Monday, December 14, 2009

Crude oil prices swing lower

Crude oil prices slipped under $70 per barrel during the weekend on the New York Mercantile Exchange on basic supply and demand fundamentals.

"The statistics we're getting are still very weak," said industry analyst Christophe Barret at Caylon, MarketWatch reported Monday.

Demand is "very weak and stocks are still very high, so there is no real support for prices," he said.

Light, sweet crude oil reached $69.67 Monday, down 20 cents. Heating oil prices added 0.0099 cents to $1.9184 per gallon. Reformulated gasoline prices lost 0.0042 cents to $1.8374 per gallon. Natural gas prices rose 0.225 cents to $5.388 per million British thermal units.

At the retail level, the average national price of unleaded gasoline dropped to $2.603 per gallon Monday, down Sunday's $2.609, AAA said.

Stocks push higher at open after Dubai, Citi deals

Stocks got a boost early Monday after a bailout of the troubled emirate of Dubai helped allay concerns that another wave of global credit problems might be on the way.

Investors were also encouraged by the latest evidence of a rebound in big corporate dealmaking. Exxon Mobil Corp.'s $31 billion purchase of XTO Energy sent energy stocks sharply higher. The deal will help Exxon tap into the growing supply of natural gas in the U.S. and could signal more consolidation in the energy industry.

Stocks were already rising early Monday on news that Abu Dhabi had extended $10 billion to Dubai to help the debt-strapped Middle Eastern city-state stay afloat. Markets had been worried in recent weeks that debt problems in the struggling boomtown could send ripples through global credit markets.

In other positive news, banking giant Citigroup Inc. said it would pay back $20 billion in bailout money it received as part of the government's financial rescue program. The government will also sell its 34 percent stake in the company. The news came just days after Bank of America Corp. repaid the entire $45 billion in bailout money it owed U.S. taxpayers.

The Dow Jones industrial average rose 15.04, or 0.1 percent, to 10,486.54. The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 3.38, or 0.3 percent, to 1,109.79, while the Nasdaq composite index rose 5.72, or 0.3 percent, to 2,196.03.

Bond prices were little changed. The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note held steady at 3.55 percent.

The dollar fell against other currencies, helping to lift commodities prices. Commodities, which are priced in dollars, become cheaper for foreign buyers when the greenback falls.

Gold added $5 to $1,125 an ounce, while oil prices edged up 40 cents to $72.35 a barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

In other trading, the Russell 2000 index of smaller companies rose 1.74, or 0.3 percent, to 602.11.

XTO shares shot up more than 15 percent following the acquisition news. Shares rose $6.50 to $47.99. Exxon shares fell $2.83, or 3.9 percent, to $70.

Citigroup shares slipped 20 cents, or 5.1 percent, to $3.75.

More than two stocks rose for every one that fell on the New York Stock Exchange, where volume came to 142.8 million shares.

Overseas, Japan's Nikkei stock average fell 0.2 percent. In afternoon trading, Britain's FTSE 100 rose 1.0 percent, Germany's DAX index was up 0.8 percent, and France's CAC-40 gained 0.7 percent.

Analysis: Eagles Over The Giants, 45-38

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson (10) backsteps his way into the end zone as New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross (31) looks on after Jackson caught a pass in the third quarter for a touchdown during an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 13, 2009, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

by Brandon

I just finished watching the Eagles victory over the Giants by a final score of 45-38. The most important thing is just to win the game, but this can't be a game the Eagles feel great about.

QB Eli Manning torched them for 391 yards and 3 TDs (though his 2 fumbles hurt). But even on those turnovers, the Eagles can't expect to recover 4 fumbles every week. There is an element of luck that the loose balls bounce your way. Also, the Eagles had some awful tackling in the game, and it ended with one of their star defensive players getting ejected from the game for throwing a punch. But at least that foul shouldn't hurt the Eagles on the field because if Cowboys LT Flozell Adams wasn't suspended, I can't imagine Eagles DE Trent Cole would be.

As far as the Packers' playoff picture, having the Eagles move into the division lead means that the Packers are now the highest seed wild card team. Two teams would have to overtake them, most likely the Cowboys and Giants, which seems unlikely with only 3 games remaining. It could lead to an interesting two week schedule with the Packers traveling to Arizona for week 17, and then back again for the first round of the playoffs.

