Sep 102018
 
 September 10, 2018  Posted by at 9:31 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Salvador Dali The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory 1954

 

Trump To Declassify Bruce Ohr, Carter Page Documents As Early As This Week (ZH)
Stronger US Economy May Warrant ‘Restrictive’ Rates: Boston Fed’s Rosengren (R.)
Brexit Will Fail Regardless Of Boris Johnson And Theresa May’s Jabs (Ind.)
Battle Over EU Copyright Law Heads For Showdown (G.)
US Senator: MI6 Planning Fake Chemical Weapons Attack On Syria (WaPo)
What Caused The Crash Of 2008 Now Shapes Our Post-Modern 1930s (Varoufakis)
Greek Bank Profits Are Hurt By Credit Contraction (K.)
Greek PM Promises Relief Measures After Years Of Austerity (G.)
Petition To Offer Assange Asylum To Be Presented To New Zealand Parliament (RT)
US Lawyers Say They Have ‘Explosive’ Documents About Monsanto In Europe (EN)
Turtles, Whales And Birds Under Threat From Brexit Funding Cuts (Ind.)

 

 

Nice way to start the week. I said this would happen, become a trend. Open thee, Sesame.

Trump To Declassify Bruce Ohr, Carter Page Documents As Early As This Week (ZH)

President Trump is expected to declassify documents connected to the Obama administration’s surveillance of the Trump campaign during the 2016 US election, according to Axios, citing allies of the president who say it could happen as soon as this week. Specifically mentioned are documents concerning former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, as well as the “investigative activities of Justice Department lawyer Bruce Ohr” – who was demoted twice for lying about his extensive relationship with Christopher Steele – the former MI6 spy who assembled the sham “Steele Dossier” used by the FBI in a FISA surveillance application to spy on Page.

Republicans on the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees believe the declassification will permanently taint the Trump-Russia investigation by showing the investigation was illegitimate to begin with. Trump has been hammering the same theme for months. • They allege that Bruce Ohr played an improper intermediary role between the Justice Department, British spy Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS – the opposition research firm that produced the Trump-Russia dossier, funded by Democrats. (Ohr’s wife, Nellie, worked for Fusion GPS on Russia-related matters during the presidential election – a fact that Ohr did not disclose on federal forms.) • And they further allege that the Obama administration improperly spied on Carter Page – all to take down Trump. -Axios

Ohr, meanwhile, met with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska in 2015 to discuss helping the FBI with organized crime investigations, according to The Hill’s John Solomon. The meeting with the Putin ally was facilitated by Steele. Three weeks ago, Trump called Ohr a disgrace, while also tweeting: “Will Bruce Ohr, whose family received big money for helping to create the phony, dirty and discredited Dossier, ever be fired from the Jeff Sessions “Justice” Department? A total joke!” According to emails turned over to Congressional investigators in August, Christopher Steele was much closer to Bruce Ohr and his wife Nellie than previously disclosed.

Steele and the Ohrs would have breakfast together on July 30, 2016 at the Mayflower Hotel in downtown Washington D.C., days after Steele turned in installments of his infamous “dossier” on July 19 and 26. The breakfast also occurred one day before the FBI formally launched operation “Crossfire Hurricane,” the agency’s counterintelligence operation into the Trump campaign. “Great to see you and Nellie this morning Bruce,” Steele wrote shortly following their breakfast meeting. “Let’s keep in touch on the substantive issues/s (sic). Glenn is happy to speak to you on this if it would help

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To reiterate once again: not long after Lehman, Bernanke said the Fed had entered ‘uncharted territory’. They’re still there, groping in the dark. Not a clue, but faking it like pros.

Stronger US Economy May Warrant ‘Restrictive’ Rates: Boston Fed’s Rosengren (R.)

When Boston Federal Reserve Bank President Eric Rosengren switched from advocating low interest rates to tighter monetary policy, he argued it was time to start crawling back toward “normal” rates even with 5% unemployment and weak growth and inflation. Two years later, Rosengren has joined colleagues in beginning to lay the groundwork for those rate hikes to potentially continue longer and to a higher level than currently expected as the outlook for the economy strengthens. Rates may not only need to become “restrictive,” but the definition of that may be moving up as well, Rosengren said in an interview with Reuters on Saturday following an economic conference here.

