Italy welcomes ascension of President-elect Donald Trump … Trump overshadows Italian referendum on December 4 … How the Italian Mafia funded Silvio Berlusconi … Casino billionaires to celebrate inauguration of “Silvio” Trump … plus Festival of Dangerous Ideas and Great Crashing Bores
The Italian Connection
Italy’s political and media class were the only ones in Western Europe to give public approval to Donald Trump’s victory as the next US President and therefore “leader of the free world”. The commentary in Germany, France, Spain, Holland, Greece and Scandinavia was much more muted while Britain divided along class lines – blimpish Tories for Trump and the majority dumbfounded.
Congratulations poured in from Italy’s corrupted political establishment, corrupted media, the Mafia and the Vatican. Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State, said Trump’s administration “can be truly fruitful”, adding: “The Vatican offers prayers that the Lord illuminates and sustains him in service of his country, naturally, but also in service of the well-being and peace of the world”.
It echoed the celebrations which greeted the election of Benito Mussolini in 1922 and Silvio Berlusconi in 1994. Mussolini, Il Duce, backed by major industrialists and the Catholic Church, built his own fascist “movement” and ruled Italy from 1922 to 1943.
Berlusconi, a billionaire media mogul, ruled as prime minister on four occasions between 1994 and 2011 to become Italy’s longest serving leader since Mussolini. He founded his own political “movement”, Forza Italia, meaning “Let’s Go, Italy”, winning elections in 2001 and 2008 and merging it with The People of Freedom Party in 2009.
Mussolini’s life ended when he was executed by a partisan firing squad in April 1945 and his body hung upside down from a lamp post at an Esso service station in Milan. Berlusconi, now 80, was convicted of tax fraud, served nine months “community service” and now lives in heavily guarded retirement.
After Brexit, Italexit?
On Sunday, December 4, Italians will vote on a referendum to make major changes to the country’s Constitution. The proposed changes will strengthen the power of the Lower House (Chamber of Deputies) and decrease the influence of the Upper House (Senate).
Controversially, the corporatist-style National Council for Economics and Labour (CNEL) which brings together industrialists, bankers and trade union bureaucrats for discussions on wages, interest rates and the economy will be abolished.
More controversially, in the wake of the disastrous US-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq (in which Italy participated), the conditions for the declaration of war are altered. In future, if the referendum is passed, a state of war can only be declared by a unanimous vote of the Lower House. At present war can only be legally declared on a majority vote by both chambers.
If the referendum is lost, Prime Minister Matteo Renzo has promised to resign throwing Italy into (yet again) political chaos. His departure will strengthen the populist movement against the Euro zone and the European Union itself and provide an electoral boost to France’s pro-fascist National Front presidential candidate Ms Marine Le Pen.
Italy, it appears, is on the brink of Italexit, a Romanesque form of Brexit.
In 2014, without a general election, Matteo Renzo was appointed prime minister by his conservative Democratic Party. At 39 he became Italy’s youngest ever prime minister, beating Mussolini by 52 days. All the recent polls show that he is heading for a rousing defeat in the referendum. Three major populist parties are opposed to constitutional change – Beppi Grillo’s Five Star Movement (M5S), Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Lega Nord, a regionalist northern political group.
Other “No” campaigners include the Communist Party of Italy (PCI), the Greens and Italian Left (SI).
“The referendum matters because it could accelerate the path towards Euro exit,” wrote Financial Times journalist Wolfgang Munchau (21 November 2016). “On December 5 Europe could wake up to an immediate threat of disintegration.”
Francesco Boccia, current head of Forza Italia, said Donald Trump’s victory was a precursor of political events in Italy, saying: “Matteo Renza is politically finished; he is a dead man walking.”
Enter the Mafia
Silvio Berlusconi, the former Italian Prime Minister, did business with the Italian Mafia for more than 20 years. It can be argued convincingly that the Mafia helped fund his business, media, political and football club-owning career.
