ITALY – Venice ‘beginning to resemble Swiss cheese’

ROME | Venice’s historic buildings and canals are riven with so many cracks and holes that the city is beginning to resemble a giant piece of Swiss cheese, gondoliers have said.

Canal banks are crumbling because of a lack of maintenance and cracks are appearing in centuries-old palaces along the Grand Canal, the boat operators claim.

“You only have to take a tour of the canals by boat to realize straightaway that the historic center is like a lump of Gruyere [cheese],” said Aldo Reato, the head of the gondoliers’ association.

He said the city was suffering because of cuts in the funding that it used to receive from the central government in Rome under a special grant.

His warning came after a section of canal bank close to Piazzale Roma, one of the Italian city’s main squares, recently collapsed.

Heritage campaigners [preservationists] blamed the incident on the building of a new luxury hotel nearby.

Alessandro Maggioni, the city councilor in charge of public works, said Venice needed 60 million euros (almost $78 million) just to carry out routine maintenance and repair work.

“Everyone can see the problems that Venice has but we are impotent because we need money that the city simply does not have,” he said.

The erosion of Venice’s canal banks has been blamed in part on the increasing number of giant cruise ships which visit the World Heritage site.  (watch a video under “Resources” below)

An international group of heritage experts, authors and academics this week wrote an open letter to Mario Monti, the Italian prime minister, calling for ships of more than 40,000 tons to be banned from entering St Mark’s Basin and the Guidecca Canal, a passage of water which runs between Venice proper and the island of Giudecca.

They said the city’s unique architectural fabric was being seriously damaged by “the increasing, invasive and uncontrolled presence of enormous cruise liners in the lagoon.  “Their presence arouses fears of serious environmental damage and jeopardizes the conservation of Venice’s artistic heritage.” …

CHINA – Government ‘to reform labor camps’

China’s Communist government has given its most concrete commitment yet to reforming their controversial labor camps, which allow the regime to imprison opponents without a trial.

Jiang Wei, the head of a government committee on judicial reform, said the government has found widespread agreement among legal scholars and lawmakers on the need to reform the labor camp detention system, and an overhaul is being devised based on that consensus.

Mr. Jiang’s comments were the firmest indication that after years of debate the government is preparing to revise but not abolish the system – known as “re-education through labor” – that critics say tramples civil rights and is prone to abuse.

Some 190,000 Chinese were being held in 320 re-education centers in 2009, according to a UN Human Rights Council report – in addition to an estimated 1.6 million Chinese held in the formal prison system.

Introduced in the 1950s, labor re-education was originally meant for opponents of the Communist regime. Today, the system allows police to jail people for three years without trial, and a fourth year can be added for bad behavior. While often used for drug abusers, prostitutes and others accused of minor offenses, labor camps have also been used to silence government critics and punish practitioners of the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

Mr. Jiang, speaking at a news conference, said that the system “plays an important role in maintaining social order,” suggesting that the government is unwilling to consider getting rid of it. But, he said, Chinese society had “reached a consensus on the need to reform the re-education through labor system.”

Public criticism over the system has been rising, most recently in August after a woman in Hunan province was sentenced to 18 months in a camp because she demanded tougher penalties for the seven men convicted of abducting, raping and prostituting her 11-year-old daughter.

Tang Hui, the crusading mother who petitioned courts and local government officials, was released within a week following an outcry from [many, including] bloggers and even state media.

ISRAEL – Netanyahu Calls for Early Elections, Seeking Third Term

JERUSALEM | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for new parliamentary elections in early 2013 instead of the originally scheduled October date, hoping to take advantage of favorable poll numbers and a weakened parliamentary opposition to win a third term in office.

Although Mr. Netanyahu didn’t pick a date, many experts expect a vote by February. That would free up Mr. Netanyahu to focus on what he says is steady progress by Iran toward building a nuclear weapon.

In a brief prime-time televised address, Mr. Netanyahu said an early vote was necessary to strengthen his hand against coalition partners who would become increasingly demanding in passing a new budget as Israel’s government enters its final year in office.

Such a move, he reasoned, is necessary to steady Israel’s economy and national security amid the global economic upheaval and the instability in the Middle East triggered by the Arab Spring. Chief among the national-security challenges for Israel is preventing Iran from obtaining an nuclear weapon, he said, hinting at what many analysts here expect to be one of the main themes of his campaign.

During his speech in September at the United Nations General Assembly, Mr. Netanyahu said the Iranians will obtain enough enriched uranium by next summer, crossing what he called a “red line” that should trigger military action. …

On Tuesday, Mr. Netanyahu also argued that spending demands of coalition partners in budget negotiations would expose Israel to the type of financial instability experienced by some European countries in the past two years. Israel’s export-dependent economy is experiencing slowing growth this year, requiring controversial budget cuts.

