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Italy's New PM and Old Unemployment Problem

With a 2 trillion euro public debt and thousands of companies going out of business, Italy isn’t exactly the most attractive venue for a leftist political leader of overweening ambition. And yet within almost no time, Matteo Renzi, a virtual unknown, grabbed Italy’s helm, having deftly ousted his do-nothing predecessor, Enrico Letta.

Here you have to ask yourself: why? Why would Renzi, or in fact anyone, want the job of running Italy, much less push out a member of his own party, as Renzi did, in order to get it?  Unemployment among young people—traditionally pretty high because employees in Italy are almost impossible to fire—is now at its highest: 42 percent.

Israel and the 'Boycott, Divest, Sanction' Bandwagon

“Why should Israel, a nuclear power with a strong economy, feel so vulnerable to a nonviolent human rights movement?” the disingenuous Omar Barghouti wrote in a New York Times op-ed last month. Barghouti is a Palestinian human rights advocate and a big backer of an angry movement that has come to be called BDS, which stands for a three-part strategy: boycott, divest, sanction.

The aims of the BDS movement, which got going in 2005 but only recently reached its apogee of international fame—when poor Scarlett Johansson was basically told she was no longer welcome as the beautiful face of Oxfam because she isn’t boycotting Israel at all—are several. Some are absolutely straightforward and possible, and some—as BDS and Barghouti and a whole lot of others well know—are anything but.

Drug Trade: What About the Big Guys?

Maxi-Blitz in Italia e negli USA,” reads one of the many headlines in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica heralding the collaboration between the two nations in capturing and arresting a bunch of drug mobsters. Twenty-six mobsters in all—and all of them, even those who belong to New York mafia families, harbor close business ties to a much feared crime organization based in Calabria.

Al Jazeera's 'False News' Problem

After the disaster that was Mohamed Morsi, Egypt’s erstwhile leader, it is tempting to dump all over the current regime as well in a plague-on-both-your-houses tantrum. Morsi’s rule was repressive, mean-spirited, pusillanimous, disastrous for the country’s Copt population, who were terrorized under his rule, and disastrous, too, for the press, which was ordered, under the new Morsi Constitution, to “adhere to sensible, professional, administrative, and economic standards.”

Personally, I do not know exactly what those enumerated media duties entail—they seem fairly vague from this distance—but one other little addendum helps somewhat to clarify matters. Under Morsi, “insulting the prophets” became a criminal offense. In fact, Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood allies went to work on that little twist to the Egyptian Constitution right away, filing criminal complaints against those media outlets who supplied what they called “wrong information” or those reporters who went in for “insulting the president.” President, prophets: they all had, it turns out, tender egos.

Teetering in Turkey

How big of a mess is confronting Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister? By purest chance—I was on vacation—I was given a front-row seat to the disaster on Saturday night when police attacked thousands of unarmed Istanbul demonstrators attempting to assemble in Taksim Square. The authorities certainly had come prepared for a full-scale attack on those few thousands brave enough to protest. The numbers of such public dissenters are rapidly diminishing, but not, it would appear, either their motives or the degree of the dissent itself.

The Global Implications of Utah's Ruling on Polygamy

In Utah a federal judge has recently ruled unconstitutional certain portions of a law that make polygamy a crime. This is an interesting decision, especially in light of how polygamy affects the status of women both inside and outside of Utah—in, say, Saudi Arabia or Yemen. Or Canada. Or anywhere. It’s as though Judge Clark Waddoups, who in his Utah decision claimed there was no “rational basis” under law for distinguishing between a man shacking up with a few women and informal but established polygamy, had ruled in a total vacuum.

But worse than a single US judge’s decision has been the reaction from so-called respectable media outlets who believe, despite all worldwide evidence to the contrary, that the ruling struck a blow for unvarnished personal freedom.

Taking the NSA to Court

Larry Klayman is a pain in the neck—although that isn’t necessarily the part of the anatomy I’m thinking of usually whenever he contacts me. The founder of such conservative American groups as Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch, Klayman, a lawyer, has a way of intruding into the consciousness of a nation with often unusual cases and causes. I’m thinking for instance of the time he represented an ensemble dancer in the Broadway show Movin’ Out who wanted $100 million; she said she’d been fired unreasonably because of her breast size, which was evidently too large for show biz, or at least for the Billy Joel musical. There’s a first for you …

Klayman called me on that one, suggesting it was a great story. Personally, I didn’t think it was.

