Wednesday. 21/4/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Gabby Laurent

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Lessons learnt

Can political leaders change their stripes? As citizens and observers we often say we want politicians to admit their mistakes. Yet when they do we tend to dismiss their motives or be unforgiving of the bad decisions they took in the first place. It’s a topic that has irked me thanks to a few choice examples from the news this week.

Markus Söder: The state premier of Bavaria has conceded defeat to Armin Laschet in a race to lead Germany’s ruling conservatives into September’s post-Merkel federal elections. The reason? Söder probably ruffled too many feathers among Germany’s political elite, including Angela Merkel herself, after taking a hard anti-immigration line in the refugee crisis of 2015 and 2016. He’s sought to change his image since, becoming an environmentalist, a competent pandemic manager and one of Germany’s most popular politicians. He has four years to prove that this new image isn’t just for show.

George W Bush: The former US president has released a new book of his own artistic portraits of America’s immigrants. The Guardian ran with: “George W Bush is back – but not all appreciate his new progressive image.” Frankly, that’s lazy headline writing: everyone loves to hate Bush but why not give him a chance? Before the war on terror there was compassionate conservatism, a comprehensive immigration bill and a belief that Hispanics were the future of the Republican party. Bush is going back to his roots.

Tony Blair: As an American studying in the UK at the time of the Iraq war, my worldview was partly shaped by Blair (pictured). And though his apologies since then have rung hollow for many in the UK, I respected Blair as someone who firmly believed that, when it came to the US, it was better to try and shape policy than be on the outside looking in. In my interview with him for Monocle’s April issue, he suggested that the same principle would have guided his dealings with Donald Trump, particularly when it came to the pandemic.

Personally I prefer leaders who make bad decisions but with good intentions than those with bad intentions in the first place. The former group are also the ones most likely to admit mistakes and make up for them later in life. And surely that’s a trait among politicians that’s worth encouraging.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / Myanmar

Time to unite

A wrench has been thrown into Saturday’s summit of leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) in Jakarta. The 10-member bloc, of which Myanmar is a member, is set to discuss the country’s escalating crisis following the 1 February military coup. But an invitation extended to the junta’s leader Min Aung Hlaing (pictured) has drawn the ire of NGOs for lending the regime legitimacy and, separately, Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha announced yesterday that he won’t be attending. Though Chan-ocha hasn’t given an official reason for backing out – foreign minister Don Pramudwinai will be attending instead – Asean countries are conflicted about the approach to take when it comes to Myanmar. While some members, including Singapore, Indonesia and Malaysia, have proposed increasing pressure on Myanmar’s junta, neighbouring Thailand has notably refrained. With UN secretary-general António Guterres urging Asean to use its influence to bring about a peaceful resolution, the pressure is on the bloc.

Hear more on this story on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Media / Global

Under pressure

Over the past year we’ve seen numerous examples of the dangers of misinformation, which makes the recent findings of the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index 2021 all the more concerning. In 73 per cent of the 180 countries surveyed, the organisation found that journalism is completely or partially blocked. Many governments have used the pandemic as an excuse: Egypt’s president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi banned the publication of non-government sanctioned health statistics, for example, while Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro blocked critiques of their inaccurate rants on the pandemic.

Even Germany was stripped of its “good” classification following attacks on journalists at anti-lockdown protests. It serves as a reminder of the difficulties reporters face but also, according to RSF director of international campaigns Rebecca Vincent, of the importance of a quality press. “Independent reporting is absolutely crucial in combatting disinformation and protecting freedom of information,” she tells The Monocle Minute. “Having unfettered access to accurate information is more important now than ever before.”

*Hear more from Rebecca Vincent on today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Defence / Switzerland

Armed struggle

Military conscription has long been a part of Swiss life but changes in behaviour – work obligations in particular – mean that many conscripts are leaving the armed forces earlier than in the past, resulting in personnel shortages. As a potential solution the military is exploring how to bring more women into the fold and even whether to include them in conscription. Pälvi Pulli, head of Swiss security policy, says that this could take years to implement and would require a change to the constitution. “Extending a drastic obligation to half of the country should not be taken lightly,” Pulli tells Monocle 24’s The Chiefs. But with women comprising just 0.9 per cent of Switzerland’s armed forces, the debate is a sign that the Alpine country is taking this seriously. “We’re trying to figure out the reason why women do not want to join the armed forces,” says Pulli. “What do we need to change?”

Hear the full interview with Pälvi Pulli on the latest edition of ‘The Chiefs with Tyler Brûlé’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Getty Images

Housing / USA

Building a future

Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti this week proposed spending of nearly $1bn (€830m) to tackle homelessness in the city, as part of a new annual budget. If successful, it will be the most that any LA mayor has allocated to the issue in a single year. Garcetti says that $791m (€657m) in funds will be used to speed up the construction of homes for the unhoused, to create more shelters and expand support programmes. An additional $160m (€133m) will be rolled over from this year’s budget too. Los Angeles has one of the highest proportions of unhoused people in the US (more than 500 per 100,000), a crisis that has only escalated due to the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic. While the new budget is promising, it’s only half the battle: the next step will be turning funding into viable projects and proposals to help tackle one of the biggest epidemics in modern-day America.

Image: Justin Higuchi/FLICKR

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian

Two independent US record labels – Jagjaguwar and Secretly Canadian, which both operate under the Secretly Group – celebrate their 25th anniversaries this year. Their co-founders Darius Van Arman and Chris Swanson join Robert Bound to discuss their roots in Bloomington, Indiana, the artists that have shaped their labels and the music industry’s past quarter-century.

Monocle Films / Global

The Monocle Book of Gentle Living

From how to make the most of your free time to rethinking the way you work, shop and even sleep, this book is packed with tips for making good things happen, doing something you care about and finding a slower pace of life that’s kinder to yourself, those around you and the planet.

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