Anti-Establishment: sometimes it means NO to reform. The Italian Referendum case

Matteo Renzi perplexed

Guess why the Prime Minister has been nicknamed Renzie… Remember Happy Days?

2ND UPDATE – DEC 05 – RENZI RESIGNS. FINAL RESULT:

NO 59.11%, YES 40.89%

 

To be honest, since the result was already in the bank, after the initial projections I serenely went to bed.
Here we are, the morning after a result that is slightly better than I predicted (57-58% in my FB wild guess).

Kudos to Renzi for resigning immediately: this is not typical of Italian politicians, who tended to find excuses to stay in charge even after a defeat. He kept his promise instead.

 

Our future remains very uncertain, Italian politics is a mess, to put it mildly.

  • We’ve got a PD (Democratic Party) that is still massively supported by post-communists, plus others: a force to be reckoned with, the strongest and only party credibly capable of retaining power and doing something with it. And yet both Renzi’s failure AND Renzi’s initial rise (with his focusing on naked power, prioritizing the interests of banks, cronies and European Union diktats, becoming the Berlusconi of the Left) struck a fatal blow to the party’s identity and appeal to its base. The deluge of local political figures being prosecuted for assorted white collar crimes is just icing on the cake. And yet, the push for radical, socially “progressive” reforms (revolutions) has never been stronger (it’s also an opportunity for PD politicians to pretend to be relevant and effective, doing something worth to be put in history books), which is accelerating the rate of decay of a country that is collapsing under the weight of debt, taxes, foreclosures and above all, moral decadence, illegal immigration facilitation and a dramatically low birth rate.
  • A M5S (Five Stars Movement) that represents the wrong answer to a desperate popular plead for renewal: filled with nobodies and loons, this populist movement is both anti-globalist in its rhetoric, confused and unpredictable in its programs, ultimately globalist in its goals. Despite a strong support across the board, mostly from disenfranchised, low information voters on the conservative side of the spectrum (which makes M5S possibly the only contender of PD for an electoral victory), this movement is decidedly to the extreme left both in its ultra-liberal stance on social matters, and its essentially socialist/naive Keynesian fiscal policy proposals.
  • A post-communist, extreme left tiny party that is in a permanent state of flux (in terms of leaders, alliances and split/cohesion)
  • On the right, Berlusconi’s party is a walking dead: the old leader is 80 now, the party without him has no identity and no reason to exist, yet he’s way past expiration date, he’s got nothing to give or say to the country. Please, please, give up already! This country has been built, after WWII, under the rule by a Christian Democratic party that through half a century of power guaranteed, for all its faults and corruption, a semblance of relevance for conservative values. Berlusconi took the lead of the center-right for a good 20 years, shifted the focus on the economy (but not exactly on free markets, more aptly on crony capitalism) and squandered this legacy. His half-hearted support for conservative causes vanished, now he’s closer to progressives (he’s for gay marriage and animal rights, endorsed Hillary Clinton). The only net effect of his tenure seems to be a right wing in total disarray, combined with the disappearance of a party expressing Christian values.
  • Anti-Euro: a tiny party (FdI) that is hampered by its post-fascist roots (similar to the following one on policy).
  • Anti-Euro: Lega Nord is, confusingly enough, the oldest party of the pack by far: it was founded in 1989! :-O But their original goal, splitting Italy in half, is still defining their identity and keeping their support from expanding: they are rooted in the North, the richest part of the country. Although described as ultra-right, dangerous and racist, especially under the present leader Salvini this party is closer to socialist/Keynesian in their proposed economic plans, hardly consistently conservative on social matters. Their main current goals at least seem to be the only touch of sanity in this mad political circus. They focus on 1. stopping the Euro currency and European Union from harming directly or indirectly Italy’s future; and 2. stopping this madness of sending the Italian Navy to the shores of Africa, taking on board anyone who wants to come (!), then keeping all those migrants in hotels and designated temporary shelters, under the pretense that they may be eligible for political asylum, on the dole for a year or two, without working… You see, the emergence of an ever increasingly racist base of angry voters is a clear and present danger. And yet, who is to blame for that? The politicians who are building their consensus on this, or the PD government responsible for the policies that get people enraged, forcing them to accept the inevitable top-down decisions coming from Rome and Brussels, or else be labeled deplorable racist xenophobes?

 

Maybe you can understand now why I find the whole scenario very depressing.

At least we put this imbroglio of the referendum behind our backs. This whole matter, and the discussion of some details down here, may be regarded as a teachable moment. About how certain bad ideas may gain traction, and how those in power often try to pretend to represent change: an alternative to the very same traditional centers of power they are an expression of! But this gimmick isn’t always successful.

 

UPDATE 23:05 CET: EXIT POLLS: PROPOSAL REJECTED.

