Berlusconi always struck me as the closest living example of what a Ross Perot presidency would have been like. Here you have a billionaire who is a legend in his own mind ("I want a heroic life," he once told journalist Indro Montanelli) and believes that a country and a company can be run the same way.
My favorite Berlusconi moment came when he announced that he would serve as his own foreign minister (the real one resigned in frustration over the prime minister's reluctance to embrace European unity) in order to infuse the diplomatic service with pro-business beliefs.
I also tend to think that your lefty journalist friend is wrong about a 10-year stint. His style is not going to wear well long-term, and if he can't deliver in a decent period of time on his promises to curb the power of unions here (and I don't think he can), I think he becomes vulnerable. There are also the persistent dark rumors about his health.
By the way, while you were at the dentist's, Berlusconi finally accepted Claudio Scajola's resignation. (I don't think there is any connection between these two events.) He was taking so much heat he had no choice but to throw him over the side. Maybe he can become his own interior minister as well.
Re the church, it sounds like the bigots in the Vatican and the anti-modernist opinion shapers in the Arab world should get together and trade Jewish conspiracy theories.
I think the Vatican is ultimately going to pay a huge price for the cavalier way it has treated American anger over the sex scandals. The image of those empty chairs at the final press conference when the cardinals met here will linger for many, many years.
It's one of several issues, along with the ordination of women and mandatory celibacy for priests, that is building the foundation for an American Catholic church sometime in the next century. And with that brazen prediction, I'm going to go pick up the kids from day camp.