Obama's Black Support Eroding?

It has taken less than one full year, but it seems that President Barack Obama's massive support among black mainstream leaders is starting to show some cracks.

Members of the Congressional Black Caucus have voiced concerns in recent weeks that Obama needs to spend less time worrying about bailouts of massive industry and more time thinking about black folks, who are his most ardent supporters and have been hit hardest by the economic downturn.

Now the Rev. Jesse Jackson is adding his voice to those who believe Obama isn't doing enough to help the base of his support.

Jackson, a civil rights giant who has seen his influence wane in recent years, told a crowd at a California rally this week that Obama has misplaced his priorities in spending for the bailout of banks and sending additional soldiers to Afghanistan while poor people struggle here.

He told those gathered, "We are bailing out Herod and not the baby in the manger."

Like members of the CBC, Jackson has been careful not to call out Obama by name. Instead black Obama critics have talked in general about his policies or have singled out underlings, such as Rahm Emanuel for particular blame.

The president is still hugely popular among black Americans and attacking him directly would bring little reward since Obama has another three years in the White House - at the least.

But the critics are doing little to hide their frustration.

Rep. Maxine Waters, a CBC member from California, said recently that the CBC could do the politically unthinkable - join House Republicans on some bills to scuttle some Democratic initiatives.

As both men cut their political teeth in Chicago, Jackson and Obama have shared a complicated relationship as Obama has scaled the heights of American politics.

In 2007, Jackson was quoted as saying Obama was "acting like he's white" for failing to bring attention to the case of the six black teens arrested in Lena, La. Jackson later said he didn't recall the comment.

A year later, Jackson was caught on tape making a crude remark about castrating Obama because he believed the presidential candidate was talking down to black people. Jackson, who believed the comment was off-the-record, said he was merely trash-talking but admitted the comment was "crude and hurtful."

The friction between Obama and black leadership is to be expected. The president is leader of all the people, not just black people, so it shouldn't surprise anyone that his policies would be targeted to the masses.

Meanwhile, Jackson and members of the CBC have to answer to their black and Latino constituency.

The next question is whether mainstream black folks follow the CBC's leadership and begin to find fault with the Obama agenda.

Journalist jailed for life over Rwanda genocide

A former journalist was sentenced to life in prison for her role in inciting genocide in Rwanda, local groups said Monday, in the latest of a series of trials for the 1994 slaughter.

Valerie Bemeriki, who worked for the influential Milles Collines (RTLM) radio and television, admitted using the network to call on Hutus to seek out and kill Tutsis.

The genocide claimed the lives of some 800,000 people, mainly Tutsis killed by extremist Hutu militia, in the space of just 100 days.

Bemeriki was convicted by a grassroots gacaca court in Kigali of planning genocide, inciting Hutus, and complicity in several murders.

Last Thursday, a gacaca court in Ntyazo, in southern Rwanda, handed down a life sentence to a singer, Juvenal Masabo Nyangezi, who was being tried in his absence, Rwandan human rights activists told AFP.

They said Nyagenzi, who is thought to be living in Europe, was convicted of inciting genocide in the Butare and Gikongoro districts of the south.

Based on the age-old concept of a traditional village council, the gacaca courts are empowered to try those alleged to have participated in the killings and can hand down sentences ranging from community service to life in jail.

Meanwhile renowned Rwandan actor and singer Dismas Mukeshabatware, who was sentenced in October to 19 years in jail, will hear on Wednesday whether his appeal against the verdict has been successful.

Suspected masterminds are being tried by a UN-backed International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which sits in Arusha, Tanzania.

Black columnist testifies about threats

A black Miami Herald columnist told a jury in Virginia he was terrified when he found his address and phone number on a white supremacist Web site.

Leonard Pitts testified for the prosecution Friday at the trial of William White in U.S. District Court in Roanoke.

Pitts, whose column is nationally syndicated, said he first heard from White after he wrote a column in 2007 about claims a Tennessee homicide had been ignored by the media because the killers were black and the victims white. He got a late-night telephone call the day the column ran -- his wife hung up on the caller -- followed the next day by an e-mail.

