April 29, 2009

Fiat-Chrysler alliance (according to GB Vico)

“We’re confident a deal will be struck but we have to wait until Thursday and respect any decision which is made. It’s always hard to weigh probability just ahead of a deadline, but in important negotiations a lot is accomplished at the very end,” said yesterday Fiat Deputy Chairman John Elkann. In turn, says Chrysler Chief Executive Bob Nardelli, the US carmaker continues to make progress in its efforts to complete the proposed alliance with Fiat. In fact, after the U.S. Treasury Department has reached an agreement with Chrysler’s four main creditor banks (JP Morgan, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) to cancel $6.9 billion of debt in exchange for $2 billion in cash (but the deal still needs the approval of all of the secured lenders), the United Auto Workers union approved a tentative new labor agreement and sent the deal to local union members for a ratification vote today.

So, though nothing is official and caution is in order, it seems to be a done deal. And to think that when Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne predicted six months ago that only half a dozen carmakers would have the scale to weather the credit crisis, analysts questioned whether the Italian company would be among them. Now not only is he close to complete the alliance with Chrysler, he is also negotiating to buy a stake in Opel from General Motors. According to Sanford C. Bernstein analysts, a Fiat-Chrysler-Opel alliance would rank second in passenger cars and light trucks production, behind Toyota. And again, to think that five years ago it was GM calling the tune for Fiat!

Well, since this is not, by any means, a blog for economists, but rather for humanists, I wonder what the Italian philosppher of history Giambattista Vico would have to say about all this. Well, as far as I know he thought that what happened in the past will, in a similar way, also happen in the future, in conformity with the permanent pattern of historic development. Yet, it was also his opinion that the recurrence is not merely repetition of a previous age, but a movement in a particular direction. Now the question is—which direction? I mean, in this specific case, since what Vico had in mind, in general, was a movement in the Providential direction… Which might seem a rather rhetorical way to end this post. And we need to cross our fingers instead …

April 23, 2009

Tell that to the Pilgrims of Victimhood

Before those nearly lethal winter weeks in Ravensbrueck and some months spent “working”— “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free), do you remember?—in Auschwitz, Esther, Sara’s grandmother, was a bright, active young woman with bad hay fever, living somewhere near the Czech border. A small town, a big house with an orchard and a vineyard. A large, warm family. All of which, says Sara, have since “vanished, literally, into thin air.” Except the allergies… and grandmother Esther.

She lost sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, cousins, and her parents. They all came with her into Auschwitz but not out. A story like many others, countless others. But even though nearly 70 years later it is still hard for her to watch the programming for Holocaust Remembrance, says her granddaughter, “she has never lost her sense of humor or her dignity or her ingenuity or her sense of morality and purpose.” And above all she did not teach her children to hate, but, as she herself puts it, “to be somebody in the world. Hate doesn’t help anybody. It just spoils everything.” Tell that to “the Pilgrims of Victimhood” at the Durban Review Conference in Geneva.

By the way, when I heard about the speech Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad gave at the the United Nations World Conference Against Racism (!), I must confess that perhaps I have never felt more proud of being a citizen of one of the few countries in the world which, in the light of the preparatory negotiations ahead of the so-called Durban II meeting, had previously decided to miss such a “memorable” event.

But this is not a matter of being Italians, or Americans, or Canadians. It’s a matter of what does it mean to be Human. That’s why I think the best answer we can give Mr. Ahmadinejad is that of this well-brought-up young woman:

Why give your sons a gun, a black mask, and a suicide belt, when you could give him, instead, a hug and a ticket to study in Dubai? Why build bombs when you could have built a university, a hospital, or a hi-tech park? Why dig smuggling tunnels when you could instead build a subway system to take you to see relatives in Cairo? Why is there no Palestinian or Somali or Pakistani version of the JNF or Hadassah? There would certainly be enough Euros in aid and Saudi oil dollars coming in to fund them, if anyone local cared to organize those efforts, instead of blaming You-Know-Jew (again!) for all of the earth’s problems.

April 20, 2009

Traditional prayers for today's Catholics

Father Philip Neri Powell, OP, is an American friar who teaches Theology at the Angelicum (Pontificia Università S. Tommaso d’ Aquino), in Rome, and a fellow blogger. I enjoy reading his blog, and love his humor almost as much as his homilies. That’s why I guess I might like the new book he has been working on in recent times: Treasures Old and New: Traditional Prayers for Today's Catholics. Yet, there is still time to check it out, since the book is due out on September 15, 2009. But we are faithful ... ;-)

April 17, 2009

The 'superhero' in whose hands are the partnership negotiations between Fiat and Chrysler

Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne is the car industry outsider and the “superhero” who, against all expectations, pulled the Italian automotive group back from the brink collapse since taking over in 2004, and now it is also him in whose hands—according to the chairman of Fiat, Luca Cordero di Montezemolo—are the partnership negotiations between the Turin automaker and Chrysler.

The two carmakers are both racing against the clock to strike a deal by May 1, the deadline President Barack Obama set to receive federal bail-out funds which are essential for Chrysler to avoid bankruptcy. “The only thing I have to say […] is that we should leave it up to Sergio Marchionne and his staff to see whether a solution can be found by the end of the month,” Montezemolo said.

Montezemolo also said that Fiat isn’t looking at Opel, the German unit of General Motors, and this in response to an earlier press report saying Fiat may be looking at the German carmaker.

President Barack Obama, as it is well-known, is keen on the Fiat solution for Chrysler: after all, “the technological transfer Fiat is proposing would enable Chrysler to develop the small eco-friendly cars the American president is pushing for.” But the deal seems to make sense for both companies. In fact, not only would it give Fiat an initial 20% stake in Chrysler in exchange for its cutting-edge green and small-car technology, the Turin automaker would also have access to Chrysler’s plants and dealerships in order to allow it to return to the American market, initially with Alfa Romeo and the trendy Fiat 500 city car.

But there are still obstacles to overcome:

The deal in part hinges on unions and lenders accepting stock in Chrysler in exchange for the debt owed to them.

An accord draft leaked to the press on Thursday indicated that unions would take a 20% stake in Chrysler, the same as Fiat's initial stake, as payment for half their pension fund.

Marchionne is also asking that unions except wage cuts to bring labor costs in line with those in other plants in the US producing foreign cars, in states where the union have less power.

He added that Fiat was ready to ''walk away'' if the concessions were not made, while Montezemolo has said that a 'Plan B' existed should the accord fall through. The leaked draft also indicated that Marchionne would serve as CEO for both Fiat and Chrysler, while the US automaker would have an American chairman of the board.

She dreamed a dream ... and fulfilled it!

It was clear since the first three or four notes that her performance on Britain’s Got Talent would be something amazing and even … absolutely incredible (she received nearly 20 million hits on YouTube after she became an overnight star in the United States). She started singing “I dreamed a dream in time gone by/When hope was high,/And life worth living,” and both the judges and the public were completely wowed by the 47 year old Susan Boyle. I’m sure we’ll hear that name again. For the moment, enjoy the video (thanks: Sandra).

April 16, 2009

There is a guardian angel in L’Aquila

Can you read French? If so, and if you are interested in the after-earthquake, please check out this article in today’s Le Monde. The subject is Guido Bertolaso, the head of Italian civil protection, l’homme qui fait l’ange gardien à L’Aquila:

"On n'apprend pas à faire ce métier, dit-il. Il n'y a pas d'université pour cela. Il faut être un leader et en même temps savoir partager." Médecin spécialiste des maladies tropicales, il a découvert l'urgence à la frontière du Cambodge et de la Thaïlande dans les années 1970. "Italian doctor", capable de soigner mais aussi d'organiser, de monter un hôpital de campagne là où il n'y avait rien, il change de spécialité : "Je me suis découvert meilleur organisateur que médecin."

April 15, 2009

And Tax Day becomes Protest Day

Is it an American Revolution? Today American taxpayers in more than 300 locations in all 50 states are holding “tea parties” to protest higher taxes and increased government spending.

