Thursday. 16/9/2021

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Sasha Issenberg

Silent treatment

It was a Californian, Richard Nixon, who first coined the term “silent majority” when describing a faction of largely white, conservative voters who were quietly angry with liberalism’s excesses. It was this same bloc that California right-wing activists expected to rouse last summer, when they initiated a process to remove the state’s Democratic governor Gavin Newsom (pictured) at the height of the pandemic’s first wave. A coalition of small-business owners, parents of school-aged children and those simply angry at elite hypocrisy (Newsom famously was caught dining maskless with a lobbyist at an opulent Napa County restaurant in defiance of his own public guidance) would rise up at the chance to replace the state’s governor. Or so the organisers of the recall hoped.

After Tuesday’s vote kept Newsom in office by a comfortable margin, it’s clear that those forces don’t amount to much beyond a loud opposition. Though postal ballots are still being counted, as it stands barely more than a third of Californians chose to recall Newsom midway through his four-year term. In a campaign waged largely over how he handled the pandemic, voters took his side. A CNN exit poll found that 65 per cent of voters said that coronavirus was a “public health responsibility” rather than a “personal choice” and 70 per cent supported a mask requirement in schools.

It turns out that those who wanted to impose aggressive public-health measures to confront the virus – but have been conditioned through media coverage to fear backlash from anti-maskers and vaccine sceptics – had little to worry about. And the message seems to be spreading beyond the country’s most populous state. Last week, Joe Biden mandated that the federal workforce be vaccinated and required all private employers with more than 100 workers to follow a jab-or-test regime. Democrats running for governor of Virginia and New Jersey this autumn are taking a similar line. The true pandemic-era silent majority seems to be those who want sensible precautions to fight disease.

Sasha Issenberg is a Monocle correspondent currently based in Los Angeles.

Image: Charlie Faulkner

Media / Afghanistan

Truth to power

Since the Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan in August, more than 150 media outlets in the country have stopped operating and most foreign citizens have been evacuated. One media provider bucking that trend is Germany’s Deutsche Welle, which this week launched two new daily news programmes in Dari and Pashto to be broadcast via short-wave radio. Debarati Guha, director of programmes for Asia at Deutsche Welle, says that the broadcaster’s mission is to promote human rights. And while the future is uncertain (the Taliban is yet to set rules for foreign broadcasters operating in the country) it’s key to get as much unbiased information to the Afghan people as possible. “In a warzone, people need information more than at any other time,” Guha told Monocle 24’s The Briefing. “People need to know what is happening around them, what their rights are and, more importantly, what the world is saying about their country.”

For more on the future of Afghanistan, pre-order a copy of our October issue, which is out next week.

Image: Alamy

Defence / Slovakia

Army surplus

Slovakia’s defence ministry revealed plans this week for its largest round of military spending in an attempt to modernise its armed forces. The landlocked central European nation hopes to purchase 152 tracked and 76 wheeled armoured-combat vehicles, at a hefty cost of more than €2bn. Why the spending spree, particularly at a time when most countries are trying to recover financially from the global pandemic?

The answer lies primarily with Slovakia’s Nato membership. In addition to the 2014 goal for members to spend 2 per cent of their GDP on defence (which many countries have yet to meet), the western military alliance also has a minimum requirement for a functioning army in member states – an obligation Slovakia appears to be short of fulfilling. The purchases are expected to come mostly from other allied nations and the plans are still to be entirely approved by the government. If the defence ministry gets the green light, it should help to whip Slovakia’s military into shape.

Urbanism / Indonesia

Up in the air

A “citizen lawsuit” filed by a group of 32 Jakartans against government authorities will be heard today for the ninth time by the capital’s district court, which hopes finally to reach a verdict on a landmark air pollution case. The suit was first filed over two years ago against the Indonesian president, regional leaders and the ministers of health, environment and home affairs. It aims to hold them accountable for failing to protect the right of the capital’s citizens to clean air. The city of 10 million is the ninth most polluted in the world and the plaintiffs include those with lasting health conditions caused by the poor air quality. The case has faced several delays and the city has greenlit a number of environmentally damaging initiatives in the time it has been under way, including a new double-decker toll road. Whatever the verdict, the city authorities will have to clean up their act.

Image: Alamy

Arts / Italy

Back to business

Milan’s busy late summer of trade fairs continues this weekend as the northern Italian city’s art show Miart rolls into town, hot on the heels of the Supersalone. Miart director Nicola Ricciardi, formerly head of Turin’s impressive contemporary art centre OGR, is taking the reins of an edition that feels like more than just a reprise; it’s an opportunity to reiterate the importance of fairs for galleries and the city alike. Many of the 145 galleries taking part are Italian, though participants hail from 21 different countries. Its proximity to the big return of Art Basel, which many have hailed as a defining moment in the resurrection of the art market as we used to know it, might have deterred some of the big players from joining. But excellent Italian galleries, from Galleria Continua to Kaufmann Repetto, make this a very worthy stop before then. For those able to attend, Miart runs from tomorrow until Sunday.

Image: Andrea Pugiotto

M24 / Monocle on Design

Milan Design Week, part two

Everything you need to know about the world of design, from furniture to fashion and craft to architecture. Expect fresh stories, new finds and designers and all the latest news from the world’s most exciting studios.

Monocle Films / Berlin

Studio Babelsberg: reel deal

Despite the ubiquity of digital effects in cinema, Berlin’s Studio Babelsberg has preserved the craft of prop making. Its lifelike items continue to appear in some of the biggest movies today. We inspect the studio’s stunning hand-built sets and its museum-like archives.

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