“This is not hair on fire. There is upward pressure on inflation, and given that we are already at 2%, labor markets are already tight … that is going to be a situation where we start persistently having inflation above what our target is,” Rosengren said. “There is an argument to normalize policy and probably be mildly restrictive.” The Fed maintains a 2% inflation target, which it is only now reaching after a decade struggling to consistently hit and maintain it. He said the Fed does not need to move faster than the current gradual pace, which has translated into roughly one rate hike per quarter, with the next expected later this month. That steady pace is a luxury gained by starting early, he said, skirting the need to move more quickly and catch up with a tightening economy.

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Incompetent one and all.

Brexit Will Fail Regardless Of Boris Johnson And Theresa May’s Jabs (Ind.)

When Boris Johnson decides to go on leadership manoeuvres he tends to be noisy. His latest line is that the prime minister is like some sort of incompetent suicide bomber, handing over the ignition button on her suicide vest to none other than Michel Barnier. Presumably, Mr Johnson would like us to believe that he would in fact willingly blow himself to kingdom come, shouting “Leave means Leave” on his way to enjoying the company of the promised 72 virgins of the Leave campaign. These may prove as mythical as the extra £350m a week for the NHS he once promised his own fanatical supporters. Or something like that.

As Mr Johnson has discovered, metaphors around Brexit can easily get misconstrued and extended way too far. With the suicide bomber analogy, Mr Johnson displayed his usual contempt for good taste and, as ever, took delight on winding up his opponents. These include two of his own former ministers at the Foreign Office, Alistair Burt and Sir Alan Duncan, who know his ways well and may be forgiven for letting off steam. Sir Alan called it disgusting. True, but it did the trick: Johnson is dominating the headlines again, just ahead of the Tory conference and crucial EU summits. It’s pretty obvious what he is up to.

On the substance though, there was little new in this intervention. Mr Johnson has, at least privately, let it be known that he regards the issue of the Irish border as a subsidiary one, unnecessarily getting in the way of his vision of Brexit. He apparently now regards the whole question as a plot by closet Remainers to keep the UK either in the EU or as close to the EU as makes no difference – Brexit in name only.

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The EU can’t solve these issues by moving back to laws that cover traditional media. They need education, or this will fail spectacularly.

Battle Over EU Copyright Law Heads For Showdown (G.)

Fought with hashtags, mailshots, open letters and celebrity endorsements, the battle over the European Union’s draft directive on copyright heads for a showdown this week. After two years of debate, members of the European parliament will vote on Wednesday on the legislation, which could change the balance of power between producers of music, news and film and the dominant websites that host their work. Proposed in 2016 to update copyright law for the age of Facebook and Google, the directive has unleashed a ferocious lobbying war. Lawmakers have been bombarded with millions of emails and thousands of calls, many based on standard scripts written by lobbyists. Some have even received death threats, according to the French MEP Virginie Rozière.

Critics claim the proposal will destroy the internet, spelling the end of sharing holiday snaps or memes on Facebook. Proponents are exasperated by such claims, described by German Christian Democrat Axel Voss as “totally wrong” and “fake news”. Amid last-minute writing and rewriting of amendments, the final outcome cannot be predicted. The proposals were rejected by the European parliament in July, despite earlier support in a relevant committee. Among the latest to mobilise in favour were 165 film-makers and screenwriters, including the British director Mike Leigh, who launched an appeal at the Venice film festival last week calling on EU lawmakers to pass the law. In July McCartney pressed MEPs to stop tech firms exploiting musicians.

Europe’s biggest news agencies have also urged MEPs to vote for the law, as they accused Google and Facebook of “plundering” the news and their ad revenues, resulting in a “threat to democracy”. “For the sake of Europe’s free press and democratic values, EU lawmakers should press ahead with copyright reform,” said a statement signed by 20 agencies, including the Press Association and Agence France-Presse. Opponents are no less forceful. Wikipedia shut down its pages in some countries in protest at the plans, which it claims would force the closure of its user-generated encyclopaedia. Berners-Lee is among 70 internet luminaries to oppose the law, arguing it would be transform the internet from an open platform into a tool for “automated surveillance and control”. The UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, has raised concerns about “prepublication censorship”.

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RT reports first US chemical attck in Syria over the weekend.

