Background Briefing with Ian Masters Russia Files

August 15, 2018

Trump, with Erdogan’s Help, is Driving Turkey Into Chaos
America Under the Vulgarian Trump Resembles Italy Under the Scandal-Plagued Berlusconi
An Assessment of the Status of America’s Longest War
Program Notes

We begin with the wreckage that Donald Trump’s ego-driven erratic personality is causing on the world stage as back home in the domestic arena he tweets out racist insults at his former protégé and further divides and embarrasses the United States.  An expert on Turkey, Nicholas Danforth, a senior policy analyst in the national security program at the Bipartisan Policy Center, joins us discuss the deteriorating economic and political situation in Turkey which is being inflamed by two autocrats Trump and Erdogan who are butting heads and refusing to back down. We discuss how the only winner so far as tensions mount between two NATO allies is Russia, and Putin will be able to take advantage of the situation by not just improving relations and building ties with Turkey, but have a free hand to move against Idlib province and conquer the last opposition holdout in Syria. And while Erdogan has weakened Turkey’s economy from cronyism, corruption and mismanagement, Trump’s open threats and his tariffs aimed at damaging Turkey’s economy now has even those Turks who loathe Erdogan and the direction he is taking the country rallying around the flag and blaming Trump for the collapsing lira. But the greater danger is that this key country at the crossroads between Europe and Asia could be split apart by the reckless personal pique of our ignorant bully in the White House who is lashing out at a former friend he now hates.

Then continuing that theme we look into the split from love to loathing as Trump’s former protégé Omorosa turns on him with a tell-all book “Unhinged” which has her former mentor lashing out with racist rants calling her a “lowlife” and a “dog”. Ruth Ben Ghiat, a Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University and a cultural critic who writes about fascism, war, racism, authoritarian rulers, propaganda and the politics of images, joins us to discuss how America under the vulgarian Trump is beginning to resembles Italy under the scandal-plagued Berlusconi.

Then finally with recent military gains by the Taliban and setbacks for U.S.-trained Afghan government forces, we assess the status of America’s longest war with Thomas Barfield, a professor of Anthropology at Boston University who is the President of the American Institute of Afghanistan Studies. He joins us to discuss Trump’s disengagement from a war that has claimed 2,300 U.S. soldiers, another 20,000 wounded, over 110,000 Afghans killed and has cost more than a trillion dollars of taxpayer money so far.

Nicholas Danforth | Ruth Ben-Ghiat | Thomas Barfield


August 14, 2018

Russian Media Suggests Trump Needs Putin’s Help to Rig the Midterm Elections
To Impeach or Not to Impeach
Another Child Sex Abuse Scandal Shakes the Catholic Church
Program Notes

We begin with an examination of the Russian media’s coverage of Donald Trump who is routinely referred to on State TV as “our president” with a political joke doing the rounds on Kremlin-controlled State TV that Republican Congressmen are visiting Russia “to make deals with our hackers, so they can rig the midterms in favor of Trump’s team”. Julia Davis, the founder and editor of Russian Media Monitor which analyzes Russian media and the relationship between news and propaganda, joins us to discuss a recent broadcast of Russia’s “60 Minutes” news program in which a pundit implied Putin has leverage over Trump and that America’s president should stop the U.S. sanctions, which incidentally Trump is delaying and undermining, otherwise “If you want us to support you in the election, do what we say”. We will also examine the irony that while Trump uses Stalin’s term “enemy of the people” to describe the press that is not Fox News, Russian media has the same list of enemies as Trump does – Democrats, the “deep state” and the U.S. media.

Then we speak with John Bonifaz, the co-Founder and President of Free Speech For People who previously served as the Executive Director and General Counsel of the National Voting Rights Institute and as Legal Director of Voter action. He joins us to discuss his new book “The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump” and we assess whether Trump has been violating the Constitution from the moment he took the oath of office and examine the eight categories in which Trump has already crossed the line into impeachable territory.

Then finally, we look into a shocking report just issued from a grand jury investigation in Pennsylvania revealing that the Catholic Church in the state covered up child abuse by 301 priests over a 70 year period, with the report indentifying over 1,000 victims.Kenneth Briggs, who writes for the National Catholic Reporter and was a religion editor for The New York Times, joins us to discuss the continuing scandal that dogs the church and mires the pope in periodic purges of church leaders around the world in Chile, Australia and now in Pennsylvania.

