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"Super Mario" is losing ground, and the royal estate becomes a cemetery of birds of prey

15-7-2022 |

Fresh - freshly squeezed news from the international press. We prepare it 3 times a week.

AP: The Unification Church’s ties to Japan’s politics

The assassination of former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has unearthed long-suspected, little-talked-of links between him and a religious group that started in South Korea but has spread its influence around the world.

Police and Japanese media have suggested that the alleged attacker, Tetsuya Yamagami, who was arrested on the spot, was furious about Abe’s reported ties to the Unification Church, which has pursued relationships with politically conservative groups and leaders in the United States, Japan and Europe. The suspect reportedly was upset because his mother’s massive donations to the church bankrupted the family.

Many Japanese have been surprised as revelations emerged this week of the ties between the church and Japan’s top leaders, which have their roots in shared anti-communism efforts during the Cold War.

Analysts say it could lead people to examine more closely how powerfully the ruling party’s conservative worldviews have steered the policies of modern Japan.


The church was founded in Seoul in 1954, a year after the end of the Korean War, by the late Rev. Sun Myung Moon, the self-proclaimed messiah who preached new interpretations of the Bible and conservative, family-oriented value systems.

The church championed anti-communism and the unification of the Korean Peninsula, which has been split between the totalitarian North and democratic South.

The church is perhaps best known for mass weddings where it paired off couples, often from different countries, and renewed the vows of those already married, at big, open places such as stadiums and gymnasiums. The group is said to have a global membership of millions, including hundreds of thousands in Japan.

The church faced accusations in the 1970s and ’80s of using devious recruitment tactics and brainwashing adherents into turning over huge portions of their salaries to Moon.

The church has denied such allegations, saying many new religious movements faced similar accusations in their early years.

In Japan, the group has faced lawsuits for offering “spiritual merchandise” that allegedly caused members to buy expensive art and jewelry or sell their real estate to raise donations for the church.


Throughout his life, Moon worked to transform his church into a worldwide religious movement and expand its business and charitable activities. Moon was convicted of tax evasion in 1982 and served a prison term in New York. He died in 2012.

The church has developed relations with conservative world leaders including U.S. presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush and more recently Donald Trump.

Moon also had ties with North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, the late grandfather of current ruler Kim Jong Un.

Moon said in his autobiography that he asked Kim to give up his nuclear ambitions, and that Kim responded that his atomic program was for peaceful purposes and he had no intention to use it to “kill (Korean) compatriots.”


Abe was known for his arch-conservative views on security and history issues and also was backed by powerful lobbies such as the Nippon Kaigi. He appeared in events organized by church affiliates, including one in September 2021.

In a video shown on a big screen at the meeting of church-related Universal Peace Federation, or UPF, Abe praised its work toward peace on the Korean Peninsula and the group’s focus on family values.

An emphasis on traditional, paternalistic family systems was one of Abe’s key positions.

Reports of his appearance in the 2021 event drew criticisms from the Japanese Communist Party and cult watchers, including a group of lawyers who have watched the Unification Church activities and supported its alleged victims.

In a news conference Monday after the church’s connection to Abe’s assassination was revealed, the church’s leader in Japan, Tomohiro Tanaka, said Abe supported UPF’s peace movement but that he was not a member.

Friendship by inheritance

The ties between the church and Japan’s governing party go back to Abe’s grandfather, Nobusuke Kishi, who served as prime minister and shared worries with Washington over the spread of communism in Japan in the 1960s as labor union activists gained strength.

The influence of the Unification Church has grown considerably over the years.

A survey of 128 lawmakers obtained from police and published in the Weekly Gendai magazine in 1999 showed most attended events organized by the Unification Church’s anti-communism affiliate, the International Federation for Victory Over Communism, also funded by Moon, and more than 20 LDP lawmakers had at least one church member in their offices as a volunteer.

The church said Monday it had no records showing that Yamagami was a member.

The church said it had had no direct relationship with Abe, although it interacted with other lawmakers through an affiliated organization.


“The assassination is shedding a light on the Unification Church,” said Koichi Nakano, an international politics professor at Sophia University in Tokyo. “The church’s relationship with the LDP’s right-wing factions and its ultra-right-wing policies could come under close scrutiny,” and lead to a reevaluation of Abe’s legacy.

It could lead to revelations of how the party’s views have distorted postwar Japanese society, while stalling progress of gender equality and sexual diversity issues, Nakano said.

Reuters: Ten years on, Italy faces debt crisis Draghi may not solve

Ten years after Mario Draghi's "whatever it takes" pledge saved the euro, Italy is once again in the middle of a debt crisis - but the country's prime minister and former head of the European Central Bank may struggle to solve this one.

