Will Iceland’s Absurdist Comic Mayor Run for a Staid Second Term?

Foreign Policy has just published my article on the serious choice facing Reykjavik’s funny mayor.

Jon Gnarr has to make a decision. The former punk rocker, former stand-up comedian, former joke protest candidate, and current mayor of Reykjavik is approaching the end of his first term in office. Recent polls put his party, the ironically named Best Party, at 37 percent, making him the likely winner. In August, he posted a question on his Facebook page, “Elections next spring. What do you think?” and linked to a video of The Clash classic “Should I Stay or Should I Go?”

On Thursday, Oct. 31, he will announce whether he’ll stand again. “I have been thinking about how I would run again,” he says. “Would I promise two polar bears? And Legoland? And free everything for everybody? Because that’s what we ran on, just promise: Tell us what you want and we’ll promise.”

Read the rest.

Can a Tribe Sue for Copyright? The Maasai Want Royalties for Use of Their Name

Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my story on an effort by the Maasai to grab control of their intellectual property.

Sometimes, to get your point across to the Maasai people of Kenya and Tanzania, you have to talk in cows. Lawrence ole Mbelati, a tribesman, stands in front of a group of about 70 Maasai leaders and elders from a district in northern Tanzania, holding a picture of a red-and-brown fountain pen. Introduced in 2003 by Italian pen maker Delta, it was part of the company’s “Indigenous People” luxury line. Called Maasai, it retailed for upwards of $600. “That’s like three or four good cows,” ole Mbelati, 35, tells the group.

Ole Mbelati, who works for a Kenyan nongovernmental organization, has driven down from Nairobi. He’s speaking in Maa, the Maasai language, but wears jeans and a polo shirt. Most of the elders have come in the clothes they wear every day: bright red shukas, wrapped around them like togas. Some have sneakers on, but many wear homemade sandals crafted from tire treads. The women, as well as some men, wear intricately beaded earrings, necklaces, and armbands. They sit in a concrete building usually used for classes in veterinary medicine. Many have placed black wooden rods, the mark of a chief, on the table. A few hold up mobile phones, recording ole Mbelati as he explains the ways in which others are profiting at the tribe’s expense. “Whose name is being used?” he asks. “It’s the Maasai name. Who is becoming strong economically? The people who are using the Maasai name.”

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Why Berlusconi Will Rise Again

My piece on why it’s too early to count out Silvio Berlusconi has just been published by Time.

The Sunday after Prime Minister Enrico Letta survived an Oct. 2 attempt by Silvio Berlusconi to bring down his government, Letta went on television to declare victory. “I think a political season has been closed,” he said, referring to the country’s nearly 20 years of political domination by the sex-scandal-plagued former Prime Minister. “The page has been securely turned.”

Letta is not the first leader to prematurely declare mission accomplished. The Prime Minister has fractured Berlusconi’s political party, forced him into humiliating surrender on national television, and all but ensured that later this month he will be booted from the Senate, a punishment for the one-year sentence for tax fraud Berlusconi received in August. But it’s far too early to declare him politically dead and gone. Whatever his faults, Berlusconi’s recurring political success reflects an enduring failure of Italian politics: its inability to deliver durable results. And on that front, there’s little reason to believe anything has changed.

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Italy’s Berlusconi Is Forced to Back Down in Parliament—Will He Now Bow Out?

My piece on Berlusconi’s defeat in the Italian senate has just been published by Time.

On the surface, Italy‘s day ended as it began—with the country’s Prime Minister Enrico Letta in an uneasy, unstable alliance with the media mogul Silvio Berlusconi. In a last minute speech in the Italian senate on Oct. 2, Berlusconi, the sex scandal-plagued former prime minister, declared he would support the government in a vote of confidence, bringing to an end a political crisis he had been instrumental in creating. “We have decided, not without inner turmoil, to vote in confidence of the government,” said Berlusconi. The final vote in the senate was 235 to 70 in favor of the government.

But the hours leading up to the vote had revealed deep fissures in Berlusconi’s once dominant People of Liberty party. On Oct. 1, several of his supporters—including his political heir Angelo Alfano—had openly broken with Berlusconi, declaring they would go against his wishes and vote in favor of the government. Last week, nearly all the senators in his party had threatened to resign if the senate stripped Berlusconi of his seat, a requirement following the one-year sentence for tax fraud handed out to Berlusconi in August. On the morning of the vote, 25 members of his party declared they would defect, forming an independent parliamentary group, and support Letta, almost certainly providing the current prime minister with the votes he need to survive.

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