Julia Davis | John Bonifaz | Kenneth Briggs


August 13, 2018

The Embarrassing Amateurism of the Trump White House
Firing Strzok Unlikely to Placate Freedom Caucus
Our Election Systems Remain an Invitation for Russia to Attack
Program Notes

We begin with the unprecedented amateurism at the Trump White House which allowed the reality TV star Omorosa, the executive branch’s most highly paid staffer, to record her firing by Chief of Staff Kelly inside the most top secret and secure room in the country, the White House situation room. In what a former National Security Council spokesman calls the most serious breach of protocol he’d ever heard of, not only did Omorosa’s recording of Kelly end up airing on Meet the Press, her subsequent recording of her phone conversation with the president in which Trump pretends to be surprised by her firing, has also been aired widely on the media. Chris Whipple, the author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House chiefs of staff define every presidency”, joins us to offer the historical perspective of the 18 former chiefs of staff he has interviewed.  Their experience and professionalism makes it clear that the current White House is more than an anomaly, but rather it is a  ship of fools without a rudder and a qualified captain at the helm, not the mention an experienced chief mate, in this case General Kelly, who like his sidekick Stephen Miller is an ideologue dealing with real-world problems that do not lend themselves to rigid right-wing dogma.

Then we look into the firing of Peter Strzok, the latest senior FBI official after Comey and Andrew McCabe who Trump has campaigned against with Twitter abuse and wild charges. A former special agent with the FBI, Michael German, a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, joins us to discuss whether making a sacrificial lamb out of Strzok will placate the Tea Partiers in Congress who appear to be determined to find a way to impeach Rod Rosenstein to try and shut down the Mueller investigation.

Then finally Andrew Gumbel, the author of “Down for the Count: Dirty Elections and the Rotten History of Democracy in America”, joins us to discuss his article at The Guardian “Why U.S. elections remain ‘dangerously vulnerable’ to cyber-attacks”. With Attorney General Sessions shifting the DOJ’s focus from making it easier to vote to using the bogus excuse of “voter fraud” to make it harder for Democrats to vote, we will examine why Trump and the Republicans are not doing anything meaningful to protect the nation’s electoral system the Russians attacked in 2018 and are poised to do so again in November.

Chris Whipple | Michael German | Andrew Gumbel


August 12, 2018

A Former White Supremacist on the “Unite the Right” Rally
Using the US Treasury as a Weapon Will Eventually Backfire
Canada Stands Up for Human Rights While Trump Remains Silent
Program Notes

We begin with the “Unite the Right” rally of Neo-Nazis about to take place in Washington D.C. opposite the White House in Lafayette Park on the one year anniversary of the violent confrontation between white supremacists and counter-protesters in which a Neo-Nazi used his car as a weapon to run down and kill Heather Heyer and injure others on the streets of Charlottesville.  We will speak with a former organizer for the White Aryan Resistance,Antony McAleer, chair and co-founder of Life After Hate, who works with Neo-Nazis who wish to leave a life of hate and violence, and discuss President Trump’s belated condemnation of “all types of racism”, whatever that means, after he took to Twitter to attack black NFL athletes with the racist insult that they weren’t smart enough to know what they were protesting about.  We get a report on the gathering of white supremacists across from the White House and a number of other counter-protests the police are keeping separate, emphasizing that this is a First Amendment event in the nation’s capitol.  While in Charlottesville, the overwhelming police presence has resulted in no significant protests as police confiscate brass knuckles and skateboards at security checkpoints, but since Virginia is an open-carry state, brandishing an assault rifle is OK.

Then with Trump sanctioning Russia, Iran and Turkey while escalating a trade war with China, we examine the extent to which the president is over-using the power of the U.S. Treasury Department as a weapon, which in many ways is a more powerful tool than the Pentagon. And sometimes he does this for personal reasons as is the case with Turkey where Trump boasts the Turkish lira is tanking while the dollar is stronger than ever, as he puts the screws to Erdogan who apparently reneged on a promise he made in person to Trump. Robert Hocketta Professor of Law at Cornell Law School whose research focuses on the national and transnational dimensions of monetary law and economics, joins us to discuss whether the capricious and injudicious use of U.S. financial power will lead to other nations finding an alternative to the dollar as the global reserve currency.

Then finally as the spat between Saudi Arabia and Canada escalates, we speak with Thomas Juneau, a professor at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottowa, Canada. He joins us to discuss how the Trump Administration is making it clear which side the U.S. is on as Canada takes a moral stand against human rights abuses by Saudi Arabia’s pugnacious boy king, with whom Trump and his son in law Jared Kushner have both political and financial ties.

Anthony McAleer | Robert Hockett | Thomas Juneau


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