Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my interview with Beppe Grillo.

You started as a comic.
I am still a comic, a fantastic one.

Were you always political?
No, I went through stages. First, a comic of jokes. Then I discovered jokes about politics. Then I discovered that politics passed through the products we have in our fridge, the yogurt that does 3,600 kilometers in a truck. Behind the everyday there was global politics. People came out of my shows saying, “He made us laugh, but also think. What should we do?” I tried to translate it into a political movement, the Meetups, which I took from Howard Dean. And we went ahead until the national elections, where we took 25 percent.

So it’s been an evolution, from jokester to political leader.
Exactly. But I’m always the same. My shows, now they call them speeches.

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Bloomberg Businessweek has just published my interview with Taxibeat’s Nikos Drandakis.

What exactly does Taxibeat do?
Taxibeat is a mobile application that helps a consumer easily locate nearby taxis and choose the best available taxi based on the feedback that previous passengers have given. We introduce a reputation mechanism in the taxi industry, which is something that didn’t exist.

How did the drivers react to being rated?
When we launched, the crisis had already started in Athens. And most of the taxi drivers here had lost about 50 or 60 percent of their jobs. So they adopted us, because they hoped for new customers.

Taxibeat is cited as a rare Greek success story. Are you an outlier?
I tend to think of ourselves as starters of something new—not only us, but a small community of people in an ecosystem that is forming right now.

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My piece on Silvio Berlusconi’s first definitive conviction has just been published by Time.

For the first time, after more than two decades of high-profile judicial battles, Italy’s former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been definitively convicted of a crime. After seven hours of deliberation Thursday, the judges in Italy’s highest court emerged from their chamber to reject his final appeal on charges of tax fraud — and therefore confirming a one-year prison sentence, while sending back for a review a five-year ban from public office. He was originally sentenced last October.

Berlusconi was accused, along with three others, of using offshore companies to purchase the rights to American movies, reselling them to his media empire at markup in order to pay lower taxes. The sentence is a blow for the 76-year-old billionaire, but Berlusconi has made a career of proving the writers of his political obituaries wrong. Because of his age and the nature of his crime, Berlusconi is unlikely to see the inside of a prison cell. He will serve his sentence — originally for four years but commuted to one — either under house arrest or performing community service. While the ban on public office is under review, a process that could take months, the conservative politico will be able to keep his position as Senator and de facto head of his political party. “Politically, he’s still very much alive,” says Franco Pavoncello, a political scientist at Rome’s John Cabot University. “This will weaken him, but he can continue to be a leader, a symbol for the right.”

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My piece on the Pope and homosexuals has just been published by Time.

At first glance, Pope Francis’ statement on homosexuality, delivered today in an impromptu press conference aboard the papal plane, seemed to indicate a remarkable break with church tradition. “If someone is gay and he searches for the Lord and has good will, who am I to judge?” Francis told journalists, as he flew from Rio de Janeiro to Rome. “The tendency [to homosexuality] is not the problem … They’re our brothers.”

The Pope’s words were warmly received by gay activists in Italy and elsewhere. “From now on, when I hear a bishop or a priest say something against me, I’m going to say, ‘Who are you to judge,’” says Franco Grillini, president of Gaynet Italia, the association of gay journalists in Italy.

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Bloom

berg Businessweek has just published my cover story on the Greek youth unemployment crisis.

Outside an unmarked green metal door in the hallway of a suburban Athens high school, Tina Stratigaki waits for a job interview. It’s a Tuesday in mid-July. Stratigaki, 29, applied for the job as a social worker weeks ago and had taken an hour-long test the Friday before. Based on the list of applicants posted on the wall outside the exam, she estimates there were some 2,000 candidates for 21 open positions. This is the last interview she’s likely to get before Greece shuts down for the summer holidays. Her unemployment benefits—about €360 ($475) a month from her previous job working with disadvantaged women and children—have just run out. “I’m a little bit stressed,” she says.

Jobs of any kind are scarce in today’s Greece. Nearly six years of deep recession have swept away a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product, the kind of devastation usually seen only in times of war. In a country of 11 million people, the economy lost more than a million jobs as businesses shut their doors or shed staff. Unemployment has reached 27 percent—higher than the U.S. jobless rate during the Great Depression—and is expected to rise to 28 percent next year. Among the young, the figure is twice as high. Meanwhile, cuts to Greece’s bloated public sector are dumping ever more people onto the job market. In July, 25,000 public workers, including teachers, janitors, ministry employees, and municipal police, found out they would face large-scale reshuffling and possible dismissal. An additional 15,000 public workers are slated to lose their jobs by the end of 2014.

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My piece on Rome’s street art renaissance has just been published by Time.