Mario Draghi

Just like a decade ago, investors are questioning whether some euro zone countries can continue to roll over their public debts, which have ballooned during the pandemic and are becoming more expensive to refinance as the ECB prepares to raise interest rates.

This time, however, the epicentre of the crisis is Italy's secular lack of economic growth, rather than the financial excesses that landed Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain in trouble 10 years ago.

The situation for Italy has just become a lot more unstable.

Draghi offered to resign on Thursday after one of the parties in his fractious coalition refused to back him in a confidence vote, only to have his resignation rejected by the head of state.

Draghi is due to address parliament on Wednesday with his future still in the balance.

Italy's benchmark 10-year yield rose to a high of 3.5% on Thursday and the spread over safer German Bunds widened to 227 points by the close, having more than doubled since the start of the year.

"Things just got worse; how much worse is difficult to tell," said Dirk Schumacher, an economist at Natixis.

Draghi, 74, dubbed "Super Mario" due to his long career as a financial problem solver, has seen Italian borrowing costs rise during his 17-month premiership, something he acknowledged at a news conference two months ago.

"This shows I'm not a shield against all events. I'm a human being, and so things happen," he told reporters.

Italy never had to deal with the bursting of a housing bubble during the global financial crisis and its budget problems were smaller than those of the other four troubled countries.

So it didn't have to follow them in requesting a bailout from a so called Troika comprised of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the ECB.

It may now come to regret it.

Under pressure and supported by money from international lenders, Portugal fixed its budget, Spain and Ireland cleaned up their banking sectors, and even Greece made reforms including to its pension systems, labour market and product regulations.

Such efforts allowed these countries, to varying degrees, to start growing their economies again.

Italy, by contrast, has not done enough to kick-start growth despite some changes to its pension system, labour market and, under Draghi, its notoriously slow justice system.

As a result, the country that was once seen as the best of a bad lot is now paying the highest premium to borrow on the bond market after Greece - a country that defaulted twice in the past decade and is still rated "junk".

As ECB chief Draghi regularly stressed the importance of fiscal and other reforms by governments. But as premier of Italy he has had to spend much of his time mediating between parties with very different views on economic policy, meaning contentious issues like tax and pension reforms have been largely kicked down the road.

Even if he rides out Rome's current political turmoil, with his governing coalition weakened by divisions and general elections looming in the spring of 2023 at the latest, few expect the prime minister to turn things around.

Some economists including Chicago Booth School of Business professor Luigi Zingales say Italy essentially missed the digital revolution and blame what they call the Italian disease of entrepreneurs who opt to keep a small business in the family rather than grow it with the help of outside investors.

By joining the euro, Italy also lost the quick fix of being able to devalue its currency - a trick that helped Italian industry prosper for decades by making its exports cheap.

"We chose the wrong growth model back in the 1980s," said Francesco Saraceno, economics professor at Rome's Luiss University and Sciences-Po in Paris.

"To respond to globalisation we tried to compete with emerging markets by lowering costs instead of following the German example of investing in higher-quality production."

Draghi did finalise a plan presented to the European Union in return for almost 200 billion euros of pandemic recovery funds and ensured a solid start in meeting the hundreds of so-called "targets and milestones" it contains.

But these are mostly small-scale tweaks to legislation - a total of 527 of which will need to be ticked off by 2026, long after Draghi is due to leave office.

CNBC: For bitcoin to bottom here’s what the market wants to see

An improvement in macroeconomic factors, a particular trading pattern and a further shakeout of companies and projects could be the key ingredients required for bitcoin and the broader crypto market to bottom, industry players told CNBC.

Bitcoin has plummeted more than 70% from its record high in November with around $2 trillion wiped off the value of the entire cryptocurrency market.

For the last few weeks, bitcoin has been trading within a tight range between $19,000 and $22,000 with no major catalyst to the upside and traders trying to figure out where the bottom is.

Bitcoin has been hurt by the macroeconomic situation of soaring inflation that has forced the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks into hiking interest rates which has hurt risk assets such as stocks.

Cryptocurrencies have seen some correlation with U.S. stock markets and have fallen in tandem with stocks.

There are also fears of a recession but an improving macroeconomic picture could help the crypto market find the bottom.

“I think if inflation is under control, the economy is under control, there is no really severe recession” then the market will stabilize, CK Zheng, co-founder of a cryptocurrency-focused hedge fund ZX Squared, told CNBC in an interview.

U.S. inflation data for June came in hotter-than-expected on Wednesday, deepening fears that the Fed will get more aggressive in its fight to tame rising prices.

If there are clues that the economy and inflation are “getting under control,” that could help the crypto market find a bottom, according to Vijay Ayyar, vice president of corporate development and international at crypto exchange Luno.

