Tag Archives: italy

Tom Arms’ World Review

Pakistan

Pakistan is sliding back into military rule. Actually, it never really left it. The military and its friends in the intelligence services have for decades been the puppet masters pulling the strings of successive nominally democratic governments. Quite often they don’t even bother with the veneer.

Imran Khan knew this. That is why he came to a modus vivendi with the army early in his premiership. Unfortunately for the cricketing star that arrangement did not last. He tired of both the orders and the corruption and decided to be his own man and clear the Augean Stables. Unfortunately he ended up being cleared out himself.

He is now languishing in gaol and barred from elected office. His crime was failing to report an estimated $600,000 in gifts from foreign dignitaries. It is an interesting crime. If properly enforced a large chunk of the Pakistani political establishment would be sharing Imran Khan’s jail cell.

Not satisfied with jailing their opponent, the military have also organised a postponement of elections. Under the Pakistani constitution, elections have to be held within 90 days of the dissolution of parliament. The Pakistani parliament was dissolved on Thursday, but new army-friendly Prime Minister Shebaz Sharif said elections would be “postponed for several months”. This was ostensibly because the electoral commission needed time to re-draw constituency boundaries following the acceptance of a census report just last week.

But before dissolution, the government did manage to rush through two bills increasing the powers of Pakistan’s omnipresent intelligence agencies. They can now search and arrest anyone they suspect of a “breach of official secrets”. Furthermore, anyone who reveals the identity of an intelligence agent will now be automatically sentenced to three years in prison.

Possibly in anticipation of this new law, 157 Pakistani political activists “disappeared” last month.

History control

George Orwell famously wrote in his book “1984”: “Who controls the past controls the future.”

The words are profound, wise, correct and often followed. Which is why we have two examples of history control this week. The first, perhaps not surprisingly, is out of Moscow. Vladimir Putin’s educationalists have rushed through a new secondary school textbook aimed at “educating” 16-18-year olds about the Ukrainian political facts of life.

The new “patriotic curriculum” declares that Ukraine is an “artificial state.” Russia launched its “special military operation” as part of a programme of “denazification and demilitarisation.” The goal of the West is to “destabilise Russia” and Moscow is “a victim of Western aggression and fighting for its very existence.”

On the other side of the world, in the sunshine state of Florida, we have another attempt to control the political debate through teaching. There the target is wokeism. To battle it, presidential hopeful Ron de Santis has employed the skills of Prager University to produce a series of history online and off-line videos.

Prager University is not a university. It is a conservative video production company run by conservative radio talk show host Dennis Prager with the avowed intent of spreading conservative values to counter the “evil liberal elitist values” of most American universities. Its videos are completely unaccredited and disavowed by most serious educationalists.

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The continuing threat to democracies

I wrote an article earlier this week about the hope for renewed democracy in Turkey should the opposition leader – Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu – be successful in the upcoming Presidential elections. But democracy continues to come under threat across the globe, as more countries seem to be sliding down the steep path to dictatorship and the abolition of civil liberties and human rights.

Human Rights Watch has today published an article focusing on the state of affairs in Tunisia. The authorities have placed a further 17 current or former members of Ennahda, the largest opposition party in the country, in prison. That means that, as of today, over 30 political figures who are critical of President Kais Saied are behind bars accused of “conspiring against state security”. According to Human Rights Watch, the detainees include former ministers, the party President, two vice presidents and the former Speaker of Parliament. The Tunisian authorities have simultaneously shut Ennahda’s offices across the country.

In Myanmar, the military has used a “thermobaric” munition – designed to cause the maximum amount of casualties – on the village of Pa Zi Gyi in response to an opposition-controlled administrative office being opened. The blast was followed by helicopter assaults using cannons, grenades and rockets as innocent civilians tried to flee. A resident confirmed that the anti-junta People’s Defence Forces was present at the opening, but that the office was for tax filing, town meetings and judicial events, not for military purposes.

