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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 Note to literary readers: we have long sense superseded Gatsby’s assumptions.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.

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Identity Theft

A blog post on Identity Theft.

Someone I know used my name to send a gift to a third party. Then my private email was posted to that transaction. All of this without my foreknowledge.

This person who committed this act is generally a good person–intelligent, well-meaning, generous, well educated.  Deleted: Subsequent actions by this person showed that this person is bat-crap psycho crazy.

But this breaching-of-my-privacy shocked the hell out of me. Not even my husband would sign my name and private email without asking my permission first. He certainly would never impersonate me.

Almost certainly, the person who did this does not know how much I am invested in privacy. That’s one of the reasons I stopped supporting Obama: his big brother NSA scanning my emails just didn’t work for me.

I’m actually shocked that so few people are complaining about Obama’s NSA tactics. HAS NO ONE READ 1984 by George Orwell?????? Here’s what Wikipedia says about that novel:

Nineteen Eighty-Four, sometimes published as 1984, is a dystopian novel by George Orwell published in 1949.[1][2] The novel is set in Airstrip One (formerly known as Great Britain), a province of the superstate Oceania in a world of perpetual war, omnipresent government surveillance, and public manipulation, dictated by a political system euphemistically named English Socialism (or Ingsoc in the government’s invented language, Newspeak) under the control of a privileged Inner Party elite that persecutes all individualism and independent thinking as “thoughtcrimes“.[3] “

Substitute “USA” for “Airstrip One” and “racism” for “thoughtcrimes” and you’ve got a near perfect picture of the dystopia we are currently experiencing under the far left.

It is clear to me that the far left and the far right meet in one place: Totalitarianism.

It’s also clear to me that the far left has created the deadlock in our political system. By insisting that anyone who disagrees with Obama’s far left agenda is racist, they’ve given the right no where to go and nothing to lose. It’s so terrible and horrific to be racist that the right is left with no options except to dig in their heels and refuse to negotiate.

I saw “All the way” on Broadway this week, and I was left in awe of LBJ’s effective use of the fine, calculated art of horse trading. He got things done, important things, because he was willing to negotiate.

I won’t talk about his coarseness and vulgarity as a human being because I have a soft spot for those sorts, anyway.

Unfortunately, the far left has prevented negotiation in our political system by insisting that anyone who does not believe as they do is a bad person (racist).

Even as recently as this week, someone asked me what I would have preferred Obama do while in office. I gave a well-thought-out and coherent answer, which included: 1, going after the Health Insurance companies instead of the states; 2, reining in the NSA and ensuring citizen privacy; 3, supporting the growth and wellbeing of American small businesses instead of foisting wealth redistribution on the struggling middle class; 4, regulating and TAXING large, multi-national corporations that function as sovereign nation-states without accountability or oversight; and 5, not bailing out Wall Street, or if he had to because he is a liar and a corporate pimp of the sleaziest variety, then sending the CEO’s of Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs TO JAIL.

Naturally, the specter of racism came up. The far left simply can not grasp the concept that people who are NOT racists would want different policies than the appalling socialist ones Obama has instituted. And in that failure, they, the far left, have created the current deadlock.

Nothing is getting done, no horse trading is accomplishing anything, because the far left has given themselves a monopoly on the high ground. It’s a big political mistake.

Back to my personal issue. The company from whom the gift was ordered did not know, and could not know, that I was not the person ordering the gift. It’s hard to know who is who on the internet. Anyone could pretend to be me.

But to have someone I know pretend to be me? Shocking. Horrifying.

And it led me to think about people who experience far more than I do–people who are the victims of the kind of identity theft that costs them cold, hard cash and then time and energy to straighten out. My heart goes out to those people. I had a small taste of what they feel, and it’s not good.

