Editorial | In Italy, a Sharp Turn Back to the Center – The New York Times

“Given that Italy has had more than five dozen governments in 73 years, the emergence of another unlikely and unstable coalition might look, in the phrase often attributed to Yogi Berra, like déjà vu all over again. Yet in the current wave of populism in Europe and around the world, the success of the Italian Parliament in pushing back against a right-wing firebrand bears a closer look.

The stage for the turnover was set in August, when Matteo Salvini, head of the far-right, anti-immigrant League party that for over a year had been in a ruling coalition with the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, decided to cash in on his popularity and ask the Italian electorate to hand him “full powers” in new elections.

Instead, the prime minister — a law professor named Giuseppe Conte, who had been pulled from obscurity last year to serve as a figurehead leader of that coalition government — delivered a potent speech in the Italian Senate upbraiding his former patron, Mr. Salvini, for “political opportunism” in “following his own interests and those of his party.”

Mr. Conte then cobbled together an improbable coalition of two parties more usually at each other’s throats, the Five Star Movement and the center-left Democratic Party. On Monday, the government — now known popularly as Conte II, with Mr. Salvini in snarling opposition — easily won a vote of confidence and handed Mr. Conte back the ceremonial bell of the prime minister that he had held in the previous coalition government.”

Opinion | Can I Ruin Your Dinner Party? (Italy Libya and the EU) – by Thomas Friedman – NYT

Quote

But the European pillar of this community of democracies has never been more under assault — so much so that for the first time I wonder if this European pillar will actually crumble.

From Italy you can see all the lines of attack: Donald Trump coming from the West, Vladimir Putin from the East and environmental and political disorder from the south — from Africa and the Middle East, where the reckless 2011 French-British-U.S. decision to topple Libyan strongman Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi, and not stay on to help build a new order in his place, now haunts Italy.

Toppling Qaddafi without building a new order may go down as the single dumbest action the NATO alliance ever took.

It took the lid off Africa, leading to some 600,000 asylum seekers and illegal migrants flocking to Italy’s shores in recent years, with 300,000 staying there and the rest filtering into other E.U. countries. This has created wrangles within the bloc over who should absorb how many migrants and has spawned nationalist-populist backlashes in almost every E.U. country.

via Opinion | Can I Ruin Your Dinner Party? – The New York Times

Opinion | How to Serve a Deranged Tyrant-Stoically – by Ryan Holiday – NYT

“In the ancient world, as is true today, navigating political chaos was a pressing dilemma. Philosophers were forced to decide whether to participate in, resist or simply endure the political rulers of their time. Socrates, the incorrigible free spirit, was a soldier in the Peloponnesian War and a citizen who lived through Athens of the Thirty Tyrants. Aristotle, who wrote brilliant works on justice, happiness and government, worked for Alexander the Great, a murderous warmonger.

Or consider the case of Seneca, a man whose political life mirrors much of the chaos of the Trump administration. In A.D. 49, the well-known writer and Stoic philosopher was recalled from exile to tutor the successor of the emperor Claudius, a promising teenager named Nero. Like many people today, Seneca entered public service with ideals mitigated by a pragmatic understanding of the reality of the politics of his time.

Although just a few generations earlier, the Stoics had been ardent defenders of the republican ideals (Cato, Seneca’s hero, famously disemboweled himself rather than live under Julius Caesar), by Seneca’s time most of these objections had become futile. As Emily Wilson, a translator and biographer of Seneca, writes: “Cicero hoped that he really could bring down Caesar and Mark Antony. Seneca, by contrast, had no hope that he could achieve anything by direct opposition to any of the emperors under whom he lived. His best hope was to moderate some of Nero’s worst tendencies and to maximize his own sense of autonomy.”We can imagine, too, that he saw the inexperienced Nero as an opportunity to advance his own interests and influence. Only time would reveal that fusing his fate to Nero was a Faustian bargain.”

Fascinating. Here are two of many good comments, I particularly valued.

Stephen Hoffman
Harlem

Roman Stoics like Seneca gave a characteristically Roman public spin to the academic writings of their Greek masters like Epictetus. Seneca had a writer’s vanity and high literary ambitions with which he inspired his star pupil, Nero. He made himself monstrously rich by profiteering in military contracts in the Roman colony of Britain. When the political entanglements in which he had ensnared himself finally exacted their fatal dues, he died in the messy, non-Stoic way all people die (read Tacitus’ gruesome account) ) but not without preparing his own “dignified” version of his death to leave to posterity as a literary testament.

B
BobMeinetz
Los Angeles

Unmentioned here is Marcus Aurelius’s classic Meditations, the Roman emperor’s treatise on Stoicism considered by many one of the finest works of philosophy.

When my teenage daughter was undergoing teenage-daughter-type problems I recommended Meditations to her, thinking it might provide some non-religious insight on personal values. Years later she admitted she had read it three times, and it’s since become somewhat of a secular Bible in our family.

Highly recommended to Times readers unfamiliar with Stoicism and unaccepting of theistic religion.

The Chaos After Trump – by David Brooks – NYT

First, the erasure of the informal norms of behavior. As Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt argue in “How Democracies Die,” democracies depend not just on formal constitutions but also on informal codes. You treat your opponents like legitimate adversaries, not illegitimate enemies. You tell the truth as best you can. You don’t make naked appeals to bigotry.

Berlusconi, like Trump, undermined those norms. And now Berlusconi’s rivals across the political spectrum have waged a campaign that was rife with conspiracy theories, misinformation and naked appeals to race.

