Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my piece looking at how cutting-edge technology is rescuing traditional Italian craftmanship.

Northeast Italy’s industrial heartland stretches roughly from Milan to Venice, along the floodplains of the Po River all the way to the Adriatic. In the 1960s, farmers in the region began setting up small family-owned businesses, each specializing in just one small part of a finished product. Within a generation, many of these companies became world leaders in their respective fields, and small Italian cities thrived as manufacturing hubs. The town of Montebelluna, north of Venice, once produced about three-quarters of the world’s ski boots, with different companies specializing in buckles, plastic shells, and foam linings. About 70 percent of Europe’s chairs were designed and manufactured by the 1,200 small outfits centered around Manzano, near Italy’s eastern border with Slovenia—with each part of the production process handled by a different highly specialized company.

Like much of the rest of the country, however, the region has fallen on hard times. Italy’s craftsmen have been undermined by competition from China and other parts of Asia. Since the beginning of the global economic crisis, the northeast’s industrial sector has shed about 135,000 jobs—some 17 percent of its total workforce. “We needed to find an escape route,” says Ignazio Pomini, the president of HSL, a 27-year-old maker of automotive prototypes located in Trento, northwest of Venice. “To use the same technology, the same skills, the same space, the existing investments, but for a new business.”

Read the rest.

My short e-book for Deca on an orphan named Patience and a case for open immigration is now up for free at Longform.

When I was in Liberia during the civil war in 2003, I met a four-year-old girl named Patience. Monrovia, the capital of the small West African country, was under siege. Its power grid had failed. Rice was scarce. The taps had run dry. Cholera crawled in the tropical heat. Hopped-up government soldiers ran the streets in looted pickup trucks, and nobody knew what the rebels would do if their push for the center was successful.

I met Patience in a dark room off a dirt lot, in a concrete building in an orphanage placed perilously on a thin strip of land between the Atlantic Ocean and the river that held back the rebel advance. The night before my arrival, the woman who ran the orphanage told me, two shells from a mortar had passed overhead and fallen—crack, crack—somewhere between the orphanage and the ocean’s shore.

Patience, big-eyed, in stubby braids and a blue-and-white polka-dot dress, watched me from the shadows. Anemic, listless, undersize, suffering from dysentery, she had the measured movements of an old woman and the questioning stare of a toddler. In the same room, another orphan, ten-year-old Emmanuel, leafed through a book of photographs, color printouts, bound in black plastic and covered with a thin transparent sheet: There was green grass and a white-paneled house and a little blond girl smiling. There was a large van and an even larger play set. There was a countertop completely covered with food. “This is a very nice place,” Emmanuel said in a quiet voice. “I would like to go to this place.”

Read the rest.

A short piece I did for Bloomberg Businessweek on Europe’s refugee crisis is in this week’s issue.

On a wintry day in early February, four rubber dinghies—each loaded with more than 100 people—pushed off the Libyan coast into the icy Mediterranean and headed toward Europe. By the time the Italian coast guard reached the first boat on Feb. 9, seven of the would-be migrants had frozen to death. An additional 22 died as they were being ferried to shore through 25-foot waves. On Feb. 11, a cargo ship discovered nine other survivors clinging to what was left of the second and third dinghies. Of the fourth, no trace was ever found.

About 56 million people in the world have been displaced by conflict, the highest number of people pushed out of their homes since World War II. The vast majority are fleeing Africa and the Middle East, and many have their sights on Europe. This is putting pressure on asylum systems across the continent as the European Union struggles to form a consensus among governments with little political incentive to deal with a humanitarian catastrophe.

Read the rest.

My profile of Hungary’s increasingly authoritarian prime minister has just been published in Bloomberg Businessweek.

The soccer match hasn’t drawn much of a crowd. It’s being played in tiny Felcsut, Hungary (pop. 1,800), and the teams on the field are ranked 3rd and 10th out of the 16 squads vying for the national championship. Except for a small section where fans of the visiting team are clustered, only a sprinkling of the 3,500 seats are occupied.

