Background Briefing with Ian Masters Russia Files

March 14, 2018

The Dangerous Symmetry of Sycophants, Hardliners and Hawks in Both the Kremlin and the White House
Has Mueller Crossed Trump’s Red Line?
A Trump Cheerleader as the New Economic Adviser
Demo Title

We begin with sanctions against Russia announced today by the Secretary of the Treasury in response to their meddling in the U.S. election which do not target oligarchs and government officials close to Putin or in any way effect Russia’s intelligence services or impact its economy. Dr. Michael Carpenter, a former deputy assistant secretary of defense with responsibility for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia who was Director for Russia on the National Security Council, joins us to discuss Trump’s peculiar reluctance to criticize Putin even in the face of the apparent attack on a NATO member’s soil using a WMD, Novichok, a Soviet-era military nerve agent. We assess the dangerous symmetry of Putin surrounding himself with sycophants, hardliners and hawks in the Kremlin, while Trump does the same in the White House as he fires those that try to restrain his reckless impulses while bringing aboard sycophants and hardliners like his new Secretary of State and hawks like John Bolton who is apparently poised to replace General McMaster.

Then we examine the speculation in the press that Trump is about to fire his Attorney General Sessions and replace him with the EPA head Scott Pruitt using the Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 to limit special council Mueller’s probe. Jack Blum, an expert on white-collar financial crime and international tax evasion who was a staff attorney with the Senate Antitrust Subcommittee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a consultant to the United Nations Center of Transnational Corporations, joins us to discuss if such a move is possible and whether in subpoenaing the Trump Organization, Mueller has crossed a red line laid down by Trump.

Then finally we speak with economist Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, about Trump’s choice of a TV pitchman Lawrence Kudlow as his new head of the National Economic Council, a supply-side cheerleader who advised the governor of Kansas to implement a sweeping tax cut plan to produce bountiful growth that instead has crippled the state to the point of bankruptcy. We also discuss Dean Baker’s article in the Los Angeles Times “If Trump wants to get reelected, he should rethink his Federal Reserve picks”.

Dr. Michael Carpenter | Jack Blum | Dean Baker

March 14, 2018

Trump Purges the White House of Top Advisers Who Offer Criticism or Caution
Is the Trump Organization a Racketeering Enterprise?
The Student Who Walked Out Today to Protest Gun Violence
Program Notes

We begin with an assessment of where U.S. foreign policy is heading as Trump purges his White House of any critical or cautionary voices while he installs his new more agreeable Secretary of State proclaiming Mike Pompeo has “a very similar though process” to his. Michael Fuchs, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress who served as a deputy assistant secretary of state, a special advisor to the secretary of state for strategic dialogue and a member of the policy planning staff, joins us to discuss his article at The Guardian “Rex Tillerson was disastrous for the U.S., Mike Pompeo may be worse”. We look into what letting Trump be Trump will look like as the last remaining adults in the room are shown the door and General McMaster is replaced by John Bolton who is rumored to be the next National Security Advisor. He, along with Pompeo, will be enabling an insecure narcissist and weak strongman with an infantile fascination with bigness, toughness and power along with contempt for diplomacy.

Then we speak with Tom Adams, a retired attorney who co-authored an article in the San Francisco Chronicle with a former U.S. Attorney Dennis Aftergut, “Russian criminals’ links to Trump could compromise him” and have written an extensive investigative report which is at the website of Congresswoman Jackie Speier, “The Trump Organization – A Racketeering Enterprise?” We discuss how Trump has laid down a red line with the Mueller investigation not to look into the family business but whatever crimes Mueller might uncover, Trump’s pardon power does not extend to state crimes and that both RICO, the Racketeering and Corrupt Organizations Act, and New York law, could be used against him.

Then finally we speak with two young students who walked out of class today joining a nationwide demonstration of tens of thousands of high school students demanding action to stop gun violence one month after the mass shooting of high school students in Florida. 16 year-old Mackenzie Mattone who organized a student walkout at Benjamin Cardoza High School in New York City joins us first then we will hear from 17 year-old Jatziri Campos at Muchin College Prep, a Charter School in gun-plagued downtown Chicago.

