Thursday, June 22, 2006

an italian summer: taxes, corruption, and (of course) soccer

The Italian soccer team beat the Czech Republic 2-0 today, making up for its weak performance in the 1-1 tie with the United States and advancing to the next World Cup round. The news came at a good time for the country, which has so far had a jarring summer even by Italian standards. Much, although by no means all, of the bad news has involved the judiciary (magistratura) in one form or another.

First off is calciopoli, the budding soccer scandal whose core allegation involves active interference by the dominant teams--most notably Juventus of Turin (Torino)--in choosing referees for important matches. Since the referees can easily control a game, as has been amply demonstrated in the current World Cup, this amounts to an allegation that the most significant matchup are effectively fixed. The scandal has since grown to include allegations of drugs, illegal betting, and manipulation of the market for players, with as many as four teams (Juventus, Milan, Lazio, and Fiorentina) facing the possibility of demotion to Serie B next year, which also means that they could lose all or most of their best players. The scandal has been magnified by the Italian magistrate's reliance on telephone wiretaps, which are subject to fewer limits than those in the U.S. and have become someting of a scandal in themselves; proposals to restrict their use are high on the current legislative agenda.

If not sufficiently sated by the soccer scandal, Italians awoke several days ago to learn that Vittorio Emanuele di Savoia, the son of the last king of Italy, has been arrested for attempting to pay bribes in order to secure interests in gambling and prostitution enterprises--not exactly a crime fit for a king or even for the Savoys, who have become something of a joke for their playboy lifestyle and poor Italian accents but still command respect in some sectors of the population. There is a certain irony in that the male members of the family were until recently forbidden entry into the country under a provision of the Republican Constitution: now at least one of them was effectively forbidden to leave. The would-be king was subsequently released to house arrest by magistrates who cited his cooperative attitude in the investigation.

With all of this going on taxation and fiscal policy has understandably had a hard time getting on the front page of Italian newspapers. An additional package of tax and spending measures is scheduled to be proposed in early July, but the Government has sent conflicting signals as to what it will include. Among the goals cited by the Finance Minister, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, are reducing the budget deficit, increasing annal GNP growth from its current 2 % or so a year, reducing the tax burden associated with the hiring of new employees, and improving equality and social justice--goals that may be difficult to achieve on their own let alone simultaneously. On the bright side, some pundits have suggested that either an Italian or German victory in the World Cup will provide a temporary economic uplift; at the very least the continued stagnation would be somewhat easier to bear.

A note of comic relief, or at least a change of pace, was provided by the Corte di Cassazione, Italy's supreme court, when it ruled that a man was criminally liable for filming his estranged wife in bed with her lover without her official permission. According to the court, the combination of unauthorized filming, together with the man's later forwarding of the video to members of his wife's family, constituted criminal defamation, notwithstanding his arugment that the pictures "were not in the least bit compromising." The couple was separating at the time of the crime, and presumably has remained that way.


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