This isn’t the kind of contest where you’d expect a prominent politician to show up—unless that politician is Viktor Orban, 51, the Hungarian prime minister. Having just returned from a trip to South Korea, Orban’s made the 45-minute drive from Budapest to Felcsut. He’s wearing a black coat and long gray scarf, and when the game begins he’s standing by himself just outside the glass walls of the VIP booth, in line with the center of the field. When the home team, 10th-place Puskas Academy, threatens the opponent’s goal, he puts both hands over his mouth. When the ball goes wide, he turns and slaps a concrete pillar. Just before halftime, a Puskas attacker rifles the ball into the back of the net. Orban raises both arms in triumph.

Read the rest.

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my piece on Rome’s degradation.

The neighborhood in which Massimiliano Tonelli is walking is more than 100 years old, built in central Rome shortly after the unification of Italy. Monumental buildings rise around a central park, in the corner of which lie the ruins of an ancient Roman fountain. The Colosseum is a 15-minute walk away.

As the 35-year-old blogger ambles, he counts off the blemishes: cracks and pits in the sidewalk; walls plastered with posters and pamphlets; beer bottles lying around a garbage bin; cars illegally and dangerously parked; a man drying his laundry on a park bench. “The city is so beautiful, potentially,” he says. “It’s absurd that it be left like this.” He looks up at one of the 19th century buildings, its facade resplendent in the morning sun. “Rome is a city that’s only beautiful from 3 meters high and upwards.”

Read the rest.

Sixty years ago, the world’s top photographers banded together to form Magnum, a member-owned cooperative that changed the rules of photojournalism. Its founders took advantage of the technological shifts of their era—portable cameras and fast, cheap film processing—to strike out on their own and cover the global stories they felt were most important.

In 2014, journalism faces a new era of change. Today’s technologies are the tablet and the smartphone. Replacements for print books and newspapers, they let established journalists bring their stories directly to readers.

These shifts—and agencies like Magnum—are the inspiration for Deca, a new journalists’ cooperative owned equally by the writers who founded it. Deca’s members have authored acclaimed books and written articles for magazines including The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, Time, Science, Rolling Stone, GQ, National Geographic, Outside, Bloomberg Businessweek, and The New York Times Magazine.

We are Pulitzer, National Magazine Award, PEN Literary Award, Livingston Award, Whiting Writers’ Award, and Los Angeles Book Prize winners and finalists.

Once a month, Deca will publish a longform story about the world — written by one of our members, edited by another, and approved by the rest. Our stories are distributed as e-books through Amazon’s Kindle Singles program, for Kindles and in Kindle apps that run on virtually any phone, tablet, or PC. Within two weeks, readers will be able to subscribe or buy single stories through Deca’s iOS app or via our website. Our first story, Mara Hvistendahl’s And The City Swallowed Them, is available from Amazon starting today.

With every story, every month, we’re bringing you what Magnum’s Henri Cartier-Bresson described as  “a situation, a truth”—not just an “accountant’s statement.” The technology is very new, but what we’re doing is very old: traveling the world over to find the stories that matter, and telling them.

We’re launching a Kickstarter campaign today where you can subscribe to a year’s worth of stories, learn more about the nuts and bolts of forming a collective, and even purchase bound copies of our pieces. You’re receiving this because you signed up for our mailing list. For more information, please visit our website or follow us on TwitterFacebook, or Instagram.

Time has also published my Q&A with Matteo Renzi.

Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi spoke to TIME on April 24 in his first interview with a non-Italian news organization since becoming premier in February. The conversation touched on a wide range of topics, from his plans to reform the Italian political system to his desire for a United States of Europe

I’ve been reading your interviews and speeches, and I’ve seen many phrases like “In a normal country, this wouldn’t happen.” In what way is Italy not a normal country?

Italy will never be a normal country. Because Italy is Italy. If we were a normal country, we wouldn’t have Rome. We wouldn’t have Florence. We wouldn’t have the marvel that is Venice. There is in the DNA of the Italians a bit of madness, which in the overwhelming majority of cases is positive. It is genius. It is talent. It’s the masterpieces of art. It’s the food, fashion, everything that makes Italy great in the world.

But then, we’re not a normal country because we have a complicated bureaucracy, a political system that’s appalling. We have twice as many parliamentarians as the United States. We pay some presidents of [administrative] regions more than the United States pays its president. We would like to make Italy a normal country from the point of view of the political system.