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Wednesday it was announced that a federal commission charged with building a national monument honoring President Eisenhower voted unanimously to approve elderly architect Frank Gehry’s latest design for the monument.
I wrote, in part:

Notice, also, that this post is entitled, “The Problem with the Frank Gehry Memorial.” Because to examine the plans for the memorial is to see a monument to a prominent architect’s particular vision, not a memorial to a revered statesman, general, and President. While taste is personal and Americans love hubris, Gehry’s imposition of his personal style does seem to fly in the face of President Eisenhower’s modest origins, personal humility, and appeal to all sectors of society.

Gehry’s is not the only hubris in evidence regarding this “unanimous decision.” In reading the announcement, it is striking that Commission Chairman Rocco Siciliano speaks disparagingly of the Eisenhower family’s objections: “The family deserves to be heard, not obeyed,” he is alleged to have said.

It’s a rhetorical masterpiece to spin the family’s concerns as autocratic. But the rhetoric only thinly veils condescension, which reflects poorly on Siciliano in particular but also on the committee as a whole. For shame: surely this esteemed family deserves better than to be sneered at!

The Eisenhowers deserve better because their objections are thoughtful, persistent, echoed by many others, and valid. In fact, the Eisenhowers have courageously given voice to the concerns and objections of a great many people. But the announcement wasn’t written to express that fact.

It’s an ongoing shame that the Eisenhower family has been contemptuously dismissed by Siciliano and Gehry, those thick-as-thieves buddies from California; Eisenhower himself has been dismissed from this memorial. Not only that, but this ugly monument to folly is outrageously expensive, as well. See the report on the Eisenhower Memorial for the figures, which exceed $40,000,000.
The Epoch Times: Saving the Eisenhower Monument
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The Epoch Times: Saving the Eisenhower Monument

The Noted EPOCH TIMES published an article about the controversy surrounding architect Frank Gehry’s design for the Eisenhower monument, and my husband Sabin Howard’s classical proposal for it.

It’s a great piece that is aptly summarized by its subtitle: “While modern design is stalled, classical vision is put forward.”

“It should not be first about the artist, which it is for Gehry, as in, ‘Look there’s Gehry’s memorial.’ Most people do not know the names of the architects or sculptors of the world’s renowned monuments but they do experience those artists’ profound hopes and aims,” wrote painter Patrick Connors.

Power and Simplicity

Last week, classical sculptor Sabin Howard made public his concept for a more traditional monument that focuses, with power and simplicity, on Eisenhower.

He said he originally put forward the plan in the summer at the request of Gehry himself but was misled about it being used, and it was eventually ignored.

Raised in both Italy and New York, Howard is an accomplished sculptor of 30 years who sees himself carrying on the traditions of great masters like Michelangelo. He knew what was wrong with the current memorial design as soon as he laid eyes on it.

“When I saw the memorial models, my heart sank. The project was trying to reinvent the wheel with newness, and it was missing the point entirely. Components were stiff and compartmentalized like a natural history museum exhibit. There was no focal point, but a lot of elements that did not work together to deliver a unified visual message,” Howard wrote in his blog on Dec. 7.

Instead of having 80-foot metal tapestries dominate the work, Howard suggests the statues of Eisenhower with his troops be changed into an 18-foot-by-11-foot relief and be reworked to show a clear sense of hierarchy and narrative.

“Eisenhower would be sculpted in the foreground in high relief. … The troops would be situated farther away, smaller, and in lower relief. Eisenhower would not only stand out as more important, he would also be more luminous. He would spatially project out more and catch more light,” wrote Howard. “He would be part of the men, and he would also stand out as their leader.”

Read the article here.


My letter to Mitt Romney, sent via his website

My letter to Mitt Romney, sent via his website

Dear Mr. Romney:

 I am disillusioned Democrat, and a novelist who has earned some modest international acclaim. I believe you are correct when you say that President Obama has failed this country. I believe you are correct when you stress that America must stay great–because we are failing in so many ways.

