sad to say. He’s the one saying the emperor has no clothes (which everyone says in private) only he’s doing it in public, and with no clear patronage structure.

My guess is that certain Italians’ irrational distaste for Grillo comes from their inability to read into his movement where they would fit in. He wants to do away with the old, rancid systems, but the old, rancid systems are what keep people afloat even to the minimum extent that they are, currently.

Andrew chose one editorial about Grillo before the election, and two after (all three are embedded later in the post). The last one he included to serve as a contrast, not just in terms of viewpoint but also stylistically. You’ll see the others make peculiar juxtapositions or wild insinuations, while the third is foursquare.

The first two, and Andrew says they were typical of most Corriere della Sera coverage, are dismissive, with a thin veneer of giving the devil his due. Look at the damning with faint praise in the first piece, on February 21, titled Con le battute non si governa (“You can’t govern by making jokes”; and the subtitle, I pericoli del fenomeno Grillo (“The dangers of the Grillo phenomenon.”)

However they turn out, whoever ends up winning, these elections will be remembered as Beppe Grillo’s. To point out in what ways he has been assisted [in doing so well, politically] is not to diminish his abilities. In fact, there is no doubt: the electoral campaign of the Movimento 5 Stelle has been carried out with considerable skill and determination – by its opponents.

Notice the en passant mention of Grillo’s abilities, and the abrupt shift to how his opponents made his case? That’s tantamount to saying, “The other side was self destructive.” They then compare him to other protest candidates who got a following and assert that they got a following because they were against the status quo, that if voters had understood what their platform was, they would have voted different. That’s tantamount to saying irresponsible and low information voters vote for people like Grillo. If this supposed to be a recap of his “abilities,” I’d hate to see what an attack on his weaknesses looks like.

More damning with faint praise:

One good thing that can be said for Beppe Grillo is that he has reduced the degree to which people simply abstain from voting. Whatever else one may think about it, the Movimento 5 Stelle is providing a way to vent anger and frustration.

The article then complains about his failure to offer policy specifics. That’s typical for politicians. Why is this so objectionable? Andrew said he thought it was because Grillo was outside the policy apparatus, that he lacked associations with think tanks that would crank out wonky-looking trial balloons. But you have to get a load of how this feeds into the closing bit:

We should require [candidates] instead to give us details, assurances, explanations. Those who do not answer during the electoral campaign – whether to potential voters, to journalists, or to criticisms – will not answer in the future, either. In 1923, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin was able to release “Political Declaration 53;” in 2013, Beppe Grillo could not do so. Charismatic leaders must be checked [or “controlled”], for our good and theirs. If we neglect to do so, we can look forward to bitter surprises.

So get that? Grillo is measured against Lenin and found wanting.

The second editorial is from the 24th, Il principio di realtà (“The principle of reality.”). It hits standard neoliberal themes and could just as easily have come from Brussels or Germany. It explicitly says that market demands trump democracy. A representative section:

Unless I am mistaken, none of them [these candidates] has had the courage to explain [to the electorate] that in the Eurozone and in the global marketplace, the traditional instruments with which governments used to direct the economy have largely vanished. It is not possible to print money, to devalue one’s currency, to impose tariffs on imports. In particular, it is impossible to prevent the markets from judging the credibility of our bonds by fixing the interest rate that the Italian State will have to pay to those who lend it money. Perhaps the most paradoxical aspect of this electoral campaign has been the frequency with which the judgments of foreign governments and newspapers have been considered a form of intolerable interference [with the affairs of our country]. We cannot take pleasure in being, notwithstanding everything else, a great global economy, and at the same time expect that other countries will patiently await the results of our elections without expressing preferences. We have the right to elect whomever we please without heeding the advice of Angela Merkel, but we cannot ignore the fact that [we now live in] a [common] European space in which the vote of one country can influence the destiny of another.

The author also hopes for a backlash:

There is one hope that remains: that the result of this election will dissolve the fog that has up to now covered the battlefield, and will provoke a shock [or: “wake-up call”] of realism and prudence [buon senso].

The third editorial, on the 27th, is Atlante populista italiano (“An atlas of Italian populism.”). I hope you read it in full. The author pushes back hard against the formulation that populism is just one step above mob rule. Here is the start:

Is it populist to wonder what “sacrifices” have been made by representative Rosy Bindi or senator LaTorre (to mention two names at random), over the last fifteen months, while hundreds of thousands of Italians have lost their jobs? Is it populist to wonder what effects representatives Bondi and Cesa (to mention two more names at random) have felt from governmental “austerity” during this same period, while 800,000 Italian families were begging to be able to pay their electric and gas bills in installments, and dozens of small businesses and shops were forced each day to close their doors? Is this populist? Who knows, maybe it is. But if so, let’s go from our present wretched situation to a more brilliant time – it follows that the English monarchy was also populist when it decided during World War II to remain in Buckingham Palace in the heart of that part of London that was pounded every night by the bombers of the Luftwaffe. And perhaps also populists – obviously of the worst sort – were the members of the German General Staff that in the autumn of 1942 decided to eat in the cafeteria of Berlin, thereby partaking of the same horrible food that a few thousand miles away their fellow soldiers were consuming while being hopelessly besieged at Stalingrad.

Yes indeed, horrible populists – so we are assured by our extremely knowledgeable intellectuals, who are constantly proclaiming in sermons what is meant by true democracy. Yes, all of them are populists: like Beppe Grillo, of course, and the people who voted for him.

It happens however to be the case that true leaders do precisely the same thing – namely, in key moments, they try to put themselves on the same level as the common people, to share their dangers and concerns, and in this way to deserve their trust. They do not go each day on television to talk with Bruno Vespa or Floris or Santoro [Italian television personalities] (in transmissions which, incidentally, through their loquacious emptiness, have contributed like few other factors to destroy any respect that might have been due them). A political class that has a sense of its own honor and of its own roles must be capable of recognizing when it is time to be on the side of its citizens. If it does not recognize this moment, there you go – that’s when “populism” inevitably arises in order to remind it [i.e., the political class].