Say the words “Roman art,” and your average listener will likely think of classical statues, ornate churches and the masterworks of Michelangelo, Caravaggio and their contemporaries. But to a select, but growing, few, that phrase summons something more contemporary: a growing body of street and graffiti art that has recently blossomed across the Eternal City.

The explosion has been sudden and noticeable, especially in the Ostiense neighborhood just outside the Aurelian Walls, where local support has transformed the former industrial area into a haven for muralists and poster artists. “When we were putting up the first works, they were looking at us like we were crazy,” says Francesco Dobrovich, project manger at NUfactory, a creative agency that has served as a broker between artists, local authorities and building owners. The boom has been fueled, at least in part, by the yearly Outdoor Festival, organized by NUfactory. Dedicated to street art, it attracts artists from across the continent. On the neighborhood’s major arterial the young Spanish artist Borondo has covered a gay cultural center with figures that seem to rise out of the neighborhood’s characteristic grime. On a side street, the windows of an apartment building have been painted into eerily empty eyes by the Bolognese artist Blu. On a wall outside a disco, the two-man RO.BO.COOP has pasted a remix of Sandro Bottocelli’s “Allegory of Spring,” in which all the figures in the Renaissance masterpiece are wearing surgical masks.

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My piece on why a referendum on the euro could be good for Italy has just been published by Time.

Of all the proposals put forward by the wild-haired comedian turned populist politician Beppe Grillo during the run-up to Italy’s elections in February, one stood out as the most controversial: his insistence that Italy hold a referendum on whether the country should give up the euro as its currency. After all, Rome had just spent the previous 15 months doing everything possible to hold on to the euro — tasking a technocratic government with implementing unpopular tax hikes and reforms, amid fears that an unruly exit by the euro zone’s third largest economy would bring down the entire currency union.

Grillo’s proposition was easily dismissed by the country’s political and media establishment, providing ammunition for opponents eager to paint him as dangerously misinformed. But Grillo was, in fact, tapping into something real. More than half of Italy’s voters chose candidates who explicitly rejected austerity measures widely seen to be imposed by German and other European bureaucrats and bankers.

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My piece on the Vatican’s pavilion in the Venice Biennale has just been published by Time.

The first thing visitors will see when they enter the Vatican Pavilion at the Venice Biennale—an art show dedicated to the modern and cutting edge—will be a nod to the past: a three-paneled triptych on which the 20th-century Italian artist Tano Festa reproduced details from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. The paintings, in tones of tan and ocher, serve two functions. They remind viewers of the Vatican’s past importance as a sponsor of art, and they serve as a frame for the rest of the show inside.

The theme for the pavilion, the Holy See’s first at the Biennale, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 24, is the same subject Michelangelo depicted in his famous ceiling: the opening chapters of Genesis. Spanning the history of biblical creation, from “Darkness on upon the face of the deep” through the collapse of the Tower of Babel, the events include the forming of the earth and the animals, the stories of Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel and Noah’s flood.

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My essay on Italy’s failed politics has just been published by Time.

For anyone who’s spent even a modest amount of time observing Italian politics, it was difficult to watch the aftermath of the country’s elections in February and not think of the classic Italian novel The Leopard, by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa. Set in 19th century Sicily, at a time of crisis, the book’s most famous sentence is an explanation delivered by a member of the island’s threatened nobility as to why he is joining the rebels: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change.”

After more than a year of technocratic rule and an election in which voters expressed an impassioned desire for renewal, Italy is back in the hands of the politicians who have repeatedly failed to solve its problems. At 46, the country’s new Prime Minister, Enrico Letta, may be young by the standards of Italy’s ruling class, but he’s also a representative of Italy’s political elite, a high-ranking member of the center-left Democratic Party who accepted his first ministerial post in 1998. Meanwhile, Silvio Berlusconi, the scandal-plagued former Prime Minister, is back at the heart of power with his party’s secretary, Angelino Alfano, confirmed as Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister. Letta will be dependent on the center-right Berlusconi’s support as he begins the task of trying to change a country dangerously stuck in its ways.

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My piece on Italy’s first black minister has just been published by Time.

Cecile Kyenge, Italy’s first black government minister, proposes a law that would give citizenship to the children of immigrants if they are born on Italian soil. Under the current legislation, Italian nationality is passed on most commonly by blood, meaning the grandchildren of an Italian who has never set foot in the country has more rights to citizenship than someone who was born in Rome to foreign parents.

But even if Kyenge, 48, is unable to push a single piece of legislation through Parliament, she will already have secured an important legacy. Her April 27 appointment as Minister for Integration in Italy’s newly formed government has kicked off a much-needed discussion on race and immigration in a country that still struggles to come to terms with its rapid transformation.

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