Election Day in Italy

 

How about a morning coffee catch up on today’s Italian elections?

To start, bookmark these two overviews, a general explainer from Euronews and a cheat sheet from an economic perspective.

Now, what people are saying:

Italy’s Election Could Change Everything, Scott B. MacDonald argues. If Eurosceptics win a majority and cobble together a coalition Italy could face a referendum on whether to leave the eurozone.

That’s doubtful. Politico.eu sees things differently.

The Guardian has a long article on Italy’s political fringe, The fascist movement that has brought Mussolini back to the mainstreamAnd Tim Parks writes that just over a month ago the body of an eighteen-year old girl

“was found in the countryside near Macerata in Central Italy. Soon the police had arrested a Nigerian accused of selling the girl drugs. On February 3, a white man, previously a local government candidate for the Northern League, drove through the town firing some thirty shots from his car into immigrant shops and bars, wounding six people.”

And thus the stage was set for an ugly five weeks of immigration-centered contentiousness. At the center of that particular stage is Matteo Salvini, 44, leader of the Lega (formerly the Northern League), a xenophobic, racist bunch who fear an “Islamic invasion” in Italy. (Here is an interview.) Salvini has gathered up all the last minute press with headlines like the most dangerous man in Italy.

At the same time, today’s election is huge for the anti-establishment, poll-leading Movimento Cinque Stelle, or 5 Star Movement, the formerly insurgent party founded by Beppe Grillo, a stand-up comedian who is himself ineligible to hold office because of a negligent homicide conviction.

M5S politician Virginia Elena Raggi is Mayor of Rome, and Chiara Appendino is Mayor of Turin. Because its members now wield actual power, to decidedly mixed results, M5S is in awkward transition, governing while campaigning as insurgents.

Part of the problem is that they aren’t governing all that well. Raggi was indicted two weeks ago on favoritism charges that sound familiar: lying about cronyism. In Raggi’s case it was appointing her former assistant’s brother to be Rome’s tourism chief.

Grillo keeps a lower profile than during the rise of the movement. The party’s hopes are pinned on 31 year old Luigi Di Maio, a Vice-President of Chamber of Deputies in the Italian Parliament. Conventional wisdom holds that even if M5S were to get the most votes it would be difficult for them to cobble together a governing coalition.

(M5S background here from Bloomberg. The Atlantic explains How Italy’s Five-Star Movement Is Winning the Youth Vote: “They can’t find jobs, and the centrist parties have failed them, opening space for the populists.”)

The former PM Matteo Renzi’s Democratic Party (PD) polls in second place but it ain’t got no juice. Slim Odds.

•••••

And then there’s this, from a different Tim Parks article titled Whoever Wins Won’t Govern:

“We are the country of … the decree that never becomes law and the investment that is always inadequate; in the rare event that everything goes smoothly and parliament gets something done we are the country that can rely on the courts to undo it. Italian power is impotence.

Whoever wins, they will not govern. All will go on just the same. Most key policies will be decided outside Italy.”

By which he means the European Union.

•••••

The EU is a wholly fascinating polity. Choose your corner. In the northwest and southeast the United Kingdom and Greece slash and tear at Brussels’ rule. In the northeast, Finland is grateful the EU has its back, given its long Russian border, while in the southwest Portugal appreciates the €1.8 billion more that it receives annually than it contributes to Brussels (2016). And in the middle, the yet-to-be initiated Balkan countries both want in and don’t.

My Italian friends were the first to assure me, seriously, that Donald Trump could become the American president. This was nonsense, I assured them, but they had seen it. They had lived the Silvio Berlusconi experience. Now as usual, Italy faces a dizzy field of Communists, anarchists, stuntmen, the common paralysis and … Berlusconi.

The prospects of a return of Berlusconi invite despair.  One would hope that having once elected a clown parody of a statesman, the good people of (insert your country name here) would run him out of town.

This election is worth staying up late to watch. Happy election day.

Speaking of morning coffee, got time to buy me a cup?

Be Careful What You Vote For

france

Today the center-right French Republicans have chosen the harder right of the two candidates to offer up to contest Marine Le Pen, if you assume as I do that the chances of the left to make it to a runoff next April are vanishingly small. François Fillon is an earthquake, I think, for socialisty France, in that their center right has chosen its most supply-side, trickle down candidate as their country’s best hope against the Le Pen scourge.

I’d say, with Brexit, Trump and Fillon, we see a trend. Three longish articles for you, first on next weekend’s Italian referendum, in which polls indicate a lurch toward populism.

After that, in March it’s the Netherlands’ turn.

And finally, it may not be too bold a prediction that by next autumn, Angela Merkel’s time may be past. You heard it here first.

The face of the western democracies this time next year is taking shape and I’m not sure how well we’ll get through it.

MOD Women

While Michelle Flournoy has apparently taken her name out of the running for U.S. Defense Secretary, it’s worth noting that there are currently five female Defense Ministers in NATO: Italy’s Roberta Pinotti, Albania’s Mimi Kodheli, Germany’s Ursula von der Leyen, Norway’s Ine Marie Eriksen Soreide and Jeanine Hennis-Plasshaert of the Netherlands. That’s a record.

There are also female Defense Ministers in South Africa, Montenegro, Ecuador, Kenya, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Guinea-Bissau.

Wednesday HDRs – Trains

HDR processing seems to work well on things that take you places, so today here are six trains. The top two are from Havana, the middle two are Finnish trains, one from the town of Kouvola, the other a tourist train along Helsinki’s waterfront, the fifth train is from the platform in Spiez, Switzerland and at bottom, it’s a city tram in Milan, Italy.

All were tonemapped in Photomatix and finished in various versions of Photoshop with various iterations of Nik software. Click any to see a bigger version, and here are about 500 HDR photos from EarthPhotos.com.

One other thing, just a reminder: EarthPhotos.com may look and act a little strange over the next week or two as we move to a new format. Please be gentle as we work out the bugs.

CubaTrain

CubaTrain2

FinlandTrain

FinlandTrain2

SwissTrain

ItalyTrain

Ten Places of Worship – Wednesday HDRs

Enjoy these HDRs of churches in Ethiopia, Italy, Lithuania, Panama, Cuba, Latvia and on St. Helena Island. Click any of them to make them much bigger. There are almost 400 more HDRs in the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

The first two are from St. James Church, the oldest Anglican church in the southern hemisphere, St. Helena Island, South Atlantic Ocean:


ChurchHDR01

ChurchHDR02

These next two are from the Riga Cathedral, Riga, Latvia:


ChurchHDR03


ChurchHDR04

Here is the Catedral de la Virgen María de la Concepción Inmaculada de La Habana, Havana, Cuba:


ChurchHDR05

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Wednesday HDR – Across the Tiber River, Before and After

Here's an example of turning a typically dreadful tourist snapshot into something you might hang on to.

You can't help the weather, and this was a pleasant enough day, but with a high overcast that washed out colors.

RomeHDR-Before

I'm always snapping away (ask Mirja) and if there's a body of water I'll be shooting across it. In this case, it's the Tiber River near the Vatican. It's one of those shots you skip through on your computer, and never look at again. But with a lot of spare time over the next winter, I went back to see if any of those Italy shots were salvageable.

You start by re-exposing the camera raw original + and – several stops. Then save each as a tiff, and then combine and process to suit you in Photomatix, and finish in Photoshop with the help of Nik filters. Up close, it looks like I used a tree bark texture over the whole thing, too. The result? Well, it beats the original:

RomeHDR-After

Click the photos to A/B larger versions. There are 390 HDRs in the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.