Recent Editorials from Corriere Della Sera, translated by Andrew Dittmer by

Thanks Andrew Dittmer for these translations!

Now having said all that, there is another matter Lidia pointed out that I was unaware of:

My husband grudgingly admits that Grillo is correct in all he says, but holds a grudge against him due to the crime which prevents him from holding office (not “a traffic accident” as Nicole Foss put it, but a drunk-driving incident in which he killed a couple of women, IIRC). Italians drink as a matter of course, but frown heavily on drunkenness…Crimes of excess, like hiring prostitutes, or crimes of fiscal corruption even to the tune of billions of euros are simply not on the same moral level as a crime that immediately takes a life, in their reckoning, which may be mere rationalization, but there it is.

I can see how that sort of “accident” would make one legitimately toxic…I’m not sure how far I would go in supporting a domestic candidate with that sort of history. Now of course, Ted Kennedy had Mary Jo Kopechne, but he was and insider and that incident was seldom mentioned in polite company. Update: There is some question about this incident. Italians are busy in comments trying to sort out the facts. The charges against him were dismissed due to lack of evidence. Grillo may have been reckless (driving on a dangerous road when it was icy) but the drunk part does not appear to be part of any charges and may be pure character assassination.

The rebellion of the Italian electorate against austerity is a plus, in that it is throwing a wrench into Troika’s destructive program and could lead to less blood-letting and more equity in who is made to suffer. However, it is impossible to see how this plays out, and frankly, we are most likely in lose-lose territory as far as ordinary Europeans are concerned. Austerity is clearly a terribly policy choice, but if the Eurocrats will not moderate their stance in the face of pressure, efforts that derails it will come at high short-term cost. Even when revolutions tear down bad systems and succeed in putting a better order in place, they also create a lot of collateral damage.

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  1. Ignacio

    The same line of coverage described for el Corriere de la sera can be found in the equivalent news outlet in Spain (El País). It is quite interesting to see that although these media aknowledge the problems of euroausterity and realise that those policies are failing, they will despise any option that opposes the eurocratic recipe. These media want to look progressive but are run as any other company, with managers feeling comfortable with the eurostablishment and scared about anyone as Mr Grillo coud bring about in politics.

  2. genauer

    How about the headline:

    Yves Smith throwing hissy fit about all journalists, in the

    UK (“Send in the clowns” http://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21572763-how-beppe-grillo-and-silvio-berlusconi-threaten-future-italy-and-euro-send), Italy, Germany,

    US (“BEPPE’S INFERNO, http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2008/02/04/080204fa_fact_mueller)

    doing what they ALWAYS DO, making unqualified remarks on personal issues,

    and carefully avoiding to look at the real issues / program,

    like I did here 2 days ago, and found, that Grillo is pretty compatible with the German Reality and German Consensus.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      What the Economist and New Yorker think and say is of much less moment than what the European media say, and particularly those in Germany and Italy. Plus “tu quoque” is a logical fallacy.

      The media messaging is both a reflection of the view of certain political elites + their efforts to influence public opinion. It is very clear the the German media is in a dither about the Italian elections. They are in an uproar that they have 1. destabilized Italy (as if Italy has ever been stable, I think the average life of a government ex Berlusconi is 11 months) and 2. will undermine austerity and threatens the Euro project.

      That is contrary to your assertion re “German consensus”.

    2. bystander

      What do you mean by “German consensus”?
      Calling this post a ‘hissy fit’ is a personal attack on Yves. Did you intend that?

    3. Claudius

      Yves is wondering why the Italian media is throwing a hissy fit, despite the positive comparative assessment of peer-level education standards in the two countries – that educated Italians journalists (‘writers’) are, generally, more comprehensively educated and to a higher standard ‘that means, in some ways, they should be more aware of their writing ploys than most American commentators are. Yet at the same time, their economic views seem to come straight out of the Economist.’

      To quote Nate Sliver: “A lot of journalism wants to have what they call objectivity without them having a commitment to pursuing the truth, but that doesn’t work. Objectivity requires belief in and a commitment toward pursuing the truth – having an object outside of our personal point of view.” A smart, educated journalist might agree with this statement.

      Most Italian journalism (in particular, television journalism) is of very poor quality, due to the fact that the selection of individuals who are allowed into journalism starts, often, with the exclusion of the smartest people – often, people “having an object outside of our personal point of view” .

      Aspiring journalists in Italy have to obtain a professional writing license from the Italian Order of Journalists ODG (Ordine dei Giornalisti), ‘The Order’, (which succeed ‘Albo Professionale’, an association of journalists set up in 1925, during the fascist era), the state-approved organization which regulates Italian journalists. Press freedom, independence or quality of information, are not its objectives or remit. To obtain a license from the Order, there are three options:

      • First option is to undergo 18-months training in a media outlet, such as La Gazzetta dello Sport, Corriere della Sera or Rai 1, resulting in a de facto license (and, most importantly, a full-time employment contrac)t.

      • Second option is to enrol in one of the 16 journalism schools recognized by the Order (90 percent take this route), and pass a national final exam (that, interestingly, includes an oral exam in which they’re asked legal and ethical questions connected to recent news stories) to become ‘professionisti’ (but, no automatic employment contract).

      • Third, theoretically, one could become part-time ‘pubblicisti’, prove you have carried out a two-year paid journalistic activity and produced 60-80 articles; though rarely, if ever, is being a pubblicista a route to licensed journalism (and certainly not full time employment contract).

      Needless to say, say media/newsrooms are highly nepotistic (98% of top journalists have connections with family members who are also journalist, publishers, board members etc. in the same organization), that for the well connected, though not necessarily the smartest, it’s an easy, safe route to journalism; and maintains the mediaroom ‘familia’ ethos.