Michael Fuchs | Tom Adams | Mackenzie Mattone and Jatziri Campos

March 13, 2018

Trump Unceremoniously Dumps Tillerson
A Double Agent on Russia’s Escalation of the Spy-Versus-Spy Wars
An Update on the Closely-Watched Race for Congress in Pennsylvania
Program Notes

We begin with Trump’s crude and deliberately humiliating firing of Secretary State Tillerson today and speak with Dr. Rachel Kleinfeld a senior associate in the Democracy and Rule of Law Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who was appointed to the Foreign Affairs Policy Board, the advisory body to the U.S. Department of State. She joins us to discuss Tillerson’s appalling record at the State Department which has been eviscerated during his tenure as the Trump Administration invests heavily in hard power throwing money at the Pentagon while cutting the State Department’s budget by 32%, purging seasoned diplomats and crippling America’s soft power. We discuss the many humiliations Trump has inflicted on Tillerson who once referred to the President as a “f***ing moron” and whether Tillerson’s condemnation of Russia for the nerve gas attack in the U.K. while Trump’s spokesperson Sara Sanders was avoiding blaming Russia, was the trigger to the firing of Tillerson in what appears to be yet another example of Trump’s fealty to Putin.

Then, with another Russian dissident showing up dead in London today on top of the list by BuzzFeedNews of 14 suspicious deaths in the U.K. linked to Russian spy agencies, we speak with an American double agent who was recruited by Russia’s Military Intelligence the GRU but was all the while working with the FBI. Naveed Jamali, a Senior Fellow in the Program on National Security at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, who spent three years as a civilian double agent working with the FBI, joins us to discuss Putin’s escalation in the previously bloodless spy-versus-spy wars and his book “How to Catch a Russian Spy: The True Story of an American Civilian Turned Double Agent”.

Then finally we get an update on today’s closely-watched congressional election in Pennsylvania between a moderate Democratic challenger and Republican closely identified with Trump which many see as a harbinger of a possible Democratic takeover of the House in November. Terry Madonna, the Director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin and Marshall College who founded the Keystone Poll and is a pollster for the Philadelphia Daily News and other newspapers and television stations in Pennsylvania, joins us.

Rachel Kleinfeld | Naveed Jamali | Terry Madonna

March 12, 2018

Putin Blames Election Meddling on Jews
The Multi-Billion Dollar Saudi Royal Shakedown
The Amazingly Ignorant Secretary of Education
Program Notes

We begin with the backlash from Israeli officials, Jewish groups and prominent Senators and House members to remarks that Russia’s president Putin made in an interview with NBC’s Megyn Kelly in which he blamed meddling in our 2016 election on Jews and other minorities. With Britain’s Prime Minister May today telling parliament that it is “highly likely” Russia was behind the attack in the U.K. on an exiled Russian spy and his daughter, who were poisoned by a type of military-grade nerve agent developed by Russia, we will look into how the Russian media is dealing with both the pushback from Russian election meddling and yet another assassination on British soil of former spies Putin has labelled as traitors who “will kick the bucket, trust me”. Julia Davisthe founder and editor of Russian Media Monitor, which analyzes Russian media and the relationship between news and propaganda, joins us to discuss how, ahead of Russia’s March 18 election, Putin is becoming more brazen in signaling to the Russia people via state-controlled TV that he is their strong leader at war with the West, claiming in a two-hour documentary titled “Putin”, that he had ordered the downing of a Turkish passenger plane that was reported to be hijacked and heading for the Sochi Olympics.

Then, with the announcement today by the White House that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, MBS, who is soon to be crowned king, will meet with Trump on March 20, we speak with Ali Al-Ahmed, the founder and director of the Institute for Gulf Affairs who is an expert on Saudi Arabia political affairs and Saudi-American relations. He joins us to discuss the extraordinary confiscation of wealth underway as MBS shakes down the fortunes and holdings of prominent Saudi princes including the multi-billionaire Prince Alaweed Bin Talal, as well as the war MBS is bogged down in Yemen in which thousands of innocent women and children are being bombed and starved to death.

Then finally we review the Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s interview on “60 Minutes” which the Christian fundamentalist billionaire stumbled her way through, struggling to answer basic questions in a performance that even alarmed the White House. Mitchell Robinson, Chair of Music Education at Michigan State University’s College of Music and author of “Privatize, Monetize, Weaponize: How the DeVos family devoured Michigan’s schools”, joins us to discuss the damage done so far to American education by this dim-witted dilettante.