NO is projected to win with 56%. Demographic data: older people were more favorable to the reform than younger people. My wife’s quick explanation: the elderly are more easily influenced by TV.

 

A Constitutional Referendum is held today, December 4, in Italy.

This time around I don’t need to don the Prophet’s Robe as I did when I predicted the Trump victory: in this Italian Constitutional Reform Referendum, almost every observer expects a NO vote to prevail, thus sending a loud and clear message to Matteo Renzi, the Italian Prime Minister, who pushed very hard for this change in the Italian Republic’s most fundamental law.

Polls indicate the NO camp in the lead with a gap that is significant but not impossible to close.

Voters are called to ratify a modification of a whopping 47 articles in the Constitution. This is a reform that is mostly about centralization, with transfers of power from regional administrations to Rome, while at the same time transforming the Senate, one of the two houses of the Italian Parliament, into a mostly useless husk, a shadow of what it is today: downsized, not elected but composed of regional delegates appointed by local parliaments, stripped of most of its responsibilities. It would create a de facto unicameral parliament, safe for a few exceptions where the Senate could be used, critics say, to stop anti-establishment reforms, with the European Union membership and the Euro currency being the most important issues concerned.

 

This is, in a way, a test of how much a Government could condition the vote of the electorate through its influence on the media. Renzi got an inordinate amount of airtime, in the last few days he was everywhere on TV, someone joked he possessed the special power of ubiquity.

 

Let’s be realistic: especially when the subject is about arcane procedural matters like in this case, there’s a strong pressure towards 50%, as if The Will Of The People were equivalent to a coin toss. We should be realistic about the lack of competence of voters.

But victory is usually awarded to the choice embodying the simplest emotional message that clicks with people, something that could stick. This time around, the widespread disapproval for the Italian Government.

Renzi recklessly made this referendum a test for his approval rating, as a Prime Minister that was appointed but never personally participated in a national election.

That’s why many are insisting on the need to send him a strong signal of opposition; a slap in the face.

 

I must add, though, I can’t really get too passionate about this vote: choosing NO today sounds like coming home, finding out a faucet is turned on, then immediately turning it off before the floor is completely flooded… But your home shows extensive damage from a prior earthquake. Better avoid adding more problems to the list; this doesn’t change the fact that the list is already quite long.

 

Italians are disillusioned, there’s no recipe to save those who don’t want to save themselves. When everyone seems to be working against everyone else.

But this fact becomes the perfect opportunity for the higher-ups to suggest the best course of action is to let them take full control.

 

 

Austria felix? Civilization vs. right wing extremists?

 

Coincidentally there’s another important election today: in Austria they were voting in what we may dub “The Presidential Do-Over”.  The FPÖ (Freedom Party) candidate Norbert Hofer, yet another representative of the Great Unwashed, the deplorable mass of “extreme right wing” xenophobes, was pitted against another outsider, the Green Party Alexander Van der Bellen, in a 1v1 second round, after the champions of more traditional parties lost in the first round of the election.

But the extraordinary nature of this electoral round is that it was originally held on May 22nd. Yet the result was annulled by the Austrian Constitutional Court, after the provisional, very narrow victory for Hofer had been overturned by absentee mail-in votes, thus declaring the leftist Van der Bellen the winner. Vote fraud allegations immediately ensued, and as I indicated the Court eventually annulled the result and ordered a repeat on the basis of formal vote counting irregularities…

Fresh news: this time around the leftist prevailed. Van der Bellen won with 53.3% of the vote, Hofer conceded. This time it’s for real.

I can’t say I know Austrian politics. Yet, you are left wondering: how effective were the establishment media in creating this crucial shift in favor of a candidate that was essentially tied with the opponent, but was harmed by a strong suspicion of electoral fraud?

It seems that an election was stolen, and yet the public was scared into thinking that they had to re-elect the guy who stole it. Because, y’know, what really matters is that Far Right+Austria=Nazi by definition, the love-of-nature alternative is much more palatable and respectable, ballot shenanigans notwithstanding.

 

Americans know full well the depth of the recurring quarrels over the risks of vote fraud that seem to be part of the US electoral system by design, the proclivity of Democrats to exploit those weaknesses, and the intrinsic tamper-friendly nature of vote by mail.

 

Now, guess what: for the Italian referendum, an unprecedented 1.6 million votes are said to have been cast by Italians living abroad, sent by mail in normal envelopes. They have been subject to a barrage of propaganda by the Government: even the ballots to be used for the vote were accompanied by leaflets extolling the virtues of a YES vote!

Let’s see: 4 million ballots were printed and sent all over the globe to a group of mostly disinterested expatriates. Now, due to a suspiciously high level of participation, 1.6 million are coming back, with no special marking, no way of tracing them, totally indistinguishable from those that were printed but not used.

