The city and the hills – Our analysis of the election results suggests that 2020 accelerated a long-running trend | United States


FOR A MOMENT, it looked as if voters were starting to find some common ground. In the weeks leading up to the elections on November 3rd, polls showed that many of the fault lines dividing Democrats and Republicans—including age, race and education—were beginning to narrow. Even the gap between city dwellers and rural folk seemed to be shrinking. According to a poll conducted by YouGov between October 31st and November 2nd, voters in rural areas favoured President Donald Trump over Joe Biden, his Democratic opponent, by a margin of ten percentage points. Four years ago, this gap was 20 points.

But an analysis of the election results by The Economist suggests that the partisan divide between America’s cities and open spaces is greater than ever. Preliminary results supplied by Decision Desk HQ, a data-provider, show that voters in the least urbanised counties voted for Mr Trump by a margin of 33 points, up from 32 points in 2016. (Specifically these are the bottom 20% of counties by population density. Counties which are more than 10% Hispanics, which shifted right for reasons unrelated to density, have been excluded.) Meanwhile, voters in the most urbanised counties—the top 20%—plumped for Mr Biden by 29 points, up from Hillary Clinton’s 25-point margin in 2016. More broadly, the greater the population density, the bigger the swing to the Democratic candidate (see chart). Even after controlling for other relevant demographic factors, such as the proportion of whites without college degrees or Hispanics in each county, the data suggest that urban and rural voters are more divided today than they were in 2016.

Preliminary results also show that Mr Biden gained most ground in counties that swung hardest toward Democrats between Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012 and Hillary Clinton’s failed bid for the White House in 2016. One possible explanation for this trend is the tendency for Democrats and Republicans to live among their own kind. Americans are still sorting themselves into politically like-minded communities, a movement noted by Bill Bishop in “The Big Sort” published in 2008. For liberals, this means diverse, densely populated cities; for conservatives it is places that are mostly white, working-class and where the neighbours are a .22 round away.

Such sorting has two major consequences. Jonathan Rodden, a professor at Stanford University and author of “Why Cities Lose”, a book about geographic polarisation, says that the partitioning of America by density has led to an underrepresentation of Democratic votes. Because the seats in the House of Representatives and the Senate are awarded on a winner-take-all basis, rather than in proportion to the popular vote, they can end up skewing the allocation of legislative seats away from the party whose voters are crammed into just a few states or congressional districts. As Democrats cluster in cities, the system reduces their political clout. It can be thought of as a natural gerrymander.

Geographic polarisation also hurts Democrats’ chances in the electoral college, America’s system of choosing its president. In this year’s election, for example, Mr Biden will win the national popular vote by about five percentage points. But his margin in the “tipping-point” state that ultimately gave him enough votes to win the election, Wisconsin, will be less than one point. That four-point advantage for the Republicans is the biggest in at least four decades. So long as Democrats continue to be the party of the cities, and Republicans the party of small-town and rural America, those biases will persist.

Dig deeper:
For the latest on the election, see our results page, read the best of our 2020 campaign coverage and then sign up for Checks and Balance, our weekly newsletter and podcast on American politics.

This article appeared in the United States section of the print edition under the headline “City v hills”

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View: Why India’s corporate profits show a reverse trend despite the rise of superstar firms


By Somnath MukherjeeLow corporate profit-to-GDP ratio, check. Single firm dominance in a range of industries, check. Dipping investment rates, check. Slowing productivity growth, check. India, circa 1990? Yes, but also, India circa 2020. Anaemic macros amid islands of prosperous micro-beneficiaries — the narrative is historically intuitive. But the reality is more complex.To be sure, the trend towards monopolisation of businesses is a fact.





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COVID-19 a tailwind for Xero as digitisation trend ramps up


Xero shares rose 0.6 per cent to close at $123.50.

The stock has increased by 110 per cent since March when COVID-19 first hit the markets.

Xero reported net profit of $NZ34.4 million up from $NZ1.3 million with savings coming from reduced travel, marketing spend and the cancellation of its annual Xerocon conferences.

Mr Vamos said Xero always invested most of what it generated back into the business and that was was still its intention with a plan to ramp up investment in sales and marketing as conditions returned to normal.

“Travel will be interesting,” he said. “I think we will go back to travelling again when the time is right and safe for our people. But I don’t think we’ll travel as much.”

The platform grew its subscriber numbers to 2.45 million, a 19 per cent increase from a year ago.

Subscriber numbers in Australia topped 1 million for the first time driven by the move to Single Touch Payroll and the government’s JobKeeper stimulus payments.

Mr Vamos said Xero continued to focus on long term growth and the trend towards digitisation would not go away.

“Our ambition remains to grow the small business platform and drive growth through additional revenue streams including adjacent products such as payroll expenses and projects and financial services related revenue such as payments and bill payables,” he said.

