Wednesday. 15/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Christopher Cermak

Under the influence

Parliamentary rules are among the most arcane of practices in most nations. Despite the fact that lawmakers (in democratic countries) are supposed to be doing the people’s business, the procedures by which laws get passed are almost always opaque. Nowhere more so than in the US Senate where, this week, those rules are at the centre of a legal battle that has major implications for the country.

How many of you knew the role of “Senate parliamentarian” even existed? Her name is Elizabeth MacDonough and she’s the chamber’s legal adjudicator. This week she’s set to rule on whether a massive overhaul of the country’s immigration system – including giving certain groups of illegal immigrants permanent residency – will have a material impact on federal spending and can therefore count as part of the government’s annual budget proposal. Why does this matter? Because, to put it simply, budget proposals can be passed in what’s called “reconciliation” with only 50 votes in the 100-member Senate, while all other legislation effectively needs 60 votes to pass that other arcane procedure known as the filibuster. Given that Democrats have only 50 votes in the Senate, they’re trying to pack as much of their agenda as possible into the budget-reconciliation process.

As I said, all of this is opaque. Perhaps it’s part of the reason that Congress’s approval rating is currently at just 28 per cent. While we all disagree (often sharply) on the right course of policy, at the end of the day legislatures must be able to do their jobs. I’m all for bipartisanship, as I’ve written about many times in this newsletter, but the inability of ruling parties in the US to legislate needs to end. It shouldn’t take bizarre workarounds or placing civil servants such as MacDonough in the partisan firing line. So let’s make it simple: ditch the 60-vote threshold, accept the consequences (next time the other party comes to power, they’ll benefit too) and get on with the business of governing.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / EU

Eastern promises

With an eye on China’s growing influence over everything including trade, defence and technology, the release of the EU’s Indo-Pacific strategy this week marks an official recognition of how the bloc plans to participate in the increasingly important region. The draft document calls for new engagement with Beijing and is short on criticism of China’s rulers, but the strategy is still likely to ruffle Chinese feathers due to inclusion of the aim of closer trade and investment ties with Taiwan. The draft also warns of tensions in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait and outlines a plan for new digital partnerships – co-operation on emerging technologies, e-commerce and the like – with Japan, South Korea and Singapore. The proposal also comes just weeks before the year’s first summit of the “Quad” security grouping, made up of the US, India, Japan and Australia. The EU has pledged to work with the group on climate change, technology and vaccines. Clearly the bloc does not want to be left behind.

For more on the EU’s approach to the Indo-Pacific region, tune in to today’s edition of ‘The Globalist’ on Monocle 24.

Image: Shutterstock

Cinema / Global

Developing film

“When life doesn’t give you satisfaction,” French film director François Truffaut once said, “You go to the movies.” Cinema closures during the pandemic might have prevented that inspiration from ringing true – global box-office revenues plummeted by 71 per cent in 2020 – but new figures from Gower Street Analytics suggest that there’s life in the conventional cinema model yet.

This year’s global box office has already overtaken 2020’s total of $12bn (€10bn) and is expected to reach $20.2bn (€17bn), a 68 per cent rebound. That recovery comes despite the fact that studios such as Warner and Disney experimented with hybrid releases this year, launching marquee titles such as Wonder Woman 1984 simultaneously in cinemas and on streaming platforms, or bypassed cinemas altogether. With major releases such as the latest James Bond instalment No Time to Die still to open, here’s hoping the end credits for old-school cinema-going remain a long way off.

Image: Getty Images

Society / New Zealand

Our land

New Zealand’s annual Māori Language Week has given Kiwis plenty to chew over, with a call to change the country’s official name to Aotearoa, the name used by its indigenous population. The Māori Party’s petition to parliament, which was launched yesterday, would also like to see cities and towns “restore” their Māori names within the next five years. Party co-leader Rawiri Waititi (pictured) recently succeeded in changing the parliamentary dress code after he was ejected from the debating chamber for wearing a traditional hei-tiki pendant. However, dropping “New Zealand” would be a big step up from ditching neckties and likely meet stiffer resistance in a country that is gradually becoming more bilingual. Aotearoa translates to “land of the long white cloud” and the name is already used interchangeably with its official title – as of this year it appears first on official passports. Expect Kiwi pragmatism to prevail and the two languages to live side by side.

Image: Getty Images

F&B / Nordics

Stellar performance

There was cause for celebration in a number of Nordic restaurants this week, as new Michelin stars for the region were unveiled in a televised announcement at the Stavanger Concert Hall in Norway. The biggest news is that Copenhagen stalwart Noma (pictured), often hailed as the best in the world, finally got its three stars after holding two for almost its entire existence. The total number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the region has now climbed to 65: 49 with one star, 12 with two and four with three. It’s worth questioning whether the stars are ever really a guarantee of a great restaurant (Noma being considered the world’s best even without a third star is a case in point). But considering how difficult the past 18 months have been for the hospitality industry, it’s safe to say that the tireless work of so many chefs in the Nordics has truly paid off.

M24 / Monocle on Culture

Saint Etienne and Alasdair McLellan

British band Saint Etienne have just released their 10th album, I’ve Been Trying to Tell You. Accompanying the music is a film by Alasdair McLellan, a series of vignettes set on a road trip across the UK. McLellan and Saint Etienne’s Sarah Cracknell join Robert Bound to discuss the project.

Monocle Films / Global

The secret to putting on perfume

In our ‘Secret to...’ series we look at the best way to wear a fragrance with Frances Shoemack, founder of Abel perfumes.

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