Frederika Randall on Berlusconi’s return, John Nichols on fast-tracking Colombia, Jayati Vora on Patrick Cockburn’s Muqtada, Christopher Hayes on the new Israel lobby.



The most chilling moment during Italy’s election campaign came when

Silvio Berlusconi

declared that his onetime factotum

Vittorio Mangano

–a Cosa Nostra boss later condemned to life imprisonment for two murders–was “a hero.” It was as close as he could get to making an outright promise to Italy’s Mafia that they would have a free hand if he were elected. Up North, meanwhile, Berlusconi’s ally

Umberto Bossi

of the Lega Nord was crowing after his stunning success at the polls April 13-14, with almost twice the votes his party got in the 2006 election, enough to wrest control of two regions, Lombardy and the Veneto. A recent sample of that party’s racist, xenophobic rhetoric from Radio Padania Libera: “It’s easier to exterminate rats than eliminate the gypsies.” Half the country ruled by the mob, the other half by rabid reactionaries: this was a worst-case scenario of what Berlusconi-Bossi’s decisive victory– 47 percent of the vote to the Partito Democratico’s 38–could mean for Italy.

The biggest losers in the election were the coalition of radical-left parties known as the

Sinistra Arcobaleno

, which were wiped from the slate with vote percentages too low to qualify for either house of Parliament. It appears a sizable part of their base–working-class families struggling to make ends meet–voted for the Lega Nord. The other loser, the newly created, progressive

Partito Democratico

, actually improved its showing compared with what its component parties got in the last election. But it failed to persuade voters it could handle the coming economic turbulence and to find progressive answers to the impatient demands of Italy’s productive heartland, the North. Now its job will be to mount a tough opposition–and try to keep Italy in one piece.   FREDERIKA RANDALL


When George W. Bush sent the Colombia Free Trade Agreement to Congress, he expected a quick vote to knock down trade barriers with a country where the price of dissent–especially if it involves organizing a union–can be assassination. Ever since the Nixon Administration developed the “fast-track” model for approving trade agreements, Congress has played by White Houses rules. But when Bush pushed for his Colombia deal–which is opposed by labor and human rights activists, as well as Democratic presidential candidates

Barack Obama


Hillary Clinton

–House Speaker

Nancy Pelosi

pushed back. She reasserted the role of Congress by pulling the Colombia FTA off the fast track, which would have forced an up-or-down vote in ninety days.

With the support of 224 House members–including six Republicans–Pelosi indefinitely delayed a vote until “we address the economic insecurity of America’s working families.” The Speaker’s move upset the cozy, insider-led process by which trade deals have been effectively imposed on Congress by Democratic and Republican Presidents and legions of lobbyists–such as Clinton’s former chief strategist,

Mark Penn

, who got caught promoting the Colombia pact while advising the suddenly populist presidential candidate. Pelosi’s suspension of action has not killed the pact; the Speaker says there will be a vote eventually. That troubles Maine Democratic Congressman

Mike Michaud

, who has pressed Pelosi to take a tougher line on trade. Says Michaud, “Simply postponing consideration of the agreement in hopes of passing it at a later date is unacceptable…. We cannot allow the lives of unionists in Colombia and our jobs here at home to be used as bargaining chips for the Administration’s misguided priorities.”   JOHN NICHOLS


The Sunni countries of the Arabian Peninsula don’t want anything to do with journalist

Patrick Cockburn

‘s latest book,


. Of the eight nations that make up that region (Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen), seven have refused entry to an Arabic translation of the book. Cockburn’s publisher–which had planned to publish the Arabic version–subsequently backed out of the deal. Cockburn suspects that the only nation to allow an Arabic translation is Yemen. The reason for this ban can be found in the book’s subtitle, Muqtada al-Sadr, the Shia Revival, and the Struggle for Iraq. “The Sunni states would consider this revolutionary propaganda,” Cockburn says. “They’re opposed to the Shia. They consider them heretics and are frightened of them.”

But banning Cockburn’s book could have unexpected consequences. (For a demonstration, look no further than Tehran, where youngsters throw mixed parties behind closed doors and buck the prevailing Islamic law by drinking and dancing.) The Peninsula countries might do better to learn from the Iraqi government’s costly mistake–excluding an important Shiite leader from the political process led to deadly confrontations with Sadr’s followers–and do more to encourage an open internal dialogue.   JAYATI VORA


“For too long, the only American voices on Israel have come from the far right,” said

Jeremy Ben-Ami

, a former Clinton Administration staffer,

during the launch of the pro-peace, pro-Israel lobby

J Street

. “[We] believe there’s a better way to be pro-Israel” than simply supporting “military responses to political problems,” he declared. Several months in the making, backed by a long list of prominent American Jews and Israelis–from

Alan Solomont

, former national finance chair of the DNC, to

David Kimche

, former director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, to

Sam Lewis

, former ambassador to Israel–J Street is conceived as a liberal counterpart to


the hawkish lobby that has for decades kept a stranglehold on US Mideast policy. The organization will feature a lobbying arm and an online component that will seek to mobilize American Jews and other Israel supporters who don’t buy the AIPAC line. A sister organization, J Street PAC, has been set up to support Congressional candidates who believe a negotiated resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict is the only way to preserve the Jewish state’s security.

Victor Kovner

, former corporation council for New York City and a veteran activist and fundraiser, called J Street “a long-overdue initiative.” I’m inclined to agree. Better late than never.   CHRISTOPHER HAYES

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