The World Today for June 29, 2018

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Lofty Visions

The ambitious leftist outsider Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known among his supporters as AMLO, is likely to sweep Mexico’s upcoming presidential election on July 1 with his promise of new beginnings for the Mexican Republic.

Lopez Obrador is expected to win twice as many votes as his closest contender, a testament to Mexicans’ widespread disappointment with the political establishment, which many blame for the nation’s slowing economy, rampant corruption and staggering number of homicides – the primary issues driving this election, Ioan Grillo wrote for the New York Times.

Such disenchantment, as well as AMLO’s ability to dream up grand visions of a self-reliant Mexico resistant to outside bullying, has propelled him to the front of the pack, the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson commented in a recent podcast.

“He’s gone beyond a kind of political force to become an almost emotional, spiritual force in the country,” Anderson said.

That force has only been amplified by Mexicans’ disdain for US President Donald Trump.

Trump’s harsh generalizations about the Mexican people, his hardline stances on immigration and erecting a border wall, and his threats to dismantle NAFTA have only increased the desire for a candidate who will defend the nation’s dignity, Matthew Dowd wrote for ABC News.

The Washington Post’s editorial board noted that Lopez Obrador and Trump actually possess some similarities in tone and style – both are “drain-the-swamp” types.

But any commonalities end there: AMLO once called Trump a “neo-fascist” and a racist, and he shows little signs of providing an antidote for the poisoned relations between Washington and Mexico City.

That climate is unlikely to change once Lopez Obrador, if elected, takes office, Anderson comments. AMLO’s immigration and anti-crime policies focus not on building a bridge of cooperation across the Rio Grande, but rather on bringing home those who have crossed the border to take part in a New Deal-style infrastructure campaign south of the border.

Though Lopez Obrador seems the perfect candidate to address the wants and needs of the Mexican people in the current political moment, there are doubts about the specifics and potential effects of his policies, Open Democracy writes.

Amid increasing violence in Mexico at the hands of expansive gang networks – 132 politicians have been killed so far since April ahead of the July 1 elections – AMLO’s crime policies remain steeped in rhetoric without concrete measures to back them up.

He’s promised rehabilitation instead of incarceration for low-level gang members without laying out how that would look in practice. And he’s vowed to dismantle state intelligence organizations without saying which agency would pick up the slack.

Such uncertainty could push Mexico backward, especially amid the backdrop of struggling states around the region, like Argentina, Brazil, and Venezuela, the Post editors opined.

AMLO will also have to keep harmony with political parties at home. His Morena party is likely to win big in congressional elections, but its electoral pact with parties that oppose gay rights and abortion rights might cut into his credibility with his liberal base, wrote Reuters.

As with all lofty visions, a dose of reality may bring AMLO’s plans closer to earth – despite the sweet atmosphere in which they were conceived.



Stemming the Tide

European Union leaders hashed out a deal Friday to manage the tide of refugees flowing into the bloc by screening asylum seekers in North Africa and setting up control centers in EU member states that volunteer to run them.

The EU leaders said the deal would help secure the bloc’s external borders and ease the burden on point-of-entry nations like Greece and Italy, the Associated Press reported.

They’ll have to convince North African nations like Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Niger and Tunisia to cooperate – and none have so far expressed interest. But billions of euros in aid could prove persuasive, the agency said. Earlier, Italy had resisted any interim deal to reform the bloc’s migrant policy, insisting on concrete measures to help it manage the burden of refugees landing on its shores.

“Being rescued in the Mediterranean must not automatically become a ticket to central Europe,” said Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz – effectively summarizing the essence of the scheme.


Eye for an Eye

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi ordered the immediate execution of all convicted terrorists whose appeals have been exhausted in response to the killing of eight captives held by Islamic State militants.

More than 300 people, including about 100 foreign women, have been condemned to death in Iraq and 185 to life imprisonment for being members of the Islamic State group, the UK’s Guardian newspaper reported.

On Thursday, Abadi ordered the immediate execution of “terrorists condemned to death whose sentences have passed the decisive stage” – or those who no longer have recourse for further appeals. The prime minister also vowed to strike back against Islamic State militants following the discovery of eight dead hostages along a highway north of Baghdad.

“Our security and military forces will take forceful revenge against these terrorist cells,” he told senior military officials and ministers. “We promise that we will kill or arrest those who committed this crime.”

Iraq already faces criticism for the hasty executions of prisoners – some of whom are sentenced to death after summary trials lasting no longer than 10 minutes.


Opting Out

South Korea’s Constitutional Court ordered the government to introduce civilian alternatives to military service for conscientious objectors, a move that should allow hundreds of such men to avoid going to prison for their beliefs.

In a landmark decision Thursday, the court gave the government and Parliament until the end of next year to revise Article 5 of the country’s Military Service Act, the New York Times reported. The paper cited Amnesty International as saying more than 19,300 South Korean conscientious objectors have gone to prison since 1953.

The Defense Ministry said Thursday it would introduce alternatives to military service as soon as possible, which might include working in homeless shelters, prisons and hospitals, or as police officers or firefighters.

Presently, all South Korean men who pass physical and mental eligibility tests are required to spend 21 to 24 months in the military while they are between the ages of 18 and 28. Prior to the court ruling, those who refused faced up to three years in prison.


Fashion Statement

In Japan, the shabby attire of blue-collar workers makes them stand out from their suit-clad, white-collar counterparts, reinforcing stereotypes about skilled laborers known in Japanese as the “3K”: kitsui (demanding), kitanai (dirty) and kiken (dangerous).

To fight labels and attract younger people into traditional industries, Japanese companies have begun issuing employees special workwear that looks like a business suit, the Japan Times reported.

Created by Tokyo-based Oasys Lifestyle group, the workman’s suit has the added bonus of being waterproof and machine washable.

It may come as a surprise, but the suit has proved successful with workers across various industries – from waste collection to agriculture.

“After our engineers wore the workwear for a year, we received an increased number of young applicants as well as favorable comments from our clients and peer companies,” Oasys spokesman Hayato Suhara told the newspaper.

Orders for the suits, priced at about $272, have poured in from Asia and Europe.

One customer, Japanese rice farmer Kiyoto Saito, said he had been wearing “some functional suits for work, but this workwear is more water-resistant. I don’t have to put on rainwear for light rain.”

“I think the company and I share a lot in our mission to recruit young people into aging and short-handed industries,” Saito said.

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