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Who Believes in Russiagate?

Russiagate is a conspiracy theory weaponized by political operatives, the press, intelligence, and law enforcement bureaucrats to delegitimize the election

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Originally appeared in Tablet Magazine

Half the country hates Donald Trump, and even the half that thinks he’s doing a good job often flinch from his boorishness, his nasty public attacks, sometimes even on his own aides. For all the top talent he says he’s surrounded himself with, the president repeatedly attracts among the worst that Washington—and New York—have to offer. No doubt that’s one reason why whatever is thrown at him seems to stick.

At the same time, there is a growing consensus among reporters and thinkers on the left and right—especially those who know anything about Russia, the surveillance apparatus, and intelligence bureaucracy—that the Russiagate-collusion theory that was supposed to end Trump’s presidency within six months has sprung more than a few holes.

Worse, it has proved to be a cover for U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement bureaucracies to break the law, with what’s left of the press gleefully going along for the ride. Where Watergate was a story about a crime that came to define an entire generation’s oppositional attitude toward politicians and the country’s elite, Russiagate, they argue, has proved itself to be the reverse: It is a device that the American elite is using to define itself against its enemies—the rest of the country.

Yet for its advocates, the questionable veracity of the Russiagate story seems much less important than what has become its real purpose—elite virtue-signaling. Buy into a storyline that turns FBI and CIA bureaucrats and their hand-puppets in the press into heroes while legitimizing the use of a vast surveillance apparatus for partisan purposes, and you’re in. Dissent, and you’re out, or worse—you’re defending Trump.

Recently, a writer on The New Yorker blog named Adrian Chen gave voice to the central dilemma facing young media professionals who struggle to balance their need for social approval with the demands of fact-based analysis in the age of Trump.

In an article pegged to special counsel Robert Mueller’s indictments of the Internet Research Agency, Chen referenced an article he had written about the IRA for The New York Times Magazine several years ago.

After the Mueller indictments were announced, Chen was called on to lend his expertise regarding Russian troll farms and their effect on the American public sphere—an offer he recognized immediately as a can’t-win proposition.

“Either I could stay silent,” wrote Chen, “and allow the conversation to be dominated by those pumping up the Russian threat, or I could risk giving fodder to Trump and his allies.”

In other words, there’s the truth, and then there’s what’s even more important—sticking it to Trump. Choose wrong, even inadvertently, Chen explained, no matter how many times you deplore Trump, and you’ll be labeled a Trumpkin.

That’s what happened to Facebook advertising executive Rob Goldman, who was obliged to apologize to his entire company in an internal message for having shared with the Twitter public the fact that “the majority of the Internet Research Agency’s Facebook ads were purchased after the election.”

After Trump retweeted Goldman’s thread to reaffirm that Vladimir Putin had nothing to do with his electoral victory, the Facebook VP was lucky to still have a job.

Chen’s article serves to explain why Russiagate is so vital to The New Yorker, despite the many headaches that each new weekly iteration of the story must be causing for the magazine’s fact-checkers.

According to British court documentsThe New Yorkerwas one of the publications that former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele briefed in September 2016 on the findings in his now-notorious dossier. In a New Yorker profile of Steele this week—portraying the spy-for-corporate-hire as a patriotic hero and laundering his possible criminal activitiesJane Mayer explains that she was personally briefed by Steele during that time period.

The New Yorker has produced tons of Russiagate stories, including a small anthologyof takes on the Mueller indictments alone. Of course there’s one by the recently-hired Adam Entous, the former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the news that the Washington firm Fusion GPS, which produced the Steele dossier, had been hired by the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee—a story that helped Fusion GPS relieve some of the pressure congressional inquiries had put on the firm to release its bank records.

No doubt Entous will continue to use his sources, whoever they are, to break more such stories at The New Yorker.

One person at The New Yorker who won’t get on board with the story is Masha Gessen. Born in Moscow, Gessen knows first-hand how bad Putin is and dislikes Trump only a little less than she dislikes the Russian strongman.