The e-mail, which used a racist slur, included his home address in Bowie, Md., and his home phone number. White also posted the information on his Web site.

The Herald hired security guards for Pitts and an editor asked White to remove his personal information. White refused.

"Frankly, if some loony took the information and killed him, I wouldn't shed a tear," White said. "That also goes for your whole newsroom."

Houston Elects First Openly Gay Mayor

Houston, Texas
(AHN) – Former Houston city controller Annise Parker earned 53.6 percent of a runoff election vote Saturday, becoming the city’s first openly gay mayor.

Parker beat former city attorney Gene Locke, after neither candidate earned the 50 percent of the votes needed to win the general election on Nov. 3.

Parker, 53, has been with her partner for 19 years, and the couple have two adopted children, CNN reported.

Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States and the largest ever to elect an openly gay mayor.

Man drags woman out of bar by her hair.

SUMMIT COVE — A white man Saturday was arrested and charged with a bias-motivated felony after a black woman was dragged out of a bar by her hair, according to a report from Summit County Sheriff’s Office.

Witnesses and the victim identified Dustin Meadows, 37, as the man in a business suit who began arguing with the woman at the Cala Inn in Summit Cove, according to the report.

Witnesses reported Meadows used a racial epithet — among other obscenities — shortly after the argument began.

The suspect was standing near the door, calling the victim names when she got out of her chair and yelled at him to leave. The man then grabbed her by the hair and dragged her out the bar’s door, according to the victim in the report.

The victim was “visibly shaken” when deputies arrived.

“(The victim) had both of her hands full of her hair, and it was apparent that the whole right side of her head was missing hair,” according to the report.

Fifth Judicial District Attorney Mark Hurlbert said five charges — including a felony bias-motivated crime for assault and four misdemeanors regarding harassment and assault — were filed Wednesday against Meadows.

Meadows was released from Summit County Jail on Sunday on a $2,500 bond, according to SCSO.

Saturday night’s argument began after Meadows allegedly spilled his beer on the victim while he was dancing. She turned and said to him, “What, no apology?” — according to the report.

Meadows allegedly began cursing at her and other bar patrons pulled him away. Two women with the man apologized for his behavior. After the victim’s hair was ripped out, the suspect left the scene, according to the report.

Two witnesses followed the suspect to a unit at the Lakeside Condominiums and later brought deputies there. The man who answered the door, Eric Brown, was also arrested and charged with obstructing a peace officer after refusing to cooperate with the deputies, according to the report.

Meadows was found with a bloody nose and a bloodstain on his shirt. Asked what happened at the bar, he reportedly replied: “A female said some rude stuff to me so he got involved with her.”

Deputies asked what he meant, but he declined to elaborate. In addition to assault, Meadows is charged with knowingly placing the victim in fear of serious bodily injury.[source-global grind]

gaaaaat daaaang! Was all of this really necessary?

I;m not gonna lie though.. I’m curious to know if he yanked out her hair or her weave. Because if he was able to yank hand fulls of hair out of her head, that would be disgustingly impressive. Like that kungfu flick when a mufugga yanked off a bytches whole gat damn scalp! Awww MAN, what was the name of that kung-fu flick…damn I know I’m gonna remember it later. Oh well, it really doesn’t have shyt to do witht he actual story….. let’s get back to it.

You’re a stupid bytch to go knocking your drink over on someone and expect NOT to get told something. Especially if instead of an apology, you wanna pop off at the mouth with MORE boolshyt.

He’s lucky she wasn’t packing heat.

You can get k’ilt, messing around with a Black woman’s hair.

Nas Gets Shafted in Divorce Court

Tiger Woods isn’t the only man who will soon be a victim of divorce court, hip hop’s very own Nas has also gotten the big shaft recently as his divorce to recording artist Kelis will cost him $51,101…per month! That’s right people, it looks like Nas is going to pay for it this time, and Kelis will definitely not have to return to the recording studio in quite some time. Nas had already been paying Kelis close to $40k a month, but now he’s been ordered by the court to increase those payments. However, his lawyer, Mark Vincent Kaplan, says he’ll benefit from the changes since he’ll no longer have to pay $13k per month for their home in Los Angeles.

Poor Countries Walk Out on Climate Talks

More than 30,000 marched Saturday demanding action at the conference.

