Wednesday. 3/2/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Left to its own devices

Listen to conservative media outlets in the US these days – late-night Fox News anchors, for example, or popular podcasters, such as Ben Shapiro – and you’ll hear that the “mainstream media” has already lost all credibility. Perceived fawning over Joe Biden’s presidency is taken to demonstrate that the media cannot be trusted to cover him critically, any more than it could be trusted to cover Donald Trump uncritically. Much of this is, of course, overblown, not to mention the fact that many conservative commentators have a self-interest in portraying legacy media as overtly biased. Still, they do have a point.

After four years of an administration that openly called the press “the enemy of the people”, it’s hard, as a journalist, not to feel a certain amount of relief. And no matter how unbiased you would like to sound, that relief will be reflected in your writing and dealings with Biden’s people. It’s hard not to welcome the return of non-partisan health experts such as Anthony Fauci (pictured) briefing the press on behalf of the administration, for example. These are normal things that should happen in any presidency, Republican or Democrat, but that were found wanting under Trump.

And yet it’s easy to get carried away. Biden’s flurry of executive-led initiatives since taking office is not normal, for example. True, many restore the US to a bipartisan consensus that existed before Trump’s candidacy, such as ending a travel ban on Muslim-majority nations, returning to the World Health Organization, and (to a lesser extent) honouring the Iran nuclear deal and Paris Climate Agreement. But other initiatives, such as transgender service in the military, ending the Keystone XL pipeline and doubling the federal minimum wage, are progressive causes and – irrespective of whether they’re good or bad policy – should be treated as such.

The broader point for the media is this: reversing course might seem obvious and for some, an overdue return to normality. But all of these initiatives deserve to be defended, explained, analysed and scrutinised rather than taken at face value. After all, it’s the assumption that everything in the US was “normal” before Trump entered office that arguably got us into this mess in the first place.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Israel & Kosovo

Ties that bind

This week it was the turn of Kosovo to establish formal diplomatic relations with Israel, following in the footsteps of the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan. Both sides see the deal brokered last year by the Trump administration as a win: Kosovo, which is still fighting for legitimacy after its declaration of independence in 2008, gains recognition from Israel. And in return, unlike the other Muslim-majority nations mentioned above, Kosovo has agreed to locate its embassy in Jerusalem, lending it credibility as Israel’s capital. Yossi Mekelberg, senior fellow and Middle East expert at Chatham House, says that Kosovo’s move is unlikely to have much of an impact on others. “Donald Trump moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem three years ago was significant,” he tells the Monocle Minute. “But with Trump gone, there is no longer the pressure on any other nation to follow.” In other words, Kosovo was likely the exception rather than the rule.

Image: Migros

Retail / Switzerland

Checked out

To complement the flexibility of online shopping, Migros, the largest supermarket chain in Switzerland, has come up with an innovative way to extend its hours: unsupervised branches. Swiss retail is bound by federal labour laws that forbid staff from working on a Sunday, so to get around this the new store in Grenchen, canton Solothurn, does away with labour altogether. Shoppers must register using an app and identity card before receiving a QR code that opens the door.

The Voi Cube, as the shop is known, is open 24/7 and stocks about 500 everyday items – although to honour the wishes of Migros’s late founder Gottlieb Duttweiler, this excludes cigarettes and alcohol. It’s an innovative trial that could expand access for shoppers in remote areas or late at night in urban centres. Nevertheless, it shouldn’t distract from supporting shopkeepers in a time of need. Nor should it end efforts to reform outdated retail laws, such as the ban on Sunday shopping.

Image: Shutterstock

Diplomacy / Pacific Islands

Rising tides

Leaders from across the Pacific Islands are sitting down in front of their screens this week for the region’s annual get-together, the first since 2019 (pictured). The 2020 Pacific Islands Forum, delayed from last year, is taking place via video conference and the atmosphere inside the virtual meeting room could be testy. Top of the agenda is naming a replacement secretary-general for the 18-member intergovernmental organisation, which turns 50 this year. Papua New Guinea’s Meg Taylor is standing down and there are five candidates vying to fill her sizable shoes in a hotly contested race that threatens to tear up convention. The Micronesians believe that it is their turn to take the top diplomatic post, which usually rotates between three sub-regions, but the other two groups are putting forward their own candidates too. Forming a consensus might prove to be challenging but the region cannot afford delays and discord. Coronavirus has cut off vital income from tourism, while climate change threatens to sink some of the islands for good.

Image: Getty Images

Urbanism / Stockholm

Fleet or foot?

Carelessly parked electric scooters have spent the better part of the past three years blocking the paths of pedestrians and cyclists in major cities across the globe. This week, Stockholm decided to apply the brakes. The Swedish capital has announced that it will be punishing companies whose incorrectly parked vehicles are left strewn across footpaths. The SEK250 (€25) fine per incorrectly parked scooter is modest but the move will no doubt be celebrated by pedestrians whose ability to navigate city streets comfortably is often inhibited – especially people in wheelchairs and those with prams. Here’s hoping that it will prompt scooter companies to find better ways to manage their fleets too. Doing away with the “stash it anywhere” model and building some docks for parking the scooters sensibly would be a start.

Image: Stefan Olah

M24 / The Urbanist

Tall Stories 242: Funkhaus, Vienna

We visit an iconic broadcasting building to see how its role is changing but its culture and traditions remain.

Monocle Films / Global

Monocle preview: February issue, 2021

Monocle’s February issue encourages you to hit play on your ideas and ambitions for 2021. Whether you’re hoping to start a local newspaper (or a global one), revive your neighbourhood or set up a sauna in a tent, we have 50 ideas about how to make the year a success. Plus: we speak to Greece’s prime minister about strengthening the country’s national brand. Available now at The Monocle Shop

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