HOUSE OF BERLUSCONI:
The most chilling moment during Italy’s election campaign came when
declared that his onetime factotum
–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
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
, 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
, 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
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,
, 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
, 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