US Senator: MI6 Planning Fake Chemical Weapons Attack On Syria (WaPo)

Fresh off a sitdown with Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, Virginia state senator Richard Black turned up on Arab TV last week making an extraordinary claim about one of the US’ closest allies. Mr Black said Britain’s MI6 intelligence service was planning a chemical weapons attack on the Syrian people, which it would then blame on Mr Assad. “Around four weeks ago, we knew that British intelligence was working towards a chemical attack in order to blame the Syrian government, to hold Syria responsible,” Mr Black said on Al Mayadeen, an Arab news channel based in Beirut. Mr Black said later that he meant the British were planning not to carry out an attack themselves, but to either direct rebels to do so or stage a phoney attack, with actors posing as victims.

Mr Black also said some chemical attacks previously reported to have occurred in Syria were British fakes, pulled off with help from volunteer first responders known as “White Helmets”. “From what I can tell, they have been planning a fake attack, not a genuine one, but one where they actually move people out of a town and they have trained people to portray victims of a gas attack,” Mr Black said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And the plan is to use the White Helmets who have always been involved in these notorious deceptions, to portray an attack.” The State Department flatly rejected Mr Black’s allegations, which echoed what it called “outrageous” Russian and Assad-regime claims that Britain and the US have carried out chemical attacks with help from the White Helmets.

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Not sure looking backward is the way to go. Tempting because of choice details that seem to fit, but this is new.

What Caused The Crash Of 2008 Now Shapes Our Post-Modern 1930s (Varoufakis)

In the autumn of 2008 events unfolded in Wall Street that the crushing majority of people around the world had been led to believe could never occur. It was the financial equivalent of watching the sun spinning out of control soon after it rose above the horizon. Humanity watched on in collective disbelief. The ancient Greeks had a term for moments like that one: aporia – a state of intense bafflement urgently demanding a new model of the world we live in. The Crash of 2008 was such a moment. Suddenly, the world ceased to make sense in terms of what, a few weeks before, passed as conventional wisdom.

Before long, the repercussions were felt everywhere. The certainties created by decades of of establishment thinking were gone, along with around $40 trillion of equity globally, $14 trillion of household wealth in the US alone, 700,000 US jobs every month, countless repossessed homes everywhere; the list is as long as the numbers it includes are unfathomable. Even McDonald’s, for goodness’ sake, could not secure an overdraft from Bank of America! The collective aporia intensified by the response of governments that had hitherto clinged tenaciously onto fiscal conservatism, as perhaps the 20th century’s last surviving ideology: the pouring of trillions of dollars, euros, yen etc. into a financial system which had been, until a few months before, on a huge roll, accumulating fabulous profits and provocatively professing to have found the pot of gold at the end of some globalised rainbow.

And when that response proved too feeble, our Presidents and Prime Ministers, men and women with impeccable anti-statist neoliberal credentials, embarked upon a spree of nationalising banks, insurance companies and automakers that put even Lenin’s 1917 exploits to shame. Ten years on, the crisis unleashed in Wall Street in 2008 is still with us. It takes different forms in different countries (i.e. a Great Depression in places like Greece, a scourge of middle class savers in countries like Germany, history’s greatest sponsor of brutal inequality in the United States, a permanent cause of geopolitical and trade tensions in Asia, Eastern Europe etc.). It migrates from continent to continent, from country to country. It morphs from an unemployment-generator to a deflation-machine, to another banking crisis, to a maximiser of trade and capital global imbalances.

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Given their role in the whole crisis, why do these banks still exist?

Greek Bank Profits Are Hurt By Credit Contraction (K.)

The return of Greek banks to profit becomes particularly fragile as long as the credit contraction persists. The reduction of loan issues, which has gone on for almost a decade, is depriving the credit system of its main source of revenues – takings from interests – while undermining efforts to improve the expenditure index that in the first half of the year deteriorated for local banks. Domestic lenders’ January-June financial results point to a fresh reduction in interest revenues, ranging from -1.5% to -22.5%, depending on the bank.

At the same time, revenues from commissions have increase by between 0.5% and 5.5% as banks have shifted their focus to increasing takings from commissions, especially after the imposition of capital controls in June 2015. However, the commissions are just a fraction of the interest revenues and cannot offset the losses from the main source of operating profits of banks. The biggest drop in interest revenues in the first half of the year belonged to National Bank (-22.5% to 564.4 million euros), which is attributed to the application of the new accounting standards (IFRS 9) in the first quarter and the repricing of mortgage loans amounting to 800 million euros. At the same time the NBG’s loan issues dropped 7.1% year-on-year.