      As a result, Italian journalists can be divided into two categories:

      • The nepotistic elite who benefits from the security of a full time journalist contract and, inherently have an incentive/inclination to not seek an object outside their own personal point of view (or the viewpoint of the familia),

      • The “precari”– freelancers on temporary and short-term contracts, who live in precarious financial circumstances whom, most often, do have an object outside of their own personal point of view.

      And, if a tech-savvy, aspiring journalist cum self-publisher simply refuses to follow this path – buck the Familia along with the ink media and create their own online news site? Such an apostate would be chastised by the Order, not allowed to link to original content and if, as a news source, it started generating something like 100,000 visitors a day, the Order will sue.

      In any event the number of Italians who use the Internet, including social networks like Facebook and Twitter, is still comparatively low alongside the online population in the United States or the rest of Europe. Bloggers who comment, highlight or lampoon the transgressions of politicians, society at large, the sad state of economic affairs etc., are around, but are not seen as a threat to the ‘high standards’ and ‘professionalism’ of ‘traditional’ journalists, however, one blogger has been really successful – Beppe Grillo.

      1. Lidia

        Thanks, Claudius, for laying out the Italian press scheme more precisely than I had done.

        I’ve heard these hissy fits before from other quarters: basically the 90% nepotism, 10% precari equation (perhaps closer to the Pareto 80/20 ratio) works for every walk of professional life and even applies to non-skilled employment—short of picking tomatoes in Puglia (that the black Africans are generously allowed to do).

        One flap I clearly recall was the pharmacists (an unofficially hereditary position in Italy) up in arms over the proposal that grocery stores be able to sell generic aspirin. The world was going to end, naturally…

        Anyone threatening established interests will be attacked and rejected, as I said, like a foreign object infecting “The Body”. It doesn’t matter that they might be right or competent; being right or competent is a decided handicap. This isn’t a matter for outrage, however, because the thinking is that—really—everyone deserves this special familial treatment. It behooves virtually no-one aside from the 10-20% to rock the boat. But as the ratio of precari continues to grow, so will the natural base of the Grillisti.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The objection seems to be that because he is wealthy, he can’t be for real. Yet David Graeber got a $300,000 advance on his “Debt: The First 5000 Years.” Does that mean he can’t be a legitimate member of Occupy? That’s a top 1% income. And people tried to discredit Occupy because it had a marketing organization involved, AdBusters. And Occupy was criticized for not having a coherent program. Frankly, this sounds like repackaged anti-Occupy tropes, with some new bells and whistles added.

      I’m not saying there is not an element of truth here, but the arguments look troublingly familiar.

      This also seems to be, as we pointed out earlier, as least in part the expectation in Italy that everyone must have a padronne.

      I don’t have a point of view on what Grillo means for Italy. But he HAS destablized the equation at the Eurozone level. And I’m not sure I get the stability argument. If Grillo sticks with his position (and I think I did read this, forgive me if I am wrong) that he does not do coalitions, that is a real wrench at the Italian level too.

      The Eurozone level threat may not last more than a very short period of time. The power brokers stuffed threats in Greece back into a box, pronto. The Germans presumably have less influence over Berlusconi and Grillo than they did over the Greek leaders, but how much less remains to be seen.

      This also does not invalidate the point of our article, that the elite media in Italy is Not Happy about either Grillo or Berlousoni.

      1. Mark P.

        “David Graeber got a $300,000 advance …That’s a top 1% income.”

        If it represents a single year’s income. The reality is, while Graeber now has a nice gig at the LSE, he’s unlikely to do that every year.

        Still, we take your point.

      2. Lidia

        Yves, the wealth arguments are complete bullshit, as Italian media takes folks like Massimo D’Alema (PM in the late 1990s) perfectly seriously. A communist who wears hand-made shoes costing thousands of euros, he’s owned an 18m yacht for which her reportedly paid 1/2 price, and which he registered in Greece, I believe, to avoid Italian taxes. He’s had possession of the equivalent of a rent-controlled apartment on Central Park West, along with all the usual crap Italian politicos get like a free car and driver, etc.

        This is noted, of course, but then people move on. It’s just accepted that career politicians amass unjustifiable wealth and perks, but a double standard seems to hold for Grillo.

  3. from Mexico

    The translations of opinion pieces are great, but what about reporting?

    jsmith posted the following a couple of days ago. The socialist-Marxist-communist left are attacking Grillo and Movimento 5 Stelle unmercifully:

    jsmith says:

    February 27, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    Sober assessment of Italian election returns:


    Grillo, despite his tirades against corrupt politicians and the wealthy, is one of the top earners in the country. In 2011, he paid taxes on an official income of €4.5 million, and said proudly: “I have really earned my money.”

    Behind his populist tirades lies a right-wing liberal world view, which would not stop him from cosying up to the far right. Grillo insists that he is neither right-wing nor left-wing, and invited neo-Nazis and supporters of the racist Northern League to support his movement, “if they share our ideas”.

    In the northern Italian city of Parma, where Grillo’s Five Stars Movement has held the office of mayor since May, it has made headlines mainly through implementing strict austerity measures.

    Grillo’s programme is a muddled collection of unrelated demands, such as can be found with the Pirate Party, the Greens, and liberal and right-wing parties: free internet access for all, ecological energy, no money for defence and major transportation projects, benefits for all, protection of domestic industries from international competition, restriction of politicians’ salaries, cutting jobs in the state apparatus, and so on.

    The fact that opposition to the austerity measures of Monti and the EU has benefited the populist Grillo and right-wing demagogue Berlusconi is a result of the utter bankruptcy of the so-called Italian left.

    Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/02/links-22713.html#UcVccWoXVzUtxUUL.99

    Apparently the sentiment is mutual. For instance, there’s this from Grillo:

    “In 1987 during the Saturday night TV show Fantastico 7, he attacked the Italian Socialist Party and its leader Bettino Craxi, then Italy’s prime minister, on the occasion of his visit to the People’s Republic of China. Grillo asked: ‘If the Chinese are all socialists, from whom do they steal?’ The joke hinted at the totalitarianism of the PRC, but even more to the widespread corruption for which the Italian Socialist Party was known. As a consequence, Grillo was effectively and silently banished from publicly owned television. He was vindicated a few years later, however, when the Italian Socialist Party had to be disbanded in a welter of corruption scandals known as Tangentopoli, uncovered by the Mani pulite (Clean hands) investigation.”
    Read more at http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/02/invia-i-pagliacci-ci-devono-essere-pagliacci-extended-play.html#WZeYSXhWJcrdLpa2.99

    I don’t read Italian, and it probably wouldn’t do any good anyway given what Lidia says above about the extreme level of censorship in the Italian press.

    In my searches I didn’t find anything in the English press. But I did find a couple of articles in the Spanish press on what’s going on in Parma, where M5S came to power in the elections of May, 2012 in a surprise upset over its left-wing rival.

    First there’s this:


    The video is outstanding as it shows the beautiful historic city of 178,000 residents, and its young (38 year-old) new M5S mayor, Federico Pizzarotti.

    The article was written in August 2012, and the attack was on. The opposition charges at that time evolved around the following:

    1) That the new governors had no experience, and
    2) That the direct democracy they employed would never work, that it would just lead to stalemate and inaction, and that “structure” is needed. Direct democracy and citizen participation is “a recipe for paralysis,” the opposition charged.

    “There’s an ecological theme in the changes proposed by M5S,” the report says, “less use of autos, less emphasis on consumption, and a greater conscienceness of the necessity to save energy.”

    The new administration inherited a horrific fiscal situation. The “public finances of the city are chaotic,” the article explains. “It has debts of more than $900 million, accumulated by previous adminstrations.”

    The other article I found was this, written only a few days ago:

    “Parma, testing grounds for the anti-politics movement of Grillo”

    The charges that were levelled against the new administration have now changed. The allegation that direct democracy is “a recipe for paralysis” did not come true. Here are some of the new policies:

    1) All city council meetings are now available live on the internet through video streaming.

    2) Apparently some sort of direct citizen internet voting participation has been implemented, though the exact details of how it works are not explained.

    3) Pizzarotti rides to work on a bicycle. His other official transportation is provided by taxi.

    4) A number of austerity measures have been implemented. For instance, the former city government had a fleet of Mercedes Benzes and chofers that hustled its 32 councilors about. Those have been eliminated. Pizzarotti’s salary has been lowered, from 3600 to 3200 euros. And various privileges of the “local political caste” have also been eliminated. The 32 councilors before had free entry to the Regio Theater and all football games. Now they have to pay their own way.

    5) The public debt was discovered to be even greater than previously known. It was found to be 840 million euros, or about $1.1 billion, a far sight greater than the $900 previously believed. The decision was made to eliminate this debt in two years. Taxes have been raised to the maximum allowed and social services have been cut by $3 euros per year.

    M5S can no longer be attacked for stalemate and inaction because of the method of direct democracy it uses. The charge of inexperience, however, has not gone away. “As a person, I like Pizzarotti, but he is inexperienced, he is not prepared to govern Parma, a city of great potential that now is paralyzed because of the brutal increase in taxes,” charges Vittorio, owner of a restaurant. “To govern a city is not easy, but the Grillos are not professionals. The only good thing is they don’t steal, they are honest.”

    The new charge is that M5S lacks imagination and ideas. “If the vote were held now, I don’t know if the people would reelect him,” said Giuliano Molosi, editor of La Gazzetta di Parma.

    “The people see him differently than the traditional politicians because he is new and honest, but they’ve began to ask questions because he only thinks of paying the debt and he doesn’t have ideas,” he adds critically.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Don’t you recall that this is the same criticism made of Occupy? No program?

      And I get extremely frustrated when views are projected onto me. I am pleased that Grillo and Berlusconi have throw a wrench in the German calculus for imposing further austerity. The socialists et al are criticizing Grillo for his general domestic position or apparent lack thereof.

      However, I have NOT made a general endorsement of Grillo or Berlusconi, nor do I have the time or inclination to report on what he means in terms of domestic issues.

      And I don’t see any point in speculating. We’ll see plenty soon what his party actually does.

      1. from Mexico

        What I find interesting here is the emergence of the same subtext being promoted by Steve Waldman. With Waldman, it was the only way banking can opperate effectively is if there is lying, stealing, cheating and opacity:


        The critics of Pizzarotti and M5S seem to be coming around to the same conclusion, that the only way politics can opperate effectively is if there is lying, stealing, cheating and opacity.

      2. Ruben

        Two points:

        1) You migth learn something already about reasons to endorse movements like those of Grillo: honesty and transparency. Parma’s major is considered as honest, this is a major advance.

        2) Austerity, even the one promoted by Germany, has a very important good side: reduction of State apparatus size, reduction of privileges and expenditures of State and party bosses. This goes a long way to solving the issues of dysfunctional southern euro countries.

        A narrow-minded stance against austerity in southern Europe plays right into the hands of corrupt political and business southern European elites.

    2. Massinissa

      Mexico, if you dont mind me saying so, I love WSWS, and read it every day. Wonderful site.

      But I myself find it unduly cynical on Grillo. Grillo will PROBABLY end up being a disappointment in some way, but framing it in absolutes, which to be honest WSWS does a good deal unfortunately, detracts from the issue.

      On a related issue, I find their skepticism of Syriza to be completely valid. I just dont see how it is possible to have an anti-austerity program and be pro-Euro. Also their coverage on Tsipras has been enlightening, and I dont think I trust him.

      But again, I am rather a bit disappointed with their unfair characterizations of Grillo has being a conservative. He isnt far left, to be sure, but framing him as almost as right as Berlusconi is dishonest.

      1. Systemic Disorder

        The WSWS site has interesting material on it, but undermines itself with its partianship, which amounts to “our party is right, every other party/organization is a right-wing sellout.” So no surprise at its reflexive dismissal of Grillo as a rightist.