Can you blame people like me for being nervous about yet another Democratic Party in power possibly massaging the numbers in a close election? (But I’m still confident in a NO victory!)

 

Can you spot a pattern?

 

 

Tricks, deception and false arguments: the “savings” mirage.

 

Renzi’s Administration made a number of last minute promises, they basically threw in everything and the kitchen sink to entice voters (including a new national contract for public sector employees, raising their salaries, and a promised raise for the minimum pension level…)

The text printed on the ballots themselves is quite deceptive, because it’s phrased in a way to suggest the unsuspecting low information voter that there’s of course a lot of technical stuff involved, but the gist of the reform is downsizing the number of representatives in the parliament and saving a lot of money in general.

You see: the usual suspects in the establishment are always eager to chastise “populism”; yet, when it suits them, they exploit a naive general attitude, a gut feeling of wanting to punish politicians, against the enormous costs of politics.

Machiavelli was Italian, after all. “Look here: this reform is against politicians! See? There’s less of them afterwards! (Please, give us more power without noticing…)”

Why waste a craving for change, some unfocused desire to see corrupt Rome politicians pay for their sins? Use it to concentrate power in a way that gives a ruling party more opportunities to pass laws quickly, reducing the leeway for mounting an opposition.

 

But how much money is this reform supposed to save anyway? 

This is a very interesting example, because such things happen all the time, anywhere in the world: countless energies are wasted to obtain very tiny, immaterial savings, while the scope and increase of more substantial government expenditures gets little attention.

 

In recent years US Republicans for instance were trapped in this sort of inane battle for meager, irrelevant expense reductions while Obama was wasting trillions in “stimulus” packages.

 

A few quick numbers. The following figures are always per capita, including infants, based on official Italian stats. It’s in euros, but the sums are indicative anyway and the dollar amount wouldn’t be very different.

  • Referendum cost: 5 euros.
  • Expected savings from the constitutional reform: 2 euros/year. (8 according to the optimistic YES committee estimates, only 1 euro according to the NO committee).

But now let’s put down also some data from the official Italian Government statements, including Public Debt and Tax Revenue.

  • Last year the State took from the average Italian citizen, through taxes, 7200 euros. Of course, quite less than that from most, a lot more from some (but even panhandlers pay VAT and other taxes and tariffs, impacting their booze, panini and cigarettes…)
  • On top of that it created additional debt for a further 570€. Again, per person.
  • The public debt grand total is now at more than 36 thousand euros per capita! (this figure doesn’t include private debt…)

And we’re discussing 1 or 2 euros of total savings!?

 

To put it in another form, let’s take a family of 4: a couple with 2 children. Each and every year the Italian State forcefully collects from them enough money to buy 2 new cars (giving back some public services in return); not satisfied, the State spends even more, charging them with even more debt, equating a motor scooter a year (thanks to austerity measures: imagine if they had no artificial spending restraints).

The 4 subjects now carry a public debt that is equivalent to the value of their apartment! Now, how could you possibly convince them to get all passionate about the possibility of saving the equivalent of an ice cream cone a year?!?!?

 

It’s all smoke and mirrors, folks. They count on the general lack of math literacy of the public. This phenomenon is far from limited to Italians.

 

Consider also that even the small promised savings derived from adopting most new laws or policies are doubtful at best: any change puts in motion a chain reaction; the net effect of all those extra changes is far from pre-determined and could go both ways. But since politics is about spending other people’s money to garner consensus, you can bet that extra spending will tend to prevail eventually. Hence trying to save money through such political reforms is akin to trying to rinse salt off your hands by jumping into the sea.

 

 

 

No Founding Fathers found here!

 

A Constitution is supposed to contain clearly enunciated essential principles, possibly describing also an ordered structure for the Government, but definitely not a maze of puzzling procedural details.

This reform proposal is so convoluted, like -sadly- most ordinary laws these days, that the new, extremely complex article 70 has been the subject of many satire performances: increasing the 9 words of the original article to 425 words in the reformed text.

It’s like a classic Italian cuisine recipe that is suddenly codified in a form that requires 30 new ingredients and additives: the food technologist substituting the chef.

 

 

As Americans passionate about their Constitutions would wholeheartedly agree, a Foundational Document as such needs to be the expression of a growing society, filled with optimism, determination, a vision for the future; counting on the contribution of the finest jurists, unencumbered by partisan, short-sighted objectives.

This is the worst moment to try and recreate a decent Constitution, especially in Italy, with an economic crisis still going on, no clear expectations for the future and no political party carrying any credibility, real support or vision.

 

Constitutions need exceptional founders to launch them, otherwise they founder!