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Perfecting the art of faking it.

Greek PM Promises Relief Measures After Years Of Austerity (G.)

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras has announced a raft of relief measures “to mend wounds” created during Greece’s prolonged economic crisis, as he attempts to recover the popularity he has lost since enforcing contentious austerity measures. In his first major policy address since debt-stricken Athens ended more than eight years of foreign tutelage under international bailout in August, the leftist leader pledged to raise wages, cut taxes and forge ahead with welfare spending. Far from backsliding on the fiscal progress the crisis-plagued country has made, the counter measures would help kickstart growth, Tsipras said, hailing a “new era of rebirth”.

“Higher wages, labour market regulation and respect for labour rights … are a prerequisite for growth,” he told delegates attending the Thessaloniki International Fair where annual economic policy goals are traditionally laid out. “The Greek economy is stabilised … we are a normal country now.” Tsipras said the tax cuts will include dramatically reducing a property levy for those worst affected by the crisis in 2019, and lowering sales VAT in 2021. Corporate tax, the bane of business development in the nation long on the frontline of the euro crisis, would be reduced from 29% to 25% by 2022. “It is the least we can do to mend wounds, reduce great burdens and create a growth dynamic in the Greek economy,” Tsipras said.

Other measures ranged from reinstating collective wage bargaining – a highly sensitive point among international creditors who have sought to trim the power of unions – and applying retroactive pay rises worth €1bn for university professors, the police, military and judiciary. [..] On Sunday, in his annual state of the nation press conference, Tsipras said because Greece was “outperforming all fiscal targets” his government would not only meet the new goals but argue that other cuts Athens has committed to were no longer necessary. At the behest of eurozone creditors the government has agreed to further scale back pensions in January 2019. “The economy is doing well,” Tsipras told reporters assembled in Thessaloniki. “I don’t know if you understand that, but the economy is doing well.”

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By someone who doesn’t support it.

Petition To Offer Assange Asylum To Be Presented To New Zealand Parliament (RT)

A petition with thousands of signatures supporting Julian Assange’s political asylum will be presented to New Zealand’s parliament. Labour Party politician Greg O’Connor said while he personally does not support Assange obtaining asylum in NZ, he will present the petition to parliament after more than 2,000 people signed their names in support of the WikiLeaks founder, reports Newstalk ZB. The parliamentary petition, launched in July 2018, will now be delivered to the Clerk of the house for allocation to a select committee for formal consideration. The ‘Free Assange NZ’ group said they haven’t forgotten the Australian’s plight and are following whistleblower Chelsea Manning on her tour of the country to remind people of the petition and its political progress. On Saturday night Assange supporters gathered outside the Embassy Theatre where Manning was speaking.

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Let’s see them.

US Lawyers Say They Have ‘Explosive’ Documents About Monsanto In Europe (EN)

US lawyers say they have “explosive” documents about crisis-hit agribusiness giant Monsanto and their affairs in Europe. Those involved in a successful lawsuit against the firm have been in Brussels, addressing a European Parliament special committee. Last month, Monsanto was ordered to pay 289 million dollars to a former school groundskeeper dying of cancer, after it was agreed the firm’s Roundup weedkilled contributed to his disease. “What we have is the tip of the iceberg. And in fact we have documents now in our possession, several hundreds documents, that have not been declassified and some of those are explosive,” said US lawyer Robert Jr. Kennedy.

“And many of them are pertinent to what Monsanto did here in Europe. And that’s just the beginning.” Beyond the environmental battle, what’s happened also raises the issue of transparency. For one Green MEP, the US legal battle is also one for democracy. “They are fighting a fight for more democracy and for transparency and to get a better insight in how big corporation such as Monsanto act and try to manipulate the facts,” said Belgium’s Bart Staes. Last November, the EU approved the use of glyphosate, a chemical used in Monsanto’s Roundup product, for five years after a heated debate over whether it causes cancer.

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Britain has shrunk to a sixe too small to have overseas territories.

Turtles, Whales And Birds Under Threat From Brexit Funding Cuts (Ind.)

