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The Morning Dispatch: Giorgia Meloni to Become Italy’s New Prime Minister
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The Morning Dispatch: Giorgia Meloni to Become Italy’s New Prime Minister

To some observers, Meloni’s election is the latest and most extreme example of a European country turning to the far-right.

Happy Tuesday! You know that old Johnny Cash lyric, “I shot a man in Reno, just to watch him die?” Well, NASA scientists on Monday crashed a $300 million spacecraft into an asteroid 7 million miles away at more than 14,000 miles per hour—just to see if they could. 

“DART’s success provides a significant addition to the essential toolbox we must have to protect Earth from a devastating impact by an asteroid,” said Lindley Johnson, NASA’s planetary defense officer. Click below for arguably the most consequential stop-motion video of all time.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Tropical Storm Ian strengthened into a Category 2 hurricane on Monday and is set to pummel Cuba today with heavy rain and winds over 100 miles per hour en route to western Florida. Most of Florida’s Gulf Coast residents are under evacuation orders, and school districts in 24 counties have announced closures in preparation for the storm, with more likely on the way. “We’re expecting sustained tropical or hurricane winds to our barrier islands and coastal communities for as long as 48 hours, with the earliest arrival predicted for 8 p.m. Tuesday,” Manatee County Administrator Scott Hopes said. “This is a worst-case scenario with a very strong slow-moving storm just to the west of us.” 

  • At least two Russian military recruitment centers were attacked on Monday—one by a man with a homemade gun, another by a man with Molotov cocktails—days after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization in support of his war in Ukraine. Desperate not to be sent to the front lines, scores of fighting-age Russian men are attempting to flee the country, clogging airports and border checkpoints en route to Georgia, Turkey, and elsewhere in eastern Europe. According to Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, Putin has not decided whether to close the border or implement martial law to stifle dissent. 

  • Iranian state-aligned media reported Monday that, for the second time in less than a week, the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched a series of drone and artillery strikes yesterday attacking Kurdish separatists in northern Iraq—allegedly in response to those separatists’ material and moral support for the mass protests currently raging inside Iran. A member of the Kurdish group targeted claimed there were no casualties.

  • The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimated Monday that President Joe Biden’s decision last month to extend the pause on federal student loan repayments through December and unilaterally cancel up to $20,000 in student loan debt for individual borrowers currently making less than $125,000 per year will cost taxpayers $420 billion over the next decade. The CBO analysis did not take into account Biden’s plan to reduce borrowers’ income-driven repayment plan liabilities, but the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget calculated that provision would cost an additional $120 billion. The White House pushed back on the CBO estimate, claiming that, although they’d be “thrilled” if 90 percent of eligible borrowers take advantage of the programs as the CBO assumes, “unfortunately, that’s unlikely.”

  • Average apartment rents in the United States fell month-over-month in August for the first time in nearly two years, according to separate analyses from CoStar Group, Rent.com, and Realtor.com, coming down slightly from all-time highs. The modest drop last month pales in comparison to the surge in asking rents since 2020, but could reflect both typical seasonal effects and an overall weakening in consumer sentiment. The cooling—if it continues—likely won’t show up in headline inflation numbers until early 2023, because the rent portion of the consumer price index is calculated on a six-month lag.

  • Apple announced Monday it has already begun manufacturing its new iPhone 14 in India, just weeks after the updated product launched and months earlier than previously expected. Production of the company’s newest line of phones typically begins in Chinese factories because of existing supply-chain efficiencies, with some of it shifting to India after six to nine months. The move is likely indicative of Western companies’ newfound desire to limit reliance on China amid economic uncertainty and geopolitical tensions.

  • The Centers for Disease Control updated its guidance for health care settings in recent days, removing its pandemic-era recommendation that health care personnel wear masks or respirators at all times. If community transmission levels are not “high”—currently the case in about 30 percent of the country—health care facilities can “choose not to require” universal masking, according to the updated guidance. 

  • The White House confirmed Monday that Vice President Kamala Harris—in Asia for former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s funeral—will travel to the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea on Thursday. The visit will come days after North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile about 400 miles off its east coast and into the sea.

  • The Dow Jones Industrial Average entered its first bear market since March 2020 yesterday after the index fell another 330 points, bringing it down at least 20 percent from the previous peak. The S&P 500 fell more than 1 percent on Monday as well, bringing the index to its lowest level of the year. Analysts have attributed the sell-off to investor concerns about rising interest rates, currency collapses, and a possible recession.