Garry Sherriff of RBC Capital Markets said Xero’s solid subscriber growth particularly in Australia had been driven by government stimulus measures for small businesses.

“Xero’s single touch payroll product with captures information for the Australian Tax Office assisted the Australian result this half in our view as it helps small businesses determine eligibility for JobKeeper payments,” he said. “In overseas markets its more of a mixed muted as UK and North America have been more deeply affected by COVID and the impact on small businesses has been greater in our view.”

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Xero is not paying a dividend and did not provide guidance given the ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic.

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consumer trend: On trend: Smart shopping, trendy buying & women decision-makers


If you have to win in India, you have to build a business of scale and having large value-focussed Indian brands is a sweet spot to be in, says Abheek Singhi, Senior Partner & MD, the Boston Consulting Group.

You have made some very interesting observations in your research. You have said that about 62% of the people are shopping to stay trendy. I am surprised because people have been indoors for eight months. Where is the need to stay trendy?
One of the things which is interesting is what consumers say versus what they do versus what they buy. These are three different things. We see a move towards small luxuries as people have been cooped up for seven-eight months and they are saying what can I buy, what can I do to make me feel good about myself? That is why you see this move towards trendy rather than just functional.

What about information centred shopping? 85% of buyers are becoming more research oriented before making the final transaction unlike earlier? Also 57% have adopted time savings services.
So let me start with the first point which you have made. In our research, we saw the rise of what we call the smart shopper. The smart shopper is looking for solutions and product services which help him or her optimise on three things: Number one, get the best value that is there; second, make sure that time is being saved because close to 90% of Indian consumers say that they are strapped for time. The third is really research. As you mentioned, 85% of people research about the product service that they are buying and that is driven by two reasons: number one, much more information is available now than earlier; and the second is consumers’ trust in brands is reducing and therefore they want certainty or guarantee that they are going to get what they are paying for. Obviously, this is higher in some categories.

If you look at the research that people are doing in categories like durables, auto which is a high ticket item is obviously seeing higher research. Second is categories where the degree of involvement is higher even though the ticket size may be lower. It may be anything related to health, anything related to their kids.

Explain about the rise of females in the family as decision makers, influencing big transaction decisions. Are people now tilting towards more value rather than fancy premium brands?
Yes the single biggest long-term consumer trend that is right now going unnoticed is the rise of the women shoppers or consumers. Across all countries in the world, women are the dominant decision makers across most categories. But if you were to rank order, India comes at the lower end of that spectrum where on an average, across categories, women make the decision 52% compared to 48% by men.

One of the least under-reported trends is the fact that something remarkable happened in 2015-16 when in the percentage of enrolment in schools, girls overtook boys and that has long-term implications because if you look at five years or ten years down the line, you will have more women graduating and entering the workforce. That is a long-term trend. Over the last decade, decision making by women is slowly and steadily increasing across categories. So what does that mean in terms of implication for companies across categories? Categories that were originally thought of as being more women focused as in household goods but also in categories like mobiles, auto, financial services, the women consumer are decision makers in 50% of cases. Therefore companies need to address that segment in a focussed manner.

It cannot be only about saying okay the colour of the mobile is pink. That is passé and there is a need to think about the women consumers in a segmented manner. It is something which companies are picking up and that is probably going to be one of the biggest trends on who is going to win five years, ten years down the line.

How are consumers looking for value because there is a financial crunch and are local customised brands being preferred over overseas brands?
This is a fascinating thing. If you were to scan the headlines, one would think that the premium segment in India is the one which is growing the fastest and that is absolutely true. But regardless of whether you are talking about mobile phones or refrigerators or detergents or snacks, what is referred to as the value segment is also branded product but which are at a lower price point.

In the case of mobile phones, those costing less than Rs 10,000 account for close to 60% of the market. In the case of refrigerators, under 250 litres fridges make 60% of the market. In case of detergents, those costing less Rs 60 per kilo is 60% of the market. So in order to be of significant size in India, playing in the value segment is critical across all product categories.

If one is focussing only on premium, then depending on the category you are addressing only somewhere between 2% and 10% of the market and therefore market leaders in India in order to gain scale have to have a significant presence in the value segment or the mid segment which depending on the category is anywhere between 80% and 95% of the market. That is the most important segment in India.

And if you look at the demographics of India, what BCG refers to as the elite segment are people who have over Rs 20 lakh earning per household. That segment is increasing the fastest but in 2020, that is still less than 6% of the overall population, which accounts for 12% of overall consumption. So, the top end is growing faster but in order to get scale, it is important to win the value segment.

