The World Today for July 29, 2016


Pushing Poland

For once, the pope is more liberal than the people.

Pope Francis confronted conservative Poland head-on this week, pushing the country’s staunch Catholics to rethink their condemnation of homosexuality and rejection of refugees. But it’s unclear whether policymakers in Warsaw will heed his message of Christian charity.

Speaking at a World Youth Day celebration in Krakow on Thursday, the Argentinian-born pontiff chastised Poland for refusing refugees from conflicts in the Middle East and Africa, saying, “You need a willingness to accept people fleeing from wars and hunger; solidarity with people deprived of their fundamental rights, including freedom and safety to profess their faith.”

More than 600,000 Poles turned out for the event, providing evidence of the continued power of the church in Poland – where 92 percent of the population identifies itself as Catholic and 40 percent attends church on Sundays.

But the liberal pontiff has presented staunchly Catholic Poland with a quandary.

Both the Polish government and the Polish Catholic church are significantly more conservative than the reform-minded pope, as signified by a recent effort to impose a complete ban on abortion.

In some respects, Polish society is changing in ways that make Pope Francis’s more tolerant brand of Catholicism attractive, according to Reuters.

Divorce rates are now similar to the European average, for instance – which makes Francis’ message that the church should accept remarried divorcees welcome. Similarly, more than 70 percent of Poles want access to contraception and nearly 80 percent of Poles say in-vitro fertilization should be accessible for infertile couples. But Polish church officials have broadly rejected Francis’ more liberal views.

“The substance of what [Francis] says doesn’t compute for the vast majority of Poland,” University of Maryland history professor Piotr Kosicki told AP.

On refugees, the pope faces an even steeper uphill battle.

Francis has effectively declared 2016 his “Year of the Immigrant,” pushing a policy of welcome at every turn, according to the Catholic news site Crux. But Poland’s conservative government has been remarkably uncharitable.

Poland accepted only 0.21 asylum seekers for every 1,000 of its citizens in 2014, for instance, compared with 8.43 per 1000 citizens accepted by Sweden. Its right-wing government has refused to observe an EU-wide agreement on sharing the burden of accommodating tens of thousands of asylum seekers largely stuck in Italy and Greece.

And Jaroslaw Kaczyński, who heads the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, said not long ago that refugees were bringing “various parasites and protozoa” to Europe, according to the Christian Science Monitor.


Elitist Against Inequality

Branded an elitist by his opponents, Peru’s new President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski on Thursday vowed to fight income inequality and ensure all Peruvians have access to running water, health care and free primary education.

“I want a social revolution for my country! I long for Peru in five years to be more modern, more just, more equal,” Reuters quoted Kuczynski as saying in his inauguration speech.

The social agenda is a departure from the business-friendly economic policies that Kuczynski pursued as finance minister. But he also pledged to remove obstacles to private investment, boost infrastructure development and lower taxes for small businesses, according to Bloomberg.

Kuczynski secured the presidency last month after defeating Keiko Fujimori in the tightest runoff vote in Peru’s history.

Red Lining

North Korea is angry. Again.

The Hermit Kingdom’s top diplomat warned that Washington had crossed a “red line” by targeting dictator Kim Jong Un with sanctions, calling the move tantamount to a declaration of war, according to the Associated Press.

Han Song Ryol, director-general of the U.S. affairs department at the North’s Foreign Ministry, also warned that a “vicious showdown” could erupt if Washington goes ahead with plans for joint military exercises with South Korea in the demilitarized zone next month.

North Korea has many times faced harsh sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs. But July 6 marked the first time that Kim was himself targeted with individual sanctions – for alleged human rights abuses against political dissenters.

By Any Other Name

The murky lines between terrorist outfits and rebel groups in Syria just got murkier.

On Thursday, the Al-Nusra Front, which was formed as Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, announced that it was severing ties with the terror group and rebranding itself as the Levant Conquest Front, according to the Associated Press.

Experts say the move is less a disavowal of jihad than a strategy to deepen Al-Nusra’s ties with other rebel factions fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and perhaps to engineer a degree of protection from U.S. and Russian air strikes – making it more difficult for the U.S. to distinguish between militant and rebel groups.

Both the so-called Islamic State (IS) and Al-Nusra were excluded from a ceasefire deal backed by the U.S. and Russia earlier this year, so Al-Nusra continued to face Russian air strikes. The ostensible break with Al Qaeda could allow the Levant Conquest Front to escape bombardment – but it also means it loses the brand name that drew many of its fighters to its ranks.


Barbie for President

Taking advantage of Hillary Clinton’s run for commander-in-chief, Mattel has unveiled a new “toned down” President Barbie in yet another effort to reboot the beleaguered brand.

Unlike the 2012 model, this year’s version will not wear a hot pink skirt suit, the Wall Street Journal reports. And she boasts a “chic female vice president at her side.”

The dolls, which sell for $24.99, will be available in stores across the U.S. and online as of July. They come in six different skin tones, adding to the company’s efforts to address body image-related issues with the once insanely popular toys.

Earlier this year, Mattel supplemented the original Barbie body type – which has been criticized for being unrealistic – with curvy, tall and petite dolls, and the company has been making efforts to portray Barbie as a career woman.

Curiously, however, President Barbie will be released only with the original doll body type.

See here for a politically incorrect retrospective on the outfits warn by President Barbie since her introduction in 1992.


Clarification: In Thursday’s piece, “The Longest Fast,” we said Irom Sharmila of India has not allowed food or water to pass her lips, and that she would be ending her fast after almost 16 years in August. To clarify, she has not voluntarily allowed food or water to pass her lips: She began her fast Nov. 5, 2000 and was arrested three days later, and force fed at a prison hospital. We apologize for the confusion.



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