Europe Is Horrified by Trump, but He’d Fit Right In

My piece on the Donald Trumps of Europe is this week’s cover of the international edition of Bloomberg Businessweek.

eurotrump-coverFrom the volume of the outrage, you’d think Europeans had never dealt with the likes of Donald Trump before. The French newspaper Libération called him “the American Nightmare.” The German newsweekly Der Spiegel slapped his face on its cover in front of flames crawling up an American flag. (Online, the fire was animated.) Wherever one looks in the continent, there’s rising alarm in the media about the possibility that Trump could become president of the U.S.

And yet, as much as the headlines make him out to be an American phenomenon, in Europe, Trump would fit right in. His mix of nationalistic nativism and economic protectionism has proved a winning formula for far-right parties across the continent. Trump’s rise is reminiscent of Jean-Marie Le Pen’s, which stunned the French media and political class when he made it to the second round of his country’s presidential election in 2002. A former paratrooper who’d questioned the historical significance of the Holocaust, he was widely considered far too unconventional, far too crude—and, frankly, far too racist—to ever be granted a shot at the country’s highest office.

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Starbucks Faces Struggle to Take on Italian Coffee Traditions

My piece on the rhythms and traditions of Italy’s coffee culture has just been published at Time.

Like the tides of the sea, an Italiancaffé – or bar – has its recognizable rhythms. There’s a rush of office workers at the start of the day, crowding three or four deep at the counter for a quick espresso before their shift begins. And then, just before 10 a.m., another wave: shopkeepers on their way to work.

Davide Casali, 43, a barista at Caffè San Silvestro in downtown Rome, has the timing down to the minute. The busiest time, he says, is right after lunch; it runs from about 1:30 to 2:50 p.m., giving the last of his customers ten minutes to get back to their desks. “Of course, in the summer it’s totally different,” he says. “That’s when everybody’s at the beach.”

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Big in Hungary: Whips and Axes

The Atlantic has just published my short piece on Baranta, the youngest of the world’s so-called traditional martial arts.

Around this time last winter, at a gymnasium 45 minutes outside Budapest, I was startled to come across a group of roughly 30 men and women with wooden axes. I was in town reporting a profile of Hungary’s nationalist prime minister, Viktor Orbán, who was born nearby. The ax-wielders had gathered to practice something called Baranta, which is perhaps the youngest of the world’s so-called traditional martial arts.

While they took turns swinging and blocking, one member of the group, a beefy man with a tight, gray, military-style haircut, walked over to where I was standing and began excitedly talking to me in Hungarian. Even with the help of a translator, I had difficulty keeping up with what he was saying. Perhaps sensing this, he pulled out his phone to show me a series of videos. In one, a group of men was engaged in a sort of synchronized whip-play. In another, a combatant with an ax faced off against an opponent with a saber, while a third circled the fray with a bow and arrow, looking for a shot.

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Online Life of American Murdered in Italy Spurs Theories About Her Death

My piece on murder in the age of social media has just been published by Time.

The aftermath of Ashley Olsen’s death is an example of how, in the age of social media, the private can suddenly turn very public.

The 35-year-old American woman’s body was discovered on Saturday, after her boyfriend persuaded her landlady to let him into her apartment in central Florence, Italy. By the next day, after the Italian press had broken the story, strangers had taken to Olsen’s Instagram page not just to post their condolences but also to search for clues and post theories about how she was killed.

“I never knew her but she looked like a sweet and beautiful person!!” wrote one commenter, while others engaged in extended back-and-forths on who might be responsible for her death: “This is the act of an enraged obsessed boyfriend who was just broken up with! Case solved!”

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The Solar Company Making a Profit on Poor Africans

My profile of M-Kopa, a company selling solar power to people making less than $2 a day, has just been published by Bloomberg Businessweek.

Tom Opiyo is the best-performing salesperson at M-Kopa Solar, a Kenyan company selling solar power systems to the very poor. Watching him work, it’s not hard to see why. Opiyo is a pastor who used to be a musician and concert promoter, and when he’s closing a sale he never stops talking. “The electric company can sometimes leave you in the dark. With M-Kopa, the light cannot go out,” he tells a group of 15 potential customers gathered under a tree in a rural area in western Kenya on a sunny October afternoon. “If you get power from the power company, you will always be paying. But when you buy M-Kopa, it’s yours forever.”

Opiyo is tall and thin, with a closely shaved head he keeps shaded under an M-Kopa baseball cap. He infuses his pitch with quotes from the Bible and brings in an actor to break the ice with impersonations of famous Kenyan politicians. But his underlying argument is financial. Before demonstrating his product, Opiyo walks the group through a calculation, asking how much each person spends a week on kerosene. He works out what that adds up to over the course of a year and then totals a sum for the entire group. “I show them the cost of what they are using compared to what I’m going to give them,” Opiyo says. “If you bring this to their minds, they can see how they are foolish, and then you know they are going to buy.”

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Barcelona’s New Mayor Wants to Send Tourists Packing

Bloomberg Businessweek has published my profile of Ada Colau, Barcelona’s activist-turned-mayor.

In 2007, Ada Colau put on a black leotard, a yellow cape, and a Zorro mask and gate-crashed a campaign rally in Barcelona. For two and a half minutes, Colau commandeered cameras, holding up a cardboard sign—“Housing Out of the Market, Like Education and Health”—while she delivered a speech on irresponsible development. “We don’t want to hear that the solution is to build more,” Colau told the crowd gathered in the small city square. “We have devastated our territory more than enough. There are a lot of houses. What we need is that these houses fulfill their social role.” When she was done, she dashed between a pair of parked cars and sprinted down the street.

She didn’t know it then, but her appearance as a superhero was one of the first steps on a path to city hall. In June she was elected mayor of Barcelona, with the support of a coalition of leftist political parties. She campaigned on fighting inequality.

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You’re Invited to a Finnish Tea Party

My profile of Finland’s version of the Tea Party has just been published in Bloomberg Businessweek.

In early August, Timo Soini, the foreign minister of Finland, mounts a stage at the convention center in the town of Turku. The occasion is celebratory, marking the 20th anniversary of the formation of the Finns, the conservative party he heads, and his entrance into government for the first time following elections in April.

Soini is a big man, with the girth and mirth of a television sitcom dad and a gift for the colorful phrase. His speeches are usually easygoing affairs, loaded with crowd-pleasing mockery of Finland’s participation in the bailout of Europe’s weak southern economies. But on this occasion his imagery is stark. He describes his party’s performance in the election as “a hard, diamondlike achievement” and likens the tough decisions he’s since had to make as facing “the cosmic cold.”

In the past 20 years, Soini has led the Finns from an insignificant also-ran to the country’s second-largest party, now governing in coalition with two other conservative parties, including Prime Minister Juha Sipila’s Centre Party. Soini has done so by being the voice of opposition. And yet, just three months after taking office, he’s being forced to explain why Finland agreed to sign on to a new €86 billion ($96 billion) bailout for Greece.

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How 3-D Printing Is Saving the Italian Artisan

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.”

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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.”

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In Europe, the Refugees Keep Coming

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.

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