Our research has shown another interesting thing about Indian consumers that they are now keen to buy Indian brands rather than international brands. We have been charting this for the last decade for the same category for similar value functionality. Ten years back, Indians would prefer international brands to Indian brands 70:30. Today Indian brands are preferred more than 50% of the time.

So if you have to win in India, you have to build a business of scale and having large value-focussed Indian brands is the sweet spot to be in.





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Chinese Australians rarely choose to live in rural Australia. Here’s why some have bucked the trend


Daniel Kong had trained as a pharmacist before hanging up his white coat for the opportunity to travel the world as a cabin crew member.

But he lost his job when the pandemic hit, and despite having lived in Sydney all his life, he took a chance to experience something different.

Daniel, who calls himself an ABC or an Australian-born Chinese, was lured by an opportunity very few Chinese Australians have chosen — to put down roots in regional Australia.

The 2016 census found less than 8 per cent of people with Chinese ancestry had chosen to live outside of Australia’s eight capital cities.

In comparison, more than 30 per cent of Australia’s general population live in regional or rural Australia.

A 2019 Australia National University study also found more new migrants leave regional areas for major cities compared with 30 years ago.

Daniel went the opposite way, and ended up thousands of kilometres from the big city where he grew up.

“I found an online advertisement for a pharmacist on Christmas Island, I applied and got it,” he said.

Daniel’s DJ sets on his community radio station are enjoyed by the locals and are winning him fans.(Supplied)

There are only 1,843 residents on Christmas Island and more than one-in-five have a Chinese ancestry, according to the census.

As a self-proclaimed adventurer, Daniel has enjoyed being able to soak up the sun, surf and quietly observe the famous annual migration of the local red crabs.

But the island lifestyle has also come at a cost. Finding fresh vegetables has been a challenge and can be very costly, Daniel said.

He also misses travelling and hopes to go back to seeing the rest of the world once the pandemic ends.

But in the meantime, he has found a new hobby of DJing at a local community radio station and has been winning over listeners with his catalogue of modern Cantonese hits.

“My fans are telling me they enjoy my choice of songs,” he said.

For those like Daniel, regional Australia can be a chance for a different and exciting period of life.

But the peacefulness of towns, and their slower pace of living can also be attractive.

Chen: Feeling at home close to nature

Chen Chi casually poses in front of a building made of stones.
Chen enjoys gardening and picnics in the countryside with her family.(Supplied)

Chen Shi vividly remembers her first impressions of Ballarat after moving from the north-east coast of China six years ago.

“It was very quiet and tranquil,” she told the ABC.

Her hometown of Jinan, with a population of about 8.7 million people, seemed a world away from the old gold mining town of Ballarat, which has about 115,000 residents.

When Chen, a Chinese medicine doctor, relocated with her family to take care of her husband’s elderly parents, she didn’t expect to find a new place to call home.

Chen prefers the slower pace of life she has found in regional Australia.

Chen Shi standing in the sun surrounded by trees and laughing.
Chen Shi says she loves the slower pace of life in a regional city.(Supplied)

She works five days a week in her Chinese medicine clinic and indulges in gardening and picnics with her family on her days off.

“I dislike the nightlife and hate shopping on the weekends, but love to drive to nature to feel what life is meant to be. I don’t feel lonely or out of place,” she said.

More than 150 years ago, Ballarat was a town buzzing with new wealth and gold, and Chinese miners counted for nearly 25 per cent of the local population.

These days, the Chinese community is made up of fewer than 10,000 people, according to a Chinese community leader Charles Zhang.

“It is very often a stranger who does not look Chinese at all … [telling me] proudly about their heritage after they find out I am from China,” Chen said.

“Honestly, sometimes I think Ballarat is even too frantic for me. I’d like to move to an even quieter township to spend all my retirement life.”

Chen’s daughter, Wenny Wang, 23, recently moved back to Ballarat after the pandemic struck in March.

Wenny had been working in Melbourne after she completed her studies in fashion and styling at university in 2017.

“It is great to be closer to your family and bond again after many years of living away from home,” she said.

To her surprise, she landed her dream job in social media marketing locally, just two months after arriving in Ballarat.

Wenjing: From China’s Silicon Valley to swimming in the Kimberley

A selfie of Wenjing Wang wearing a green hat in the Australian outback.
Wenjing said she finally found time to learn how to swim.(Supplied)

Wenjing Wang came to Australia in 2017 from the Chinese city of Shenzhen — also known as the Silicon Valley of China — on a working holiday visa.

“I have settled in Kununurra for over four years because my friend told me there were jobs here,” she said.

Kununurra is a township of 5,000 residents in Western Australia’s Kimberley region; about 3,000 kilometres north of Perth.

“There are only two seasons here — wet and dry seasons. It could reach above 40 degrees on some days,” she said.

Wenjing said the small township has adequate essential services, and most importantly, people are always friendly, caring, and greet each other on the street.

