Monday, January 29, 2007

italian finance minister says taxes won't decline again until 2009

The Finance Minister, Tommaso Padoa-Schioppa, has stated that--notwithstanding higher than expected revenues and the anti-evasion provisions included in recent tax legislation--he does not expect a further reduction in taxes until at least 2009. In the meantime, increased revenues will be used to reduce the country's not inconsiderable deficit, and to provide incentives for a sluggish although not yet crisis economy. A package of "liberalization" measures, allowing (e.g.) the sale of motor fuels in supermarkets and a substantial increase in taxi licenses, is meanwhile moving ahead, as is a plan to restructure Alitalia, the national carrier, to be more competitive.

In an unrelated development the Constitutional Court has exercised an American-style jurisdiction in order to hold unconstitutional an American-style rule. The issue concerns the so-called Legge Pecorella, which would have prohibited the Government side from appealing acquittals in criminal cases. There being no juries as such under the civil law system, acquittals and convictions are historically appealable by the losing side in a criminal proceeding. The proposal to prohibit Government appeals had been taken by many commentators as a sign that Italy was moving toward an American-style, or at the least hybrid, system of criminal justice, with other changes perhaps on the way. Looks like they will have to wait.

sonia gandhi calls for reduced inequality

Congress Party president Sonia Gandhi has made a speech calling for economic growth but cautioning that it much be balanced with a renewed concern for equity. Economic growth in India has been "spectacular," she said, "[b]ut should we not be mindful of possible adverse consequences of that progress and take steps to deal with them?" In a separate development the International Labor Organization (ILO) reported that poverty had been "dramatically" reduced in India and other South Asian countries, but that about 500 million working poor still lived on an average of less than $2 per day. They have company: almost half (47 percent) of the world's population falls in the same category. The ILO survey also found that only 36 percent of working age women in South Asia are actively engaged in the (wage) labor market, as opposed to 82 percent of the men.

Friday, January 12, 2007

iran, iraq, and the bush plan

On the face of it the Bush plan seems difficult to explain: 20,000 troops to change a battle that 100,000 haven't succeeded at, and with very little popular support, to boot. On the other hand, it takes a plan to beat a plan, and the Democrats strategy--we support the troops already there, but won't send any more, even though we agree that the troops there aren't enough to win--is hardly a strategy at all. So the plan is likely to go ahead, and one can only hope for the best.

What makes the Bush strategy somewhat less difficult to fathom is the gathering conflict with Iran. That the troop increase is designed as a message to Teheran, no less than Baghdad, is suggested by its coupling with an overall increase in the size of the military (no one dreams that 90,000 more soldiers are going to Baghdad anytime soon); by the President's explicit warning to Iran in his Wednesday night speech; and by the repeated stories of Iranian "diplomats" being detained by American forces in Iraq, which have proliferated in recent days. In case anyone missed the point, the U.S. has also dispatched an additional aircraft carrier to the Iranian region.

Conventional wisdom has it the U.S. cannot do anything in Iran because it is either too early or too late to stop the Iranian nuclear program, and because we cannot afford to be bogged down in two countries at the same time. But the too problems are to some degree separate, and the military forces that would be used against Iran are by and large not implicated in the Iraq war. I'm not notably enthusiastic about a confrontation with Iran, mind you: I just think that it's more or less inevitable. Apparently, so does Bush.

college football redux

Don't you just love when there is a weeks long argument over whether Ohio State should play Michigan or USC . . . and they then lose to Florida by four touchdowns? You can say what you want about the injury to Ted Ginn, but the fact is that OSU was manhandled by the Gators; it is astonishing, in retrospect, that they were ever regarded as the favorites. Any doubts that the SEC is the strongest football conference should pretty well have vanished by now.

Although Florida won fair and square, one has to wonder about a system that makes the purportive national championship dependent upon a game played six weeks after one of the teams has ended its season. Indeed, if USC had beaten UCLA, Florida would not even have been playing. The increasing absurdity of the BCS system--not to mention lower-and-lower TV ratings--make a genuine tournament all the more a priority.