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Italy: works starts on the Costituente Liberale

The Italian political situation is very specific. Now is the time to bring together all the political forces that do not feel represented by the extreme right or even the extreme left – a nationalist right and a left that has lost its reformist connotations.

Political forces such as Italia Viva and Azione are moving to build a larger political party that occupies the centre of Parliament. Another political entity is also moving in this context which intends to bring together all the liberals in a large umbrella organisation that includes the federation promoted by Azione and Italia Viva and which sees its political horizon in Renew Europe (formerly ALDE).

The construction of this new political entity has started. There is also a date set in red: January 14, 2023. That day the founding assembly of the Costituente Liberale (Liberal Constituent Assembly) will be held in Milan. The initiative is ambitious. Among those present will be Sandro Gozi (the MEP and leader of the PDE) , Giuseppe Benedetto (the President of the Einaudi Foundation) , Oscar Giannino (a member of the Adam Smith Institute) and Alessandro De Nicola (Senior Partner of the Italian branches of the Orrick Law Firm).

Alessandro De Nicola underlines the importance of the meeting as a founding moment of a federation of various liberals who live in the Italian context, a federation that includes the founding parties Azione and Italia Viva and also +Europe.  Above all it highlights what has already been done by bringing together Altenativa Liberale, Alleanza Liberale for Italy, Liberal Forum and other groups who are today finally united in a single project that supports and strengthens the liberal area of ​​the federation launched by Carlo Calenda and Matteo Renzi.

The Liberal Constituent Assembly is strong in the south thanks to Stefano Maria Cuomo’s movement “Liberali Moderati for Italy”, a movement that is among the first founding members of the project.

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A new way: USA, UK and Italy

I’m afraid bipolarism is currently emphasizing the extremes in politics. A healthy bipolar system should instead make coalitions compete to conquer the “centre”, thus pushing the political forces towards more moderate and reformist positions. But something is changing.

The “third pole” (Azione/ItaliaViva in Italy and the Liberal Democrats in UK) should be the reformist alternative to a right which, at present, is still stuck in ancient positions, especially in terms of human rights and concessions to people who don’t believe in science and in the Covid vaccination.

Fortunately in Italy the move of Moratti’s candidacy (at the Regional election in Lombardia, Italy) goes in the correct direction, splitting the right and exposing the contradictions. In the meantime, it is building a new political project that should also serve to speed up the evolution of the historical left wing Italian party PD (Partito Democratico).

The US Midterm elections showed that Trumpian extremism does not pay. But it also scares the Republicans. Some people really think the USA needs a new party! In the UK  the Tories are in crisis like the old Labour. There are excellent scenarios for Lib Dems who have always been anti-Brexit … we will watch the developments.

In the meantime, it is necessary, in Italy, to stop this attack on science by the new Minister of Health and his Undersecretary, Marcello Gemmato, who says he does not believe in vaccination and would like to stop the Covid vaccination campaign.

The way in which Covid is dealt with is the litmus test of a government’s concern about the most fragile members of society. To protect the most vulnerable, we need to protect everyone and everyone needs to continue to behave responsibly.

In the UK people suffer and the Tories are making such a mess. In Italy the extreme right wing populist parties in the government should think about that. In the UK, Italy and EU we all need a strong Liberal Democrat party!

In Italy and EU there is the #RenewEurope project. The Azione/Italia Viva  parties are moving as a single group in Parliament. The Radicali and +Europa parties are in the Renew Europe Group too … so, here, liberal groups are moving together.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Ukraine

Good news/bad news on the Ukraine front.

Good news is that Ukrainian military are now making progress. It is also good news that Vladimir Putin has declared martial law in the parts of Ukraine he recently annexed and imposed lesser but still severe restrictions on other parts of Russia. The crackdown is a sure sign of lack of public support.