Whales migrating across the Atlantic Ocean, turtles in the Caribbean and unique cloud forests in St Helena are all under threat as EU conservation projects are set to grind to a halt after Brexit. Following reports of the Falkland Islands’ penguins entering troubled waters as European funding dries up, conservationists working across Britain’s overseas territories have raised the alarm about the wider impact of this lost money. Due to their unusual status as neither fully parts of the UK nor independent states, these territories cannot access most domestic and international funding. This means EU money has offered a lifeline, and supports around a third of their conservation efforts.

There is currently no plan to make up for the shortfall that will emerge when existing projects finish. Stretching from the British Antarctic Territory to the Cayman Islands, the 14 UK overseas territories are home to hundreds of creatures found nowhere else on Earth. “There’s lots still unknown about the territories, they are quite a frontier,” said Jonathan Hall, who leads the RSPB’s overseas territories operations. “But they do hold at least 1,500 unique species – compared to the UK which has about 90.” These forgotten corners of the globe are home to more penguins than any other nation, a third of the world’s albatrosses and the largest coral atoll on the planet.

Many of the animals and plants found in these territories are critically endangered, and scientists estimate there are more than 2,000 species still awaiting discovery in their forests and lagoons. As the Brexit date looms, the government has promised to continue supporting ongoing projects in these regions, but beyond that local environmental groups are worried about how they will stay afloat. “It’s a huge concern,” said Charlie Butt, Caribbean territories programme manager at the RSPB. “The loss of a third of funding would be catastrophic from a conservation perspective.”

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Jul 222018
 
 July 22, 2018  Posted by at 8:44 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Gauguin The Vision after the Sermon (Jacob wrestling with the Angel) 1888

 

Ecuador Will Imminently Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange (Greenwald)
In Historic First, DOJ Releases Carter Page FISA Application (ZH)
Breannan And The 2016 Spy Scandal (Strassel)
UK To Refuse To Pay Brexit Bill Without Trade Deal (AFP)
Warning On Australia’s Looming Interest-Only Crisis (SMH)
German Industry Groups Warn US On Tariffs Ahead Of EU-US Meeting (R.)
NATO: Doomed To Destruction By Its Own Growth (SCF)
Hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ Evacuated By Israel to Jordan (R.)
Our Vanishingly Pleasant Land (McCarthy)

 

 

This is physically sickening. Checked front web pages of BBC, Guardian and Independent today: not a word. Hence: another gag order. Yes, there are journalists who don’t like Assange, but it’s not about liking him. It’s about your own freedom to speak. Guess that’s already gone then. I feel sick to my stomach.

Ecuador Will Imminently Withdraw Asylum for Julian Assange (Greenwald)

Ecuador’s president Lenin Moreno traveled to London on Friday for the ostensible purpose of speaking at the 2018 Global Disabilities Summit (Moreno has been using a wheelchair since being shot in a 1998 robbery attempt). The concealed, actual purpose of the President’s trip is to meet with British officials to finalize an agreement under which Ecuador will withdraw its asylum protection of Julian Assange, in place since 2012, eject him from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, and then hand over the WikiLeaks founder to British authorities. Moreno’s itinerary also notably includes a trip to Madrid, where he will meet with Spanish officials still seething over Assange’s denunciation of human rights abuses perpetrated by Spain’s central government against protesters marching for Catalonia independence.

Almost three months ago, Ecuador blocked Assange from accessing the internet, and Assange has not been able to communicate with the outside world ever since. The primary factor in Ecuador’s decision to silence him was Spanish anger over Assange’s tweets about Catalonia. A source close to the Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry and the President’s office, unauthorized to speak publicly, has confirmed to the Intercept that Moreno is close to finalizing, if he has not already finalized, an agreement to hand over Assange to the UK within the next several weeks. The withdrawal of asylum and physical ejection of Assange could come as early as this week. On Friday, RT reported that Ecuador was preparing to enter into such an agreement.

The consequences of such an agreement depend in part on the concessions Ecuador extracts in exchange for withdrawing Assange’s asylum. But as former Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa told the Intercept in an interview in May, Moreno’s government has returned Ecuador to a highly “subservient” and “submissive” posture toward western governments.

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The only thing left on the menu is nothingburgers.

