Wednesday. 13/1/2021

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Megan Gibson

Power failure

Is corporate power moving into the vacuum created by politicians who are failing to use theirs responsibly? In the week since a mob stormed the Capitol in Washington, we have seen Republican politicians such as senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley double down on their challenge of Joe Biden’s election win in November; in fact, 147 Republicans voted to overturn the results just hours after the attack. But while democratic duty alone might not be an incentive for these politicians to stop courting Donald Trump’s mad message, financial pressure just might do it.

In recent days the likes of JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, Marriott and AT&T, among others, announced that they were either pausing political donations through their political action committees (aka PACs), stopping political spending indefinitely or halting donations to Republicans who have tried to overturn Biden’s victory. If more corporations rethink their political donations – which seems likely given that House Democrats are poised to vote to impeach Trump today – there’s a decent chance that we’ll see many Republicans, save a few hardliners, quietly drop their challenge to the election results.

But while that might be good news for Democrats, not to mention for political stability in Washington, it’s hardly cause for celebration. It says many things about the state of politics in the US right now – and none of them good – if, in order for democracy to be upheld, we must rely on corporations rather than on elected officials doing their jobs.

Society / Japan

Flickering flame

Tokyo 2020 banners are still fluttering in the Japanese capital but the chances of the rescheduled Olympic Games starting as planned on 23 July look slim. A new poll has found that 80 per cent of Japanese people now favour postponing or cancelling the Games altogether. Last week, Dick Pound, the longest-serving member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), called recent coronavirus surges “the elephant in the room” and questioned whether the event will go ahead. With Tokyo and the surrounding prefectures under a state of emergency and no plans to start vaccinating before late February, public support for the Games has waned. Prime minister Yoshihide Suga is in a familiar bind: trying to shore up the economy while keeping the virus under control. For now, he and the IOC continue to make positive noises but even the most optimistic among them would have to admit that time is running out.

For more on this story from our Tokyo bureau chief Fiona Wilson, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’.

Trade / USA & France

Taxing matters

A Franco-US trade spat stemming from a long-running dispute over subsidies given to Europe’s Airbus and America’s Boeing escalated again this week as the US imposed further sanctions. A 15 per cent import duty was placed on parts for civil aircraft but equally alarming for France is a new 25 per cent tax on high-alcohol wine and certain spirits (on top of a tax on lower-alcohol wine imposed in 2019). It’s a major blow to the F&B industry: 85 million bottles of cognac alone were exported to the US last year. Compromise seems unlikely: the trade war predates the Trump administration and the aerospace industry is “a core national interest, rising above any bipartisan divide,” says Hosuk Lee-Makiyama, director of the European Centre for International Political Economy, a think-tank. There’s also a broader dispute over taxes: European retailers, such as LVMH, Hermès, Kering and L’Oréal, face US tariffs in retaliation for France’s imposition of local taxes on American digital giants, including Facebook and Google. This is a feud that the Biden administration will struggle to soothe.

Urbanism / Switzerland

Respect the elders

Expanding a city’s housing opportunities while protecting its historic charm requires vision and patience. In the case of the Swiss town of Prangins, it took more than 15 years of sticking to a clear brief, which this week resulted in it being awarded the 2021 Wakker prize, given annually by heritage society Schweizer Heimatschutz.

Located near the French border on Lake Geneva and home to around 4,000 people, Prangins is currently facing an influx of residents as more people move to Geneva and its surroundings. It was the town’s knack for refurbishing run-down but historic buildings into pleasing apartment complexes that stood out to the award’s judges. That and the town’s daring decision in a 2007 referendum to tear down a popular theatre in order to restore three historically protected buildings just behind it that had fallen into disrepair. The decision marked the beginning of Prangins’ transformation; today it reaps the rewards. There are a fair few cities who could learn from this slowly-slowly Swiss approach.

F&B / Belgium

Still worth travelling for

Belgium’s restaurant industry toasted some rare good news this week as Michelin awarded Zilte in Antwerp three stars, its highest rating. The restaurant, from chef Viki Geunes (pictured), is the country’s second three-star dining spot: Hof van Cleve in Kruisem retained its lofty status in the annual update. The fact that Michelin is issuing its awards even though many restaurants have had to keep their doors shut for much of the past 12 months is a sign of support for the F&B industry and, let’s face it, some PR for its famous ruby-red guidebooks at a slow time. Gwendal Poullennec, international director of Michelin Guides, made it clear at the beginning of the pandemic that its inspectors would take into account the difficult circumstances it has caused by remaining realistic and respectful. While it’s great to celebrate top tables (the optimistic among you may even be booking ahead), we at Monocle still have reservations about the level of support that smaller independents are receiving from governments – more must be done to help the less starry tables succeed too.

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 239: Sokol Village, Moscow

We visit a revolutionary Soviet suburb that’s now run down and under threat of demolition.

Film / Global

Healthy cities: vim and vigour

Across the world governments and developers are waking up to the fact that healthier cities are happier ones. We touch down in three very different destinations to admire some of the best urban design initiatives.

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