Italy Joins a String of Right-Wing Wins

(Photo by Valeria Ferraro/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images.)

Giorgia Meloni says she’s different now.

The 45-year-old politician is slated to become Italy’s first female prime minister after her coalition of center-right and right-wing parties won about 44 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections this weekend. Her own Brothers of Italy party received a plurality of the vote, a commanding 26 percent. To some observers, Meloni’s election is the latest and most extreme example of a European country turning to the far-right. To others, her victory represents a much-needed repudiation of the center-left coalitions that have governed Italy—and Europe—for years.

Meloni’s past offers reasons for raised eyebrows. In 1992, she joined the youth wing of the neo-fascist Italian Social Movement, and the Brothers of Italy party she helped found in 2012 mimics that party’s logo. In 1996, she called Benito Mussolini a “good politician” and declared that “all that he did, he did for Italy.” Her promises to defend God, the homeland, and the family mirror a Mussolini-era fascist slogan—though she argues the idea itself isn’t fascist. She wrote in her 2021 book that Vladimir Putin’s Russia “defends European values and Christian identity”—though Putin fandom isn’t a unique affliction in Italy, and Meloni is hardly the prime culprit. Her likely coalition partners—anti-immigrant and anti-euro Matteo Salvini and the more centrist former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi—are historically Putin boosters.

Meloni has also ruffled liberal feathers by painting socially conservative values as under attack by globalist leftists. “I am Giorgia, I am a woman, I am a mother, I am Italian, I am Christian,” she declared at a rally a few years ago. She opposes adoption and surrogacy by gay couples and advocates for a crackdown on immigration to Italy. “The smart approach is: You come to my house according to my rules,” Meloni told the Washington Post earlier this month. And like other Brothers of Italy leaders, Meloni has described the European Central Bank as a hub of “usurers and lobbyists.”

But that was then. Meloni’s take on social issues hasn’t changed, but she’s distanced herself from fascism and emphasized fiscal issues and strong transatlantic and European ties during her campaign. She promptly and unreservedly condemned Russia’ invasion of Ukraine and has firmly supported NATO and weapons for Ukraine. She acknowledged to the New York Times recently that, “Yeah,” Mussolini was evil and said in August that her party had “handed fascism to history decades ago.” Shortly before the elections, Brothers of Italy quickly suspended a party candidate after it was reported he had praised Adolf Hitler in 2014 and described Meloni in 2016 as a “modern fascist.”

She’s also shifted her views on Italy’s role in Europe and the world. Since 2019, Brothers of Italy has abandoned its formerly staunch support for dissolving the Eurozone, and while Meloni has promised that Italy will now start “defending its interests” within the bloc, she’s compared this shift to Germany’s unapologetic pursuit of its economic and foreign policy interests within the confines of the EU rather than a desire to break away from the body entirely. Meloni has cultivated close ties with outgoing prime minister Mario Draghi, a technocrat and firm supporter of Italy’s involvement in the European Union. Economic factors will also help bind Italy to the European Union: The country is the biggest beneficiary of EU COVID-19 aid, carries debt to the tune of 150 percent of gross domestic product, and—like all of Europe—is battling inflation and high energy prices.

Despite all the headlines, Meloni doesn’t seem to have a truly resounding mandate from Italian voters: The elections saw a lowest-ever turnout with about 64 percent voter participation. Meloni’s party was the only one to stay outside Draghi’s ruling coalition, suggesting this weekend’s victory is a matter of scooping up frustrated voters—as well as a reflection of the left’s inability to form a coherent opposition. “There were a lot of people in [center] parties that were saying, ‘Well, [Draghi’s] coalition is disappointing, we’ve got everyone in here and yet we’re recklessly spending money, we can’t control the borders, we can’t get the right line on Ukraine,’” Robert Tyler, senior policy adviser at New Direction—a Margaret Thatcher-founded, free-market think tank aimed at reforming the EU—told The Dispatch. “That’s why she became such an attractive alternative.”

Italians have reasons to be seeking fresh leadership. Youth unemployment has been on the rise since 2019 and hit nearly 31 percent in 2021. The country’s population sank below 60 million for the first time in 2020 and the national statistics agency projects it will drop by another 5 million within 30 years thanks to a slowing birthrate and emigration. And its economy is slowing, expected to grow just 0.4 percent next year according to economists surveyed by Bloomberg.

Meloni’s rise mirrors election results elsewhere. The Swedish Democrats—once considered extremist but morphing recently into a more mainstream conservative group—recently led a right-wing coalition to a narrow victory. France’s far-right National Rally party, led by Marine Le Pen, made it to the final round of elections for the second time before falling to President* Emmanuel Macron. Canada’s conservative party recently chose a strongly populist leader.