Kununurra townsite
After her time in Kununurra, Wenjing hopes to explore more of Australia.(ABC News: Erin Parke)

She works as a pastry chef at the local pub and settled in with the help of her landlord and colleagues.

“I enjoy my calm and routine Buddhist-style life. I am no longer working 996 [working from 9:00am to 9:00pm six days a week] and successfully learnt swimming, which I have never managed to do in China.”

Wenjing said she struggles to find necessary ingredients for her Chinese cooking, and there are very few Chinese local residents, but it hasn’t bothered her.

She said she has no urge to work on a public holiday for double pay, and instead chooses to enjoy days off with friends exploring the outback.

However, she said she has plans to eventually live and explore other parts of Australia.

“I am planning to move to Brisbane, where I have some friends. They told me Brisbane is not too crowded as Sydney and Melbourne, and not too quiet like Kununurra,” she said.



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Working from the road: ‘Van life’ trend gets a pandemic bump


Mary Mickler is looking to roam. She works as a nurse in Arkansas, and always planned to put down roots. But after the pandemic began, she started to rethink travel nursing as an option – spending three-month stints working in hospitals around the country. 

It was pretty simple: “If I’m going to buy a house anyways, why don’t I buy something that’s mobile?” 

She is having a van custom-outfitted for this new lifestyle – joining the ranks of a growing “van life” community across North America.

The pandemic interrupted vacationing, socializing, and freely interacting with others, but van life offers a way to have new experiences and feel part of a community. And for many like Ms. Mickler, the appeal is also about the peacefulness of spending time in a van parked on open land.

“The pandemic is really accelerating it,” says Jonathon Day, an associate professor at Purdue University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. “People are keen to travel [and] frustrated with being stuck at home. When they’re traveling, they want to control as much as they can.” 

For Carly Kraft, Justin Bartlett, and their dog, Maggie, a new and more mobile life is coming into view. As musicians with bands and day jobs in technology, the couple recently purchased a “skoolie” – a school bus – to convert into a camper-meets-tour-van. Eventually, they hope to live in it and tour the country playing music. 

For now, they’re staying in West Virginia as they outfit it themselves, and are in the early phases of demolition.

The pandemic has in a way propelled them into pursuing a longtime dream.

“We didn’t want to be tied down to any specific place [and] we wanted to be able to tour America playing music,” says Ms. Kraft. 

Her job and Mr. Bartlett’s were in-person before the pandemic, but now they’ve both been told they’ll be working remotely indefinitely. For them, that was ideal. “COVID provided the perfect storm,” says Ms. Kraft.

And even though they don’t have much experience with creating a home on wheels, “there are so many forums online, there are so many Facebook groups, and people are just incredibly helpful,” says Ms. Kraft. 

A niche community before the pandemic, the number of people devoted to “van life” is now growing rapidly. For many, this lifestyle has appeal as a relatively safe way to travel and to prize experiences over home ownership. The pandemic interrupted vacationing, socializing, and freely interacting with others, but van life offers a way to have new experiences and feel part of a community. 

“The pandemic is really accelerating it,” says Jonathon Day, an associate professor at Purdue University’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. “People are keen to travel [and] frustrated with being stuck at home. When they’re traveling, they want to control as much as they can.” 

The trend comes in many flavors. Sometimes exotic destinations like Bermuda are marketed as places from which to work remotely. Sometimes the nomadic life is coupled with full-time work; sometimes it’s more of a part-time lifestyle – finding respite in rolling vacations or weekend getaways. But a common thread is the goal of blending quietude and community in a mobile lifestyle. 

And Dr. Day sees van life as a subset of a larger trend during the pandemic: Local travel and road trips are parts of tourism showing a strong recovery, as opposed to travel by plane or to crowded places like big cities.

Mary Mickler is one of the people looking to roam. She works as a nurse in Arkansas, and always planned to put down roots. But after the pandemic began, she started to rethink travel nursing as an option – spending three-month stints working in hospitals around the country. 

It was pretty simple: “If I’m going to buy a house anyways, why don’t I buy something that’s mobile?” 

She found an outfitter in her town and is having a van custom-outfitted before she hits the road in January.

She figures that if her travels land her in a spot she loves, she’ll settle down there. Or, she’ll return to Arkansas. Ms. Mickler is keeping her future open. For now, the “off-grid” aspect and peacefulness of spending time in her van parked on open land is appealing.

Travelers across the board want to spend time with loved ones, are prioritizing nature and avoiding crowds, and are pursuing relaxation and peace of mind, finds an Aug. 24 update from Destination Analysts, which tracks travel and tourism data. 

 

Courtesy of Isabelle Richard and Antoine Gagne

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van owned by Isabelle Richard and Antoine Gagne shows a “vanlife” penchant for customizing the interior to make the most of tight space.