Bad news that the Russians have started bombing Ukrainian power generating and water pumping stations. So far about a third of the country has lost power. It will be a dark, cold winter for Ukrainians who may also lose water supplies.

Good news on the economic front. The Ukrainian economy is actually growing. This is mainly due to a stable banking system backed up by $23 billion in Western loans to secure currency reserves. But the loans would have been ineffective if the Ukrainians had not cleaned up their banking system which a few years ago was one of the most corrupt in Europe.

European Union

Good and Bad News also on the EU front. They are having another summit as I write this and at the top of the agenda will be how Europe can weather the energy crisis. The bad news is that the European Council has to discuss this issue because the richer countries are bowing to domestic demands to outbid the poorer EU countries for gas and oil supplies. The good news is that they are at least discussing the problem.

Other bad news is that it appears that Iran is involving itself in Ukraine on the Russian side. The drones attacking Ukrainian power stations were made in Iran and there are reports that Tehran is also supplying Russia with trainers and surface to air missiles. The Iranians publicly disapprove of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, but, more importantly, they hate America.

France

President Emmanuel Macron had developed a reputation for being more interested in locating Putin’s golden exit ramp than prosecuting the war. As such he was not Volodomyr Zelensky’s most popular Western leader. That perception is changing. This week France announced that they were sending a quarter of their high-tech Caesar cannon to Ukraine. They also announced training facilities for 2,000 Ukrainian soldiers and the dispatch of French anti-aircraft systems and radar. The French still lag well behind the British and Germans, but they are now committing themselves to increased military backing for Ukraine.

Italy

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What does the election in Italy mean for Europe?

Surprised? Predictable? Avoidable win for a right-wing party in the most recent Italian elections to their Parliament? Did we have time to think about the result of the elections? Have you registered the fact that it really is, in many ways, a historical moment for Italy and quite possibly for Europe. However, as there is so much going on at home, on our British soil, I don’t think that we are paying too much attention to a potential “tsunami of political changes and repercussions” across the sea.

I have a lot of sentiment for Italy. I remember that, as a young member of the Focolare Movement, Christian based organisation founded in Italy, I had a number of opportunities to visit Italy and travel in particular to Castel Gandolfo, a small town just outside of Rome. Magnificent buildings, incredible architecture and heritage; it all left a huge impression on me. I think that I appreciated Italy even more when I had an opportunity to live there, in Tuscany, between November 2004 and June 2005. I still travel to Italy quite a bit; I speak the language and I have a lot of Italian friends here in the UK as well as back in Italy.

So, what happened? It is very likely that Italy has just elected their first ever female Prime Minister, Giorgia Meloni.

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Mahsa Amin’s death

They are burning their headscarves and police cars in Iran. Persian women are fighting back against the mullahs’ morality police. The catalyst for their anger is the death in police custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amin. The Iranian authorities claim she died of a pre-existing heart condition. Rubbish, say her family, there was nothing wrong with her heart. She died, they claim, because she was beaten in the police van on the way to the station. Ms Amin was arrested because she was wearing her hijab or head scarf improperly. That is common offence which the morality police monitor along with the wearing of tight trousers and leggings, holding hands or kissing in public.

Iran is not the only Muslim country with morality police. Afghanistan has probably the most severe. Iran probably holds the number two slot. Others include Nigeria, Sudan and Malaysia. Then there is Saudi Arabia where the ruling family’s adoption of Islam’s strict Wahhabi sect led to the establishment of the notorious Committee for the Protection of Virtue and Prevention of Vice. Better known among Saudis as simply “The Committee.” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, however, has been circumscribing the morality police to the point of near extinction. The backlash in Iran may force the Mullahs to follow suit which can only undermine their wider claim to political legitimacy.

Another lurch to the right in Europe

Europe is taking another lurch to the right. This month two national parties with links to a fascist past have either come to power or are poised to do so.

