With the Italian economy and job market performing so poorly, and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi behaving so badly, The Nation's Frederika Randall wonders how the septuagenarian scandal-maker has survived so long. After all, corruption and cronyism are rampant and economic and political prospects bleak with 30 percent of young people unemployed and less than half of women in the workforce. So why hasn't the center-left been able to defeat Berlusconi and unite behind a forceful opposition message? Enter Nichi Vendola, the openly left-wing, openly gay governor of the southern region of Puglia.

There Is a Better Italy, published in January and written with a network of grassroots groups known as Le Fabbriche di Nichi ("Nichi's Factories" or "Workshops"), spells out Vendola's program for Italy. Brimming with citations (Martin Luther King Jr., Tolstoy, Maria Montessori, Shakespeare, Anna Politkovskaya, Groucho Marx) and bubbling with ideas, it is a testament to popular participation in the Factories as much as a honed political platform. Among the interesting proposals: instead of using GDP or any "index of happiness" as a measure of economic progress, that measure ought to include indexes of "competition, social cohesion and environmental health." Growth that leads to extremes of wealth and poverty should by definition be considered negative. Vendola believes our models of sustainable development are still too anthropocentric and that a "biocentric" vision is needed to focus on species interdependence. He proudly defends income redistribution and urges a 0.05 percent tax on financial transactions. Italy must combat its rampant tax evasion, yes, he says, but without punishing productive enterprises. The tax system should reward "work, production and hiring."

Vendola would also like to revive Alinsky-style community organizing to give the poorest Italians a voice. He insists that gender parity in government is achievable, just as he has achieved it in the Puglia regional cabinet. He'd like to see a new Ministry of Creative Production to promote art-, culture- and knowledge-based activities. Guerrilla gardening, water as a public good, integrating immigrants, rewards for talent and merit: compared with the dreary reality of Berlusconi's Italy, it sounds utopian. But these days a glimpse of utopia seems to appeal to many Italians, especially the young. And Vendola is very adept at keeping in touch with young Italians on the web, Facebook and Twitter.

Read the rest of the story at The Nation.

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