“Relaxation is always important in travel,” but it’s valued differently right now, and people are seeking peace of mind through nature, says Erin Francis-Cummings, the firm’s president and CEO.

“The wariness of other people is a big consideration,” says Ms. Francis-Cummings. “Sprinter vans – that’s an easy way to achieve these things.” 

The Mercedes-Benz Sprinter vans, along with some similar competitors, are more affordable than recreational vehicles but large enough to be called a home on the road.

Not every community rolls out the welcome mat.

Van life is growing “to the point where it’s getting [to be] an issue in popular destinations,” and cities like Squamish, British Columbia, are passing bylaws to ban van life within town limits, say Antoine Gagne and Isabelle Richard, who were interviewed by email from their life on the road. 

Three years ago, the Canadian couple quit their engineering jobs, sold their house, and hit the road in a Sprinter van. They’ve been loving “van life” since, blending remote work maintaining their website, faroutride.com – a go-to resource for people interested in converting vans – with mountain biking and other adventures. The website has seen nearly double the traffic since the pandemic.

For a time they rented an apartment in British Columbia, partly because of travel restrictions within the province. “As opposed to what you would think, it’s easier to isolate in an apartment than in a van. Indeed, we need to go more often to the grocery store and access facilities when in our van,” they wrote.

Amrit Bhavinani always loved camping and cherishes the memories that come with it – like the time a bear looted his family’s provisions for s’mores.

When the virus held his travel plans at bay and grounded his work in events and online marketing, confining him to his home in Atlanta, Mr. Bhavinani started his own livestreamed show on StreamYard, Camp Quarantine, as a way to connect people, encourage outdoor activity, and raise money for charities. 

Courtesy of Isabelle Richard and Antoine Gagne

The backdoor view of the van owned by Isabelle Richard and Antoine Gagne. They’re able to store equipment for a favorite activity on their travels – mountain biking.

But he yearned for more person-to-person interaction. And in June, Mr. Bhavinani realized the pandemic may continue to alter life for some time, so he purchased a van. He’s found a new community in van-lifers. “Everyone wants to help each other” with their van projects, he says. “I’m reconnecting with people … and seeing things that I definitely otherwise wouldn’t have.” 

Many millennials are purchasing vans, but so are retirees, and rental demand is up substantially too, says Janet Pace, marketing manager at Warner Vans of Utah, an authorized Sprinter dealer. 

For Rafi Caroline in Houston, van life has long been appealing, but his wife is training as a physician – not the most conducive to life on the road. They like to travel, but are avoiding planes right now, so using a van for weekend getaways is a good solution. Plus, their dog can join them. 

Mr. Caroline worked from home before the pandemic, but now that his wife is working and studying remotely as well, he plans to use his van as an office during the day. Since he and his wife aren’t planning on living out of their van, it’s more of a luxury item. “It makes sense, because otherwise I would have to rent an office space.”

It’s also appealing to have a change of pace, says Dr. Day of Purdue University. “This notion of the pandemic being Groundhog Day and being stuck in your home, doing the same thing every single day – the ability to get out and explore a little bit with a camper or a car” is popular. 

National and state parks have had strong attendance since the pandemic, so “I think there’s a real need just for people to get short breaks and still be safe. The van sort of gives you the ability to do both.” 

Ms. Mickler from Arkansas, who considers herself a “people person,” is excited for what the future may hold. “My favorite thing is meeting strangers and hearing their stories,” says Ms. Mickler. “I can’t wait for the people I will meet in that way.”



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Disturbing trend in Queensland coronavirus cases



 

Queensland women in their 20s continue to dominate the state’s pandemic coronavirus infections, the latest case testing positive while in hotel quarantine on the Sunshine Coast after returning from overseas.

Her diagnosis after flying in from Dubai takes the number of women in their 20s to have tested positive in Queensland to 156 since the start of the coronavirus crisis almost eight months ago.

That’s about 14 per cent of the 1134 known cases in the state.

 

By comparison, men in their 20s make up 8.6 per cent of Queensland cases with 98 infections, just ahead of women in their 30s with 97 cases and women in their 60s with 94.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young speculated last night that young women were more likely to socialise in close groups, putting them at increased risk of contracting the virus.

Children under 10 were the age group with the least number of infections, accounting for just 16 of the state’s total – or 1.4 per cent.

At the other end of the age spectrum, 18 octogenarians have tested positive to the novel coronavirus in Queensland – about 1.6 per cent of all infections in the state. But those in their 70s and 80s have borne the brunt of COVID-19 deaths among Queenslanders, accounting for five of the six who have lost their lives to the pandemic disease.

More women than men in Queensland have tested positive to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, with 581 confirmed cases among females compared with 553 in men.

