The Monocle Minute

Today’s top stories, opinion and opportunities
Thursday 14 December 2017

Politics

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Fired up and ready to go

In a blow to President Trump, the Democrats have seized a US Senate seat in the conservative state of Alabama.

Alabama’s special senate election to replace Republican attorney general Jeff Sessions has grabbed the world’s attention and this week Democratic challenger Doug Jones pulled off an unlikely victory by defeating the divisive yet resilient Roy Moore. For Democrats, winning Alabama – a solidly Republican state for a quarter of a century – could herald the start of a recovery ahead of mid-term elections at the end of 2018. A surge in support began in November’s elections in Virginia and New Jersey. Energised young urbanites have been turning out for the Democrats at the ballot box but the party still has something of an uphill struggle to wrest back one or both chambers next year. Will it happen? Watch this space.

Trade

Image: Getty Images

Look on the bright side

There are two global-trade gatherings this week – although one has more chance of success than the other.

This week sees two important get-togethers for anyone interested in the state of free trade. Representatives from the 164 members of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) are currently in Buenos Aires for the first such gathering in two years; at the same time, negotiators from Canada and Mexico will be in Washington for further talks on redrafting Nafta. Few people are expecting fireworks from the Argentinean capital – the WTO is a plodding organisation at the best of times and now can’t even rely on the backing of the US – but there may be more progress in Washington. Although Nafta is also threatened by the US president’s “America first” agenda, this round of talks is set to concentrate on signing off issues on which the parties agree. A rare ray of light in an otherwise gloomy state of affairs for global trade.

Business

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Sweet relief

Panettone’s underrated cousin was under threat this year but come Christmas many Italian families will be opening pandoro’s box.

There’s more to Christmas in Italy than panettone – it’s called pandoro, a plain but no less delicious cousin to the internationally famous raisin-and-candied fruit bread loaf. Most Italian families will buy one of each to avoid festive feuds. However this yuletide tradition looked like crumbling earlier this year when one of the country’s most beloved and famous pandoro producers faced bankruptcy. Fortunately Melegatti was allowed to carry out its seasonal duties and the Verona-based company has repaid the show of confidence by producing (and selling) more than 1.5 million pandoros. The seasonal sales rush provides a much-needed boost for the brand but serious belt-tightening will be needed in the new year if Melegatti is to make it to next Christmas. Emulating the overseas appetite for panettone would be a sweet success story.

Language

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Lost for words

Japan’s marking the year’s end by listing its most popular phrases – one of which warns of an impending missile strike.

J-Alert, Premium Friday and Fujii fever may sound like catchy pop songs but they are actually three of Japan’s most popular phrases of 2017. At the end of every year Japanese logophiles look out for this annual list: J-Alert is the system used to warn citizens of an imminent missile attack; Premium Friday – the government’s unsuccessful attempt to encourage the overworked population to go home early on the last Friday of the month; and Fujii fever is the frenzy that followed the record-breaking winning streak of 15-year-old Shogi (Japanese chess) prodigy, Sota Fujii. But top of this year’s list is sontaku – an innocent enough word meaning “conjecture” that has become associated with political scandal and the notion of prime minister Shinzo Abe’s unspoken wishes being carried out without an order ever being given. Missiles, chess, long hours and political mishaps… roll on 2018.

From Monocle 24

Image: Alamy

Architect Ole Scheeren

Section D

We sit down with German architect Ole Scheeren to talk about his latest ‘sky forest’ project in Ho Chi Minh City and why he thinks it’s prime time to build in Asia.

From Monocle Films

Christmas shopping in Helsinki

We head to Santa's homeland to stock up on some Christmas stocking fillers, from fashion and homeware to books and toys.

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