Julia Davis | Ali Al-Ahmed | Mitchell Robinson

March 11, 2018

Trump Covers His Bets Ahead of the Summit With Kim Jong-Un
Our Reality TV President to Sit Down With the World’s Most Ruthless Dictator
Trump and the Republicans Are Running Out the Clock on Robert Mueller
Program Notes

We begin with the sudden summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un announced by Donald Trump that is to take place in May at a place yet to be determined. Already Trump has covered his bets by saying “I may leave fast or we may sit down and make the greatest deal in the world”. Sung Yoon Lee, a Professor of International Affairs at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University, joins us to discuss Trump’s claim about the North Korean’s that “I think they want to make peace, I think it’s time” and how much that seems to miss the point that Kim’s primary goal is the perpetuation of his family’s cruel and criminal regime. We will also speculate about the see-sawing diplomacy underway with an about-face from having Vice President Pence getting stiffed by the North Korean delegation at the Winter Olympics, to Kim Jong-un’s invitation for a summit with Trump delivered to the White House by South Korea’s National Security Advisor and the head of South Korea’s intelligence service after their recent meeting with Kim which followed the thawing of relations between the North and South on display at the Winter Olympics.

Then we examine further the fast-track war-to-peace change from Trump threatening “little rocket man” with “fire and fury” to quickly deciding to be the only prominent American, apart from Dennis Rodman, to meet with Kim Jong-un, an American who also happens to be the President of the United States. Kent Harrington, a former senior CIA analyst who served as the National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, joins us to discuss the unusual approach to international diplomacy underway with a former builder of sky-scrapers starting construction on the penthouse before he has laid the foundations.

Then finally we look into the growing legal jeopardy Trump has from his pre-election cover-up of an affair with Stormy Daniels and the $130,000 payoff his lawyer made to the porn star along with an NDA which could soon be broken. Nina Burleigh, the National Politics Correspondent at Newsweek joins us to discuss her article “Stormy Breaks Trump’s Favorite Legal Tactic: The NDA” and her cover article at Newsweek “”The Star-Mangled Banner: Can the American Legal System Survive Donald Trump?”

Sung Yoon Lee | Kent Harrington | Nina Burleigh

March 8, 2018

Could a Porn Star Bring Down Trump?
Trump Shoots America in the Foot and Starts a Trade War
How Trump is Hurting 214 Million Women as 830 Die Every Day
Program Notes

We will begin on this International Women’s Day with the ironic possibility that it will not be the press, or the Democrats or even the Mueller investigation that will bring down Donald Trump’s presidency, but instead it looks like it might be a porn star Stephanie Clifford who goes by the name of Stormy Daniels. An expert on leadership and women’s relationship with power, Gloria Feldt, the author of “No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change How We Think About Power” who was president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, joins us to discuss how Trump, who has bullied and intimidated women into silence and labelled the many women who have come forward charging him with sexual harassment “liars”, may have met his match with Stormy Daniels. She appears to have broken Trump’s NDA, Non-Disclosure Agreement that came with the $130,000 Trump’s lawyer paid Stormy for her silence shortly before the 2016 election. We will discuss how NDA’s have been used by powerful men to silence women who have been sexually abused, but more and more women are coming forward to break these agreements such as has been the case with Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein and now Donald Trump.

Then we speak with Katheryn Russ, a Professor of Economics at the University of California, Davis who worked for the Obama Administration’s Council of Economic Advisors as Senior Economist for International Trade and Finance. She joins us to discuss her article at Econofact “Will Steel Tariffs put U.S. Jobs at Risk?” and analyze the many reasons why Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum make no sense economically or in terms of national defense. But worst of all they have taken the focus away from China as the bad actor on trade and intellectual property and instead have turned the U.S. into the bull in the global china shop.

Then finally we address the damage Trump is doing to women all around the world following his decision shortly after taking office to impose the Global Gag Rule along with defunding the U.N. Population Fund, impacting family planning programs for the world’s most vulnerable population of 214 million women with unmet needs for modern contraception, where every day 830 women die from preventable pregnancy-related causes. Jamila Taylor, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress joins us to discuss her new report at the Center for American Progress “On International Women’s Day, Resist Trump’s Global Gag Rule”.

