About Paolo Pontoniere
Paolo Pontoniere is a Neapolitan Journalist, who has been living in California for years and writes for major Italian media. Paraphrasing Charles V of Bourbon he would say that his interests curiosity never rests.
From Stones to sex, from science to conscience, from politics to pandemics, he follows with equal passion all events of which it is worth telling a story. Twists and turns of life led him to become an economic reporter, but as it happened with the Che, it was all due to a misunderstanding.
When his editors at the time asked during an editorial meeting if anybody knew anything about the economy he said yes, but he meant to say that to survive he didn’t need much. You see it was one of those artsy copy offices, full of practitioners of experimental arts; dreamers who breathed big ideas, had high minded ideals and lived on nothing else but sandwiches and cigarettes. Now things are different though. To live and work in Baghdad By the Bay one needs serious money, and he says, he too now understands the real Economy.
He can also be read at Glocanomica.com, as well as in some of Italy’s leading media like L’espresso, and Repubblica.it.
Latest Posts by Paolo Pontoniere
Lately I’ve been really intrigued by the so called Buffett Rule. On the impact it would have on the US deficit–null–and on the impact it would have on future taxpayers, profound. I can’t help but thing that is kind of weird for somebody who has been (and still is) in the running for becoming the richest man on the planet to propose to strongly increase tax imposition for people making more than a million buck a year. And in fact his 30 per cent tax on earned income would do nothing to curb, or contain the mind boggling growth of his wealth. On the contrary rather than diminishing it would set it in stone. And this is why.
Buffet became rich taking advantage of all the tax writeoffs and loopholes approved by US administrations since the end of World War II. Not only that, but the tax rate at which he was taxed has been instrumental not only to the preservation of his wealth but also to its growth. Now he is proposing to put an end to this shame. But mind you he sits already on top of about $50 billion of personal wealth.
A doubling of his income tax rate–event a tripling–would do nothing to fill the gap between him and the majority of Americans who, if they lose their job or become ill, have zero or less than a month of savings to rely upon to face the loss of income. What the Buffett Rule will do instead is to make sure that in the future to become a super-rich (like Buffett and his piers) people would have to work much harder than Warren (or any other of the Forbes’ super-rich) has ever done . In fact I am not quite sure that in such a scenario anybody would ever be able to amass a fortune comparable to Warren’s again, and furthermore with such easiness.
The introduction of the Buffett Rule would transform Buffett’s (and his current piers) super-rich status almost into a God-given right. Like feudal nobility passed along from father–or mother–to offspring via birth right. Different story would be if the tax could be applied to assets, incrementally and up to 100 per cent of their value in excess of a certain (agreed upon) threshold. Now, I bet, this would push people to invest, and to keep their money mobile, thus creating jobs and redistributing wealth. But this is just pol-fi (political fiction) because it would be real reform. Or wouldn’t it?
Now somebody may think that I am a fool. And they’re not totally wrong there. But if I am a fool I am in good company. Institutions like the Financial Times and some of America’s most read bloggers support a similar point of view. Here’s what they write:
“The Financial Times, in an editorial, noticed that the income tax increases Buffett suggests will barely apply to him, because most of his wealth is in the form of unrealized capital gains, which don’t count as taxable income or capital gains of the sort he proposes to raise taxes on. If anything, raising such taxes would actually improve Buffett’s position relative to the other wealthy people against whom he competes to acquire businesses. It would also help him to achieve his longtime goal, as his wife Susan described it in her own Charlie Rose interview three months before her death in 2004, of being “the richest man in the world.” The Financial Times suggested that in Buffett’s case, “shared sacrifice probably requires a wealth tax. Set at a modest 2 percent, he would owe about $1 billion a year, or 25 times his current taxable income.” (The Buffett Gambit, Ira Stoll, Commentary, October 2011)
Musei Capitolini in Rome are lending San Francisco one of their greatest treasures, the remarkable Baroque masterpiece The Medusa by Gian Lorenzo Bernini (1598–1680), one of art history’s finest sculptors and a leading figure in Italian Baroque art and architecture.