There are lots of reasons for these wins—our editor suggested we write a 5,000-word article exploring the trend. For now, Tyler offered one suggestion. “I think it’s partly to do with people rallying around the flag a little bit because they’re afraid,” he said. “They’ve got the risk of high energy prices coming in because of the war in Europe for the first time in decades. So I think there’s people sort of seeking comfort in the center right.”

Worth Your Time

  • President Biden has, for the most part, said all the right things about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kori Schake writes at the New York Times, but the administration has in many ways allowed Vladimir Putin’s threats to dictate the United States’ response. “The gap between what the administration is claiming as their foreign policy objectives, and what it is actually willing to do, is a serious problem for American security, for Russia and beyond,” she argues. “Biden’s foreign policy team speaks of putting up guardrails in the conflict and congratulates themselves on their slow increase in assistance not provoking Mr. Putin. Government officials tell journalists they’ve been sending private warnings for months to the Russians about nuclear use, yet the president himself sounds anxious publicly, repeatedly asserting, ‘We’re trying to avoid World War III.’ We have let Russian threats determine our actions, which encourages Russia and others to test our resolve.”

  • Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. Since late 2020, his army has been involved in a civil war—against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front—that’s seen allegations of ethnic violence, gang rapes, and mass executions levied against both sides. What happened? “Abiy’s government heatedly denied the charge, but videos were circulating that appeared to show persuasive evidence of war crimes,” Jon Lee Anderson writes in a profile of Abiy for The New Yorker. “One particularly gruesome video, from January, 2021, shows Ethiopian soldiers filming one another as they murder at least thirty residents of a village in central Tigray. The soldiers urge one another on as they lead captives—young men in civilian clothes—to a cliff and begin shooting. One man calls out to a comrade to shoot his victim again, because he is still moving; another tells his fellow-­soldiers, ‘Use no more than two bullets—two is enough to kill them.’” It took months for Abiy to admit atrocities may have been committed. “He promised, somewhat vaguely, to seek justice,” Anderson writes. “Western observers were outraged, but Abiy’s constituents seemed not to care. Three months later, he held a national election—excluding Tigray—and easily secured a new five-year term. His slogan was ‘New Beginnings.’”

  • Is Grover Cleveland the United States’ most underrated two-term president? “[He] dealt with a fascinating issue set, although the issues, including tariffs, military pensions, and free silver, may lack resonance today,” Tevi Troy writes, reviewing Troy Senik’s new biography of the 22nd and 24th commander in chief. “He was a big believer in the Constitution and took pains to make sure that his actions remained within the constraints of that document. When Congress passed disaster relief for drought-stricken farmers, he vetoed it because such an action was not accounted for in the Constitution. He was a workaholic who took the job seriously. And he stands in stark contrast not only to our current president, who has found a way to have the executive branch forgive student loans. Sadly, Cleveland’s self-discipline and adherence to principle are markedly different from most of his successors.”

Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • Today’s episode of Advisory Opinions is live from the University of Michigan. Well, it was live when David, Sarah, and Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Chad Readler recorded it yesterday. Tune in for a conversation about Readler’s career as a judge and at the Department of Justice, what he looks for in aspiring clerks, and Wolverine football.

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! Sarah is hosting this week—keep an eye out for an email later today with information on how you can tune in!

  • On the site today, Price previews the North Carolina Senate race between Republican Ted Budd and Cheri Beasley, a career judge and the first black woman to serve as chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court. Andrew notes that the conservative Pacific Legal Foundation has filed the first legal challenge to President Biden’s student debt relief. And Nick, using Tucker Carlson’s attendance at the funeral of Hells Angels founder ​​Sonny Barger as an example, argues that, “The cardinal virtue of modern conservative populism is spite.” 

Let Us Know

NASA still needs to determine the extent to which DART knocked the asteroid it targeted—Dimorphos—off its course. But assuming the agency was successful, what’s the next hypothetical mass extinction event the nation’s scientists should be working to stave off?’

Correction, September 27, 2022: Emmanuel Macron is president of France.

Declan Garvey is the executive editor at the Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2019, he worked in public affairs at Hamilton Place Strategies and market research at Echelon Insights. When Declan is not assigning and editing pieces, he is probably watching a Cubs game, listening to podcasts on 3x speed, or trying a new recipe with his wife.

Esther Eaton is a former deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch.