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Italy: Blocked by socialism, corruption, and a no-can-do attitude

Last year when we came to Italy, we went first to Venice and then to Florence and then to Rome.

We rented an apartment in Rome near the Vatican, and one evening went out for ice cream with our landlords. They had two bambini and we have one. In the course of the conversation, we discussed a large factory complex on an island outside of Venice that lies empty and unused. Marghera, I think it’s called.

“Some entrepreneur should come along and re-purpose the space,” I said. “Turn it into a nightclub or a mall or a skating rink.”

“That is not possible,” exclaimed our landlady, a lawyer, with total certainty.

“Sure it’s possible,” I shrugged. “Some bright person will come along and think of a way to re-use the space and make it productive. It doesn’t have to sit there and be empty. It could be an auction space, a market, or an art gallery. It could be anything.”

She insisted vigorously and with a rigid refusal to consider any other possibility that such a thing was not possible. The only possibility was that the factory would continue to lie fallow–forever.

She was a smart and educated woman, but I ended up looking at her and thinking that she was quite backwards. That’s my cultural bias, of course. In the US, some hotshot entrepreneur would come along and do something clever with the space and turn it into the next hot spot. If the first entrepreneur failed, the second would succeed. If the second didn’t, the fifth would.

The US–despite Obama’s best efforts to destroy the middle class and create a totalitarian state where every citizen’s most picayune communications are watched over by the NSA–is still all about reinvention. We still get second and third chances. Note to literary readers: we have long sense superseded Gatsby’s assumptions.

But in Italy, there is only one option: that the unused factory space, which was expensive to build, will remain empty and useless.

It’s an attitude that Sabin and I have encountered over and over again in our travels through Italy: “No can do.”

It’s not the fault of ordinary Italians. We meet people who work really hard. Over and over again, we hear the same thing: the bureaucracy in Italy is set up to thwart citizens, to deny fledging businesses any hope of success, and to create the conditions for business failure.

This year, our friend Paolo who owns rental apartments shared with us some of his woes. The government is constantly changing regulations, hoping to trip up rental businesses and thus fine them outrageously before shutting them down. This belligerence is in part sponsored by hotels, who don’t want tourists to have the option of renting apartments. But it is also the government trying to squeeze ever more taxes, fees, financial obligations, and huge fines out of a middle-class that is already wrung dry.

Other friends of ours here recounted how the government abruptly raised certain taxes from 20% to 22%, and consequently, over half of the small mom-and-pop shops went out of business. That 2% was everything for them. Businesses here have to pay for production, and they don’t get tax credits for it. Out of 1 euro, our friend said, he gets 40 euro cents, if he’s lucky. Sixty euro cents goes to the government, taxes, fees, tariffs, etc.

Plus, in Italy, the government can simply take funds out of a citizen’s bank account whenever it wants, like when it suddenly changes the rules on permits. A small business owner can go to the bank one morning and find there is substantially less than he or she expected–because of overnight changes.

Speaking of apartments, in Venice, there is a glut of unoccupied, closed up apartments. Families who have owned apartments forever have stopped offering vacation rentals because the government keeps changing the rules, and they don’t want to pay capricious and punitive fines. Owners are afraid to rent to students because they run the risk of the students destroying the property, and they’re even more afraid to rent to regular folks. If the renters stop paying, it’s almost impossible to evict them–especially if they have children.

So the smart thing to do is not to rent out apartments, but to board them up and let them be empty. And that is exactly what many Venetians do.

Our friends who run a small establishment won’t hire anyone to help them, because the laws governing labor are oppressively burdensome. So the husband and wife do everything themselves, and sometimes his mother pitches in.

Socialism destroys opportunities.

Then there is the corruption factor.

People still mention the Mafia. It’s a problem, more in the south than in the north, but people are aware that the Mafia influences the government and the passage of laws, that there is a criminal factor in the running of their country. In fact, in many places in the south, the Mafia is the government. What a shame.

