Tuesday. 19/11/2019

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Moderate shake-up

An impeachment inquiry might be soaking up all the oxygen in the US but two other striking political items have made the news in the past few days. The first: in the race to be the Democratic presidential candidate, Pete Buttigieg is a whopping 10 per cent ahead of more experienced rivals Elizabeth Warren, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, according to a poll of voters in Iowa. The telegenic 37-year-old is the mayor of South Bend, Indiana. As you can read in issue 127 of Monocle, the Iowa caucus is the first in a series of state-by-state elections to choose the party’s nominee to face Donald Trump next year. Needless to say, this is a momentous shift.

The second item also concerns the Democratic race: Barack Obama has weighed in for the first time. Without naming names, he made an unambiguous plea for moderation. “This is still a country that is less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement,” he said on Friday. It was an extraordinary intervention that included not-so-subtle digs at left-wing candidates like Warren and Sanders and praise for moderates such as Biden and Buttigieg. But Obama has a point. In the Trump era, most Democrats favour a return to normality over a hard lurch to the left. The Iowa poll found that 63 per cent of voters would prefer a candidate with a strong chance of beating Trump rather than a candidate who supports their positions.

The paradox is this: voters prefer moderation over risk when it comes to ideas but, when it comes to candidates, they value an outsider more than a veteran. And that means that Obama’s best hope for moderation might come in the form of the inexperienced but refreshing Buttigieg – even over Biden, his safe but ageing former vice-president.

Law enforcement / Hong Kong

A reputation to protect

Hong Kong has a new police chief following the retirement of Stephen Lo: deputy commissioner Chris Tang has taken over. It’s a critical time for the city, with daily battles taking place between police and protesters ahead of local elections this weekend. While Tang will seek to bring an end to civil unrest that has lasted six months, his hardest task will be rebuilding his officers’ reputations. Public trust in the police is at an all-time low and splits have even begun to emerge between the force and other emergency services. The police watchdog is due to release a report into police behaviour but its findings are unlikely to satisfy protesters, who want an independent investigation as part of their “five demands” for broader Hong Kong reforms. A rumoured inquiry by the city’s highly regarded anti-corruption agency, which conducts its probes covertly and is not controlled by the Hong Kong government, could have a lot more bite.

Urbanism / Los Angeles

Root and branch reform

Los Angeles has stumped up for 1,200 new street trees. The saplings will be rolled out in central and south LA and are some of the 90,000 trees that mayor Eric Garcetti has pledged to plant by 2021, as part of the city’s Green New Deal. The seed for the initiative was planted after the Trump administration announced plans to leave the Paris Climate Agreement. That move saw LA and other cities, from Seattle to New York, introduce their own strategies to combat rising temperatures, an issue that’s particularly pressing for those living in increasingly warm urban environments.

But the new trees won’t just reduce heat and provide shade for residents: they’ll also create habitats for urban wildlife and make for more pleasant, greener streets. It will be a marked aesthetic improvement for some of the city’s most sweltering and barren neighbourhoods. Other cities should take a leaf out of Garcetti’s book.

Environment / Faroe Islands

Clean break

The dramatic landscapes of the Faroe Islands, with their soaring cliffs and plunging fjords, have drawn visitors to this remote archipelago in the North Atlantic for decades. But recent times have seen a sharp acceleration in tourist numbers, with an annual increase of 10 per cent over the past five years. It’s taking its toll on the islands’ natural environment and has led to a recent decision to close popular tourist spots for a weekend in April. Over these two days a volunteer-run maintenance crew will be invited to tend to these damaged sites. While it might be hard to make much of a difference in such a short time, the initiative is part of an innovative marketing campaign to get visitors involved in sustainable tourism. Read more about this delicate balance in our first Winter Weekly newspaper of the year, on stands from 21 November.

Geopolitics / Norway & The UK

More than mere decoration

In the woods outside Oslo this morning, a choice Norwegian spruce is being felled and prepped for transport to London. The annual tradition has taken place since 1947, with the conifer offered in gratitude to the UK for its support during the Second World War. Known by locals as the Queen of the Forest, the final spruce that is chosen will stand in Trafalgar Square and be decorated in the Norwegian style. At some 24 metres tall and 90 years old, the Queen is one of a number of young saplings that are vetted for the role in their youth. This year the tree’s lights are due to go on at the 5 December ceremony, when it will serve as a glowing pre-election reminder that the UK's relations with Europe run far deeper than Brexit.

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 183: The Flower Nagai Line, Yamagata

We take a trip on the Flower Nagai Line, a quirky train line running through Japan’s Yamagata prefecture, that makes for a particularly unique commute.

Monocle Films / Italy

A taste of Sicily

Sicily is a stunning Mediterranean destination – and not least for its food. Monocle Films goes on a culinary tour of the island and drops in on a cooking school that promotes traditional food producers and seasonal recipes.

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