Three-quarters of Queensland’s cases acquired the virus while overseas.

The total number of Queensland tests for SARS-CoV-2 since the first one was conducted in late January is marching towards the one million mark, with more than 978,000 samples tested so far, including 7660 in the 24 hours to yesterday.

The state has 25 active cases of the virus, with 12 of them in hospital, none of them in intensive care.

Queensland Health contact tracing continues in response to the coronavirus cluster stemming from the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre, which grew to 35 on Monday, including four Ipswich Hospital nurses and an aged care worker at Karinya Place in Laidley.

 

 

Age and sex breakdown of Queensland pandemic coronavirus infections:

 

Age Females Males

0-9 8 8

10-19 18 23

20-29 156 98

30-39 97 87

40-49 74 89

50-59 77 80

60-69 94 91

70-79 53 63

80-89 4 14

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Originally published as Disturbing trend in Queensland coronavirus cases





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Venice film festival: Italy’s movie showcase bucks trend by physically going ahead


It’s a festival like no other in terms of its reputation for launching Oscar winners.

Birdman, Black Swan, Joker, The Shape of Water, Gravity, La La Land – the stars of these films launched their quest for the Academy Awards by shimmering on the red carpet at Venice in the late summer heat.

This year though, Venice is a festival like no other simply in terms of choosing to go ahead as a physical event after a summer where some of its main rivals, top-tier festivals such as Cannes and Telluride, had to be cancelled.

But there’ll be no screaming fans allowed near the red carpet, no queues for the best film tickets, as booking is online only, while temperature checks and masks will be enforced in half-full theatres.

But there will be stars.

British actress Tilda Swinton and American actor Matt Dillon are amongst a handful of high-profile names that are expected to walk a (socially distanced) red carpet.

Is it the return of the film festival, or the ghost of the old film festival?

“It’s certainly making us ask what the purpose of these kinds of events is,” says Jason Solomons, a BBC Radio presenter and host of film podcast Seen Anything Good Lately? “Can we glamour our way out of COVID-19, or does asking questions of stars dressed in designer clothes seem a little tasteless these days?

“Perhaps Venice thinks that the magic of the movies will brush the cobwebs away, but the trouble is, you need a magical movie to do that. Movies about Hungarian truck drivers, for example, just aren’t going to cut it,” Solomans adds.

Last year Venice awarded its top Golden Lion prize to Todd Philips and Joaquin Phoenix for Joker, which competed alongside the other North American big hitters — Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach, space blockbuster Ad Astra starring Brad Pitt, and The Laundromat directed by Steven Soderbergh and starring Meryl Streep, which was a satirical look at the Panama Papers scandal.

This year there are two North American films in competition — Nomadland, based on Jessica Bruder’s novel about older Americans travelling the country for work, which is directed by Chloe Zhao and starring Frances McDormand; and New Yorker Mona Fastvold’s The World to Come, with Casey Affleck starring in a drama about 19th-century life on the American frontier. Unsurprisingly, none of the North American cast will be coming to Venice.

Italian opener

The festival is actually opening with an Italian film for the first time in a decade. Lacci, a family drama by veteran director Daniele Lucchetti. While the number of purely European productions remains unchanged in competition this year – as in 2019, about half of them were financed on this continent – does this mean there’s a greater opportunity to grab headlines?

“Certainly, with fewer of the big American films and stars heading to Venice, more attention will be paid to the European films. But in what way?” questions Wendy Mitchell, Contributing Editor to trade daily Screen International.

“The critics on the ground in Venice always pay attention to these movies. But a Lithuanian arthouse film can’t replace the pictures of George Clooney in a boat headed to the Venice Lido on the front pages of a global newspaper. The kinds of big distribution deals that can happen with those Oscar films launched in Venice won’t necessarily trickle down to smaller European films,” Mitchell maintains.

Nevertheless, first-time directors such as Portuguese-born Londoner Ana Rocha de Sousa are just grateful that the festival is going ahead. She’s presenting her first feature film, ‘Listen’, in the Orrizonti section of the festival, its main sidebar competition.

It’s the story of two Portuguese parents in London battling British social services to keep their family together, and the director says the festival exposure is vital.

“It’s such an honour to have the opportunity to share the film with the world, not only considering it’s my debut, but because of these difficult times we’re facing in 2020,” she tells Euronews.

“I admire the courage it takes to keep a festival like Venice up during pandemic times like this. I consider it a very brave decision and as a filmmaker I am really grateful for it. We must fight COVID-19 with responsibility, but we also must keep living, as long as we are consciously respecting the rules.”

Women in film

De Sousa, who shot Listen with a largely female film crew, also seems to be part of another substantial difference to Venice this year – its much-increased female directing presence.

