A Poet’s Legacy: As Neo-Fascists Claim Ezra Pound, His Family Says, ‘Hands Off’

My piece on Ezra-Pound loving fascists has just been published in Time:

The American poet Ezra Pound might seem a strange sort of inspiration for a group of Italian neo-fascists. That is, until one remembers that Pound was an admirer of Benito Mussolini, a defender of Adolf Hitler and, that while living in Italy during World War II, he broadcast a series of anti-Semitic radio addresses calling for American neutrality. Indeed, so stirring has the poet’s memory proved in right-wing circles that Italy’s most prominent neo-fascist organization has named itself in his memory: CasaPound, or Pound’s House.

The group was formed in 2003 when activists occupied a vacant government building not far from Rome’s train station, seizing the property as a squat for homeless Italians and setting up their headquarters inside. Pound’s name was chosen not only because he sympathized with Italy’s wartime government, but also for his criticism of global capitalism, which the occupiers found useful to buttress their arguments for seizing the unused offices. “Ezra Pound said that property we don’t use becomes a sort of financial capital,” says Simone di Stefano, one of the group’s founders. “For us, rent is a form of usury.”

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Why Would Anyone Want to Kill Pietro Ichino?

My story on Pietro Ichino, an Italian professor forced to live under armed guard for his views on labor reform, has just been published in Businessweek.

In just about any other country in the world, Pietro Ichino’s biggest career liability would be finding himself alone in a corner at cocktail parties. Ichino is a professor of labor law. In Italy, that means his life is under threat. For the past 10 years, the academic and parliamentarian has lived under armed escort, traveling exclusively by armored car, and almost never without the company of two plainclothes policemen. The protection is provided by the Italian government, which has reason to believe that people want to murder Ichino for his views.

Ichino had just gotten off the plane when I met him at the airport in Rome, and he was already accompanied by his detail: two unsmiling men in jeans and black jackets and those overshined street shoes that only cops out of uniform seem to wear. Ichino wore a suit and eyeglasses. He is tall and wiry, with a thin face and a prominent nose. If a cartoonist were to draw him as an animal, he probably would choose a bird of prey. Without a word to his bodyguards, Ichino walked into an Alitalia first class lounge and let the sliding glass doors close behind us.

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Costa Concordia: As Hope Fades for More Survivors, Finger-Pointing Begins

My piece on the Costa Concordia, one week later, has just been published in Time.

As hope fades for the successful rescue of the 20 people still missing a week after the wreck of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, the focus of operations on the Italian island of Giglio is shifting towards the prevention of future catastrophe and the allocation of blame for that which has already occurred. With some 500,000 gallons of fuel oil still sloshing around in the hull of the ship, “We need to prevent an environmental disaster,” says Franco Gabrielli, the head of Italy’s civil protection agency, who is coordinating the emergency response. He added that while the agency wasn’t giving up rescue attempts, the risk of rupture of the ship’s fuel tanks was becoming an increasingly important worry.

Rescuers have been investigating whether the ship can be chained to the rocks on which it capsized last week, to halt its slow slippage towards deep waters, which would dramatically complicate further salvage efforts. The consequences of an oil spill would be disastrous. The mayor of Giglio has called the ship an “ecological time bomb.” The potential for pollution puts at risk not only the area around the tiny Mediterranean island, but also the entirety of the nearby coast of Tuscany, one of the engines of Italian tourism. On Saturday, light oil was discovered floating near the Concordia, but rescue workers speculated it may have been diesel from rescue boats or lubricant from some of the on board machinery, not the heavy engine oil that could spell environmental devastation.

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The Sinking of the Costa Concordia and Italy’s Rules of Safety

Time has just published my piece on what the wreck of the Costa Concordia tells us about Italy:

In the wreck of the Costa Concordia, the cruise ship that rent its hull against the offshore shallows of the Italian island of Giglio, the world was treated to an exhibition of both the best and the worst of the Italian approach to disaster.

On one side stands the ship’s captain, Francesco Schettino, who seems to have thrown procedure to the wind when he reportedly diverted the 1,500-cabin luxury liner from the deep water route usually traveled by ships of its size and pulled the vessel to within 150 m from shore. Prosecutors allege that Schettino chose the maneuver to provide inhabitants of the island with a multi-story spectacle of deck lights, a show-off stunt enhanced by a blast of the ship’s sirens. At least eleven people were killed when the nearly 310-m long vessel capsized dramatically not far from shore less than an hour later. Another 28 of the more than 4,200 people on board remain missing.

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