In Historic First, DOJ Releases Carter Page FISA Application (ZH)

The Department of Justice late Friday released via the FBI’s FOIA Vault a redacted copy of the Carter Page FISA warrant application and several renewals, which accuse Page of being a Russian spy, as summarized by the New York Times – which obtained a copy of the materials through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. Of note, in the nearly two years since the application was filed, Page hasn’t been charged with any of the allegations contained within it. The previously top-secret document is the first such release by the DOJ in the 40 years since the surveillance law was enacted. In April, the DOJ said they were “processing for potential redaction and release certain [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] materials related to Carter Page,” after watchdog group Judicial Watch and several other organizations filed similar lawsuits.

The application reads in part: “Identity of the target The target of this application is Carter W. Page, a U.S. person, and an agent of a foreign power, described in detail below.” “The F.B.I. believes Page has been the subject of targeted recruitment by the Russian government,” the warrant application continues. A line was then redacted, and then it picked up with “undermine and influence the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election in violation of U.S. criminal law. Mr. Page is a former foreign policy adviser to a candidate for U.S. president.” -NYT. The document then concludes that Page was allegedly “collaborating and conspiring with the Russian government,” which they viewed as probably cause to spy on him – and again, which Page has never been charged with.

Page – who has repeatedly denied being a Russian spy, said in April that the FISA application was “beyond words,” and a “Joke,” while claiming that he has never served as an agent for a foreign government. We would also note that he hasn’t been charged as one. Page was targeted months earlier by FBI informant Stefan Halper, who formed a relationship with Page and several other Trump aides as part of the Obama administration’s active counterintelligence operation on the Trump campaign. While President Trump has characterized the entire counterintelligence operation as a “witch hunt,” an increasing chorus of frustrated GOP lawmakers have begun to echo his sentiment, as we are now in month 18 of post-inaugural investigation by the Department of Justice.

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When intelligence becomes partisan political, that’s a big problem.

Breannan And The 2016 Spy Scandal (Strassel)

Mr. Comey stands accused of flouting the rules, breaking the chain of command, abusing investigatory powers. Yet it seems far likelier that the FBI’s Trump investigation was a function of arrogance and overconfidence than some partisan plot. No such case can be made for Mr. Brennan. Before his nomination as CIA director, he served as a close Obama adviser. And the record shows he went on to use his position—as head of the most powerful spy agency in the world—to assist Hillary Clinton’s campaign (and keep his job).

Mr. Brennan has taken credit for launching the Trump investigation. At a House Intelligence Committee hearing in May 2017, he explained that he became “aware of intelligence and information about contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons.” The CIA can’t investigate U.S. citizens, but he made sure that “every information and bit of intelligence” was “shared with the bureau,” meaning the FBI. This information, he said, “served as the basis for the FBI investigation.” My sources suggest Mr. Brennan was overstating his initial role, but either way, by his own testimony, he was an Obama-Clinton partisan was pushing information to the FBI and pressuring it to act.

More notable, Mr. Brennan then took the lead on shaping the narrative that Russia was interfering in the election specifically to help Mr. Trump – which quickly evolved into the Trump-collusion narrative. Team Clinton was eager to make the claim, especially in light of the Democratic National Committee server hack. Numerous reports show Mr. Brennan aggressively pushing the same line internally. Their problem was that as of July 2016 even then-Director of National Intelligence James Clapper didn’t buy it. He publicly refused to say who was responsible for the hack, or ascribe motivation. Mr. Brennan also couldn’t get the FBI to sign on to the view; the bureau continued to believe Russian cyberattacks were aimed at disrupting the U.S. political system generally, not aiding Mr. Trump.

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The UK already agreed to pay it.

UK To Refuse To Pay Brexit Bill Without Trade Deal (AFP)

Britain will only pay its EU divorce bill if the bloc agrees the framework for a future trade deal, the new Brexit Secretary warned in an interview published Sunday. Dominic Raab, who replaced David Davis after he quit the role earlier this month in protest over the government’s Brexit strategy, said “some conditionality between the two” was needed. He added that the Article 50 mechanism used to trigger Britain’s imminent exit from the European Union provided for new deal details. “Article 50 requires, as we negotiate the withdrawal agreement, that there’s a future framework for our new relationship going forward, so the two are linked,” Raab told the Sunday Telegraph.