In 2014 Italy’s Supreme Court of Cessation confirmed a seven-year prison sentence on Mafia “don”, Senator Marcello Dell’Utri. The judges accepted the prosecutor’s statement that “for 18 years, from 1974 to 1992, Marcello Dell’Utri was the guarantor of the agreement between Berlusconi and the Cosa Nostra. In that period of time, we’re talking about a continuous crime.” The agreement between Berlusconi and the Mafia was “implemented voluntarily and knowingly”, the court heard.
During Dell’Utri’s trial more than 40 former Mafia members gave evidence that the Sicilian-born senator was Berlusconi’s key partner-in-crime. One state witness, Giovanni “The Pig” Brusca, testified that Berlusconi became a Mafia fund-raiser pouring 600 million lire a year (about $A600 million) into Mafia coffers. Dell’Utria became head of Berlusconi’s TV advertising empire Publitalia and a Forza Italia senator. Despite repeated attempts by prosecutors to grant him amnesty in return for testimony about the Mafia, Dell’Utria remains a sworn Berlusconi loyalist. He has been given a prominent grave site in Berlusconi’s elaborate mausoleum because he is regarded as “family”.
Books giving details of Berlusconi’s Mafia links will be a dime a dozen after he dies. For the time being, Italy’s defamation laws, crooked court system and Mafia intimidation prevent the full story being told.
We’ve seen it all before
When the Italian media billionaire Silvio Berlusconi entered politics in the 1990s the media said he was a “joke”. All his business dealings were shrouded in secrecy and a certain murkiness. His personal finances were dodgy, his taxation arrangements were obscure to say the least and many of his companies were listed offshore.
He made sexist and homophobic “jokes”, he was involved with hookers and some of his girlfriends appeared under-age, and he preached “family values”. He became notorious for his “bunga bunga” sex parties and laughed off allegations that he paid for sex with 32 women over a period of a few months. He believed he was irresistible to women and treated them as sex objects. As John Foot wrote in The Guardian: “His electoral campaigns were all about him. Nothing else mattered. He dominated the agenda from start to finish.” When he was condemned by opponents for his tasteless and sexist remarks, Berlusconi claimed he was “misunderstood” or “misquoted”. He blamed a hostile media or a conspiracy by left-wing journalists who was obsessed with “political correctness”.
Foot remarked: “He presented himself as a victim of political correctness gone mad, an ordinary/extraordinary man speaking his mind. The message he sent out was, for many, an attractive one. Be like me. Don’t pay taxes. Enjoy life and make money. Say what you want. We won’t bother you.”
During Berlusconi’s domineering political career he and his cronies trashed Italy’s economy and looted it, money-grubbing became standard practice in public life and ethical governance was crippled by the Mafia and a corrupted legal system. Berlusconi himself was no longer a joke.
The cost is now being paid by Italian workers in terms of rising unemployment, an explosion in the cost of living, homelessness and a broken hospital and education system.
What will be the social cost of making America great again?
The Dynasty of Trump
“It has not been easy for me. And you know I started off in Brooklyn, my father gave me a small loan of a million dollars.” – Donald J Trump during the presidential election campaign
Donald Trump’s grandfather, Frederick Trump, was a refugee/asylum seeker who arrived in New York in 1885 from the Rhineland town of Kallstadt. He quickly made money from the hotel industry supplying “rooms, food, booze and female company” to prospectors flocking to the Klondike goldfields in north-western Canada.
“It may be part of this legacy that gave America’s president-elect his taste for golden fixtures and fittings. But it may also make miners a bit wary of Mr Trump. After all, their pockets have been ‘mined’ by a Trump once before.” (The Economist, 19 November 2016).
Frederick Trump returned to Kallstadt in 1901 to marry a local girl before re-emigrating to the Bronx a year later.
Donald Trump’s father, Frederick Christ Trump, 1905-1999, was one of the richest property developers in America. He made his fortune as a slum landlord in Queens and Brooklyn, buying up whole tenement blocks and converting them into white, middle class housing. His crowning project was the construction of Trump Village, an apartment complex, at Coney Island in 1964.