Second, the loss of faith in the democratic system. As Yascha Mounk writes in his book “The People vs. Democracy,” faith in democratic regimes is declining with every new generation. Seventy-one percent of Europeans and North Americans born in the 1930s think it’s essential to live in a democracy, but only 29 percent of people born in the 1980s think that. In the U.S., nearly a quarter of millennials think democracy is a bad way to run a country. Nearly half would like a strongman leader. One in six Americans of all ages supports military rule.

via The Chaos After Trump – The New York Times

Italy’s Five-Star Electoral Performance – by Roger Cohen – NYT

The tide that ushered the Five Star Movement, a web-based party representing a ragtag band of disaffected voters, and the anti-immigrant League to victory has been rising for some time. Italy took some 64 percent of the 186,000 migrants who reached Europe in 2017 through Mediterranean routes. It took the majority of these migrants in 2016, too. Promised European solidarity has evaporated; relocations have been scarce.

Italians, angered, have been looking for scapegoats. Who better than wandering Africans and the European Union?

via Italy’s Five-Star Electoral Performance – The New York Times

The Mystery Man Who Runs Italy’s ‘Five Star’ From the Shadows – The New York Times

Italian authorities have raised concerns about who has access to the voting records and identities of individual members, and party dissidents have raised suspicion that votes over his platform are being manipulated, something that Mr. Casaleggio and his party deny.

Mr. Casaleggio declined repeated requests for an interview, explaining that he did not trust the news media.

His company has hosted, and earned advertising revenue from, websites littered with conspiracy theories and fake news, messages echoed across a vast network of supportive social media accounts.

via The Mystery Man Who Runs Italy’s ‘Five Star’ From the Shadows – The New York Times

There are disturbing red flags in the paragraphs above, pun intended.

In Italy Election- Anti-E.U. Views Pay Off for Far Right and Populists – The New York Times

“The Five Star Movement appealed to voters on both the left and the right, especially in the country’s poorer southern regions. Young voters flocked to their throw-out-the-bums message.

Five Star’s ability to elide hard positions on controversial issues such as immigration and leaving the eurozone, as well as its support for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, made it a difficult target for its political enemies.
Both Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Renzi characterized Five Star as the greatest threat to Italy to come along in ages. But now it is Italy’s most popular party, and it has a good deal of leverage going into consultations with President Sergio Mattarella, who will ultimately decide the shape and content of the next government.

The newly formed Parliament will meet for the first time on March 23.

“Bottom line: Italy is far from having sorted its longstanding problems, and now it will have new ones,” said Lorenzo Codogno, founder and chief economist of LC Macro Advisors. “Be prepared for long and complex negotiations that will take months.” “

via In Italy Election, Anti-E.U. Views Pay Off for Far Right and Populists – The New York Times

David Lindsay Jr.

Hamden, CT 

This is just the beginning. Scientists looking at climate change and water shortages, are predicting severe dislocation– 30 to 50 million climate change and civil war refugees in the the next 30 to 50 years. No, more like 500 Million. The numbers are mind boggling. One US naval intelligence think tank predicts that just in Iran, there will be 50 million drought refugees in the next 30 to 50 years. In the last 30 years, 100,000 farmers in SE India are reported to have committed suicide, and another 200,000 of their families became drought refugees. The sources for these stories are at the NYT, and at my blog.

David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth-century Vietnam,” and blogs at TheTaySonRebellion.com and InconvenientNewsWorldwide.wordpress.com

How Climate Change Is Playing Havoc With Olive Oil (and Farmers) – The New York Times

“. . Olive trees are hardy survivors. In the Bible, a dove brings an olive leaf to Noah on the ark, a sign that the world is not entirely destroyed. Olive oil is central to food and folklore across the Mediterranean. And its health benefits have been so extolled that global demand for extra virgin olive oil has surged.

Now, a changing climate is turning olive oil into an increasingly risky business — at least in the Mediterranean, the land of its birth.

Harvests have been bad three of the last five years, subject to what Vito Martielli, an analyst with Rabobank, based in Utrecht, the Netherlands, called weather-related “shocks.” And with growing demand, wholesale prices have gone up.

No one will go hungry if there’s not enough olive oil on the market. But the impact of climate change on such a hardy and high-end product is a measure of how global warming is beginning to challenge how we grow food.”

“. . .  Between June and August this year, it was exceptionally hot and dry across southern Europe. In Spain, temperatures soared above 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius) in July. In Italy, rainfall was 30 percent below normal levels — and in parts of the country, much lower still.

Scientists with the World Weather Attribution program, a group dedicated to the study of extreme weather, concluded last month that the “the chances of seeing a summer as hot as 2017” had increased tenfold since the early 1900s, and the chances of a heat wave like the one that hit the region for three days in August, nicknamed Lucifer, had risen by four times.

“We found a very clear global warming fossil fuel fingerprint,” said Heidi Cullen, a climatologist who heads the program.Ask Italian olive growers about the weather this year and you hear a wide range of answers. It rained on one hill. It didn’t rain on the neighboring one. One olive variety made it through the heat; another didn’t. Even in one orchard, one tree hung heavy with fruit; another barely had any.”

PhotoExtracting extra virgin olive oil at a mill in Carmignano, near Prato, owned by Capezzana. Credit Massimo Berruti for The New York TimesPhotoOlives pouring into a chute in Trevi at the beginning of the extraction process. Credit Massimo Berruti for The New York Times