        From what I can see, Grillo’s demands are almost all left of center, albeit something of a grabbag. The 5 Star Movement, near as I can tell, does seem to have parallels to Occupy in the U.S. Having spent considerable time at Zuccotti Park, I can tell you that there were many points of view, mostly toward the left but also some right-wing populism among the libertarians who hung around there, too.

        To some degree, it has to expected that a nascent movement without a developed political content is going to be somewhat all over the place. The key to Occupy was that it expressed the anger most people feel — the “99 percent” slogan encapsulated that anger beautifully. It is easy to feel frustrated at a lack of deeper structural understanding, but then it is job of those who have such understandings to make the case.

        That Italian elites are as dismissive of 5 Star as U.S. elites are of Occupy tells us that there is an awakening happening — of course this makes them unhappy. That Left organizations such as WSWS want to dismiss these movements as covers for the right means they are unwilling to talk to people at the level they are at and have lost their ability to disentagle themselves from a rigid ideological line.

        The corporate Right will coopt these types of movements if Left activists and theorists sit them out.

  4. tom

    There is a great article on Grillo which I found on Edward Harrisons website.

    It rings true to me. It is not only and mabe even not primarily austerity – at least in the rich North – remember Italy is really two countries – which made people vote for Grillo. But the utter disfunction of politics. Remember both main political currents are up to their ears in scandals.

    1. Valissa

      Thanks for the link! Most sensible thing I’ve read on the Italian election so far. Looks the Italians got fed up with their duopoly and voted outside the box. Good for them!

  5. Milton Arbogast

    Germany, a country that is almost irrelevant (dead language, criminal history), has not changed in the slightest for the last hundred or more years. They long for the time when German was the language of science and they were able to start two world wars.

    Their insanity will bring down the euro. It is a matter of time.

    1. gerold k.b. weber

      This are the spirits naked capitalism has called with its Germany bashing.

      In Europe we have some very bad historical experience to which end such anti-)nationalistic sentiments might lead, and we would not like to repeat those dark times.

      And let us not forget: one major goal of the EU and Eurozone projects (and from bashed Germany) is to achieve that goal.

      1. PDC

        This is a small piece of (our of topic?) family history.

        It is the spring of 1945, allied troops are pushing towards river Po, in northern Italy.
        Germans troops are scared: not of the allies, but of Russian and Yugoslavian, who will have no mercy on them.
        Disbanded troops are trying to cross the river, but the bridges are bombend night and day by allies planes.
        Attacks during the night are quite erratic, villages near the river are destroyed by mistake.
        One evening, a young girl, five years old, does get lost. She is a small thing, she knows nothing about grown ups, she does not understand war.
        Sirens blow, explosions, fire. Houses collapse and burn, along with their dwellers.
        In the morning, two desperate parents are searching for their daughter among the corpses. They find her, alive, under the dead body of a german soldier that has embraced her, protecting the small body from fire and splinters.
        She was my mother.

        So yes, I think that the european project IS important, that nationalism is VERY dangerous, and I’m not so ready to bash germans.

    2. Mark P.

      Milton Arbogast wrote: ‘Germany, a country … has not changed in the slightest for the last hundred or more years.”

      I’ve a hard time thinking of a modern developed nation in the West that’s experienced more change than Germany, given that — just to begin with — it didn’t even exist till 1871 (one-hundred-and-forty-three years ago) and was only reunified after the Cold War in 1990 (thirteen years ago).

      Congratulations, Mr. Arbogast. You are the complete historical ignoramus.

  6. Jessica

    “My guess is that certain Italians’ irrational distaste for Grillo comes from their inability to read into his movement where they would fit in. He wants to do away with the old, rancid systems, but the old, rancid systems are what keep people afloat even to the minimum extent that they are, currently.”

    My guess is that something similar explains the current political passivity of the American people as well.

    1. Joe Renter

      You hit the nail on the head Jessica.
      Change is a bitch. The older one gets (a norm) the harder it seems. We don’t need a weather man to see which way the wind blows.

  7. craazyman

    Whoa, Mr. Dittmer lives! Thank you Mr. Dittmer for the translations. Maybe it’s still possible for us to outsource most of our thinking. That’s a dream, since you can just lay around and not worry about figuring stuff out. But how can he be busy? That makes no sense if he’s doing math. Maybe he’s given up on math and is doing something else.

    What is there for a mathematician to do anymore now that every laptop, desktop and smart phone computer has a built in scientific calculator? It’s not like it used to be, when only a few people could do math accurately. Now anybody can solve any equation for whatever solution they want and say the computer did it. They can even print it out on a laser printer for proof. That’s how finance works anyway.

    It sounds like Italy is even more wacky than I thought. How can anyone expect this country to organize itself enough to leave the euro? That sounds impossible.

    Instead, they’ll just ignore it more and more until they forget about it completely and nobody remembers what it was. It’s like getting rid of a girlfriend you don’t want, you don’t really break up you just sort of forget about it on an ongoing basis and act surprised when you run into her on the street. Women can do this too, but most guys will shake it off and avoid her completely.

    Maybe they’ll just start using lira again and let the euro get the message without a painful emotional confrontation that hurts and embarrases everybody.

    1. ohmyheck

      That is a very interesting article and POV, which in short says, ” So long as Washington is willing to underwrite not only (NATO)Europe’s defense, but also its adventures elsewhere, there is little pressure on any European nation to devote serious resources to its military.”,

      Since this discussion is about Grillo, I found this in the article worth noting: “Francois Hollande is posing as Napoleon Bonaparte reincarnated, receiving a hero’s welcome in newly liberated Mali.”

      If I remember correctly, Hollande was supposed to be a Leftie, and was going to stand up to EU-imposed austerity. I have no idea how that worked out in his economic policies, but obviously his foreign policy is not what most would consider “Leftist”.