Developing nations have thrown U.N.-sponsored talks on climate change into disarray.

Representatives from some of the world's poorer countries walked out on negotiations Monday in Copenhagen, angered by weakening support for a key treaty to curb greenhouse gas emissions.

Developing nations, including many African nations, want to extend the Kyoto Protocol - the only treaty that currently commits industrialized nations to reduce emissions blamed for global warming. But that approach does not have the support of rich countries.

Industrialized nations say Kyoto does not include the United States, China or developing nations.

Developing nations have threatened they will not return to talks until the dispute is resolved.

The protest comes as the talks enter their second and final week, and some leaders warned the effort might fail.

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd told Sky News Monday there is a chance the summit will end in failure, while British Climate Change Minister Ed Miliband called for more urgency, saying the summit is "not on track for the kind of deal" needed.

Leaders from around the world are preparing to descend on Copenhagen later this week for the summit's climax. But disagreements remain over how much each country will need to cut greenhouse gas emissions blamed for global warming, and who will pay for the cuts.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister He Yafei accused rich countries of planning to blame Beijing for the summit's failure. He also said those nations have a "legal obligation" to help developing nations pay for needed changes, although China does not expect to get any of that money.

The 12-day conference is scheduled to end Friday.

Citi to repay $20 bln in plan to exit bailout

US banking giant Citigroup announced plans Monday to repay 20 billion dollars in government aid in a big step toward emerging from a massive bailout.

Citi, which was kept afloat by a series of state rescues during the financial crisis, said it would sell 20.5 billion dollars in new securities under the plan.

The proceeds will be used to buy back the preferred shares held by the US Treasury under the Troubled Asset Relief Program.

The plan also calls for the Treasury to sell five billion dollars of the common stock held in Citi and "to sell the remainder of its shares in an orderly fashion over the next six to 12 months," a Citigroup statement said.

The rescue of Citigroup was the most extensive for the US banks hit by the financial crisis last year.

The government injected a total of 45 billion dollars in the firm, once the world's biggest banking group. It converted a portion of that to common stock earlier this year in exchange for a stake of around 34 percent in Citi.

The agreement also calls for an end to additional state guarantees to Citi in a so-called loss-sharing agreement.

"We are pleased to be able to repay the US government's trust preferred securities and to terminate the loss-sharing agreement," said Citigroup chief executive Vikram Pandit.

"We owe the American taxpayers a debt of gratitude and recognize our obligation to support the economic recovery through lending and assistance to homeowners and other borrowers in need."

Citi had to get approval from the Treasury, which injected over 300 billion dollars into banks in an effort to stabilize the financial system and keep credit flowing.

"We are pleased that Citigroup is moving ahead with plans to pay the taxpayers back," the Treasury said in a statement.

"Treasury has repeatedly stated that the United States never intended to be a long-term shareholder in private companies. As banks replace Treasury investments with private capital, confidence in the financial system increases, government's unprecedented involvement in the private sector diminishes, and taxpayers are made whole."

The Treasury statement added: "While much work lies ahead to improve lending and spur job creation, today's announcement by Citigroup takes us another step in the right direction."

Citi said the repayment to the Treasury would result in a pretax loss of some eight billion dollars, but would save the firm 1.7 billion dollars a year in interest on the securities.

The end of the state guarantee will result a loss of 2.1 billion dollars, offset in part by annual savings of 500 million dollars.

"As I have stated many times over the past year, we planned to exit TARP only when we were convinced that it was prudent to do so," Pandit said.

"By any measure of financial strength, Citi is among the strongest banks in the industry, and we are in a position to support the economic recovery."

Broken-Down Bender Joins The Knicks Scrap Heap!

Strike Up The Frickin Band; tell the Drum Majorettes to start practicing because there will soon be “The Mother Of All Parades” taking place in New York City! The New York Knicks are truly on a roll; not only have “MY BOYS” now won four straight games but Team President Donnie Walsh just signed the player guaranteed to take New York Vinnie’s team all the way to the Frickin top!

The “Associated Press” has reported that the Knicks have signed highly sought after NBA Free Agent forward Jonathan Bender to a contract for the rest of the season. Well; he was not truly highly sought after. To be totally honest with you New York Vinnie believes that New York may have been the team to show any interest. However Bender must be very well rested since the last time he played in an NBA game was February of 2006.

