The Monocle Minute

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Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Friday 7 April 2017

Cyber warfare

Image: Getty Images

Virtual reality

The West must wise up to Russia’s capability in disseminating propaganda online.

After the horrors of Tuesday’s chemical weapons attack in Syria’s Idlib province, which killed at least 72 people, came the inevitable distraction and deflection by the Syrian government’s supporters, namely Russia. Using a network of television news channels, websites and social-media users, Russia tried to muddy the waters, arguing without evidence that the chemical weapons belonged to the rebels. It also had the support of a host of “alternative” western news sites, from Infowars on the right to hard-left bloggers and activists. Wikileaks claimed it was a “false flag” operation, while other prominent pro-Russian commentators argued that the attack harmed Assad’s reputation so therefore could not have been carried out by his government. While western nations are beginning to realise the influence that Russian-backed fake news and propaganda can have on their elections, they also need to take seriously the threat of Russia’s online network to create “alternative facts” about Syria. This is what cyber warfare looks like. The West, so far, seems to have little sense of how to deal with it.

Commerce

Image: Getty Images

Quick fix

While a possible trade deal in Latin America will benefit the region, clearing out corruption might be a more useful solution.

In fits and starts, Latin American countries have been pursuing more open trade with one another since the 1960s but exports within the region still pale in comparison to what they sell to the rest of the world. A big step could be taken today. Working towards freer trade will be at the heart of a meeting in Buenos Aires between the region’s two largest trading blocs: Mercosur (made up of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay) and the Pacific Alliance (Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru). Despite recent signs of recovery, the region has experienced years of economic underperformance owing to falling commodity prices, low investment and crippling corruption. While a deal between Mercosur and the Pacific Alliance would certainly help, many of Latin America’s ailments require better governance, not better trade.

Art

Image: Getty Images

Bearing gifts to Greece

Despite accusations of ‘misery tourism’, Documenta’s descent on Athens will deliver culture vultures – and their cash – to the capital.

Documenta is arguably the world’s most important art exhibition after the Venice Biennale. Academic yet healthily anarchic – the first edition in 1955 was dedicated to art labelled “degenerate” by the Nazis – it usually kicks off in mid-summer around Kassel, Germany. But this year its curator Adam Szymczyk is starting early with a satellite show of 160 artists in Athens that opens this weekend. With cinemas, libraries and public squares commandeered for the purpose, it’s been called the biggest outreach of German soft power in Europe since the Greek debt crisis began. Some critics have decried it as “misery tourism” as sensitivities between the two nations run high. We disagree: Documenta has taken to going abroad for recent editions (last time it pitched up in Kabul) and getting the artworld on planes heading to Athens can only be good for the city.

Economics

Image: Diero Ravier

Grand designs

The Italian president is throwing his weight behind Salone del Mobile in a bid to boost his country’s brand.

Salone del Mobile’s inauguration by a head of state, Italian president Sergio Mattarella, was the first for the event in its 56-year history. It set a grand tone for the intentions of Milan Design Week: to promote the city and the country beyond its borders as the world’s capital of design. With its economy still sluggish, the event strove to stress the luxurious allure of the “Made in Italy” brand, which contributes €10.3bn to the nation’s GDP. Bathing in the spring sun, the fine cultural aspects of the spectacle also gave hundreds of thousands of visitors a friendly reminder that even in its most bustling moments, an Italian visit is usually a pleasure. But it wasn’t all blue skies: a public-transport shutdown during a mid-week strike wreaked chaos on the roads and reminded everyone that Mattarella has a difficult path ahead if he really wants to rebuild the economy.

From Monocle 24

Image: Flickr

Something old, something new

The Urbanist

We discuss China’s plans to build a brand-new city three times the size of New York, hear how Serbia’s capital is preparing for a cycling revolution and examine the project trying to “beautify” Cairo’s downtown.

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