I am impressed with your background. I would like to commit to supporting your campaign, but I do have questions. For one, I am both pro-Choice and pro-Life. That sounds impossible, but I believe that reducing this issue to a sound bite is a serious mistake. Where do you stand on this issue?

Also, I support gay marriage. In my mind, marriage is the hardest thing on this planet, and any two adults who enter into it must be supported by their community.

I do believe that big government is bad government, and I think the Republicans are on to something in this regard. However, I am concerned about the way the Bushes eviscerated accountability for large, multi-national corporations. In particular, I believe that big Pharma is overreaching itself and is largely corrupt. What do you propose to do about this problem? How do we encourage business while also keeping it ethical?

I am a fan of small businesses, partly because I run a small business as someone who writes and sells books, and because my husband, classical figurative sculptor Sabin Howard, also runs a small business. He employs a number of people, including models, a mold-maker, foundry workers, and wax and bronze finishers. What do you plan to do to support small businesses? I believe that small businesses were what originally made this country great.

Lastly, how do you intend to support the arts?

I will post my letter to you on my blog, tracilslatton.blogspot.com. If you are kind enough to reply, I will also post your reply. I am looking for a candidate I can believe in.

Many thanks,

Traci L. Slatton

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Letter to Senators Gillibrand and Schumer re the Leahy Bill

Nov 19, 2010

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Russell Senate Office Building, Room 478
Constitution and Delaware Avenues, NE
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Gillibrand,

I am deeply concerned that Sen. Leahy’s Food Safety Accountability Act of 2010 (S. 3767) may be included in or attached to the Food Safety Bill (S. 510), either via the manager’s amendment package or as a floor amendment.

I was dismayed to read the original language of S. 3767, which contained new and draconian ten-year jail terms for adulterating or misbranding food. This was unacceptable because of the way the FDA interprets the words “adulterating” and “misbranding.” You could have gone to jail for ten years just for citing scientific research from leading universities about your food product!

I was pleased to learn that the bill has been amended. It now says you don’t go to jail for up to ten years unless you “consciously or recklessly disregard a risk of death or serious bodily injury.”
This is better, but unacceptably vague and subjective. Actual harm should be required for such a long jail term. In addition, this amendment included new language which both specifically targeted supplements and made a lapse in filing to the FDA subject to the full ten-year jail term (see the reference to subsection V of Section 301 of the Federal Food and Drug Act). Paperwork violations should not lead to ten years in jail or threats of such jail terms. Why was this new language added? How can it possibly be justified?

Senators are currently editing S. 510 behind closed doors, as they draft the Manager’s Amendment Package, which may be substituted in place of the current Food Safety bill. It could include the Leahy bill language, and the public may not have an opportunity to review such changes before the Senate votes. If changes are made, both the Senate and the public ought to have notice of them and a chance to comment before a vote.

As one of your constituents, I want you to know that I take dietary supplements regularly, and value their help in keeping my family healthy. The Leahy bill, even after improvement in some respects, is still a misguided attempt to protect our food supply or ensure the safety of supplements. There is still too much risk that natural product makers will be threatened, silenced, and penalized.

At this point, I wonder if it will soon be necessary to obtain a medical permit to buy carrots, because carrots are full of Vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene, which supports excellent eye health, among other benefits. If I buy carrots and support my eyes, I will not buy some expensive, harmful medication to do that–and Big Pharma loses money. Clearly this bill is the foot soldier of the big pharmaceutical companies, who are out to eradicate competition to their expensive and side-effect laden drugs. Only Big Pharma stands to gain from this bill–which is why they have paid Senators so much money to craft it. The American consumer will not be helped by this so-called “food safety” bill, they will be hurt by it.

If the United States Government wants to protect the American consumer, they will overhaul the FDA, which is a thoroughly corrupt institution and a shill for the chemical, pharmaceutical, bio-tech, and medical establishment industries.

Please oppose inclusion of the Leahy bill and its draconian jail terms in the Food Safety bill!


Ms. Traci Slatton
New York, NY