Where did Italy go wrong?

Read the rest.

My profile of Italy’s Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is in this week’s Time Magazine.

Less than a month after Matteo Renzi was sworn in on Feb. 22 as Italy’s Prime Minister—at 39, he is the youngest in the country’s history—he traveled to Berlin to meet his most formidable European partner, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Italy’s creaking economy was at the top of the agenda. Burdened with record levels of debt—only Greece has a bigger load in the euro zone—the country is struggling to recover from its longest postwar recession. Aware of Merkel’s belief in strict budgetary discipline, Renzi was at pains to reassure her that his plans to revive the Italian economy would not involve a splurge in spending. In a toast at a dinner with the German leader, he said he would follow the example of the Renaissance sculptor Michelangelo, who, when he began working on his statue of David, took a block of marble and chipped away “whatever was in excess.”

The moment was classic Renzi: bold, inspiring, elegantly expressed—but short on specifics. “That’s how I see Italy,” he tells Time, in his first interview with a non-Italian news organization since becoming Premier. “If we cut away all the things that are in excess, bureaucratically, fiscally, something will come out that’s more beautiful than the David,” he says, lounging across one of the yellow armchairs in his palatial office in central Rome.

“More beautiful than the David, let’s not exaggerate,” he adds, catching himself. “As beautiful as the David.”

Read the rest.

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my story on Greenland’s prime minister and her quest to win independence through mining.

Sofus Frederiksen lives in a small river valley above a sheltered stretch of Greenlandic fjord, where in the winter slabs of floating ice fuse into a pale blue sheet. Frederiksen, a 49-year-old farmer of Danish and Inuit descent, built his house himself, and his 10 horses, 95 cows, and about 500 sheep make his farm one of the most productive businesses in the small town of Narsaq. From his kitchen, where pictures of his grandchildren cover the refrigerator, a window frames a 2,300-foot mountain, a steep slope of black rock and white snow. There, an Australian company called Greenland Minerals & Energy (GDLNF) hopes to build an open-pit mine, extracting uranium and what it says is one of the largest deposits of rare earth metals in the world. Like many in Greenland, the Frederiksen family thinks it’s a great idea. “We know that we have to move, and we have accepted it,” says Frederiksen’s wife, Suka. “We are only two people here against hundreds of jobs working in the mine. We tell ourselves that we have to give something for the Greenlandic people.”

The mountain is a reminder of the choices Greenland faces as its government scrambles to energize an economy heavily dependent on Denmark, the country that colonized it in the early 1700s. Narsaq also happens to be the birthplace of the country’s prime minister, and she is a strident supporter of mining. A native Greenlander with a broad face, bright eyes, and a smile that breaks like sunlight, Aleqa Hammond, 48, is the first woman to occupy the island’s highest office. Elected just over a year ago, she came to power on promises to mine the country and put it on the path to independence. “We have mountains with uranium content,” she says. “We have mountains with gold. We have mountains with iron. We have mountains with zinc and lead. We have mountains with diamonds. We have mountains that are there for us to use and bring prosperity to our people.”

Read the rest.

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my piece an attempt to introduce a minimum basic income in Switzerland.

Marilola Wili braces her foot against the wall to pull open a vault door inside a former bank building in downtown Basel. In the darkness inside, 15 tons of coins glint like dragon treasure. “It’s something everybody’s dreamed about, swimming in money,” says Wili, a waitress and musician as well as a member of Generation Basic Income. That’s an activist group trying to persuade voters to amend Switzerland’s constitution to guarantee every citizen a yearly income of 30,000 Swiss francs ($33,000)—whether they work or not.

The vault is part publicity stunt, part fundraising effort. Switzerland’s system of direct democracy offers anybody who can gather at least 100,000 signatures the chance to put a ballot initiative before the country’s voters. Wili and her comrades celebrated reaching that milestone in October by dumping 8 million coins, one for every Swiss resident, in front of the Parliament building in Bern. Wili’s chief occupation these days is to find a buyer for the five-centime coins along with the vault in which they’re displayed, as a sort of art installation. Proceeds will fund a campaign to persuade voters to approve their initiative in a referendum that will be held in two or three years.

Read the rest.

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