 

Too many laws, not the other way around

 

Unicameral parliaments are used only in special cases, in small states, in the free world. The push to get a single parliament to decide on most matters is dangerous, because it underlines the will to get the party in power to rapidly pass many fundamental laws while facing little opposition (also helped in this by the new electoral system that would give a majority of the seats to a party/coalition representing a potentially very limited relative majority of votes).

The “reform” rhetoric has built the fake meme of new laws being stalled endlessly in the approval process between the two Italian houses, in subsequent votes required by an endless stream of new amendments.

 

We are facing the opposite problem. Italy has way too many laws already, and the pace of increase is still more pronounced than that of other western countries.

The fact itself that the State pretends to regulate every minute detail of your life is the problem!

The US IRS scandal proves that it’s not just Italians anymore that can complain about cronyism and the arbitrary application of laws.

But the problem is further exacerbated when there are so many complex laws that you can’t even tell for sure if you already violated some obscure regulation the moment you get out of bed in the morning.

 

 

A Provocative thought. What about a better reform, where the Chamber of the Deputies is entrusted with the formation of laws, and the Senate is tasked with law pruning, merging, simplification and abolition? That would strike a new, unprecedented balance!

 

 

The part-time Senate as a recreational club, sorta

 

Here’s how the Italian Senate would be formed according to the constitutional reform: some mayors and some representatives in regional administrations would also get appointed, by the regional parliaments, to act from time to time as Senators in Rome. Splitting themselves between two jobs. Can you believe they are seriously proposing that?

It’s obvious that such a Senate would become a sort of empty husk, a costly remnant of the institution it was. Thus making it easier, with only one chamber in charge of dealing with most matters, to pass unpopular laws through hasty procedural gimmicks.

 

Power (to the Partito Democratico)

 

This reform seems to be tailored to the needs and desires of the ruling party. Greatly reducing the jurisdiction of the Regions (local governments), further centralizing the State while becoming even more dependent on the European Union, where it counts.
The idea seems to be: let’s get in a winner-takes-it-all competition. We are strong now, we will prevail and reshape the state according to our tastes. We’ll care about long term ramifications another day.

A member of the parliament these days seems to become more and more someone who’s supposed to behave and execute orders.

 

 

The following video is in Italian; I understand if you are reading this page it’s not your language, but it’s an important document, so I’ll keep it here as a signpost, even if there are no subtitles and you can’t find it useful.
Representative Monica Cirinnà, your typical modern progressive, candidly yet arrogantly reveals their plan here. They count on taking control of the state, with new regulations that facilitate the rapid implementation of new, revolutionary laws. She openly explains that the new laws will be agreed upon during the Democratic Party (PD) Congress (implicitly in their view, it will become the only party that matters); afterwards the Chamber of the Deputies will be tasked with ratifying the PD Congress deliberations. In other words, the decision making center will be trasferred within the Party itself. Sounds awfully like the USSR, even with all the caveats and distinctions.

Cirinnà is the author of the recent “gay marriage” (not formally a marriage) law; had they the opportunity, you can expect them to rapidly pass laws legalizing surrogacy (rent-a-womb) women exploitation, criminalization of free speech in the form of anti-hate speech, anti-homophobia laws that are already well under way. Then it’s anybody’s guess: introducing euthanasia, forcing all doctors to agree to perform abortions and kill terminal patients or lose their job…

Even if you agree with them at least on some issues, you should admit that gutting institutions from within to get whoever gets to power to radically transform a country in a few years is not the avenue to pursue those objectives.

 

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Consider also that the PD counts on the faithful bloc vote of the Central Italy regions, historically on their side since WWII, consistently supporting the Communists and their successors. In some complicated ways, this reform could guarantee them more opportunities to control the Senate, among other things (a Red Wall, if you wish, since here the color red is the color of the left since… well, since Communism).

 

 

 

And yet…

 

People don’t trust Renzi. He’s a man of many promises and few truths.

 

He’s been as cavalier as the Cavaliere (Silvio Berlusconi) in his dealing with the concentration of power in his hands and the shameless self-promotion on tv, counting on the blind support of countless media sychophants. But Berlusconi had powerful enemies: the entire firepower of the Partito Democratico and the intellectual class passionately fighting him, literally foaming at their mouths for decades (if that is even possible).

Renzi’s opposition is far less determined, because the strongest voices are in bed with the PD since forever. Those sheep can’t get their act together and denounce him like they did with Berlusconi.

 

But things have changed. The man in the street can’t stand this farcical political theater anymore.

It’s possible that this time the excessive lack of opposition from the media will exacerbate the sense of disgust felt by the average Italian, that is already suffering the consequences of a dismal economy, a widespread corruption, a lack of perspective for a country that seems to prioritize the encouragement of illegal immigration and not much else.

This reminds me, by analogy, of the reasons for the success of Donald Trump.

 

That’s why I’m confident people will stop this “reform”.

 

 

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