      If history is a guide, what Grillo can actually achieve in the manner of Populist policies is highly suspect. Methinks the Germans doth protest too much.

  8. Diego Schiavon

    I am Italian, living in the Netherlands, and I long considered voting for Grillo. In the end I did not.

    I am under the impression Ms. Smith wants so much to believe that the M5S is what it claims to be, that she is actively blind to its shortcomings. This makes no justice to Ms. Smith herself, the Occupy movement, or the M5S.

    M5S is a riffraff of inexperienced amateurs with a sense of entitlement. It has no internal democracy, it is governed by an unelected showman, and has no real program.

    That is fine, the other major parties are probably worse, and Italians vote Grillo because in their eyes he is less bad than the rest – and I think they are right.

    But please do not dismiss all criticism to the movement as cluelessness: as little as I like German elites, they are right. As little, oh-so-little I like Italian newspapers, the article has a few good points.

    M5S will either have to mature and address some of those criticism, or disappear real soon. Their only hope is that the remaining parties stay in power and give an even worse showing.

    1. diptherio

      Look where the experienced professionals have gotten us and then explain to me again why we should worry about “inexperienced amateurs” in positions of power.

      1. Lidia

        Exactly. People are fed up with this “Father Knows Best” pearls-before-swine attitude!!

    2. Massinissa

      Monti was ‘experienced’… And he did his job how well again?

      I am assuming you voted Bersani? I dont see how you can vote for an Austerity candidate, knowing that austerity is wrong, just because Bersani has more ‘experience’.

  9. sd

    Ted Kennedy had Mary Jo Kopechne

    Yves, you like facts. Read the court transcript, then see where you stand on what happened in Chappaquiddick.

    No one ever bothers to read the actual transcript…

      1. ex-PFC Chuck

        I, too, would like a transcript link.

        Matthew Smith, a Brit who is one of the more well-regarded researcher/writers on the JFK assassination, makes a plausible circumstantial case in his book Conspiracy: The Plot to Stop the Kennedys that Chappaquiddick was a set-up and that the story as put out was concocted by Teddy and his advisors as the least damaging one that could possibly pass the smell test. He argues that Kennedy very likely did get it on with one of his boiler room girls that night but that it was very unlikely that it was Kopechne. http://amzn.to/XHDefK

        Smith also argues the case that Marilyn Monroe was murdered in an effort to compromise Bobby Kennedy, who had visited her a few hours before. According to Smith the crime was covered up with the active assistance of, surprise, surprise, the LAPD.

  10. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

    I was frankly amazed at the completely dismissive tone in the first editorial, if I remember correctly. When can I expect to see the O so venerable Corriere della Sera write in that way about Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI ?

    I think the joke is on the editorialists. It’s like an Italian farce …

      1. diptherio

        license = lices, but apart from that I am similarly baffled. I get the original joke, just not the connection. Can we get a little help here, Lambert?

        1. zygmuntFRAUDbernier

          Diphterio, somewhere above the comments for this piece, I remember reading that newspapers, periodical “tracts” and the like must employ licensed journalists. Recap: A leftist apparatchik was asked why that needs to be, and the reply was that, without a licensed journalist, there would be no control over the content of the periodicals.

  11. Hans Suter

    Yves, Grillo’s traffic accident was exactly that. Nothing to do with drunken driving:
    (google tansl.)
    On the afternoon of December 7, 1981 Beppe Grillo lost control of an SUV Chevrolet K5 Blazer as he drove down the road from Limone Piemonte Colle di Tenda. The vehicle, six kilometers after Quota 1400, slipped on an ice floe and fell into a deep ravine eighty meters. On board with four of his friends were Grillo Genoa with whom he was spending the weekend Immaculate. Grillo escaped by jumping out of the cockpit before the car fell on deaf ears and, bruised and in shock, he managed to call for help. Three of his friends were in the car were killed

    L’incidente di Limone Piemonte
    Nel pomeriggio del 7 dicembre 1981 Beppe Grillo perse il controllo di un fuoristrada Chevrolet K5 Blazer mentre percorreva la strada militare che da Limone Piemonte porta sopra il Colle di Tenda. Il veicolo, sei chilometri dopo Quota 1400, scivolò su un lastrone di ghiaccio e cadde in un burrone profondo ottanta metri. A bordo con Grillo c’erano quattro suoi amici genovesi con i quali stava trascorrendo il fine settimana dell’Immacolata. Grillo si salvò gettandosi fuori dall’abitacolo prima che l’auto cadesse nel vuoto e, contuso e in stato di choc, riuscì a chiamare i soccorsi. Tre dei suoi amici rimasti nell’auto persero la vita: i coniugi Renzo Giberti e Rossana Guastapelle, rispettivamente di 45 e 33 anni, e il loro figlio Francesco di 9 anni. Il quarto, Alberto Mambretti, 40 anni, fu ricoverato con prognosi riservata a Cuneo[103][104][105].

    Tre settimane dopo l’incidente, per Grillo scattò l’incriminazione per omicidio plurimo colposo[106]. Nell’ottobre 1982 la perizia ordinata dal giudice istruttore suggerì che Grillo era colpevole di non aver fatto scendere i suoi passeggeri prima di affrontare il tratto di strada più pericoloso[107]. Per questo il 28 settembre 1983 il comico genovese fu rinviato a giudizio[108]. Il processo di primo grado si celebrò a Cuneo il 21 marzo 1984[109] e si concluse con l’assoluzione di Grillo per insufficienza di prove[110]. Pubblico ministero e avvocato della difesa fecero, però, ricorso in appello. Il primo perché aveva chiesto una condanna a sedici mesi di reclusione, il secondo per avere un’assoluzione più ampia[111].

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Thank for the correction! Wow, so he’s been slurred with having been driving drunk.

