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Italy’s crisis and the crisis of democracy in Europe

Shades of Greece as Italy’s pro-EU President has set a democratic election aside by preventing anti-EU parties from forming a government.

Alexander Mercouris

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Originally published in The Duran.
Before analyzing what has just happened in Italy and discussing its likely consequences, it is necessary to say something about the fact of what has just happened.
Italy is supposed to be a parliamentary republic with the Prime Minister and the government accountable to the parliament.
As in other parliamentary republics the Italian President is supposed to be a figure above politics, whose primary function is to safeguard the constitution, which he is sworn to uphold. He is not supposed to meddle in day to day politics or to take on himself the leadership of the country.
Italy recently had parliamentary elections, which parties which can be broadly defined as “anti-EU” decisively won.
Italy’s most prominent pro-EU party, the Democratic Party, saw its vote fall to 19 percent of the vote.  By contrast the leftist but anti-EU Five Star Movement won 32 percent of the vote, whilst the right wing but even more anti-EU Northern League won 17.7 percent of the vote.
After complex and protracted discussions of a sort which are by no means unusual in Italy, the Five Star Movement and the Northern League agreed to form a coalition government together.
That coalition government would have represented the two anti-EU parties which together won almost 50 percent of the vote in the parliamentary elections, and which have a majority in the lower house of the Italian Parliament the Chamber of Deputies.
There was no obvious constitutional or legal reason why that government, which represents the parties which won the parliamentary elections, should not have been allowed to take office.
In any event, that is not what was permitted to happen.
The strongly pro-EU Italian President Sergio Mattarella – who is not directly elected, but is elected by an electoral college made up of the two chambers of the Italian parliament and of representatives of Italy’s regions – to the surprise of some (including me) appeared to agree to the coalition’s suggestion that its nominee Giuseppe Conte should be Italy’s new Prime Minister.
However, in what I strongly suspect was a prearranged move, he then vetoed the coalition’s nominee for Finance Minister, Paolo Savona.
This is despite the fact that Savona is an experienced banker and an internationally recognized economist, who has headed several of Italy’s banks and who has previously held ministerial office.
In vetoing Savona’s appointment, Mattarella did not question Savona’s qualifications for the Finance Ministry post or question his general competence. Savona’s record makes that impossible.
Nor did Mattarella say that Savona was unfit to hold office because, for example, he suffers from ill health or has a criminal record.
Instead Mattarella vetoed Savona’s appointment because of Savona’s known skepticism about Italy’s membership of the Eurozone, with which Mattarella happens to disagree.
Mattarella has dressed this up by talking of the negative reaction to Savona’s appointment by the financial markets, and of his “duty” to protect Italy’s savers.
As to the first, that subordinates the will of the Italian people as expressed in a democratic election to the opinion of the financial markets; as to the second, that is purely Mattarella’s opinion, whilst the nature of his “duty” to “protect” Italy’s savers is unknown to me.
I would add that it also seems to be a case of “protecting” Italy’s savers by setting aside their votes.
In either case these seem to me to be strange reasons for a President to give for, in effect, refusing to confirm in office a Finance Minister selected by a government which had just been democratically elected by the people.
In reality, I suspect that Mattarella never intended the coalition to take power. He did not reject Conte because that would have been too obvious a rejection of the outcome of the election, so he rejected Savona instead, knowing that that would be unacceptable to the coalition, and would cause it to return its mandate to form a government.
In that way Mattarella is now able to say that the coalition’s failure to form a government is its fault, and deny that he has set the verdict of the election aside.
In fact this is a straightforward case of the European political establishment – of which Mattarella is very much a part – setting the result of a democratic election which it doesn’t like aside. Moreover, it is not the first time the European political establishment has done this, though it has not done this previously in quite so flagrant a way.
Thus back in November 2011 the Italian Presidency was also used to help engineer the resignation of Italy’s then-Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, who also had by this time become something of a bête noire for the European political establishment.
Berlusconi says this was because he refused to apply for a loan to the IMF, which would have required him to impose swingeing austerity measures on Italy. Spain’s former Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero says that’s true.
As happened after Berlusconi was forced to resign, the Italian Presidency is now moving to appoint a rigidly orthodox pro-EU technocrat to run what is sometimes called a “technical government” in place of a government democratically accountable to the parliament.
In 2011 this was the former EU Commissioner Mario Monti. This time it is the former IMF economist Carlo Cottarelli.
This is despite the fact that Giuseppe Conte – the coalition’s Prime Minister designate whose appointment the President has effectively blocked – commands a majority in the Chamber of Deputies, which Cottarelli of course does not.
Cottarelli in fact embodies and is committed to implementing precisely the mix of policies – fiscal orthodoxy, “supply side reforms” and unending austerity inside the Eurozone – which Italian voters rejected in the elections in March.
There is an old British quip that if voting changed anything it would be abolished. That is not true in Britain. In Italy however, the Italian people have just been given a lesson that voting changes nothing.
Back in November 2011, whilst the plotting against Berlusconi was still underway but shortly after the European political establishment had engineered the resignation of Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, I wrote the following on my personal blog:

If the European Union collapses as a result of this crisis this will be the moment when that collapse begins. The European Union is supposed to be a union of democracies yet faced by the greatest crisis in its history its response is to impose its decisions by arranging the removal of the government that is supposed to be accountable to the people affected by those decisions whilst denying those same people a say. Moreover it seems that Greece is only the start. Steps are apparently already underway to engineer through the Italian Presidency the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Italy so that it can be replaced with a new government that is more amenable to the wishes of the French and German governments and to those of the central European institutions.
Acting in a democracy to deny the people the right to a say in the way they are governed amounts to a coup d’etat. This is so regardless of whether this coup is carried out legally or not. The political crisis in Germany in the early 1930s was precipitated by the perfectly legal and constitutional step of forming technocratic governments that had not been elected and which were not accountable to the German parliament the Reichstag, which sought to use Presidential powers to impose by decree austerity measures the German people had not voted for. The result was a crisis of legitimacy that ended in dictatorship.
I do not think that this time things will go this far but no one should be under any illusions about the momentous nature of the events that are now starting to unfold. Europe is on the brink and its crisis has just stopped being only economic.

Compare that with what the British writer and commentator John Laughland is now saying about the Italian crisis:

I don’t think it’s a constitutional crisis in Italy, I think it’s a constitutional crisis in the whole of Europe. We’ve seen now systematically how members of the European elite, of which President Mattarella is an excellent example, use every method they can to prevent parties wielding power if that power is to be wielded against the euro or against the European Union.

Back in March, immediately following the Italian parliamentary elections, I discussed the reasons for the rise of anti-EU parties in Italy and across Europe. I said that it was the inevitable outcome of the increasingly anti-democratic style European politics have been taking for several decades now and especially after the Eurozone was established.
I should have added that it was also an inevitable response to the draconian economic policies that go hand in hand with those politics, and which in the case of Italy have delivered two decades of economic stagnation.
I also said that the European political establishment appears incapable of learning anything from this, and appears determined instead to dig in, making it a certainty that resistance to it will continue to grow:

…..instead of analysing and responding to what is happening the European establishment across Europe is retreating into denial.
Thus the parties and leaders who are increasingly winning votes are dismissed as “populists” – a label which is both meaningless and deeply anti-democratic – their voters are dismissed as ‘ultra-right’ and racist, and their electoral successes are explained by sinister Russian meddling which is supposed to occur but of which no evidence is ever found…..
Unfortunately, as its denialism about its repeated electoral defeats might lead one to expect, the establishment in Europe instead of changing its approach is simply digging in.
Thus we have seen the manipulation of the French electoral process in order to engineer the election of Emmanuel Macron in France, the cobbling together of the ‘grand coalition’ in Germany, the threats against Poland and Hungary, and the increasingly frantic attempts in Britain to reverse or water down the Brexit vote.

Unfortunately – as I also pointed out in the same article – in the desert which is post-modern European politics, no convincing alternative to the European establishment exists.
Though the coalition in Italy between the Five Star Movement and the Northern League mathematically speaking commands the support of around half of Italy’s voters, the two parties are ideological opposites, and it is far from certain that the coalition they have formed would have held together in government.
Moreover there are serious doubts not just about the viability of its programme and of the managerial competence of its members.
Whilst it is certainly possible that the two coalition partners will vote down Cottarelli when he comes to parliament for a vote of confidence – forcing elections in August – and whilst it is also possible that the two parties which make up the coalition will increase their share of the vote in the August elections – no one should assume any of that.
Italy being Italy, it is not impossible that the coalition will fracture, or that there will be a strong reaction against it at the polls.
In that case the coup will have succeeded, and the ancien régime will have been restored.
However that will not resolve the underlying crisis not just in Italy but in Europe.
In my previous article I spoke of the situation not just in Italy but in Europe being one of paralysis – what the Greeks called stasis – a state of immobility or “standing still” despite the situation having become intolerable.

Just as everywhere else in Europe, the political system in Italy looks increasingly discredited and broken, but no viable alternative exists to put in its place.
As Gramsci once said
The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.
In the current political paralysis – what the Greeks called statis – “standing still” – the chaotic electoral result in Italy is just one more of the “great variety of morbid symptoms” which are bound to appear.

Events in Europe over the last few months illustrate the extent of this paralysis vividly. Consider for example
(1) the inability of Merkel and Macron to agree together a program for EU reform and the growing personal antipathy there is said to be between them;
(2) the resurrection of Germany’s unpopular and discredited “grand coalition,” despite the severe setback it suffered in the German parliamentary elections last September;
(3) the inability of the EU to stand by Iran and to develop an effective response to Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of the JCPOA or to respond to the further sanctions on Iran which he is imposing (see this discussion in the Financial Times).
The fact that the EU is almost certain to extend the sectoral sanctions it imposed on Russia at the end of June, though barely anyone in Europe believes in them any more, also tells the same story.
In Europe – not just in Italy – not only is it a case that “the new cannot be born”, but the Europeans look increasingly unable to break out of the prison they have made for themselves.
Opinions expressed are those of the author alone and may not reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Hellenic Insider, its publisher, its editors, or its staff, writers, and contributors.

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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