Yet in a recent New Yorker piece, Gessen mocked Mueller’s indictments: “Trump’s tweet about Moscow laughing its ass off was unusually (perhaps accidentally) accurate,” she wrote. “Loyal Putinites and dissident intellectuals alike are remarkably united in finding the American obsession with Russian meddling to be ridiculous.”

Another native Russian-speaking reporter, Julia Ioffe, formerly with The New Republic and more recently, The Atlantic, has some similar reservations. In a September 2016 article for Politico, she threw cold water on the legend of Carter Page, master spy and wheeler-dealer. As Ioffe reported, virtually no one in Moscow had ever heard of Page.

From the beginning, Gessen saw the collusion story as dangerous, not because she supported Trump but because it fed into a fantasy that convinced Trump’s opponents that they need not bother with the difficult and boring work of procedural politics.

And who were the would-be agents of America’s salvation? Spies—the former British spy allegedly responsible for the dossier and countless American intelligence officials using anonymous press leaks to manipulate the American public.

“The backbone of the rapidly yet endlessly developing Trump-Putin story,” Gessen wrote in The New York Review of Books nearly a year ago, “is leaks from intelligence agencies, and this is its most troublesome aspect.”

The specter of an intelligence bureaucracy working in tandem with the press to preserve the prerogatives of a ruling clique is the kind of thing that someone who knows Russia from the inside and actually fears the specter of authoritarian government would naturally find worrying.

And not surprisingly, concerns over the role of the intelligence community and its increasingly intrusive methods motivate other Russiagate critics on the left, like Glenn Greenwald at the Intercept, historian Jackson Lears writing at the London Review of Books, and Stephen Cohen at TheNation.

“One of the most bizarre aspects of Russiagate,” writes Lears, “is the magical transformation of intelligence agency heads into paragons of truth-telling—a trick performed not by reactionary apologists for domestic spying, as one would expect, but by people who consider themselves liberals.”

Cohen, a distinguished if often overly sympathetic historian of the Soviet Union, was even more alarmed. “Was Russiagate produced by the primary leaders of the US intelligence community?” asks Cohen, referring to former CIA director John Brennan as well as ex-FBI chief James Comey. “If so, it is the most perilous political scandal in modern American history and the most detrimental to American democracy.”

Yes, the left hates Trump. I didn’t vote for him, either. But what Gessen, Greenwald, Lears, and Cohen all understand is that Russiagate isn’t about Trump. He’s just a convenient proxy for the real target.

Their understanding is shared by writers on the right, like Andrew McCarthy, a former lawyer at the Department of Justice, who has unfolded the Russiagate affair over the last year in the pages of National Review, where he has carefully explained how the DOJ and FBI misled the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to spy on Carter Page and violate the privacy of an American citizen.

What unites Gessen, Greenwald, Lears, and McCarthy obviously isn’t politics—rather, it’s the recognition that the Russiagate campaign represents an attack on American political and social institutions, an attack on our liberties, an attack on us.

Russiagate is a conspiracy theory, weaponized by political operatives, much of the press, as well as high-level intelligence and law enforcement bureaucrats to delegitimize an American election and protect their own interests, which coincide with those of the country’s larger professional and bureaucratic elite.

***

The story of how the Russiagate collusion myth was made and marketed is much easier to understand—it’s social. Imagine a map of professional, academic, and family networks that connect people across professions like law, journalism, public relations, and lobbying, which intersect with political institutions, like the permanent bureaucracies that staff places like the FBI, CIA, Congress, and the White House. That map is largely blue, but there’s lots of red there, too.

The story of how spies and journalists came to collaborate on a disinformation campaign is also, as the left may not be surprised to find, partly explained by economics. With the rise of the internet and social media, and the resulting collapse of print advertising, it was no longer necessary for the media to mass so close to New York City ad firms.

Surviving old-media outlets and their new-media cousins moved much of their operations to Washington, which offered one-stop shopping for “national” stories. Having insulated itself from the 2008 economic collapse, the capital thrived. Ambitious and inexperienced young journalists flocked to where the jobs were, staffing startup news and social media operations—which were often simply partisan war rooms that produced and solicited opposition research—just in time to cover Obama’s historic presidency.