Recent conservation efforts have restored this sculptural triumph to its full glory and revealed previously hidden artistic techniques.
Believed to date from around 1638 to 1648, this extraordinary work takes its subject from classical mythology, as cited in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. It shows the beautiful Medusa, one of the Gorgon sisters, caught in the terrible process of transformation into a monster.
The Medusa will be displayed exclusively in the U.S. at the Legion of Honor in the museum’s Baroque gallery 6, where it can be seen in context with the Museums’ great collections of paintings and sculpture from the era of Bernini.
Dates are November 17, 2011 through February 19, 2012
100 years have gone by since The Girl of the Golden West ( La Fanciulla del West) opened for the first time at the MET of New York, and not much has changed about immigration. People still leave behind all they love in the attempt to provide for their family, not matter how harsh living conditions will be in the new country or the risks that they will face to reach it. This is true now and it was true at the time of the Gold Rush.
“They die in the mud like dogs”, says Minnie, Puccini’s heroine, talking about the abnegation of the miners and their dedication to their families. Puccini had set La Fanciulla del Golden West in the Sierras at a time when people were arriving from all over the world to mine the hills of Northern California for gold, and not just to get rich quickly but also to build a new future for themselves and their people.
Minnie’s aria (soprano Deborah Voigt) is so touching that Dick Johnson (Italian tenor Salvatore Licitra, making his debut in San Francisco), a bandit who had come to rob her, not only changes his ways renouncing to his bad deeds but falls also in love with her.
For immigrants the story its still the same today as it was at the time of the Golden Rush, and for some aspects maybe even worse. In fact to get to their Eldorado immigrants not longer die just cracking stones in the mud, as it still happens in many African and Brazilian mines. Now they perish also crossing the sandy desert at the border between the US and Mexico, the span of Mediterranean sea stretching from Libya to southern Italy, and the Adriatic basin separating Albania from Puglia, to name just a few of the deadliest migratory routes in the world.
Immigration, which ends up being always an engine of growth and transformation for the host country, nowadays has assumed mostly a bad connotation. Immigrants have become once again international pariah. In Italy, in the US, and wherever there’s a border, people moving from regions of great poverty to regions of wealth and abundance face exceptional challenges, xenophobic policies and great public aversion. Immigrants not banks and/or offshoring are deemed to be the cause of the persistent instability affecting the labor market in western countries. According to some pundits (and the demagogues who are constantly stirring the ethnic melting pot for political gain), unemployment is caused by scores of poor accepting the most menial jobs offered by rich countries, jobs mind you that in those countries nobody wants to do. Downsizing, outsourcing, offshoring and consolidating don’t register even a peep on the scale of public passionate indignation.
But that is besides the point. The point of this post is that immigrants, their vicissitudes and adventures provide always a great deal of material for works of art of epic proportions, as it happens in the case (lupus in fabula), of Puccini’s The Girl of the Golden West, an opera currently–skillfully–staged by the San Francisco Opera. In calendar until July 2nd, thanks a collaboration between Il Teatro Massimo of Palermo and SF’’s Opera, la Fanciulla under the inspirational and energetic conduction of Maestro Nicola Luisotti, and the artistic direction of the Massimo’s Lorenzo Mariani, is an elegy to the struggle of the miners who came to California during the Gold Rush, and at the same time an ode to the redeeming power of love. The love that a self reliant woman had bestowed for years on an encampment of gold scavengers and which now is being stolen by a passionate bandit.