Bender played starting in the 1999-2000 season for the Indiana Pacers until chronic knee pain forced him to end his career after playing in just 2 games in the 2005-2006 season. However the season before that was much better for Bender as he played in a whopping 7 games in 2004-2005. The only time “Broken-Down Bender” played anything close to a full season was back in 2001-2002 when he played 78 games and he averaged 7.4 points and 3.1 rebounds per game. Those were the best numbers of his NBA career.

Now Donnie Walsh is incredibly excited about this signing! The New York Team President released a statement that read “Jonathan has worked extremely hard in preparing himself for a return to the NBA. I know him to be a young man of the highest character from my relationship with him that dates back 10 years to his rookie year and I think he will be a fine addition to our team both on and off the court.”

Well he may be a stiff but at least he is a good guy; that certainly is comforting to know that! New York Vinnie is finally starting to get a handle on Donnie Walsh now into his second season as the Team President of the Knicks. New York Vinnie’s Grand Pops used to have a word for guys like Walsh. It’s an old-fashioned word and it is not used to often these days. But the word fits Donnie Walsh perfectly. New York Vinnie’s Grand Pops would have said that Donnie Walsh is full of “Malarkey.”

That’s another way of saying someone is full of bull but “Malarkey” just seems far more fitting in Walsh’s case. He is like a Frickin used car salesman or an old time politician. Mean while he is trying to pull the Frickin wool over all of our eyes. Well Donnie that Crapolla might work in the Frickin sticks of Indiana; but you can’t expect it to fly in “The Greatest City On The Planet” New York City. We did not just fall off a Frickin corn truck My Man; we know our Frickin hoops in NYC and we are Frickin passionate about the Knicks and the NBA.

Now you may remember Donnie was very excited about another young player the Knicks were bringing in this season; Darko Milicic. Walsh told reporters “He was a very skilled player when he was drafted. I think the thing that’s held him back is he’s been thought of as a guy that has to play with his back to the basket. And everywhere he’s been, people have tried to do that. I don’t think that will be the case here. The way Mike (Knicks head coach Mike D’Antoni) plays, the fact that he’s a skilled, fairly athletic, long big man who can run the floor and can dribble the ball, shoot the ball, pass the ball, he might fit into this system better. That’s what I’m hoping.”

A reporter asked Walsh if he could he come up with a player that the Knicks Team President could compare Darko to in order to show how much his game might improve by being put in this new system. Walsh said “Nash to a degree. He was a very good player in Dallas and became the MVP of the league in Phoenix.”

Darko Milicic has played in 8 games so far this season and has averaged 2.0 points and 2.5 rebounds per game. Do those numbers look anything like what Steve Nash’s averages are? But “Mr. Malarkey” is never called on this stuff; it’s like the New York City media consider him to be their kindly old uncle!

Well that might fly for others ”Mr. Malarkey” but that kind of Crapolla was the same thing that the guy who preceded you used to pull. New York Vinnie did not buy it from Zeke and I will not buy that smoke and mirrors act from you ”Mr. Malarkey.“ ”Broken-Down Bender” will be another great addition to the Frickin scrap heap you have built since you got here.

Hundreds of billions in crime money knowingly laundered by banks during credit crunch

The Observer reports that an estimated $352bn of drug and mafia money was laundered by the major banks at the peak of the credit crunch, while regulators turned a blind eye, since the highly liquid criminal underworld was the only source of the cash necessary to keep the banks' doors open. As Charlie Stross notes, "A third of a trillion dollars is a lot of money; it's enough to fund the US military invading another country halfway around the world, or a manned Mars exploration program." Charlie goes on to mention that now that these narcobucks "aren't neatly bundled up inside the mattress any more; they're in the system," that there's $0.3 trillion sitting there, nice and legal, entering the investment world.

Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, said he has seen evidence that the proceeds of organised crime were "the only liquid investment capital" available to some banks on the brink of collapse last year. He said that a majority of the $352bn (£216bn) of drugs profits was absorbed into the economic system as a result...
"Inter-bank loans were funded by money that originated from the drugs trade and other illegal activities... There were signs that some banks were rescued that way." Costa declined to identify countries or banks that may have received any drugs money, saying that would be inappropriate because his office is supposed to address the problem, not apportion blame. But he said the money is now a part of the official system and had been effectively laundered.