For those like Gessen, Cohen, Lears, and others on the left who don’t understand how and when American journalists got in bed with the country’s spies, it started several years before Trump or Russiagate. It was while reporting on the Obama administration that the press came to rely on the White House’s political operatives, including intelligence officials, for sources and stories about American foreign policy.

It got worse when the Obama administration started spying on its domestic opponents during the Iran deal, when the Obama administration learned how far it could go in manipulating the foreign-intelligence surveillance apparatus for domestic political advantage.

As Adam Entous, then of The Wall Street Journal, wrote in a December 2015 article, “the National Security Agency’s targeting of Israeli leaders and officials also swept up the contents of some of their private conversations with U.S. lawmakers and American-Jewish groups.”

Obama administration officials had leaked the story to Entous in order to shape its reception. After all, the real news was pretty bad—Obama had spied on Americans and the Americans he spied on, Congress and Jewish community leaders, knew it.

But in Entous’ account, it was only by accident that the National Security Agency had listened in on Americans opposed to the Iran deal, opponents whose communications had simply been “swept up.” While Entous’ evident lack of skepticism about that account was hardly good reporting, it was perfectly in keeping with the maxim of not biting the hand that feeds you.

What the White House really wanted to know, on Entous’ telling, was what the Israeli prime minister and his ambassador to Washington were doing to contest the Iran deal. Except, neither Benjamin Netanyahu nor Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer makes U.S. policy: Congress does. As I explained in an April Tablet article, the purpose of the spying campaign was to help the White House fight U.S. legislators and other Americans critical of the deal—i.e., to win a domestic political battle.

A pro-Israel political operative who was deeply involved in the Iran deal fight told me last year, “The NSA’s collections of foreigners became a means of gathering real-time intelligence on Americans.” With the Iran deal, as would later happen with Russiagate, the ostensible targets of intelligence collection—Israel, then Russia—were simply instruments that the Obama administration used to go after the real bad guys, namely its enemies at home.

The same process of weaponizing foreign-intelligence collection for domestic political purposes that the Obama administration road-tested during the Iran-deal fight was used to manufacture Russiagate and get it to market.

Except instead of keeping a close hold of the identities of those swept up during “incidental collection” of U.S. persons, departing Obama White House officials leaked the names to friendly reporters.

Leaking classified intelligence is a felony, which means that Obama officials, many in the intelligence community, who leaked the names of Americans whose communications were intercepted to the press, were breaking the law.

A crucial concern, then, was the trustworthiness of the intermediaries chosen to publish classified intelligence. It is to those intermediaries that anyone seeking to understand how the press became an instrument of the U.S. intelligence bureaucracy’s information war must now turn.

Entous, now The New Yorker’s man in Washington, had already proved his trustworthiness by shaping the story about Obama administration spying on congressional and American Jewish-community leaders in a way that was favorable to the administration, and disguised blatant abuses of power. More stories would now come his way, courtesy of the U.S. intelligence community.

One of Entous’ most famous Russia-related scoops was a Dec. 31, 2016, Washington Post article reporting that “according to US officials,” Russians hackers had penetrated the computer system of a Vermont dam. As it turns out, the story was entirely wrong.

A statement from Burlington Electric released shortly after the Post’s story explained that a laptop unconnected to the company’s grid was affected by malware. There was no threat to the dam, never mind “the nation’s electrical grid,” as the anonymous U.S. officials quoted in the Entous story had claimed.

In other words, there was no story—which Entous or his co-writer would have discovered had they contacted the electricity company. They didn’t, because the story was not sourced to original reporting—i.e. discovering from sources on location in Vermont that the state’s electrical grid had in fact been compromised.

In support of reporting like that, the journalists might well have sought supporting information or quotes from government officials, named or even anonymous. Instead, their story started with anonymous U.S. officials, who leaked to Entous and his colleague for the evident purpose of advancing the Russiagate narrative. Russia was everywhere—from a dam in Vermont to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

If Entous’ story about the Obama administration’s spying on Congress and U.S. Jewish leaders showed that the reporter was trustworthy, the Vermont-dam article showed he wasn’t going to ask many questions of the officials who pointed him toward a nonexistent story, whose purpose appeared to have less to do with the health of the state of Vermont than with fear-mongering about Russia.

Clearly, someone noticed. In the March 1, 2017, Washington Post, Entous was lead byline on an article breaking the news that Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. A July 21, 2017, Post story on which Entous had the lead byline alleged that Sessions had discussed campaign-related matters with Kislyak.

The latter story provides evidence of how the March and July articles were produced—U.S. officials leaked classified intelligence regarding intercepts of Kislyak’s communications with Moscow, in which he discussed Sessions. Officials then unmasked the identity of the attorney general and leaked it to Entous and the other reporters on the story.

Following close on the heels of those two pass-through DC-based “scoops,” Entous was lead byline on an April 3, 2017, story reporting a meeting in the Seychelles between Blackwater founder Erik Prince and a Russian banker, reportedly to set up a back channel between Trump and Putin. After publication of the story, Prince said he was shown “specific evidence” by sources from the intelligence community that his name was unmasked and given to the paper. “Unless The Washington Post has somehow miraculously recruited the bartender of a hotel in the Seychelles,” Prince told the House Intelligence Committee in December, “the only way that’s happening is through SIGINT [signals intelligence].”

Recent news reports suggest that Prince’s meeting has become a key focus of the Mueller investigation. If those reports are accurate, it seems even more likely that classified intelligence was purposefully being leaked to put pressure on Prince.

A week later, on April 11, 2017, Entous is bylined on yet another story based on a leak of classified intelligence that once again violated the privacy rights of an American citizen when the Post broke the news that the FBI secured a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act warrant on Carter Page.

If you think Russiagate is real, then you will probably conclude that Sessions, Prince, and Page are all part of a single, monstrous criminal conspiracy—and that Adam Entous is one of the most important journalists in American history, an indefatigable shoe-leather reporter who helped whistleblowers inside the federal government put the truth before the American public, like Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein, and Neil Sheehan combined.

If you think the collusion story is nonsense, then Entous is just a political operative with a convenient byline. And if you think Russiagate is a campaign of political warfare waged in the shadows by bureaucrats who violated the privacy of American citizens in order to undo election results they disagreed with, then Entous is something worse—an asset whom sectors of the intelligence community have come to rely on in order to manipulate the public.

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Skripal and Khashoggi: A Tale of Two Disappearances

Two disappearances, and two different responses.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Two disappearances, and two very different responses from Western governments, which illustrates their rank hypocrisy.

When former Russian spy Sergei Skripal went missing in England earlier this year, there was almost immediate punitive action by the British government and its NATO allies against Moscow. By contrast, Western governments are straining with restraint towards Saudi Arabia over the more shocking and provable case of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The outcry by Western governments and media over the Skripal affair was deafening and resulted in Britain, the US and some 28 other countries expelling dozens of Russian diplomats on the back of unsubstantiated British allegations that the Kremlin tried to assassinate an exiled spy with a deadly nerve agent. The Trump administration has further tightened sanctions citing the Skripal incident.

London’s case against Moscow has been marked by wild speculation and ropey innuendo. No verifiable evidence of what actually happened to Sergei Skripal (67) and his daughter Yulia has been presented by the British authorities. Their claim that President Vladimir Putin sanctioned a hit squad armed with nerve poison relies on sheer conjecture.

All we know for sure is that the Skripals have been disappeared from public contact by the British authorities for more than seven months, since the mysterious incident of alleged poisoning in Salisbury on March 4.

Russian authorities and family relatives have been steadfastly refused any contact by London with the Skripal pair, despite more than 60 official requests from Moscow in accordance with international law and in spite of the fact that Yulia is a citizen of the Russian Federation with consular rights.

It is an outrage that based on such thin ice of “evidence”, the British have built an edifice of censure against Moscow, rallying an international campaign of further sanctions and diplomatic expulsions.

Now contrast that strenuous reaction, indeed hyper over-reaction, with how Britain, the US, France, Canada and other Western governments are ever-so slowly responding to Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case.

After nearly two weeks since Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the Saudi regime is this week finally admitting he was killed on their premises – albeit, they claim, in a “botched interrogation”.