Who's behind the Tax Day tea parties? Here is what Glenn Harland Reynolds has to say in the Wall Street Journal.

P.S.: Check also the special edition Tea Party page on NetRight Nation.

Obama's economy speech: 'He spoke eloquently, but ...'

“Clarity in Need of Courage” is the title of an editorial in today’s Washington Post about yesterday’s speech on the economy by President Obama. A very good speech, according to the WP, on many fronts, but Obama “overstates” his case in one crucial area and “loses all candor and courage” in another. The overstating comes

in linking his policy agenda to the economic recovery. The agenda focuses on education, renewable energy and health care. These are all worthy pursuits, areas where we support many of his proposals.

But these pursuits

have little to do with the economic crisis, and they are not the key to economic recovery. The recovery will result from successfully transitioning away from an economy overly dependent on debt and the American consumer, unclogging the banking system, stabilizing housing -- and dealing with the fiscal imbalances facing the country that were bad before, are worse now and, if left unattended, could well cause the next crisis.
We understand that spending more on education, energy and health care is an easy sell to a Democratic Congress, while deficit reduction and entitlement reform are hard. We thought the president had signed up for both.

They thought … Do they still think that now?

April 14, 2009

Obama's 'post-material economy'

Robert J. Samuelson wrote a very interesting piece in yesterday’s Washington Post—sorry for the delay, I was on vacation the past few days—about President Obama’s vision for America’s 21st-century economy:

What Obama proposes is a “post-material economy.” He would de-emphasize the production of ever-more private goods and services, harnessing the economy to achieve broad social goals. In the process, he sets aside the standard logic of economic progress.
Since the dawn of the Industrial Age, this has been simple: produce more with less. (“Productivity,” in economic jargon.) Mass markets developed for clothes, cars, computers and much more because declining costs expanded production. Living standards rose. By contrast, the logic of the “post-material economy” is just the opposite: Spend more and get less.
What defines the “post-material economy” is a growing willingness to sacrifice money income for psychic income – “feeling good.” Some people may gladly pay higher energy prices if they think they're “saving the planet” from global warming. Some may accept higher taxes if they think they're improving the health or education of the poor.

Unfortunately, “these psychic benefits,” according to Samuelson, “may be based on fantasies,” and Obama’s vision for economic renewal “is mostly a self-serving mirage.” The full article, well worth reading, is here. There is something to think about.

April 12, 2009

Happy Easter!

Happy Easter
Joyeuses Pâques
Buona Pasqua
Frohe Ostern
Feliz Pascua
Boa Pascoa

April 9, 2009

The Last Supper

Among the masterpieces representing the Passion of Jesus, the Last Supper frescoed by Leonardo da Vinci in the refectory of the Dominican convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie, in Milan, is perhaps the most famous in the world. Many people know it, but few know a) the precise moment of the last supper that it represents, b) how to interpret the meaning of Jesus’ actions, and those of the apostles, and c) that this fresco can be understood only in conjunction with another painting that occupies the front wall of the same refectory, representing the crucifixion.

To remove the blindfold, on March 30, 2009, Timothy Verdon, an American art historian and priest, published this essay in L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper. He explains from an artistic, theological, and liturgical perspective the profound meaning of the Last Supper.

“It is an artistically sublime way to understand the first act of Jesus’ passion,” says Sandro Magister, who had the wonderful idea of re-publishing the article in his own website.

April 8, 2009

Not even an earthquake

Up until a few hours ago I was kind of suspecting this might be the case, but now it’s a certainty: not even an earthquake can stop them. I mean, not even an earthquake can keep both Silvio Berlusconi from making embarrassing gaffes and my beloved British newspapers from reporting them to the public with great emphasis. Needless to say, it’s not a criticism, it’s an observation: we are facing something more than a mere chain of events (only incidentally connected with each other), rather there is, so to speak, something like a metaphysical connection.

What did the Cavaliere say this time? Well, he told a German TV station that the 17,000 people left homeless by the Abruzzo earthquake should consider themselves to be on a “camping weekend” …

Touring camps set up for survivors of Monday’s disaster, in which at least 250 people were killed, Mr Berlusconi told a reporter from N-TV: “They have everything they need, they have medical care, hot food... Of course, their current lodgings are a bit temporary. but they should see it like a weekend of camping.”

