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The heat is on

Italy strikes a blow at the ‘Ndragheta organized crime organization, and warns that the Chinese mafia is next. Soccer fans crushed by the early World Cup exit get a new national team coach. Saharan winds scorch Italy. Berlusconi promises to resign if his $32 billion austerity isn’t passed. And George Clooney

Top News: Italy’s most impenetrable organized crime organization, the ‘Ndragheta, was dealt a major blow when police arrested 300 alleged members, including Domenico Oppedisano, reported to be the organization’s 80-year-old kingpin.

The arrests were made after a series of simultaneous raids across the northern Italian commercial interests in northern Italy and it’s home in Calabria, the region at the tip of the toe of Italy’s boot-shaped peninsula. The raids featured some 3,000 law enforcement officials.  It may have also included arrests in the U.S., where officials said they dealt a blow to ‘Ndragheta’s operations connected to the South American drug trade.

But the ‘Ndragheta was not the only organized crime operation in the news in recent weeks: the Italian government also said it would start taking steps to combat the Chinese Mafia, which has gained a foothold in Italy with revenue sources that include prostitution, money laundering, and producing knock offs of designer Italian fashion items.

Most of Italy finds itself in the grips of a record-setting heat wave, sparking health fears of health risks for the elderly, small children, and the ill, as well as an increased risk of forest fires. Of Italy’s 27 largest cities, 19 were on high alert for heat-related problems, sparked by hot air blown north from the Sahara Desert as the government set up an emergency hotline to help people cope with the soaring temperatures, which could last until the end of the month.

Italy was quick to act after its unexpectedly meek exit from the World Cup, which took place with thedefending world champions eliminated after failing to win a single victory out of their first three matches. Within hours of the country’s 3-2 defeat to Slovakia, the country’s national soccer federation fired Marcello Lippi, the architect of Italy’s 2006 World Cup triumph, and replaced him with former Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli. It was just the third time in history Italy exited so early from World Cup play, prompting some Italian media to say the team was Italy’s worst-ever national side.

Money: The Italian Senate this month voted on a two-year austerity budget aimed at cutting government spending by €25 billion ($32 billion), a move Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said was so important that he promised to resign if it is not passed.  Berlusconi’s allies said they hoped the measure, which includes lower taxes and government belt-tightening, would ease pressure on the beleaguered prime minister, who is suffering from political infighting in his coalition and widening corruption scandals. The final vote for the measure in Italy’s lower house of parliament, where Berlusconi’s government enjoys a comfortable majority, is expected by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, the Italian economy is showing slight signs of recovery, with economic production on the rise, aided by a weak euro currency, though unemployment continues to inch higher. The head of the Central Reserve Bank of Italy said banks are ready for a series of planned “stress tests” aimed at determining whether the institutions are adequately capitalized, though it seems they are still slow to loan out capital.

At least intentionally. Unintentionally, though, Italian banks are the most generous in Europe, responsible fornearly half of all the bank robberies in the European Union. Statistics show that Italian banks suffered 1,744 robberies in 2009, six times more than in Germany and 20 times more than in the U.K. The robberies cost Italian banks $47.1 million last year, though statistics show that number dropped from $55 million a year earlier.

Elsewhere: Actor George Clooney appeared in a Milan court this month in connection with a case against Italian businessman Vincenzo Cannalire, who used Clooney’s name to launch a clothing line — and, apparently, to charm fans gathered at the courthouse as well. News reports said that the judge was forced to repeatedly tell those in the courtroom to stop their whistling and applause, and he even had one woman removed after she refused to stop taking photographs of the 49-year-old actor.

Clooney is no stranger to Italy, with a villa on Lake Como in northern part of the country, and a well-publicized romance with Italian beauty and sometimes underwear model Elisabetta Canalis. Clooney, a regular at Italy's Venice Film Festival, made his latest film, “The American,” in the earthquake-stricken region of Abruzzo after promising homeless residents there he would do so after visiting the region during last year’s G-8 summit.

http://www.globalpost.com/passport/italy/100720/the-heat