“I have reached a decision that it is impossible to pass a responsible budget,” Mr. Netanyahu said. “Facing two upheavals around us, economic and security, it is my obligation to put the national interest above all else. Therefore, I have decided that the good of the state of Israel requires holding elections now,” he said.

Mr. Netanyahu also said that Israel faces challenges to secure its borders at a time when neighbors are experiencing political turmoil—a reference to Egypt and Syria. …

(The news briefs above are from wire reports and staff reports posted at London’s Daily Telegraph on Oct. 11 and Oct. 9 and The Wall Street Journal on Oct. 9.)


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1. For each of the 3 countries, give the following information:
a) location/the countries that share its borders
b) the religious breakdown of the population
c) the type of government
d) the chief of state (and head of government if different) [If monarch or dictator, since what date has he/she ruled? – include name of heir apparent for monarch]e) the population

[Find the answers at the CIA World FactBook website. For each country, answers can be found under the “Geography” “People” and “Government” headings.  Go to for a list of continents.]

2. For ITALY:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) List three factors contributing to the erosion of Venice’s buildings.
c) Watch the video under “Resources” below. Cruise ships could possible bring a lot of tourist or tax dollars to Venice.  Travelers enjoy close up views from their cruise ships.  Do you think cruise ships should be allowed to sail this close to the canals of Venice?  Explain your answer.

3. For CHINA:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) China’s labor camps allow police to jail people for three years without trial. Were you aware of China’s labor camps?  

4. For ISRAEL:
a) list the who, what, where and when of the news item
b) Why has Mr. Netanyahu called for early elections?



  • Venice is a city in northeast Italy sited on a group of 118 small islands separated by canals and linked by bridges.
  • It is located in the marshy Venetian Lagoon which stretches along the shoreline between the mouths of two rivers.
  • Venice is renowned for the beauty of its setting, its architecture and its artworks.
  • The city in its entirety is listed as a World Heritage Site, along with its lagoon. (from wikipeida)
  • CHINA:

    • Re-education through labor (láojiào) is a system of administrative detentions in the People’s Republic of China which is generally used to detain persons for minor crimes such as petty theft, prostitution, and trafficking illegal drugs, as well as religious or political dissidents such as unregistered Christians or Falun Gong adherents.
    • Sentences typically span one to three years, with the possibility of an additional one-year extension.
    • Re-education through labor sentences are issued as a form of administrative punishment by police, rather than through the judicial system.
    • While incarcerated, detainees are often subject to some form of political education.
    • Torture, sometimes resulting in death, has also been reported in labor camps.
    • The re-education through labor system has been in place since 1957 and was subjected to minor reforms by the Chinese government in 2007.
    • Estimates on the number of RTL detainees on any given year ranges from 190,000 to 2 million.
    • China Daily in 2007 estimated that there were a total of 310 re-education centers in China at that time. (from wikipedia)

    Israel is governed by a multi-party parliamentary system.

    The President of the State of Israel fulfills mainly ceremonial duties and is not a part of the three branches of government.

    • The legislative authority: The Knesset, Israel’s Parliament, includes 120 members elected for a term of four years in nationwide elections.
    • The executive authority: The government headed by the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is elected in nationwide elections for a period of four years. All recent governments were formed by a coalition of parties. The Ministers that head the government ministries are appointed by the Prime Minister generally from among the ranks of the parties in the coalition.
    • Judicial system and courts

    The Knesset elections are supposed to take place every four years. The Knesset can decide, by an ordinary majority, to dissolve itself and call for early elections. Under the direct vote for Prime Minister system, the Prime Minister could notify the President of early elections. (from


    With the standoff between Iran and the West approaching a critical point, a new mandate from voters would bolster the Israeli prime minister’s agenda to pursue an aggressive public campaign against Iran that has included dangling a potential attack. A victory at the polls would dull criticism of some prominent Israelis who have spoken out against a lone strike, while it would strengthen Mr. Netanyahu to press U.S. and European leaders for tougher action.

    “It looks good for him. Right now the opinion polls are quite stable,” said Gideon Rahat, a political-science professor at Hebrew University. “It seems he will be re-elected, and he will be able to renew his mandate.”

    Mr. Netanyahu has an advantage in polls on security, but he is vulnerable on economic issues.. Even as Israel’s economy has remained stable amid Europe’s financial crisis, hundreds of thousands of Israelis last year demonstrated to reduce income inequality and to limit inflation—a protest wave that exposed a potential liability. (from the wsj brief above)


    ITALY – video:
    **gets interesting about 24 seconds into the video:

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