As I already said, I don’t want to criticize anyone or pontificate. After all, though I voted for Berlusconi, I am not what could be called a fan of il Cavaliere, whose legendary gaffes made him possibly the world’s political gaffeur par excellence—though he is undoubtedly in good company… Yet, let me just say this about that: It is not the best statement a Prime minister ever made, Ok, and he shouldn’t have said so, but I saw him on Italian TV saying these things: his voice was broken up with emotion, and while speaking his right hand was caressing a little girl’s head—well, I suppose I can understand what he was trying to do: just to boost the morale of families in very, very difficult times. What I wonder is whether the author of this article, for instance, had any idea of what was going on, and where he was when Berlusconi said that “sometimes, even during a tragedy like this you’ve got to smile because you can’t get results without optimism.”

Berlusconi also said that a staff of 1,000 technicians would begin evaluating the damage to public buildings and homes on Thursday. As for L’Aquila’s artistic heritage, it is to be said that it suffered very serious damage. Berlusconi has announced a €30 million ($40 million) aid package to rebuild historical buildings and to restore damaged artwork. In addition, U.S. President Barack Obama (thanks: John W. Clarke and Sandra Kennedy Shimmelpfennig) telephoned to offer aid to repair cultural sites and artistic works.

April 7, 2009

The Kinights Templar and the Shroud of Turin

The Shroud of Turin
Now we know the true story behind what was once a mystery and a field in which there have been all kinds of theories, conjectures and hypotheses. And this, thanks to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, which on Sunday published a preview of the forthcoming book, I templari e la sindone di Cristo, by Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives.

The Knights Templar, as it is well-known, had been accused of worshipping idols, in particular a “bearded figure,” called Baphomet, but in reality the object they had secretly venerated was the Shroud, that is the linen cloth which is kept in the royal chapel of the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist in Turin, Italy, and which is believed by many—myself included—to be the cloth placed on Jesus of Nazareth at the time of His burial.

The Shroud, as the Vatican’s medieval specialist explains in her book, had disappeared in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and did not surface again until the middle of the fourteenth century. Its fate in those years had always puzzled historians. But Barbara Frale’s study of the trial of the Knights Templar had brought to light

a document in which Arnaut Sabbatier, a young Frenchman who entered the order in 1287, testified that as part of his initiation he was taken to “a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access”. There he was shown “a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man” and instructed to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.

The Knights Templar had rescued that linen cloth

to ensure that it did not fall into the hands of heretical groups such as the Cathars, who claimed that Christ did not have a true human body, only the appearance of a man, and could therefore not have died on the Cross and been resurrected.

Barabara Frale says her discovery vindicates an hypothesis first put forward by the British historian Ian Wilson in 1978, though at the time this theory was still to be proved.

This book gives the Knights Templar their due and restores the honor of the most powerful monastic military order of the Middle Ages.

In August 21st 2008, L’Osservatore Romano also published for the first time the prayer the Knights Templar composed when “unjustly imprisoned,” in which they appealed to the Virgin Mary to persuade “our enemies” to abandon “calumnies and lies” and revert to “truth and charity.” The prayer was further proof that the order was not heretical. In that article Barbara Frale maintained that it was untrue that the knights were guilty of “decadence, heresy and immoral practices,” that is the reasons why the order was suppressed in 1314, and its members were arrested, tortured and executed.

April 6, 2009

Earthquake in central Italy (updated)

A powerful earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale struck at 3:32 am (0132 GMT) near the medieval city of L’Aquila, in the mountainous region of Abruzzo, 60 miles (95 kilometers) north of Rome. At least 20 people, including five children, were killed and many buildings (3,000 to 10,000) in the city’s historic center were severely damaged or destroyed. The quake was the latest in a series of jolts that struck the area over the past two days.

Massimo Cialente, mayor of L'Aquila, said around 100,000 people had left their homes as a result of the damage. Guido Bertolaso, the head of civil protection, said this is “the worst tragedy since the start of the millennium.”

See also here, here and here.

And here is a CNN video report:


UPDATE - Monday, April 6, 2009, 7:30 pm 

- OVER 100 DEAD, 1,500 INJURED
- Quake: predictions impossible
- Abruzzo Earthquake – 100 Die, Hundreds Injured and Thousands Evacuated

- (ANSA) - L'Aquila, April 6 - Premier Silvio Berlusconi said Monday that around 1,500 people were injured in the L'Aquila earthquake that killed at least 92.
''At the moment 4,000 rescuers are at work and concentrating on extracting people from the rubble,'' said Berlusconi, who cancelled a trip to Moscow to travel to L'Aquila where he surveyed the damage from a helicopter.
The premier said a camp with 2,000 tents, each capable of housing 8-10 people, was currently being set up in the city for those who had lost their homes in the disaster, while around 4,000 beds in hotels in the area had also been reserved for survivors.
''The camp should be ready be tonight,'' Berlusconi told journalists at a press conference, during which another small quake was felt.
''The fundamental thing I want to say is that nobody will be left alone,'' he said.
The premier appealed to survivors not to remain in damaged houses.
''Nobody can tell if there will be further quakes in the next few hours or days,'' he said.

- 100 dead in Italian quake
- Death toll in Italy quake hits 50
- Witnesses describe what happened

April 4, 2009

What I dislike most ...

 “What terrifies you most in purity,” I asked? “Haste,” William answered.  

—Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose

What I dislike most about the political attitudes and behaviors of a certain kind of “political activists” is the way some people tend to extremize their views, which often leads them, in the best cases, to a certain Manichaeism or, in the worst cases, to what I would call the intellectualization of political hatred. They never concede an inch to their opponents, whom they see as inherently “evil” or “immoral” or “stupid,” whatever they think, say and do.

They are natural and irreconcilable enemies not merely of political transformism and opportunism, which obviously would not be a bad thing in itself, but of common sense and also of a sense of proportion.

They seem to be fascinated by the myth of their own political purity, or what they firmly believe to be such. To these “true Conservatives,” without any ifs and buts, of course, or “true Liberals,” etc., I would like to dedicate the above quote.

April 3, 2009

Trusting to the future

They seem to be quite happy with the end result (“a turning point in our pursuit of global economic recovery,” said President Barack Obama). Let’s all cross our fingers and pray that they are right.

April 1, 2009

The new neocon alliance with Obama

Is there a “neo-isolationist” tendency on both the left and right wings of the American political spectrum? As Foreign Policy’s Laura Rozen has reported, the founders of Foreign Policy Initiative, a new advocacy group, think so—and it would be naïve, as far as we presently know, to think differently. So some prominent neocons such as former Iraq Coalition Provisional Authority spokesman Dan Senor, Weekly Standard editor William Kristol, and national security writer Robert Kagan of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, have vowed to counter that tendency and decided to intervene in support of President Obama’s Afghanistan policy.

And this is what Jacob Heilbrunn—the author of the newly released, They Knew They Were Right: the Rise of the Neocons, and a senior editor at the National Interest—has to say in The Huffington Post:

It's clear that that neoconservatives are staking out a new course and want to retain an influential voice in foreign policy. Their latest strategy is to move closer to Obama. Kagan has already expressed his admiration for what he sees as Obama's determination to ensure that America remains No. 1 around the globe.
The idea that the intellectual champions of the Iraq War are now trying to reach an alliance with Obama is certainly a tribute to neocon audacity. But it's also an inevitable development. The neocons have always been interventionists first, then conservatives. In fact, many traditional conservatives argue that there isn't much that's conservative about neoconservatism. In any case, the neocons aren't going away.
For now, the founding of the Foreign Policy Initiative suggests that there will be a fierce battle for the soul of the Obama administration between liberal hawks and neocons, on the one side, and between anti-interventionist progressives, on the other, over policy towards Afghanistan, Russia, China, and Iran.
Who's going to win it?

An interesting question, don’t you think?