“You can’t have one side fulfilling its side of the bargain and the other side not, or going slow, or failing to commit on its side. “So I think we do need to make sure that there’s some conditionality between the two.” The British government has sent mixed signals so far on the divorce bill. Prime Minister Theresa May agreed in December to a financial settlement totalling £35 to £39 billion ($46-51 billion, 39-44 billion euros) that ministers said depended on agreeing future trade ties. But cabinet members have since cast doubt on the position. Finance minister Philip Hammond said shortly afterwards he found it “inconceivable” Britain would not pay its bill, which he described as “not a credible scenario”.

The country is set to leave the bloc on March 30, but the two sides want to strike a divorce agreement by late October in order to give parliament enough time to endorse a deal. Raab met the EU’s top negotiator Michel Barnier for the first time on Friday, where he heard doubts over May’s new Brexit blueprint for the future relationship. But Barnier noted the priority in talks should be on finalising the initial divorce deal. A hardline stance by the British government on the financial settlement could complicate progress, with Raab insisting on the link with the bill and a future agreement. “Certainly it needs to go into the arrangements we have at international level with our EU partners,” he told the Telegraph. “We need to make it clear that the two are linked.”

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Australia’s bad, but not the only country with an interest-only problem.

Warning On Australia’s Looming Interest-Only Crisis (SMH)

Australia’s version of the sub-prime crisis that ushered in the global financial crisis could be looming, with a significant number of the 1.5 million households with interest-only loans likely to struggle with higher repayments, experts warn. Martin North, the principal at consultancy Digital Finance Analytics, said interest-only loans account for about $700 billion of the $1.7 trillion in Australian mortgage lending and it was “our version of the GFC”. “My view is we’re in somewhat similar territory to where the US was in 2006 before the GFC,” Mr North said.

Craig Morgan, managing director of Independent Mortgage Planners, said one in five people who took a loan two or three years ago would not qualify for the same loan now, because of the crackdown on lending by the regulator and ongoing fallout from the Royal Commission into financial services. “In the last six months lenders have had this lightbulb moment of what ‘responsible lending’ means,” Mr Morgan said. One of the triggers for the GFC was rising defaults from over-leveraged borrowers who were unable to refinance when their honeymoon rates ended. However, the sub-prime lending in the United States before the GFC included large mortgages being given to people without jobs or on minimum wage.

“This is absolutely not ‘sub-prime’ in the US definition but there were people [in Australia] who were being encouraged to get very big loans on the fact that principal & interest was impossible to service but they could service interest-only,” Mr North said. “We also know that some interest-only loans were not investors but they are actually first-home buyers encouraged to go in at the top of the market.” The Reserve Bank has previously warned $500 billion in interest-only loans are set to expire in the next four years, causing a significant jump in repayments of 30-40 per cent when borrowers are forced to start paying back the principal.

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The car industry may be too complex for simple tariffs.

German Industry Groups Warn US On Tariffs Ahead Of EU-US Meeting (R.)

German industry groups warned on Sunday, ahead of a meeting between European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and U.S. President Donald Trump, that tariffs the United States has recently imposed or threatened risk harming the U.S. itself. The U.S. imposed tariffs on EU steel and aluminum on June 1 and Trump is threatening to extend them to EU cars and car parts. Juncker will discuss trade with Trump at a meeting on Wednesday. Dieter Kempf, head of Germany’s BDI industry association, told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper it was wise for the European Union and United States to continue their discussions.

“The tariffs under the guise of national security should be abolished,” Kempf said, adding that Juncker needed to make clear to Trump that the United States would harm itself with tariffs on cars and car parts. He added that the German auto industry employed more than 118,000 people in the United States and 60 percent of what they produced was exported to other countries from the U.S. “Europe should not let itself be blackmailed and should put in a confident appearance in the United States,” he added. EU officials have sought to lower expectations about what Juncker can achieve, and downplayed suggestions that he will arrive in Washington with a novel plan to restore good relations.

Eric Schweitzer, president of the DIHK Chambers of Commerce, told Welt am Sonntag he welcomed Juncker’s attempt to persuade the U.S. government not to impose tariffs on cars. “All arguments in favor of such tariffs are … ultimately far-fetched,” he said.

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Pentagon just delivered $200 million in deadly weapons to Ukraine. Madness.

NATO: Doomed To Destruction By Its Own Growth (SCF)

In the 1960s, Marvel Comics writer Stan Lee and artist/co-plotter Jack Kirby in the United States created a superhero with a novel twist. He was called Giant-Man, and the bigger he got, the weaker he became. Today that character is a prophetic parable about the future of the post- Cold War “super-NATO” that has expanded to include 29 nations compromising more than 880 million people. First it absorbed all the former Warsaw Pact member states in Central Europe. Then it absorbed the three tiny and virulently anti-Russian Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia. Now NATO is looking to embrace former Soviet Georgia and Ukraine.