What to say? Minnie won’t be the last good girl falling for a bad man, however in Puccini’s opera Minnie’s love is a cathartic event. It justify the law and its exception. It substatntiates people’s right to have a second opportunity in life, its the transformational food through which evil, rancor and revenge transmute into understanding, generates compassion and entices empathy. In this sense it is love which opens the door of the American dream to people of all walks, to homesick farmers coming from Scotland in search of better fortune, and to bandits of Latin origins looking for a chance to redeem themselves. What a solace it must have been to arrive to California for Italians who left Italy in scores after the unification, escaping unemployment, famine, and political persecution in search of a land where to start anew. With La Fanciulla del Golden West Puccini not only rewrote musical rules, and gave America an indigenous opera culture, but he also re-framed the discourse on immigration. He pushed it out of dichotomous contradiction of locals versus foreigners moving it into a new dimension where different cultures, traditions, and beliefs can cooperate to create a new–better–understanding of what it means to construct a modern, and more just society. Bravo Puccini. Bravo SF Opera!
And here’s a photo to recap the presentation of La Fanciulla at the Italian Cultural Institute of San Francisco:
An oil well still spilling millions of liters of goop into the Atlantic Ocean. Winds of war are sweeping over Iran and North Korea. Europe’s euro is being flushed down the drain. Africa is still a mess, and Pontoniere chooses to toast Lorenzo Scarpone of Villa Italia, wine maker extraordinaire from the San Francisco Bay Area and Guardia Vomano, in Abbruzzi. He has his priorities really well set, one could say. And If it wasn’t for the fact that Lorenzo is one of those unsung heroes of the dietary revolution that is sweeping over America’s pantries, the remark would be more than called for.
Of course Lorenzo is a personal friend, it goes with the territory. However he is also the conduit through which Alice Waters meet Carlo Petrini and the idea of locally grown organic food transmuted into the Liberty Garden at the White House and thousands of school gardens around the US.
Lorenzo, arrived to the US in 1987 and since the beginning became a leader of the Slow Food movement in America. In 1990 he
founded San Francisco’s Convivium, the first chapter of Slow Food in the US, which later morphed into Slow Food Nation, a mega event on sustainable culinary practices to which every year participate tens of thousands of people. Lorenzo is also the creator of The Golden Glass, an annual educational event on artisan wine making from around the world. Great part of the proceeds from Lorenzo’s events support Slow Food’s programs for the schools, for kids living in disadvantaged neighborhoods and for the creation of what has been dubbed The Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste, an initiative aiming to protect traditional foods at risk of extinction. Vironomics it is also about describing how fragments of DNA from alien economies and cultures inscribe themselves into the genome the American market. Lorenzo’s initiatives in this direction are as viral as it gets. Let’s toast him on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the foundation of Villa Italia, the company through which he is popularizing (with the aim to preserve them form extinction) some of Italy’s rarest wines.
Some takes at this year Golden Glass
The year…probably 2011, the location… the Atlantic Basin. Marine life?…completely gone. In 2010, while the rest of the world slept, BP and the US destroyed our oceans.
If it hadn’t been enough dealing with the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, and the ensuing nanomerization of plastic that is killing marine life, now we have to deal also with the Big Oceanic Oil Gunk.
A mix of incompetence, political ineptness, technical ignorance and wild cow-boy style (in truth we should say Victorian style, since we’re talking about a British firm) mining operations are bringing oceanic life to the brink of extinction. The Gulf spill is an international crisis not just an American problem. Instead of discussing how to punish Iran for its budding nuclear program, superpowers at the UN would do better discussing how to tap international expertise to stop this marine holocaust. Maybe we should ask the Iranians, they seem to know how to do it.
Nothing better than the metaphor coined by Italy’s Alessandro Manzoni to describe Don Abbondio’s predicament in The Bethroted, “I Promessi Sposi”, to illustrate Europe’s current untenable economic position. “A vessel of fragile earthenware, obliged to journey in company with many vessels of iron”, that is Don Abbondio in Manzoni’s epic, un vaso di terra cotta, costretto a viaggiare in compagnia di molti vasi di ferro. Fast-forward to today’s Europe, and position it in between the US and China, and tell me…what do you see?