Sweden has been known as Europe’s most tolerant country towards cultural diversity. But this month the rabid anti-immigrant Sweden Democrats emerged as the second largest party and is forming a government with the centre-right Moderates.

In a disturbing echo of Donald Trump, party leader Jimmie Akesson declared it was time to “Make Sweden Great Again.”

Georgia Meloni, leader of the Brothers of Italy has an equally upsetting motto which links her party to its fascist past—“God, family and fatherland.” Ms Meloni is expected to emerge as Italy’s prime minister after Sunday’s vote. Her party is Eurosceptic, anti-immigration, anti-gay, anti-abortion and has expressed doubts about NATO membership.

Italy and Sweden join Hungary, Britain, Czech Republic, Slovakia Austria and others who have lurched rightwards. There are differences between them but the one common element is the disturbing trend to portray their country as a victim.

Iceland

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Editor’s Note: This was submitted on 9th September but held back because of the death of the Queen.

Queen Elizabeth II

One of my other hats is leader of the local cub scout group. As such, an important part of my job is explaining the cub scout promise to incoming cubs. The second line was, until this week, “to uphold scout values and honour the Queen.” Now it will be “honour the King.”

But regardless, of the gender of Britain’s monarch, my explanation of the importance of that line will be the same. It is that the monarch is the physical repository of a thousand years of British history, tradition and laws. Many of these laws and traditions have spread all around the world and, by and large, have influenced it for the better. I tell my cubs that they are not pledging an allegiance to a person so much as to the unwritten constitution which the monarch represents. I believe this to be true. I wouldn’t tell my cubs so if I thought otherwise.

BUT Queen Elizabeth II was different. She did more than act as a constitutional repository. She did so in a way that demonstrated a selflessness and devotion to duty which set an example for every person in the United Kingdom and for hundreds of millions in the Commonwealth and beyond. She was working up until two days before her death. Queen Elizabeth II was loved and respected around the globe because she loved. Her reign was a link between Euro-centric imperial world with only 50 members in the United Nations to one with 193. Her first Prime Minister was a hero of the Boer War. Her last was seven years old when the Falklands Task Force set sail.

Viewed from the rose-tinted perspective of 70 years of hindsight, the world seemed a secure and certain place when Elizabeth Windsor was crowned Queen. But it was only seven years after the end of World War Two. Rationing was still in force. Britain was staggering under the burden of a huge war debt and an empire it could ill afford. Today it is recovering from the cost of a pandemic and facing mounting bills brought on by the withdrawal from the EU and a war in Ukraine. Since the time of Victoria the role of the British monarch has been to stand aloof from politics. To play the role of the rock of constancy in a sea of constantly shifting tides. Queen Elizabeth II played her part magnificently and has the established the template for King Charles III.

Ukraine

Volodomyr Zelensky and his generals have fooled me. More importantly, they have fooled Vladimir Putin and his generals. Everyone knew that the Ukrainians were planning a counter-offensive, if only to prove to their Western backers that they were worth the military aid and economic sacrifices. The riverside city of Kherson in Southeast Ukraine was expected to the main target of the counter-offensive. Ukrainian forces controlled or destroyed the main bridges across the Dnieper River. Putin rushed troops to the city and built up his forces in Crimea to the immediate south. But Zelensky’s men decided instead to focus their counter-offensive in the northeastern sector of Ukraine and the city of Kharkiv. In a single day the Ukrainians managed to break through Russian lines and regain several towns and villages in the Kharkiv region and 400 square kilometres of territory.

The Russians have grudgingly admitted the Ukrainian success.  While the Ukrainians were advancing US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was visiting Kyiv to announce another $2 billion in US aid. So far Washington has contributed $15.2 billion to Ukraine. Meanwhile, the British Ministry of Defence has reported that 15,000 Russian soldiers have died in Putin’s “special military operation.” That is the same as the official Moscow death toll for the Soviet Union’s ten-year war in Afghanistan (although the recognised unofficial figure is nearer 50,000).