Gloria Feldt | Katheryn Russ | Jamila Taylor

March 7, 2018

A Super-Hawk Could Land as the White House National Security Adviser
Could Democratic Fratricide Stymie the Blue Wave?
The Author of “The Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism”
Program Notes

We begin with the alarming possibility that a hawkish ideologue who sees war as the first not the last solution, and who desperately wants to bomb North Korea and Iran, will soon be the National Security Advisor in the Trump White House where John Bolton will be able to indulge his bloodthirsty fantasies with real world consequences. Jacob Heilbrunn, a Senior Editor at the National Interest and author of “They Knew They Were Right: The Rise of the Neocons”, joins us to discuss the expected departure soon of the embattled National Security Advisor General McMaster and Bolton’s visit to the Oval Office yesterday where Bolton was auditioned again, after having been turned down for a top job last time because Trump did not like Bolton’s moustache. With the resignation of Gary Cohn, who tried to prevent a trade war but was outmaneuvered by a corrupt Secretary of Commerce and an outright crank serving as Director of the White House National Trade Council, we will assess how much the bar is being lowered at the White House, given the exit of 43% of the White Houses’ senior staff in just one year.

Then we get an analysis of yesterday’s primaries in Texas that saw a huge uptick in Democrats coming to the polls and speak with an award-winning television news correspondent in Texas, James Moore, the co-author of the bestseller “Bush’s Brain: How Karl Rove Made George W. Bush Presidential”. He joins us to discuss his article at CNN “Democrats are taking a dangerous gamble in Texas” and whether fratricide between the Sanders wing and the Clinton wing of the party will stymie the Blue Wave, given the intervention by the DCCC in a hit job against a liberal Democrat in Houston, which appears to have backfired since Laura Moser made it to the May runoff in the Texas 6th District.

Then finally we are joined in the studio by Rob Riemen, the founder of the Nexus Institute in The Netherlands whose latest book, just out, is “The Fight Against This Age: On Fascism and Humanism”. We assess the growth of far-right, populist and fascist parties across Europe and the extent to which Donald Trump has encouraged this illiberal global trend towards authoritarianism. And we will also discuss what can be done to restore democratic values and reinvigorate democratic movements.

Jacob Heilbrunn | James Moore | Robert Riemen

March 6, 2018

The Banking Lobby’s Successful Rollback of Reforms That Followed the 2008 Crash
West Virginia’s Teachers Take on a Corrupt and Indifferent State Government
Fighting Back Against the Global War on Democracy
Program Notes

We begin with the Senate rolling back banking reforms instituted after the 2008 Wall Street crash in what Senator Elizabeth Warren called “a dangerous, wrong bill” which the Majority Leader Mitch McConnell put forward as a way to distract from the Senate’s total lack of activity on dealing meaningfully with the pressing issue of gun violence. Mike Konczal, a Fellow with the Roosevelt Institute, joins us to discuss his article at The New York Times“Why Are Democrats Helping Trump Dismantle Dodd-Frank?” and assess whether the moderate Democrats who voted with the Republicans on a bill dubbed “The Bank Lobbyist Act” which claims to be helping small banks while removing restrictions on the big banks, will be rewarded by their constituents for doing the bidding of Wall Street and not standing up for Main Street. In spite of Senator Warren’s efforts, the vote today to deregulate banks passed 67 to 32, ignoring her warning that the bill will make the American taxpayer take all the risk if banks fail again while all the profits will be going to giant banks.

Then we look into the wildcat strike by low-paid teachers in West Virginia who are deeply distrustful of the governor and the legislature after a deal offering a 4% raise went nowhere and a new deal offering 5% is in the offering although it is supposed to be offset by other budget cuts yet to be announced. Anne Marie Lofaso, a Professor of Law at West Virginia University College of Law who spent 10 years as an attorney with the National Labor Relations Board’s Appellate and Supreme Court Branches, joins us to discuss the low priority given to public employees in a state that has a budget shortfall because it lavishes tax cuts on the wealthy while giving big breaks to coal and oil industries.

Then finally we speak with Yascha Mounk, a Lecturer on Political Theory at Harvard University’s Government Department who is the author of a new book, just out, “The People Versus Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It”. He joins us to discuss the latest in the global retreat of democratic values, this time in Italy where far-right anti-immigrant parties made gains. We will examine the growth of illiberal regimes around the world and what steps can be taken to reverse this alarming trend which the head of the world’s most powerful democracy is encouraging rather that reversing, as Trump congratulates China’s leader for declaring himself dictator for life.