Al Jazeera and the Poisoning of Arafat

I really never meant to weigh in on the international controversy on how Yasir Arafat died, but of late there’s no getting away from it. Suha Arafat, his very rich widow (thanks to the piles of millions left by the man she tried to divorce “over a hundred times,” as she put it this year) claims he was poisoned by polonium. Divorce or no divorce, her grief over his death is apparently so vivid she called on the Palestinian Authority to halt peace talks with Israel, the country she felt was behind Arafat’s death. Al Jazeera, in a documentary called Killing Arafat, claims the same, taking Suha pretty much at her word, which is an interesting decision on the part of a news organization.

On the Brink of Failure in Afghanistan

US Pentagon officials reported last week that as yet no plans have been designed for a full military withdrawal from Afghanistan. But the very fact that the Obama administration is openly discussing the possibility of total withdrawal is the result of three important factors:

The UN's Absurd Stigmatization of Israel

What is it with the UN’s treatment of Israel? I am not referring simply to Joshua Muravchik’s superb essay in the current issue of this journal regarding the UN’s age-old antipathy toward the nation. I’m suggesting the UN’s single-minded attacks on Israel have of late intensified and grown even worse. Yes, it’s possible.

Negotiating to Stop Iran's Nuclear Ambitions

Of course it’s easy to sympathize with Israel’s view on Iran. When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says, as he did over the weekend, “Iran must not be armed with nuclear weapons”—well, that’s a nice ringing declaration. When French President François Hollande, on his visit to Israel, says more or less la même chose—“France will not make concessions on nuclear proliferation”—I’m sure we can all empathize with France.

Unsuspecting Heir of Nazi Art Dealer Nabbed

The other day, I received a surprise phone call from Germany. A woman I never met and had never heard of had some news that might interest me, she said: my late grandfather, German until he had to flee the country in the 1930s, had left behind what she referred to consistently as “an asset” to which her German firm had access. If my sister and I were willing to sign the contract she was about to e-mail us, that asset would be ours—minus one-third of its value, which would go to her firm.

Of course it occurred to me to ask just what this “asset” consisted of, but there I was stymied. This was information the firm wasn’t about to give us, said my caller, because, as she explained very politely, “Then you would do your own research and maybe find it yourself.”

The Flame-Haired Fatale of Britain's Phone-hacking Scandal

Here’s what Rebekah Brooks, once Rupert Murdoch’s favorite flame-haired executive and now on trial in London with her erstwhile lover (another Murdoch favorite), is guilty of:

Self-protection.

True, the former News International chief executive stands charged with approving payments to British public officials when she edited the Sun, currently Britain’s stupidest newspaper. And true too, both Brooks and her co-defendant/ex-lover Andy Coulson once edited the News of the World, which is now defunct, but used to hold the title of Britain’s stupidest newspaper. And true finally, various people working for that now extinct newspaper were fond of hacking into the telephones of actor Hugh Grant, singer Paul McCartney, various athletic hunks, assorted politicians, rival journalists, and, unfortunately, teenaged kidnap victims, and both Brooks and Coulson, not being complete idiots, had to know that the information retrieved on all of these people wasn’t very likely the result of a few psychic abilities.

Yet is tapping phones a terrible idea for anyone who works for a media outlet? Generally, yes. But maybe not in Britain.

Driving Ms. Saudi

“This is not a revolution,” Madiha al-Ajroush told the New York Times when, unaccompanied, she decided to go for a drive. “And it will not be turned into a revolution.”

Of course she’s dead wrong, and the Saudi psychologist knows she’s wrong. Her decision to try to get behind the steering wheel (she failed in that attempt) was joined by a few dozen other female Saudis who were more successful in their pursuits. And make no mistake: despite their small numbers, what those women did is definitely a revolution. Saudi Arabia’s social code prohibits women drivers. Those female citizens who need transportation also need a male driver. Without the latter, the lone woman who chooses to defy convention can find herself deprived of her liberty, her job, or both.

Spying on the French

Not for the first time, France is upset with the United States. The French government, earnestly desiring an explanation—meaning, a humiliation—summoned the American ambassador at the same time as US Secretary of State John Kerry touched down in Paris. And the US ambassador will have to perform the usual diplomatic acrobatics to avoid explaining why the US is spying on much of France.

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