The weak prelate facing bravacci’s aggressiveness doesn’t have many chances at becoming a leader, it doesn’t take much to imagine how he’s going to end up if he doesn’t watch out. The current European crisis shows that without fiscal unification the Euro is an empty dress, a currency with not roots that can be easily brought down by a negative credit rating on one of its smallest economies.
Now, can you imagine the dollar falling at a 4 years low because Alabama cannot repay the interest on the bonds it issued to cover its debt? Well, you’ll say, the US is a federation, Alabama is just but one of its many states, it is the fiscal solvency of the nation that sets the value of the dollar not that of its states. And that is precisely the point. Without full unification the future for Europe looks very, but very shaky. Just about like Don Abbondio, Europe is a vase of clay traveling among two–the US and China–made of titanium.
It was a meeting of high-powered Italian scientists working in California, the one which was held last April 19, at Cadence Research Laboratories in Berkeley. Organized by the Italian Scientist in North-America Foundation, the event brought together some of the most brilliant Italian minds of the region and a good number of movers and shakers on the side of policing and venture capitals. Presided by Prof. Terenzio Scapolla of ICISF, and by San Francisco’s Italian Consul General Fabrizio Marcelli, the event honored also the work of geologist Walter Alvarez, a Earth and Planetary Science professor at UC Berkeley. Alvarez is the scientist who proved–against all odd and in spite of colleagues’ derision–that indeed dinosaurs had been extinct by a cataclysmic event, a high speed impact between a massive meteorite and the Earth. Alvarez, who conceived the theory while working in Italy with Italian geologist, and who is very familiar with our country, was awarded the title of Knight of the Italian Republic. Noticeable also the presence of Napoleone Ferrara, a Genetech researcher and the man who discovered avastina, of Prof. Alberto Salleo, who teaches Materials Science and Engineering at Stanford University, and of professors Marina Santilli and Giorgio Einaudi of ISSNAF governing committee. In attendance were also Jeff Capaccio, Regional Vice-president of the National Italian American Foundation and founder of the Silicon Valley Italian American Executive Council; Italian Cultural Institute’s director Amelia Carpenito-Antonucci, and many others whose names the reader will excuse me if I fail to mention. Here’s a link for those who would like to know more about ISSNAF and the meeting.
Hers’ the ISSNAF in the words of the meeting organizers:
Italian scientists and scholars excel at many levels in the United States and, collectively, bring a wealth of knowledge and talent in fields ranging from engineering to medicine, from mathematics and physics to biology, humanities and arts. Among Italian scientists in the US there are four Nobel laureates, two Balzan Prize winners, two Maxwell Prize, and one Field Medal winner. Many are members of the National Academies. They are among the founding members of the Italian Scientists and Scholars in North America Foundation (ISSNAF), a nonprofit organization that promotes R&D interaction among Italian scientists and between Italy and the US.
And here’s a few photos of the event, enjoy: (photos Business Association Italy America)
Another season another burst of Italianism in the San Francisco’s Bay Area. It must be the spring, or the fact that Italian-American are not longer ashamed of their ethnicity, after all Ethnic is so in now in the US, but the Miss Italia-USA California Pageant which was held in Sausalito was a roarin’ success. 12 contestant, an interesting Polaroid of how how ethnicity has evolved in the Golden State, took stage at the Gene Hiller Building were flanked by Samantha Ferro and Manuel De Peppe as hosts and entertained by Don Novello, the infamous Father Sarducci of then Saturday Night Live, and E Street’s saxophonist Clarence Clemons. Besides some inanities relating to the Mafia, certainly due to an inebriated state of mind of the lady who proffered them, the night was a swell, and here are the photos to prove it.
Great success also for the Cuticchio Pupi’s Company. Coming form Palermo the Cuticchios, sons and daughters of art, from Marin to San Francisco to Stanford astonished the public and academics alike. I had a chance to see them at the symposium Mad Orlando’s Legacy at the Stanford University I cannot tell you the beauty of the show, the great acting abilities of the Cuticchios and the level of innovation they brought to the genera.
Here too some photos and a video.