Monday. 7/10/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Tomos Lewis

Where’s the black-face backlash?

Three weeks ago, photographs were published of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau. They showed him in his younger days, dressed up, with his face daubed with dark make-up. It felt like they would become the defining images of this year’s vote, not solely for what they depicted but because they contributed to a profile of a man not to be trusted. Here was the personification of broken promises and political aloofness, otherwise known as business as usual.

Now, however, the latest opinion polls suggest that his Liberal party is still locked in a battle with his main opponents: neck and neck with the Conservatives on the right and not far ahead of the New Democrats on the left. Trudeau’s ratings are unchanged. And research published by McGill University in Montréal last week revealed that the scandal died out, where online chatter is concerned, after three days.

Why? Well, firstly, Trudeau’s handling of the affair was a masterclass in political damage control: his apologies were swift and sincere, and he made them over and over again. Secondly, his opponents have failed to capture the popular imagination, regardless of the PM’s actions. So while scandals can make voters reassess their political priorities, Trudeau seems to represent more than his misadventures in fancy dress. He is still a contender.

Geopolitics / China

Can we have a chat?

China likes to say that it doesn’t interfere in other countries but Beijing’s foreign-policy pillar is looking increasingly creaky. A few more cracks will appear this week when president Xi Jinping inserts himself in the middle of Asia’s most enduring stand-offs. The Chinese president is expected to host Pakistani prime minister Imran Khan tomorrow before travelling to India a few days later to meet Khan’s counterpart, Narendra Modi. A major source of contention between the two south Asian leaders is a Chinese-funded “corridor” that is being built through Pakistan. The multibillion-dollar project, part of Xi’s controversial Belt and Road Initiative, provides China with strategic access to the Arabian Sea. It also passes through Kashmir, a disputed territory and origin of the latest, nuclear-tipped war of words between Islamabad and New Delhi. Xi will urge restraint on both sides, both in the interests of peace and to protect his investments.

Business / USA

Trouble in store

Employment figures in the US make for rosy reading. True, the 136,000 new jobs created in September may be slightly below projections but the unemployment rate of 3.5 per cent is the lowest since December 1969. And yet there is one slow-burn calamity that continues to rumble below the surface: retail in the US shed another 11,000 jobs, bringing the total loss in that sector to almost 200,000 since January 2017. So what does this mean for US cities?

Pop-ups are certainly on the rise, often of dubious quality: New York’s Broadway has a temporary Friends shop, while a kids’ slime experience opens nearby at the end of the month. Clearly civic leaders need to think up some long-term solutions, otherwise the much-fabled rebirth of American downtown cores may fade away.

Politics / Japan

Fighting for the right

With Japan’s parliament back for an extraordinary two-month session, prime minister Shinzo Abe is hoping to solidify his legacy with a big legislative win: revising his country’s pacifist constitution. He wants to legalise the all-around military role of the Self-Defense Forces, which exist in a grey zone given that the constitution’s Article 9 prevents the country from possessing “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential”. Winning approval won’t be a simple matter. Abe’s Liberal Democratic party doesn’t have the two-thirds majority required in the Upper House to submit the legislation and the LDP’s ruling coalition partner, Komeito, appears to be hedging its bets. The public is also divided, with a Kyodo News survey conducted last month showing that 47 per cent of voters oppose a revision, versus 39 per cent who are for it. Abe is likely to enter the history books next month as Japan’s longest-serving leader but he’ll need something extra to reshape his country’s military future.

Urbanism / Paris

Personal touch

They say that change begins at home but for Franklin Azzi, the architect tasked with some of Paris’s most important urban transformations, improving the city’s buildings starts in his studio. And this week you can take a glimpse inside: a sizeable chunk of his high-ceilinged office in the French capital will host a public exhibition of large-format art by Thomas Mailaender. It could be a sign of things to come from Azzi, who is working on key projects in Paris as the city gears up to host the 2024 Olympics. Let’s hope that he applies the same inclusive principles to the overhaul of the largely despised Montparnasse Tower. Azzi is part of the Nouvelle AOM consortium renovating the 1970s skyscraper; the building will gain a more open design and a sky-high garden.

Radio / Eureka

InGamba

Portugal’s João Correia, a former pro cyclist, is the founder of InGamba, a high-end cycle-touring company that gives riders a taste of life in the peleton. But instead of competition, clients enjoy good food, fine wine and beautiful landscapes.

Monocle Films / Nairobi

Nairobi: building better cities

Kenya’s Karura Forest offers not only respite from the bustling capital but also a sense of pride for its citizens.

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