One thing I always ask Italians, after everyone has had a little wine: “Perche Berlusconi?” I am thinking, How the hell could you have elected someone as mind-bogglingly corrupt, stupid, and bad for Italy as Berlusconi, and kept him in office for twenty years? If I am feeling particularly controversial, I mention the Bunga Bunga parties.

Over the last few years, many answers have erupted. Berlusconi owns much of the media is a favorite excuse. Someone from my Italian publisher told me that people voted for Berlusconi because they hoped that they, too, like him, would get away with corrupt behavior. “I am embarrassed about him,” one Italian woman, an educated professional, confessed the other day.

So here is a country with one of the great artistic, cultural, and historical patrimonies on Earth, and it is stuck in the mud and sinking. Italy is mired in failure, backward-thinking, socialism, and corruption. Che peccato.

TicToc: Far Shore, Book Three of the After Series by Traci Slatton
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TicToc: Far Shore, Book Three of the After Series by Traci Slatton

TicToc: Far Shore, Book Three of the After Series by Traci…: Posted First on Blog Critics as Book Review: ‘Far Shore’ by Traci L. Slatton.

 ‘The heart wants what the heart wants’ seems like such a redundancy. Yet there is that simple truth to the adage where there often seems to be no real choice in the matter….

READ the rest of Leslie Ann Wright’s delicious review at TicToc Book Reviews and General Observations or at Blogcritics.org


Review of ELYSIUM with Matt Damon
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Review of ELYSIUM with Matt Damon

ELYSIUM with Matt Damon

I like science fiction. I write science fiction, so there you have it. This is my disclaimer, so the gentle reader knows going in that I am wildly biased in favor of good sci fi.

ELYSIUM is good sci fi. In fact, it’s quite good. B+ good.

Matt Damon is an inherently likable, imperfect hero who harbors shadows in his past. He’s on probation. Right away we see him as a child, being tender with a lovely girl his own age. And then we see him as a tattooed man, getting creamed by a grotesquely unfair system.

Did I mention how hot Damon is? I’m biased that way, too, because he reminds me of a hot guy I dated in college. There weren’t a lot of those, so I tend to prize them.

The movie was fast-paced and visually interesting. It didn’t break new ground but it did tightly hold my attention. The characters were well drawn–Jodie Foster was an excellent evil rich protector–and the movie was well structured.

I have three rules for writing novels which I discuss openly: 1, story is how your protagonist does NOT get what he or she wants; 2, every story is an argument for a specific value; and 3, what are the stakes?

This movie sinuously answers all three of my rules. Matt Damon never gets all of what he wants. I don’t want to include a spoiler here, so I won’t say what that means. I will simply say that I admire the movie creators for not letting go of the story for a Hollywood ending. The value that is being argued for is an excellent one: the value of all human beings regardless of their net worth. And the stakes in the plot were always well defined.

I enjoyed this movie. I recommend it. It was a fun flick to see in the theater, and it would be an awesome rent at home.


Romancing the Book Review of FALLEN
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Romancing the Book Review of FALLEN

This rich review site gave FALLEN a “Lovely Rose” rating…

Here are a few quotes:

Review:  Fallen by Traci L. Slatton is a book unlike any other that you have read.  It will keep you at the edge of your seat and unable to pry your hands and eyes away!…

FALLEN had me on an emotional roller coaster at times – warming my heart, bringing tears to my eyes, heart thundering in suspense and unease as well as the yearning of heat and passion simmering over me.  Traci L. Slatton has an excellent story telling ability….

This is one that I highly recommend and must warn you that once you start, you will be hard-pressed to step away from Emma’s story!”

Catch the review here.

Romancing the Book

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I support Wikileaks

Noam Chomsky, re the suppression of information in the US regarding polls of Arab opinion: “What that reveals is the profound hatred for democracy on the part of our political leadership.” (Nov 30, 2010, on DEMOCRACY NOW, interviewed by Amy Goodman).