Possibly stung by criticism that only two women featured in the main competition last year, in 2020 it has eight female directors, and the jury is headed by actress Cate Blanchett.

Of course, at this point, no one knows whether Venice will be a success, but success is probably defined in terms of getting to the end of the festival without negative headlines that it has helped increase Italy’s COVID-19 figures. Its greatest fear – and those of all film festivals hoping to follow in its footsteps and hold an event – must be that it ends up being proclaimed the epicentre of a new outbreak.



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Australia’s trend toward Dutton-style government power


Peter Dutton’s powerful base for exercising and seeking to exercise control over his fellow Australians, appears unchallengeable, writes Bruce Haigh.

THE MILITARY in Australia has played a key role in the national narrative. Its achievements have been woven into myth. External threat has long been part of the political fabric.

The Armed Defence Force (ADF) and paramilitary organisations are seen as protectors of the political class and enjoy protected status as a result. As security organisations proliferate, the military move toward centre stage. Climate change and COVID-19 consolidate its social and political position.

The foundation of Australia was a military exercise. Around 200 British Royal Marines supervised 754 convict men, women and children in the colony of Sydney from 1788. The Governor, Captain Arthur Phillip, was replaced by Major Francis Grose who turned the colony into a military dictatorship. Officers traded in rum and were awarded large tracts of land.

From 1788 until 1870, 24 British regiments served in Australia under military governors. From 1870, the colonies took responsibility for their own defence until Federation. These forces established the tradition of going to the aid of England, even when we were not needed. Men from the colonies volunteered to fight in New Zealand, The Sudan, South Africa and China between 1861 and 1902.

Not only did the military shoot enemies of England, but they also shot the original inhabitants, the Aborigines, who they forced off the land. In this, they were assisted by the police and white settlers. From 1788 until 1920 it is estimated that at least 200,000 Aborigines were massacred.

Convinced that war was coming, the British sent military reformer Viscount Richard Haldane to Australia in 1911. He recommended compulsory military training and the introduction of school cadets. In 1914, on the outbreak of war, 20,000 young Australian’s joined the army. Out of a population of 5 million, 416,000 signed up, of whom 330,000 served overseas. We did not need to be there.

The Australian war correspondent, C.E.W. Bean, was appointed official historian. He wrote dispassionately of the horror and put order where there was none. His was a boy’s own history, preparing the next generation for war. He advocated for a war memorial in Canberra, which in design and display prepared the ground for the deification of Australian involvement in war.

Bean was the father of the Anzac legend, which is fascist and racist in manifestation. Where you and I might have seen crude and foul-mouthed grafters, Bean saw beautiful boys. He loved them. I have been in the army; I have seen a different reality.

Twenty-five April – the day Australian troops went ashore at Gallipoli – was designated a national day of remembrance, attracting big crowds between the wars. By the end of WWII, it was an even bigger event with dawn services and marches through cities and towns by ex-servicemen.

WWII saw the militarisation of Australia. Out of a population of 7.3 million in 1944, Australia had 1 million people in uniform. There were 730,000 in the army; 400,000 served overseas. Australia made uniforms, small arms, artillery, tanks, planes, naval and supply vessels.

All things military had sunk into the Australian psyche by 1945. But not all embraced Anzac Day. Some saw it as showy and shallow, having little to do with remembering friends, accompanied as it was with false bonhomie. Many knew all too well of the violence and nastiness that lay beneath the surface once alcohol had a grip — wives, children and girlfriends better than most.

From 1950 to1953, 17,000 Australian troops fought against the Chinese in an American-dominated United Nations force in Korea. Prime Minister Robert Menzies took the country to war in Vietnam. He accepted the Domino Theory. He believed that Chinese-backed Communism was on a southward march through Vietnam. He gave secret undertakings to the Americans that Australia would support them.

Knowing he was going to fight in Vietnam, Menzies introduced legislation to conscript 20-year-old Australians. Once the bill had passed through parliament, Menzies announced that conscripts would fight in Vietnam. It was an act of treachery. Vietnam led to a vocal and determined anti-war movement.

Australia withdrew from Vietnam in 1972, following the election of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. Anzac Day and the jingoistic response to the war that went with it was discredited; it sank into disrepute until Prime Minister Bob Hawke visited Gallipoli in 1990 and by so doing, revived Anzac Day.

Hawke and Kim Beazley, as Minister for Defence, embarked on substantial defence spending, linked to a new assertive forward defence policy. Beazley’s background was one of Moral Re-Armament — his transition to warlord should be seen in terms of his intellectual and emotional capture by the U.S. military establishment.

However, it was Prime Minister John Howard who unashamedly used Anzac Day, the uniform and flag to underpin his prime ministership.