“Fred” Trump was a notorious right-winger, sectarian and bigot. In 1927 he was arrested after street clashes erupted between supporters of Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini and an organisation of “native-born Protestant Americans” who objected to being “assaulted by Roman Catholic police of New York City”. Trump, who belonged to the latter group, was allegedly wearing Ku Klux Klan regalia of a white hood.
During World War Two Trump Snr built barracks and apartments for US naval personnel along the US east coast. In 1954 he was investigated by a US Senate committee over allegations of profiteering from public contracts and in 1973 by the US Justice Department’s civil rights division for civil rights violations.
When Donald Trump’s casinos ran into financial trouble, his father purchased gaming chips worth $3.5 million but did not use them. Casino authorities later declared the transaction illegal but did nothing about it.
Donald J used family wealth and connections to launch his real estate assault on Manhattan property, the casino gambling industry, prime time television via The Apprentice, and finally the White House.
Researching the financial records of father and son is difficult. Documents are very sparse. Some tax records are unavailable. There are few footprints. However, one thing is clear – the Trumps were generously supported by banks or other financiers. Doors opened for them and approvals for developments appear to have been readily granted.
It begs the obvious question: what wealthy organisation inside or outside Wall Street gave favourable treatment to the Trump empire and facilitated its rise and rise?
It’s party time!
Donald Trump’s inauguration party in January will be paid for by a group of billionaires and multi-millionaires from the casino industry.
Casinos in Las Vegas, Atlantic City, Reno and other cities across the US have been traditionally connected with two ethnic communities – Italian and Jewish. More recently other ethnic communities have become involved, including billionaire Chinese exiles and Russian oligarchs.
Inauguration committee chairman is Tom Barrack, former owner of Hilton casinos. Other members include far right businessman and leading Zionist Sheldon Adelson, chairman of Las Vegas Sands Corporation, and his wife Miriam, Steve Wynn, chairman of Wynn Resorts Ltd who once owned Sydney’s Star Casino, Treasure Island Casino owner Phil Ruffin and Gail Icahn, wife of billionaire Carl Icahn who controls Tropicana Entertainment Inc.
For the record, when Trump was involved in the casino industry, he owned properties (and gaming licences) in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and Las Vegas. He became a favourite of the industry because he was a “cleanskin” and enjoyed high-profile status among the political movers and shakers in the Democratic and Republican Parties.
As it was explained to me, Donald Trump was granted development applications to build hotel/casinos and to hold casino licences and when the project was completed he would sell the whole box and dice to industry heavyweights. In other words, he made a considerable fortune merely being a “front man”.
Ron Reese, spokesman for the Adelsons, gushed to the media: “Well, we got our first casino owner in the White House.”
It was like a line stolen from Mario Puzo’s The Godfather.
Festival of Dangerous Ideas – 7*
Book now for a ground-breaking public lecture by ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie on the listing of 50 new cooking programmes on ABC-TV schedules in 2017-18. Hear how she plans to liberate women from the drudgery of the kitchen with remaindered series from the BBC. Alternatively she controversially suggests hiring student visa holders from Indonesia or India to cook and do the dishes. Join the Q&A discussion with Nigella Lawson and Lord Nigel Lawson, flown to Sydney at ABC expense, super foodie Gina Rinehart, and world famous epicurean Alan Jones.
Great Crashing Bores – 22*
Thank Christ that Megan Latham has gone. The anti-corruption commission became a Star Chamber when she was there. Good, hard-working, honest people had their careers ruined because of ICAC and Latham was the worst ever. A friend of mine was charged with giving false evidence and I told him that everyone lies at the ICAC: that’s what you do when you get in the witness box. You’d be mad to tell them the truth. Having said that, I liked the way ICAC named and shamed all those who were ripping us off. I hope they don’t get rid of it. If anything, they should be strengthening it. I’ve always believed that it does a bloody good job.
* Festival of Dangerous Ideas and GCB are works of fiction and satire.
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