I wish Assange had withheld certain names. I wish he’d vetted the cables to protect operatives who work for us within lethal, poisonous organizations such as Al Qaeda.
I really wish he’d slipped a condom on before having sex with that woman in Sweden, and I wish he hadn’t taken the snores of the other woman to mean consent. Because these sex charges will detract from the crucial, even urgent work Assange is doing.
But we have a big problem in the United States, and many people aren’t noticing it because we have an African American president. They wrongly assume that the “regular people,” the grassroots who, according to the lies, I mean mythology, elected Obama, are being looked out for. Surely an African American president would remember his roots among the most regular of people, African Americans, and he would care about the individual. But that is not the case.
The problem: Big Corporations are screwing individuals. ‘Big Corporations’ includes: the insurance companies, Big Pharma, Big Agribusiness, Wall Street, the medical establishment as run by Big Pharma and the insurance companies, Biotech and chemical companies, and the United States Government, which is an example of a large, unwieldy, and thoroughly corrupt corporation.
So the US government conceals things from American citizens. Things like diplomatic spying and the results of polls in the Arab world.
How about this one: how many people in the US know that Obama showed up at the G20 summit in London in 2009 with a huge entourage? Specifically, Obama had 500 staff in tow, including the White House kitchen staff, 200 secret service agents, 6 doctors, 35 vehicles, 4 speechwriters, and 12 teleprompters. (See www.scrippsnews.com/node/42183) I guess they don’t have teleprompters in London? Or maybe the British are so penurious they wouldn’t lend a few to Obama?
This wasn’t widely reported in the US–but the Brits poked fun at Obama. It’s a little shocking to read about this kind of lavish spending, but it isn’t the only time. The Obamas have taken some vacations that are, well, Republican-worthy. Marie Antoinette is alive and well and reborn!!
Big Pharma deceives people by, for example, not telling them that CoQ10 will greatly reduce the side effects of statin drugs. Big food conglomerates lie to the American public by pretending that high fructose corn syrup and msg are non-toxic. The FDA has sold us all down the river to be poisoned, sickened, and fattened up by toxic chemical additives, pesticides, and preservatives. Let’s not even start with Genetically Modified food, which has NOT been tested. Just wait until the first Terminator plant genes start crossing the species barrier–it’s called genetic drift–and make human beings sterile.
Big Insurance gouges the American consumer. Our lousy health insurance went up 20% for 2011–WHY? Nothing else has gone up 20%–I’m not paying 20% more for milk, eggs, or clothing. So WHY HAS OBAMA PASSED A ROTTEN HEALTH INSURANCE ACT WHILE STILL ALLOWING BIG INSURANCE TO RAPE AMERICA?
Is it because Obama has taken too much money from those companies to even attempt to rein them in?
Are people aware of how Big Insurance won’t allow doctors to run tests or offer medical treatments that individuals need, because those tests or treatments are expensive? How it compensates doctors for NOT running necessary tests? All so HEALTH INSURANCE COMPANIES CAN EARN OBSCENE AMOUNTS OF MONEY?
All this goes to show, we need MORE Wikileaks–not less. The world is increasingly run by big corporations who show nothing more, and nothing less, than contempt for individual human beings. Our only hope of addressing this kind of self-serving corruption is through transparency.
Mr. Assange: I am rooting for you. I hope you get out of your legal troubles, and I hope you learn to be real careful about sex. Most of all, I am praying that you will turn your attention to the real villains, the true governors of our world: the big corporations. Let’s see some of their internal documents. Start with Oxford, AON Corporation, Aetna, Assurant, AMS, and Unicare. Move on to Monsanto, Merck, Pfizer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, Astrazenica. Then Kraft, Cargill, Pepsico, Bunge.
But I somehow think you will not get the chance to do this important muck-raking work. Because the billions of billions of dollars earned by these companies means that they are worrying that you will do exactly as I’ve asked. And you and Wikileaks are, for them, better off dead.