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Tom Arms’ World Review

Europe is burning sounds like the title of an apocalyptic Hollywood blockbuster. Unfortunately it is an accurate newspaper headline as the continent this week sweltered in record temperatures.

In normally temperate Britain the thermometer topped 104 fahrenheit. In Spain it reached 109. Spontaneous fires were widespread. The London fire brigade reported its busiest day since the Blitz. Grass and forest fires broke out in France, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy. In Greece alone there were 390 forest fires in one week.

The high pressure system responsible for the heatwave is now over Poland and is expected to continue eastwards reaching China in August before eventually being cooled down by the Pacific waters. This follows record temperatures in the Middle East and South Asia and forest fires in California, the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Australia.

Climate change scientists say:  “Get used to it. This is a taste of things to come.”


Joe Biden – America’s 79-year-old president – has covid. It is not surprising. In fact it would be more surprising if he didn’t. Covid has dropped out of the US headlines but not off the health charts. As of Friday nearly a third of the American population – 91,767,460 – have had a confirmed case of coronavirus. 1,050,702 of them have died, including 592 of them this Wednesday alone.

America decided months ago to stop the mandatory wearing of face masks and social distancing and reduced pressure for vaccinations. They were going to learn to live with covid to save the economy. Since then the number of cases has risen dramatically.

The increase in coronavirus cases has not been confined to American shores. Other countries governments are also treating the pandemic as more or less done and dusted. But there have been significant increases in confirmed cases and deaths in Britain, France, Belgium, Germany, India, Greece, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore…. Someone obviously forgot to tell the virus that it was time to pack up.


There is no love lost between Japan and South Korea. In fact, there has been pretty much a hate-hate relationship ever since the Japanese warlord Toyatomi Hideyoshi raped and pillaged his way across the Korean peninsula in the 16th century.

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Viva Verdi, Viva Italia!

As Italy has voted, I am, as the son of an Italian, and a practitioner in the arts, thinking of Giuseppe Verdi and of the country he helped to create. Verdi is mainly known as one of the greatest composers of opera, but though that was his main and great talent, he had one for politics too. At a time when Italy was a collection of small and to some extent, rival principalities and states, the Risorgimento movement he supported, was fighting, for a nation of Italy, a unified State, the country we now know. Some interpret this as …

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UK decision to stop migrant rescue operations attacked by Teather (“unethical”) and Ashdown (“inhuman”), defended by Clegg (“Italian decision”)

Conservative home office minister James Brokenshire defended the Government’s decision to withdraw support – along with all other EU member states – for future search-and-rescue operations for migrants in the Mediterranean. The BBC reports:

James Brokenshire told MPs the change would “save lives rather than putting them in peril.” About 3,000 migrants have drowned in the Mediterranean so far this year. That is out of an estimated total of 150,000 to have made the trip by boat across to Europe. Mr Brokenshire said operations to rescue migrants encouraged more people to make the “perilous journey” across the Mediterranean in the hope of being granted asylum. He said the “despicable work” of human traffickers had made the problem much worse, and must be tackled. On the new approach, he added it was “inconceivable to suggest that if a boat were in peril, that support would not be provided”.

Italian officials have made clear they intend to scale down their government’s current operation, known as Mare Nostrum, as the EU introduces a new operation known as Triton. Triton will focus more on border control – tasks such as vetting asylum seekers once they are ashore, and coastal patrols – rather than search and rescue in international waters. Mr Brokenshire said that 28 EU member states had “unanimously agreed” to the new proposals, and criticised those attacking the policy for seeking to “politicise” the issue.

Lib Dem MP Sarah Teather was not impressed by the minister’s defence:

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Now that’s what I call a referendum question

Here’s the paperwork from the recent Italian referendum on nuclear power. Concise questions don’t seem to be their style…

Italian nuclear referendum ballot paper

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