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Italy comes under bond market pressure as Berlusconi clings to power

Interest rates on Italian bonds keep climbing towards the red zone.
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Silvio Berlusconi shows the pressure at yesterday's Euro Summit in Brussels. There is no relief in sight for Italy's Prime Minister as his colleagues pile pressure on him to take the necessary steps to stave off a possible sovereign debt crisis in Italy. (Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)
Italian bond yields soar into the danger zone as Silvio Berlusconi clings to power
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Europe: News round-up

While Greek crisis rumbles here's news on earthquakes in England, firebombs in Paris, and Silvio Berlusconi's next career.
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A man shows the French satirical magazine "Charlie Hebdo," featuring a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad on its cover, following a petrol bomb attack on the magazine's offices on November 2, 2011 in Paris, France. (Marc Piasecki/AFP/Getty Images)

There's more to going on in Europe than the renewed Greek crisis. Here's a round-up

Charlie Hebdo ... feel better now?

The offices of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris were firebombed yesterday. The weekly published an edition "guest edited by Muhammad" to mock the victory of the moderate Islamist An-Nadha party in Tunisia's elections two weeks ago. It also changed its name from Charlie to Sharia Hebdo (the "ch" is pronounced sh in French so the pun works.) Ho-Ho-ho

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Italy: Austerity, Berlusconi-style

ROME — One measure deals with a TV tax. Another appears aimed at Berlusconi's estranged second wife.

Infighting dogs Europe's leader as they search for a way out of euro crisis

Brussels summit shows the pressure is telling on Merkel, Sarkozy and Cameron
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Silvio Berlusconi shows the pressure at yesterday's Euro Summit in Brussels. There is no relief in sight for Italy's Prime Minister as his colleagues pile pressure on him to take the necessary steps to stave off a possible sovereign debt crisis in Italy. (Georges Gobet/AFP/Getty Images)
Sarkkozy and Merkel gang up on Berlusconi at EU summit
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Italy's Silvio Berlusconi wins confidence vote

Berlusconi, 75, has faced a series of scandals in recent months. Among his most recent gaffes are making vulgar comments about his party, the PDL, which he suggested should be renamed with an Italian slang term for female genitalia.

Europe: A very bad day all around

Around the continent bad news keeps knocking markets and people who work for governments
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Visitors look at screens in Madrid's Stock Exchange on Aug. 4, 2011 in Madrid, Spain. (Javier Soriano/AFP/Getty Images)

Bad things come in threes, my mother always said. Here are three from yesterday:

1. Italy

The country had its credit rating downgraded by Moodys three notches with a negative outlook for the future. For all the complaints about the agencies and their criteria for these pronouncements they can still shape perception about a nation's creditworthiness. The fear has to be that interest rates on Italian bonds will continue to rise, although Moody's report indicates that Italy in likely to default.

According to La Repubblica the downgrade comes "in part from risk derived from economic and political uncertainty." The focus on Italy's political uncertainty is a reminder that the bunga-bunga parties of Silvio Berlusconi are more than tabloid entertainment ... they have an effect on Italy's global economic position.

The BBC quoted Emma Marcegaglia, the head of Italy's leading industrial association, Confindustria, on the matter of Berlusconi and the ratings downgrade

"We are a serious country and we are fed up at becoming the laughing stock of the world."

When Italy has to start paying interest rates over 6% (nudging in that direction since last week) on its bonds it won't be very funny.

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As bond markets target Italy, where is Berlusconi?

ROME — Berlusconi did not appear in public to reassure international investors that Italy would avoid a Greek-style crisis.

Beach reading: Berlusconi and Amanda Knox

Two great dead-wood articles probe Italy's seedy underbelly.
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Amanda Knox arrives in court before her appeal trial March 12, 2011. Knox was sentenced to 26 years in prison for the 2007 killing of Leeds University student Kercher, 21, with whom she shared a house. (Tiziana Fabi/AFP/Getty Images)

Italy. Steeped in history. Great food. Fine fashion. Cool cars. World-class cities. A carpe-diem culture and the world's eleventh biggest economy.

What could possibly be wrong with Italy?

Two fantastic features, in July issues of Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, take stock Italy's biggest international media stories of the moment. Both are can't-put-it-down page turners.

If you're interested in Italy, or if your just looking for a good yarn, read them. You may even miss classic old-fashion, dead-wood, long-form journalism — reporting that really matters.

Rolling Stone tackles the Amanda Knox saga, in nail-biting detail. Writer Nathaniel Rich deftly unpacks the story, arguing that there's essentially no evidence that Knox killed her roomate, the "beautiful, bubbly" British exchange student Meredith Kercher.

Rather than a participant in a "satanic ritual orgy" as the prosecutor hypothesized and journalists dutifully repeated, Rich contends that Knox was just a doe-eyed ingenue, a privileged kid from Seattle Prep who even under interrogation, couldn't admit that her Italian wasn't all that fluent. She stumbled into the claws of clueless and despicable law enforcement officials who desperately needed to solve the November 2007 murder that had become tabloid fodder. Rich points out that this is hardly the first time that this particular prosecutor has played the satan card. The piece will make you cringe for the ordeal Knox and her family have endured during her incarceration. And it dutifully eviscerates the Italian justice system.

Meanwhile, in "La Dolce Viagra", Vanity Fair takes on Silvio Berlusconi's latest trip to court, on charges that he paid a under-aged girl for sex. The lead sets the tone brilliantly:

"The emperor Caligula is said to have made his horse a senator. Pope Alexander VI made his illegitimate teenage son an archbishop. In Italy today, Silvio Berlusconi has given the post of a regional deputy for Lombardy (Italy’s wealthiest and most populous region) to Nicole Minetti, a 26-year-old super-babe currently charged with procuring prostitutes for the prime minister."

And Minetti is hardly alone. Berlusconi has famously made a habit of converting pin-up girls and sex symbols into politicians: "I'm like Prince Charming," Berlusconi said, according to the article. "They were pumpkins and I turned them into parliamentarians."

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Italian voters run out of sympathy for Berlusconi

ROME — Voters rejected Berlusconi’s favored candidate on what is basically his own doorstep.

To understand Silvio Berlusconi, look at his political godfather: Bettino Craxi

ROME — For more than a decade, the names Craxi and Berlusconi were intertwined.
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