"That was the moment [last year] when the system was basically paralysed because of the unwillingness of banks to lend money to one another. The progressive liquidisation to the system and the progressive improvement by some banks of their share values [has meant that] the problem [of illegal money] has become much less serious than it was," he said.

Drug money saved banks in global crisis, claims UN advisor

Tony Blair was going to invade Iraq anyway, whatever the reason

Charles Kennedy and Sir Menzies Campbell must be feeling a little smug this week after Tony Blair's confession about Iraq, although knowing both of them as I do neither would ever admit that.

Tony Blair told Sky News that he believes it would have been right to invade Iraq even if it had been known that Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction did not exist.

It appeared at the time that Tony Blair and George Bush were two of a limited number of people who believed all their own hype. But let us remember that most, and I do mean most Labour MPs including Gordon Brown and the Conservative MPs, including David Cameron supported Tony Blair and George Bush on this issue.

It was the Liberal Democrats who stood up to the bullying and harassment in the House of Commons, day in and day out over this. I wonder how many are completely embarrassed and ashamed now knowing their leader would have attacked Iraq anyway, whatever the reason.

The interview, with Fern Britton was broadcast this weekend on BBC1.

I for one am pleased and proud to be a Liberal Democrat on this issue and we must never let the people forget that it was Labour and the Conservatives who took us into this illegal war in Iraq.
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Attacker Breaks Berlusconi’s Nose

ROME — An attacker wielding a statuette of the Milan cathedral struck Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi in the face following a rally in Milan on Sunday, and hospital officials said the blow fractured his nose, sliced his lip and broke two teeth.

Television images showed bodyguards helping a stunned and bloodied prime minister into a car after the attack, which came as he greeted supporters after delivering a rousing speech to a rally of his center-right People of Liberties Party in central Milan.

The police detained a Milan resident identified as Massimo Tartaglia, 42, who has a history of mental illness, Italian news media reported. A prosecutor was questioning Mr. Tartaglia and a formal arrest was expected.

From the San Raffaele hospital, where Mr. Berlusconi, 73, was kept overnight for observation, he said, “I’m fine, I’m fine,” the ANSA news agency reported, adding that he considered it “a miracle” that his eyes were spared by the statuette-turned-weapon. Italian news reports said the statuette was made of heavy ceramic or metal.

The prime minister was “shaken and disheartened” when he arrived at the hospital, said Paolo Klun, a hospital spokesman. Mr. Klun said that Mr. Berlusconi had suffered two broken teeth, cuts to his lip and a “small fracture” to his nose.

The attack raised basic questions about the level of security surrounding the prime minister, who was struck as he shook hands and signed autographs.

The attack also came after a particularly tense week for Mr. Berlusconi, who has been on the defensive since his wife announced last spring that she was divorcing him, citing his dalliances with young women, and since Italy’s Constitutional Court in October struck down a law granting him immunity from prosecution, making him once again a defendant in several corruption trials.

It also comes amid a growing tide of criticism against Mr. Berlusconi. On Dec. 5 thousands marched through Rome in a peaceful protest to demand his resignation, citing conflicts of interest between his business empire and political career, as well as his efforts to pass what critics say are custom-made justice reforms aimed at solidifying his own power.

In his 15 years in political life, Mr. Berlusconi has generally managed to translate every personal defeat into a political victory. Although he still enjoys wide popular support, Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity is beginning to erode because of Italy’s economic travails and concerns that the prime minister’s personal problems are affecting his ability to govern.

In a speech to the European People’s Party congress in Bonn last week, a tense-looking Mr. Berlusconi accused magistrates and the president of Italy of left-wing bias and said the Constitutional Court was a political organ.

In an unusually harsh response, the president of Italy, Giorgio Napolitano, a former Communist widely respected and seen as above the fray, called Mr. Berlusconi’s speech “a violent attack” on Italy’s institutions. The left-wing opposition also criticized Mr. Berlusconi, as did the speaker of the house, Gianfranco Fini, the most outspoken critic of the prime minister within his own center-right coalition.