Friday, July 11, 2003

Foot-in-mouth disease seems to be spreading. Consider Silvio Berlusconi, the prime minister of Italy. The guy is used to dealing with problems his way; he dealt with a corruption trial by getting a bill through parliament which effectively declared him above the law. But upon assuming the EU presidency, he found that tactic has its limits; when he suggested a German MEP might make a good concentration camp guard in a movie, he found, much to his surprise, that the Germans didn't take it as a harmless little jape.

And barely was that fracas smoothed over (with expressions of "regret" which stopped conspicuously short of an apology), then he had another problem to deal with -- one of his ministers described German tourists as ''hyper-nationalistic blondes'' who ''loudly invaded'' Italian beaches, and "arrogant beer guzzlers" who hold ''noisy burping contests,'' prompting German premier Gerhard Schroder to cancel his Italian vacation, and threatening the entire Italian tourist industry, which relies heavily on the Germans.

The obvious solution in this case would be to ditch the underling, but that may not be easy -- he's a member of the Northern League, which is agitating for more government responsibilities, and hardly wants to lose a position.

Oh yes, the specific responsibility of the minister who made these latest remarks? Promoting tourism...


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