After 9/11, Howard committed Australian troops to the war in Afghanistan and then, illegally, to war in Iraq. It suited Howard. He maximised photo opportunities, attending dockside departures, returns and funerals. Uniforms became part of his entourage. He was fascinated and intimidated by them and used them shamelessly.

His so-called war on terror enabled the militarisation of Australia to proceed apace and a framework was established to accommodate a future police state. From 2001, 82 terrorism laws were enacted. By contrast, the police state of Apartheid South Africa had nine laws relating to terrorism.

In 2000, Howard had the parliament pass the Defence Legislation Amendment (Aid to Civilian Authorities) Bill 2000. It gave the Federal Government the power to call out the armed forces on domestic soil against perceived threats to ‘Commonwealth interests’.

If deemed necessary, the ADF may shoot to kill. That is a first for Australia and it is a most dangerous piece of legislation to have on the books.

Turnbull's increased 'terror' defence force powers an insidious overreach

The Labor Party, under Beazley, did not oppose the Bill. The Act states that ‘the Governor-General is to act with the advice of… Executive Council’ or in an emergency, ‘the authorising Minister’. It is probably why military men are favoured as governors-general — they are more likely to comply with a request to turn out the troops.

Howard’s reluctant but successful intervention in East Timor under former Governor-General of Australia General Sir Peter Cosgrove in 1999, enhanced his reputation as a wartime leader and furthered the militarisation of Australia. He cunningly twisted the narrative to ensure that any attack on him by default was an attack on ADF personnel.

Because the debate on national security was centred around the war on terror, questions on policy were cast as disloyal. The Labor Party has been unwilling to challenge that narrative and as a result, cannot lay a glove on the Liberal National Party (LNP) in relation to security and defence issues. More often than not, in order to demonstrate their patriotism, the Labor Party has gone along with poor measures and legislation proposed by the LNP.

Patriotism and loyalty have become bound into the outdated Anzac myth, the prosecution and celebration of it now often referred to as “Anzacery“. It celebrates a white anglo narrative and has no relevance or understanding among newer ethnic groups. It has been captured by the political right.

The ADF enjoys iconic status. It has been woven into the Anzac myth and is portrayed as a protector and nurturer of the Anzac spirit. It is protected, it can do no wrong. The Australian Federal Police (AFPraided the ABC to silence critics. It has been inserted into the social and civilian fabric through disaster deployment.

The four-year celebration from 2014 to 2018 of Australian participation in WWI, cost $600 million, plus $100 million for former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s museum at Villers Bretonneux, plus another $500 million to “upgrade” the themed war memorial in Canberra. 

Funds for militarisation and securitisation appear unlimited and expenditure seems beyond parliamentary scrutiny. In 2006, Howard authorised paramilitary training for the AFP — that training presumably continues.

It can be assumed that elements of the Australian Border Force (ABF) also receive paramilitary training. The ABF came into existence in 2015. One-quarter of its members are armed. They have black uniforms and their own system of awards giving them the appearance of a paramilitary force.

The Department of Home Affairs was established in 2017. It has oversight of the AFP, ABF, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and Austrac.

There are more intelligence agencies including the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO), Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) and Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO).

Dutton’s dark police state creep

Then there is the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), National Intelligence Community (NIC), National Security Committee (NSC), National Intelligence Coordination Committee (NICC), National Intelligence Collection Management Committee (NICMC), The National Intelligence Open Source Committee (NIOSC) and Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC). 

Yes, it is a cat’s breakfast and may well lead to the sort of problems that caused a breakdown in intelligence exchange in the U.S. prior to 9/11. The proliferation of agencies highlights the growth of the terrorism industry, reflected in the empire-building noted above. The industry has now shifted its focus to China, which offers prospects for growth in unearthing evil intent.

 

Peter Dutton, Minister for Home Affairs, has a powerful base for exercising and seeking to exercise control over his fellow Australians. Left to his own devices he would tap our phones and monitor our devices. Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) Sally McManusbelieves he already does. I now have the same attitude to my phone in Australia as I did in South Africa, Saudi Arabia, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

Parliamentary scrutiny of this basket of cats is almost non-existent, due to a lack of will and an attitude that it would be disloyal to dig up dirt. The official mindset – accepted by mainstream media – is that these are national institutions undertaking vitally important work on behalf of a nation under threat.

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Patriotism is defined by the ruling LNP and supported by the Labor Party. China has now been identified as the enemy. It is best to go along with that narrative lest your home is raided, travel restricted and phone tapped.

The Anzac myth is deployed in these times as an appeal to a higher order of nationalism requiring the sacrifice of some liberties and compliance with unpopular directives. Its greatest appeal is on the right of the political spectrum. It has reached its use-by date, but nothing else is on offer.

Bruce Haigh is a former Australian diplomat and a political commentator. You can follow Bruce on Twitter @bruce_haigh.

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