      1. Ms G

        No. The Google translation is mostly word salad. His criminal trial was for not having his passengers get out of the car before driving along a notoriously dangerous mountain road on a day when it was covered in ice. The SUV fell into the ravine because it slipped on an ice patch on the road. There’s nothing in the Italian article about drunkenness. The criminal trial ended with a dismissal for lack of proof.

        1. Ms G

          p.s. the criminal trial was for homicide (I’m assuming some form of manslaughter, obviously).

        2. Ms G

          p.s. my comments were translations of the italian piece posted up thread, not my own personal opinion or reporting on the subject matter at issue. Just to be clear!

      2. Lidia

        Yves, I’ll look into this further. I conveyed what I had heard from my husband and another Italian friend without checking it out myself. Please do an update to the effect that this may be in error. I’ll do my best to find some reliable sources. It’s certainly possible that a disinformation campaign has been afoot; I just don’t know and I should have been more precise that I was repeating hearsay.

  12. alex

    “You cannot even publish a local shopper or a parish newsletter without an officially-LICENSED “journalist” as political control/cover.”

    Amazing. Makes me appreciate the First Amendment.

  13. TC

    “The rebellion of the Italian electorate against austerity is a plus, in that it is throwing a wrench into Troika’s destructive program and could lead to less blood-letting and more equity in who is made to suffer.”

    The question is why would a citizenry with no part in the utter lack of due diligence today making the euro-zone a target for destruction, and this at the hands of those whose useless derivatives baited this condition, need suffer at all?

    Now, what is austerity but deferring investment in the means by which tangible physical wealth is produced? My understanding is Grillo proposes cancellation of several useful investment projects of this sort. What kind of policy is this, but one that effectively does the Troika’s bidding?

    Grillo’s harsh critique of the political class might make him a “populist” to some. However, his utter lack of condemnation of reckless financiers whose zero due diligence regime and shortsightedness hoisted a mountain of debt facilitating a massive derivatives bubble disproportionately benefitting the likes, and this while the physical means ultimately supporting this Ponzi scheme were being marginalized, which end gravely compromised the position of national treasuries once the Ponzi scheme could find no more walking corpses to securitize, in fact makes Grillo one with the so-called political class.

    His is nothing more than a CIA color revolution. We might as well call Grillo Italy’s Morsi. That Anglo-American elites have worked so hard to rid Italy of Berlusconi and have miserably failed to discredit the one and only candidate with a record of investing in the Italian economy’s capacity to produce tangible physical wealth is the real news from Italian elections earlier this week. As any friend of Putin is hated among Her Royal Bankruptcy’s ass kissers, thus, too, does Secretary of State Skull and Bones ratcheting up the U.S. alliance with al Qaeda (aka “the CIA Arab Legion”) in Syria make a great deal of sense following the Italian election. Too bad for Anglo-American elites their hopelessly bankrupt “system” is doomed.

  14. Gian75

    Hi there.

    “The internet beloved Yves Smith (a lady using a male name, to avoid disclosing to the financial community SHE is a fine professional, and a financial consultant who’s a sympathizer to the Occupy Wall Street radical group) has been seen dining with Ben “Helicopter” Bernanke in the prestigeous SpendAlotta Diner in New York’s ivy league areas. Or shall we say, Yves likes the Yvyest areas.”

    This entirely fabricated breaking news is what quite often passes for journalism right now in Italy. That’s borderline gossip + character assassionation of course, a-la Drudge Report, and it’s the “hard core” version of the softcore attempts to suggest readers that’s there more than meets the eyes. Often, the said softcore attempts suggest there’s “a risk” in doing something, say, there’s a risk in voting Grillo…”the risk” of populism. Berlusconi has been crushed thanks to his own personality and its excesses, but the general principle (altought never explicity expressed) that passed throught the various media (not aligned or owned by Berlusconi) is that he “lied to people” in a Clinton-Lewinski way – sex was just what made the whole story spicier. That softcore is along the lines of what “big media” (Corriere, Repubblica) does.
    What is angering the Italian big media right now is not, imho, the phenomenon of Grillo per se, but rather the fact that Grillo isn’t giving them ANYTHING to write on – god forbid they should be denied access to something before others. That and the fact that Grillo is adamant about entirely cutting all state subsidies to publishers. And at a more mundane level, some journos just HATE not being chased by elected politicians, hate not being offered fringe benefit, generally hate being run-of-the-mill journos, because the life of a normal journalist is miserable.

    1. lambert strether

      Got a link on.that? Since Yves only dates people who are smarter than she is, it’s highly unlikely that she and Bernanke would be an item.

      Ok, Ok, “Spendalotta.” But still.

    2. Lidia

      “This entirely fabricated breaking news is what quite often passes for journalism right now in Italy.”

      LOL, indeed. What’s circulating now in an apparently frenzied fashion is the story of the young girl (now a middle-aged woman) whose family was killed: “Mr. Grillo, I need to talk to you.”


      This is classic Italian journo-speak: “I’m not looking for anything, if not the truth. I refuse to be instrumentalized (manipulated) by a politics in which I don’t recognize myself, and after this interview I don’t intend to revisit the subject, so I beg journalists and photographers to stop seeking me out. I am asking only to meet Mr. Grillo. (bold in original). It is a gesture that I owe to myself, but also to my parents and to my brother, who can no longer speak: I am doing this in their name. Many times I have asked myself what I would feel to have him in front of me, in person, to ask him about that day. Among all those who hear him talked about continuously nowadays, those who see his face and read his words everywhere, there’s also me, and he should remember that, and he should understand the effect that it has on me. Every day I think about how my life would be if my parents and brother were still here with me.”

      [Ah, it turns out the girl had decided to stay behind and watch cartoons at a friend’s house; she was not involved in the accident at all. I had read that she was a “survivor” but didn’t realize that merely meant “surviving family member”]

      “Cristina, why today, on the eve of the elections, after more than thirty years of silence?”>/b>

      “I told you, Mr. Grillo is a public presence like never before, and never before has my need to confront him been so strong. Mine is certainly not the first life to have been marked by grief; I look around and see a lot of similar stories. The difference is that, in my case—with the media talking about him continuously and about why he isn’t running, and every so often they make vague references to the death of my loved ones—to forget is impossible. All the questions that I have tried to bury—that torment me with their “why?”s—have come back to the surface. Now I need answers, once and for all, to be able to look forward.”