Mike Konczal | Anne Marie Lofaso | Yascha Mounk

March 5, 2018

Another Russian Spy Poisoned in the UK
Alarm at the Re-Emergence of Italy’s Right
Growing Concern at Home and Abroad That Trump is Triggering a Trade War
Program Notes

We begin with the latest mysterious poisoning of another former Russian spy in the U.K., this time Colonel Sergei Skripal a retired Russian Military Intelligence GRU officer who was one of four prisoners Russia swapped for ten deep cover “sleeper” agents planted by Moscow in the U.S. who were exchanged in 2010.  Luke Harding the former Moscow bureau chief of The Guardian who was expelled by the Kremlin and is the author of “A Very Expensive Poison: The Assassination of Alexander Litvinenko”, and his latest book “Collusion: How Russia Helped Trump Win the White House”, joins us. We discuss whether this latest hit involving a mysterious unknown substance was ordered by Putin as a way to bolster his credentials with right wing nationalists ahead of the March 18 presidential election he is expected to win. And we will also assess what kind of protection former Russian spies are provided by the U.K. security services, given the record of high-profile hits by the Kremlin on British soil.

Then we examine the results of the Italian election that have alarmed the E.U. as illiberal right wing regimes sympathetic to Putin gain more ground in Europe with Italy’s center right Five Star Movement getting the most votes at  32% and are expected to form a coalition with the far-right anti-immigrant League which captured 17.5% of the vote. Ruth Ben-Ghiat,a Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University who writes on fascism, racism and authoritarian rulers, joins us to discuss her article at CNN “In Italy’s elections, the fascists did scarily well”.

Then finally, with growing concern from Republicans at home and from leaders around the world that Donald Trump is triggering a trade war because of his snap decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, we will speak with Matt Gold, a Professor of Law at Fordham University where he teaches International Trade Law. He previously served as the Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative for North America in the Executive Office of the President and we will discuss whether Speaker Ryan and others will be able to convince Trump to walk back his plan as Trump threatens to double down, pressuring NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico.

Luke Harding | Ruth Ben-Ghiat | Matthew Gold

March 4, 2018

The Kushner Shakedown of Qatar
Trump’s Cavalier Declaration of a Trade War
An Activist Who Dressed at Louis XVI to Protest Treasury Secretary Mnuchin at UCLA
Program Notes

We begin with the bombshell revelations by NBC News and The Intercept about the Kushner family shakedown of the Qatari government for a half a billion dollar loan to bailout Jared’s unwise investment in 666 5thAvenue, a financial albatross which has a $1.4 billion balloon payment due in February. Ryan Grim, the DC Bureau Chief for The Intercept joins us to discuss his latest article at The Intercept “Jared Kushner’s Real-Estate Firm Sought Money Directly from Qatar Government Weeks Before Blockade”. We will look into the extraordinary nature of the self-dealing going on in the Trump White House where the lines between government duties and private business are all-but erased with Jared Kushner representing the United States with some of the most important and sensitive portfolios in our government all the while raising money for his family’s troubled real-estate business that is threatened by Jared’s 2007 vanity purchase of the most expensive building in Manhattan which is underwater and could take down the Kushner brand.

Then we speak with Timothy Canova, a Professor of Law, and Public Finance at Nova Southeastern University who teaches Regulation of International Financial Institutions, International Business Transactions and International Trade and Development Law. He joins us to discuss Trump’s impetuous move to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum which has provoked reciprocal threats from other trading partners to slap tariffs on bourbon and Harley Davison motorcycles and could lead to a trade war which Trump is cavalierly unconcerned about, declaring “trade wars are good and easy to win”.'

Then finally Mike Stutz joins us in the studio. He is a UCLA alumnus and activist with The Useful Idiots who led a demonstration at UCLA last week dressed as Louis XVI to protest Steven Mnuchin’s appearance on campus at which the Treasury Secretary’s answers to questions from moderator Kai Ryssdal of Marketplace and the audience were greeted with hisses and boos, prompting the Treasury Department to seize the videotape record of the event revoking an agreement to make it public.

Ryan Grim | Timothy Canova | Mike Stutz


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