As if all this was not enough, some genius at NATO Supreme Headquarters in Brussels came up with the idea of calling the alliance’s June 2016 military exercises in Eastern Europe ANACONDA. An anaconda is a gigantic carnivorous snake in the Amazon rain forest that first encircles its victims, crushes them to death and then devours them. What message was Russia meant to take from such tasteless nomenclature? However, it will not happen. Far from burying Russia, the US-led NATO alliance has been burying itself instead through its reckless, unending and remorseless growth. The curse of Giant Man is upon it. When the comic book hero Giant Man grew to 50 or 60 feet tall, he collapsed under his own weight. Such a fate is already happening to NATO.

The fundamental problem of the NATO alliance is that it is simultaneously too big and too diverse. The bigger it gets, the weaker it gets. This is because, with every state that joins the Alliance, the only militarily significant power within it, the United States, takes on an additional commitment to defend it. What does the United States get in return for its reckless bestowal of such earth shaking commitments? It gets nothing at all. When a tiny nation like Lithuania or Estonia boasts about meeting the 2 percent of GDP defense spending requirement of NATO this is ludicrous. The armed forces and GDP’s of such countries are so small as to be nonexistent. The much larger nations in the Alliance in Western Europe make no pretense of coming remotely close to their two percent defense spending pledge.

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No, not a daring escape, as I read somewhere. Negotiated by Russia.

Hundreds of Syrian ‘White Helmets’ Evacuated By Israel to Jordan (R.)

About 800 members of Syria’s White Helmets civil defense group and their families were evacuated via Israel to Jordan on Sunday from southwest Syria, where a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive is under way, media said. In a statement, the Israeli military said it had completed “a humanitarian effort to rescue members of a Syrian civil organization and their families … due to an immediate threat to their lives”. It said they were transferred to a neighboring country, which it did not identify, and that the evacuation came at the request of the United States and several European countries.

Israeli media identified the Syrians as belonging to the White Helmets organization. Officially called the Syrian Civil Defense but known by their distinctive white helmets, the group has operated a rescue service in rebel-held parts of Syria. Jordan’s official Petra news agency said on its website the kingdom “authorized the United Nations to organize the passage of about 800 Syrian citizens through Jordan for resettlement in Western countries”. The agency identified the Syrians as civil defense workers who fled areas controlled by the Syrian opposition after attacks there by the Syrian army. Petra said they would remain in a closed area in Jordan and that Britain, Germany and Canada had agreed to resettle them within three months.

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Poison to feed ourselves.

Our Vanishingly Pleasant Land (McCarthy)

It’s bizarre: in what seems like a display of obtuseness on a nationwide scale, it is still not generally realised or admitted that across huge swathes of the land, the biodiversity that at the end of the second world war was giving animation and vibrant life to the countryside as it had always done has simply vanished. By the government’s own admission, farmland birds have declined by 56% just since 1970; and the wild flowers have gone, and the butterflies have disappeared in their turn. Farewell to the spotted flycatcher, adios to the corncockle, goodbye to the high brown fritillary: what remains may be green, at least in spring, but that is mainly the pesticide-saturated crops; in wildlife terms, the landscape is now grossly impoverished, beyond any other one in Europe.

In his important new book, Cocker, one of our leading Nature writers, tackles head-on this remarkable twin phenomenon of destruction and ignorance, and he does so on an ambitious scale, seeking to explain and understand it by looking back in detail over a century of growing conservation efforts by individuals, charities, quangos and governments. How have they failed? In particular he is preoccupied with a paradox: how can our Nature have been so devastated, when there are more people who are members of green organisations in Britain than anywhere else? How can it have happened at the very moment in history that saw the rise of a new popular philosophy, environmentalism?

The simple answer is that this moment in history also saw the rise of intensive farming, a juggernaut beyond the power of green groups to control – and indeed beyond the power of individual governments once the Common Agricultural Policy of the European Union was fixed in place. It is modern industrial agriculture, above all by its immense reliance on poisons to boost crop yields, that has wiped out the wildlife of our countryside on a scarcely believable scale.

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