      “Couldn’t you have contacted him privately?”
      “I tried. I also called his press office: I expressed my wish for a private meeting, they promised me that they would let me know. A nephew/grandchild? of Grillo’s called me back: he explained to me that his entire family suffered because of the accident, that it wasn’t the moment to revisit the topic. But for me this is the moment: I’ve grown up, I’m a mother, I am ready to know and to talk about it. Only after that “no” did I agree to talk with you.

      “In the past, has Beppe Grillo tried to contact you?”
      “Never. I have never had the occasion to hear how things happened directly from him, the only person who could really do so. He knew me well, he was my parents’ friend, he visited our home: how is it possible that in all these years he has never felt the need to see me, to ask me forgiveness, even to call my adoptive parents to see how I was doing?”


      “Before going to press with this story, we notified Beppe Grillo and gave him the possibility of commenting in any fashion. He—legitimately—chose not to do so.

      “The rest of the interview, and the tale told by the aunt, in the current edition of Vanity Fair now available on newstands.”

  15. William

    I believe it was a significant effort to have so competently translated the highly nuanced language of those editorials (“locacious”–how many bilingual speakers could make THAT translation?). I suspect Mr. Dittmer put many hours into this project to assist NC readers in gaining a rare understanding the Italian situation.

  16. Lidia

    Yves, I’ve found some random online accusations of Grillo’s supposed inebriated state, but nothing with concrete evidence.

    There are many articles which have revisited the story these past weeks. The basic outline is that Grillo was driving (a “Chevrolet” or an “SUV” depending on who is telling the story) which precipitated off a mountainous road. Three members of the family in the car, friends of Grillo’s with whom he had just had lunch, were killed, while a young girl survived. (Not “2 women” as I had heard; still, for Italians—”he assassinated a family!”)

    Grillo managed to exit the vehicle before the final crash and was unharmed.

    He was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced to one year and three months in jail, a conviction upheld on appeal.

    Some online comments do insinuate that he had been drinking, but I cannot find -online- any reliable indication as to whether or not that that was part of the official findings of 30 years ago.

    Grillo’s initial public accounting of the story once it came to light in 2005 is as follows, in blog post entitled “The Compensation of Judas”:

    Io, Beppe Grillo, ne ho piene le tasche di dovermi giustificare.
    Oggi vi dirò delle cose su di me, sulla mia vita privata, su alcune illazioni.
    Lo faccio oggi e poi basta.
    Ho avuto un incidente di macchina nel 1980, guidavo io, mi sono salvato per miracolo, ma sono morte tre persone che erano con me e sono stato condannato per omicidio colposo a un anno e tre mesi.
    Non mi candiderò al Parlamento.
    Non ho una Ferrari, l’ho avuta, ora ho una Toyota ibrida.
    Non ho la barca, l’ho avuta, ma l’ho venduta.
    Ho due case, una a Genova e una in Toscana.
    Non ho denunciato nessun ragazzo, non so neppure chi sia, il mio legale ha presentato un esposto alla Procura di Alessandria per tutelare i miei legittimi interessi, per le vendite dei miei spettacoli effettuate su Ebay da molte persone. E questo solo dopo aver richiesto ripetutamente e formalmente a Ebay di non consentire le vendite illegali.
    In allegato c’è la fattura di Repubblica per l’inserzione di Fazio vattene che mi è arrivata oggi.

    Voglio dedicarmi insieme a chi ci crede a iniziative positive, non a confutare il Corriere della Sera che fa l’analisi del testo del blog (sic) denunciando errori come celophane con una elle sola, ma che non ha riportato una sola parola sulla pagina Fazio vattene pubblicata sulla Repubblica.

    Non voglio rettificare, querelare. Non ne ho il tempo, né la voglia.
    Chi vuol credermi lo faccia. Se voi mi seguirete continuerò in questa opera di contro informazione, per non lasciare il campo ai giuda dell’informazione e ai loro trenta denari.

    “I. Beppe Grillo, have my pockets full of things I must justify. Today, I will tell you some things about myself, about my private life, about certain inferences. I’m going to do it today, and then that’s it.

    “I had a car accident in 1980, I was driving, I was saved by a miracle, but three people who were with me died and I was sentenced, for negligent homicide, to a year and three months.

    “I will not run for Parliament.
    I don’t have a Ferrari. I had one, but now I drive a Toyota hybrid.
    I don’t have a boat. I had one, but I sold it.
    I have two houses, one in Genoa and one in Tuscany.
    I have never made a criminal complaint against any guy—I don’t even know who he is; my lawyer has filed a brief with the prosecutor’s office in Alessandria to protect my legitimate interests, for the sales of my shows effectuated on Ebay by many people. And this only after having repeatedly and formally requested Ebay not to allow such illegal sales.

    “Attached is an invoice from [the newspaper] Reppublica for the “Fazio Get Out” advertisement, which I received today.

    “I want to dedicate myself, together with those who believe in positive initiatives, not to arguing with the Corriere della Sera which analyses the text of my blog (sic) denouncing errors like “celophane” with only on “l”, but which hasn’t said a single word about the “Fazio Get Out” page published in “La Repubblica”.

    “I don’t want to get into corrections and lawsuits. I have neither the time nor the desire. Let he who believes me do that. If you want to follow me, I will continue in this work of counter-information, so as not to leave the field open to the Information Judases and to their thirty pieces of silver.”

    He never did serve the jail sentence. That could be, as one commenter noted “nobody in Italy goes to jail for a sentence under three years” ;-)

    Still, this is why he has (according to the M5S party rules) maintained that he will not personally, as a convicted felon, run for public office.

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