Turkish and American intelligence had earlier claimed that Khashoggi was tortured and murdered on the Saudi premises by a 15-member hit squad sent from Riyadh.

Even more grisly, it is claimed that Khashoggi’s body was hacked up with a bone saw by the killers, his remains secreted out of the consulate building in boxes, and flown back to Saudi Arabia on board two private jets connected to the Saudi royal family.

What’s more, the Turks and Americans claim that the whole barbaric plot to murder Khashoggi was on the orders of senior Saudi rulers, implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The latest twist out of Riyadh, is an attempt to scapegoat “rogue killers” and whitewash the House of Saudi from culpability.

The fact that 59-year-old Khashoggi was a legal US resident and a columnist for the Washington Post has no doubt given his case such prominent coverage in Western news media. Thousands of other victims of Saudi vengeance are routinely ignored in the West.

Nevertheless, despite the horrific and damning case against the Saudi monarchy, the response from the Trump administration, Britain and others has been abject.

President Trump has blustered that there “will be severe consequences” for the Saudi regime if it is proven culpable in the murder of Khashoggi. Trump quickly qualified, however, saying that billion-dollar arms deals with the oil-rich kingdom will not be cancelled. Now Trump appears to be joining in a cover-up by spinning the story that the Khashoggi killing was done by “rogue killers”.

Britain, France and Germany this week issued a joint statement calling for “a credible investigation” into the disappearance. But other than “tough-sounding” rhetoric, none of the European states have indicated any specific sanctions, such as weapons contracts being revoked or diplomatic expulsions.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “concerned” by the gruesome claims about Khashoggi’s killing, but he reiterated that Ottawa would not be scrapping a $15 billion sale of combat vehicles to Riyadh.

The Saudi rulers have even threatened retaliatory measures if sanctions are imposed by Western governments.

Saudi denials of official culpability seem to be a brazen flouting of all reason and circumstantial evidence that Khashoggi was indeed murdered in the consulate building on senior Saudi orders.

This week a glitzy international investor conference in Saudi Arabia is being boycotted by top business figures, including the World Bank chief, Jim Yong Kim, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Britain’s venture capitalist Richard Branson. Global firms like Ford and Uber have pulled out, as have various media sponsors, such as CNN, the New York Times and Financial Times. Withdrawal from the event was in response to the Khashoggi affair.

A growing bipartisan chorus of US Senators, including Bob Corker, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Chris Murphy, have called for the cancellation of American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as for an overhaul of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Still, Trump has rebuffed calls for punitive response. He has said that American jobs and profits depend on the Saudi weapons market. Some 20 per cent of all US arms sales are estimated to go to the House of Saud.

The New York Times this week headlined: “In Trump’s Saudi Bargain, the Bottom Line Proudly Stands Out”.

The Trump White House will be represented at the investment conference in Saudi Arabia this week – dubbed “Davos in the Desert” by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He said he was attending in spite of the grave allegations against the Saudi rulers.

Surely the point here is the unseemly indulgence by Western governments of Saudi Arabia and its so-called “reforming” Crown Prince. It is remarkable how much credulity Washington, London, Paris, Ottawa and others are affording the Saudi despots who, most likely, have been caught redhanded in a barbarous murder.

Yet, when it comes to Russia and outlandish, unproven claims that the Kremlin carried out a bizarre poison-assassination plot, all these same Western governments abandon all reason and decorum to pile sanctions on Russia based on lurid, hollow speculation. The blatant hypocrisy demolishes any pretense of integrity or principle.

Here is another connection between the Skripal and Khashoggi affairs. The Saudis no doubt took note of the way Britain’s rulers have shown absolute disregard and contempt for international law in their de facto abduction of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. If the British can get away with that gross violation, then the Saudis probably thought that nobody would care too much if they disappeared Jamal Khashoggi.

Grotesquely, the way things are shaping up in terms of hypocritical lack of action by the Americans, British and others towards the Saudi despots, the latter might just get away with murder. Not so Russia. The Russians are not allowed to get away with even an absurd fantasy.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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Massacre in Crimea kills dozens, many in critical condition

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

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on

“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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