“If we see signs of this this month or even over the next few months, it would give more confidence to the market that a bottom is in across all risk assets including equities and crypto,” Ayyar said.

Meanwhile, a “softer” Fed and the peaking of U.S. dollar strength, could help the market find a bottom, according to James Butterfill, head of research at CoinShares. Butterfill said a weaker economic outlook could push the Fed to slow down its tightening push.

“A turn around in Fed policy and the consequent peaking of the DXY [dollar index] would also help define a true floor, we believe this is likely to happen at the Jackson Hole meeting at the end of the summer,” Butterfill said, referring to an annual meeting of central bankers.

Currently are affected lending platforms that have promised retail investors high yields for depositing their crypto.

One of those companies is Celsius, which last month was forced to pause withdrawals as it faces a liquidity issue. That’s because Celsius lends out this crypto from its depositors to others willing to pay a high yield and then pockets the profit. That profit is then supposed to pay for the yield Celsius offers to its retail customers. But as prices crashed, that business model was put to the test.

“The deleveraging process we don’t know if it is complete or not. I think it is still in the process of washing out the weak players,” Zheng said, adding that when there are no more surprises with companies collapsing, that could help the market find a bottom.

CoinShares’s Butterfill said so-called miners, which use specialized high-power computers to validate transactions on crypto networks, could be the next victims of the washout. With crypto prices under pressure, there will be many mining operations that are unprofitable.

At this point, experts believe that could see bitcoin drop further to between $13,000 to $14,000, which would be a roughly 30% drop from the cryptocurrency’s price on Wednesday.

Zheng of ZX Squared said that bitcoin at between $13,000 and $15,000 is a possibility. But if institutional investors step in then that could help to support prices.

The Guardian: Officials warned of ‘serious wildlife incidents’ at Queen’s Sandringham estate

On a pleasant autumn evening in 2007, a wildlife warden at the Dersingham Bog nature reserve in Norfolk took a friend to see two female hen harriers returning home to roost. But as dusk descended, they were startled by the sound of shotgun blasts.

After the first shot, they saw one of the rare birds of prey “immediately fold and drop out of sight”. About 30 seconds later they heard a second blast – and another harrier fell from the sky.

The shots appeared to have come from inside Sandringham, the Queen’s rural retreat bordering the reserve – where Prince Harry, then aged 23, and a close friend were out shooting ducks that evening.

Within minutes, the warden had notified Natural England, which manages the reserve. Shocked officials called the police and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, who scrambled to investigate.

It is a criminal offence to injure hen harriers, one of the rarest and most persecuted birds in the UK, then punishable by six months in prison or a £5,000 fine.

According to internal Natural England documents obtained by the Guardian, their urgency was in vain. To their surprise, they were told by Norfolk constabulary that no immediate action was possible: the police said they needed to ask Sandringham officials for permission to go on to the estate.

Photo: Getty Images

A Guardian investigation has revealed that dozens of UK laws stipulate that police are barred from entering any of the Queen’s private estates without her consent to investigate crimes ranging from wildlife offences to environmental pollution – a unique privilege not granted to any other private landowner in the UK.

In fact, a year before the shooting incident in the vicinity of Sandringham, the UK’s wildlife legislation was updated.

The Natural Environment and Rural Communities Act 2006 included amendments to a number of laws for England – one of which sets out the Queen’s personal immunity from prosecution for wildlife offences, and denies wildlife inspectors the power to enter her private estates to investigate alleged crimes.

Sandringham has been investigated for wildlife and pesticides offences against legally protected birds of prey at least six times between 2005 and 2016.

As well as the two hen harriers shot in 2007, police and Natural England have investigated the deaths of a goshawk, a sparrowhawk, a red kite, a tawny owl and a marsh harrier at Sandringham estate and land it owns nearby, with only one prosecution.

In 2009, the estate was given an official warning about the mishandling and unlawful storage of highly toxic chemicals after the sparrowhawk was poisoned.

In 2016, Sandringham admitted it had destroyed the body of a goshawk found dead near Sandringham House before it could be examined by police, which meant no cause of death could be established.

Buckingham Palace did not comment. Representatives for Prince Harry did not respond when asked to comment on the 2007 incident.

Natural England also refused to comment on any of these cases, but it said in a short statement: “We are determined to tackle the scourge of raptor persecution, which is why we work very closely with our police colleagues at the National Wildlife Crime Unit to investigate incidents and, where appropriate, bring prosecutions. Those guilty of persecuting protected species, deliberately or recklessly, should be subject to the full force of the law.”

Picked and squeezed for you: Irina Iakovleva