Background Briefing with Ian Masters Russia Files

April 10, 2018

Half of the US Senate’s All-Day Grilling of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg
Trump’s Threats and Russia’s Counter-Threats Over Syria
White House Admits Trump Believes He Can Fire Mueller
Program Notes

We begin with half of the United States Senate grilling the CEO of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg for most of the day today, as he tried to deflect criticism with contrition and vague promises to reform his company’s business model of surveillance capitalism in which the user is the product.  Matt Stoller, a Fellow at the Open Markets Institute who was recently a senior advisor to the Senate Budget Committee, joins us to discuss his article at The Daily Beast with Sarah Miller “Facebook Can’t Be Fixed, It needs to Be Broken Up”. We look into what appears to be the first challenge to the culture of impunity which Silicon Valley has enjoyed in a perfect unregulated libertarian world that transcends nation states, out of which the world’s richest and most powerful companies have been built in part on monetizing the abuse of citizen’s privacy. With regulations now emerging in Europe which Google, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft oppose, we assess whether the senate will force Mark Zuckerberg to deliver on his promises in a meaningful way.

Then we speak with Frances Brown, a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Democracy and Rule of Law Program. She recently served on the White House National Security Council staff under Presidents Obama and Trump and joins us to discuss her op-ed at The Hill “If Trump wants to defeat ISIS, America must stabilize Syria”, and Trump’s threat to make Russia, Iran and Assad pay a price in Syria. Threats which have been met by a counter-threat from the head of the Russian military that if the U.S. attacks Syrian government facilities, Russia will fire back with the Russian armed forces taking “retaliatory measures against both missiles and their carriers”.

Then finally we examine the fallout from the FBI’s raid on Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen and the admission by the White House today that Trump believes he has the power to fire Robert Mueller. Lawrence Douglas, a Professor of Law, Jurisprudence and Social Thought at Amherst College joins us to discuss his article at The Guardian “The Cohen raid is a game changer: Trump’s reaction tells us so” and the extraordinary claim Trump made that the FBI raid was “an attack on our country” when the opposite is true; it is Trump who is attacking the rule of law in America.

Matt Stoller | Frances Brown | Lawrence Douglas

April 9, 2018

The FBI’s Raid on Trump’s Lawyer Michael Cohen
Trump Promises Those Behind the Gas Attack in Syria Will Have “a Big Price to Pay”
The Criminalizing of Peaceful Protests Against Oil and Gas Pipelines
Program Notes

We begin with the raid today on Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen’s Manhattan office and his room at the Loews Regency hotel where FBI agents seized privileged communications between Cohen and his clients and confiscated electronic equipment, emails, tax documents and business records. A former FBI Special Agent Michael German, who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program at New York University, joins us to discuss the raid that was in part acting on a referral from Special Counsel Mueller, making it the second time only after the FBI raid on Paul Manafort that FBI agents were used to seize material instead of the usual practice of issuing subpoenas. We will assess how much this raid has to do with the Russia investigation because Trump’s lawyer was mentioned prominently in the Steele dossier, or the case involving the second mortgage Michael Cohen took out on his home to pay $130,000 to a porn star a week before the election for no apparent reason since his client Donald Trump insists it had nothing to do with him.

Then we look into whether the bombs and missiles will fall on John Bolton’s first day on the job in the White House or the next day, since Trump has promised that within 48 hours those behind the latest chemical attack in Syria will have “a big price to pay.” Thanassis Cambanis, who writes “The Internationalist” column for The Boston Globe and is a contributor to Foreign Policy, joins us from Beirut to discuss the competing pressures on Trump from his new hawkish advisor and Trump’s need to appear tough and not weak like he accuses Obama of being, at the same time wanting to get the U.S. out of Syria and not wanting to offend Putin.

Then finally we speak with Jeff Biggers, an award-winning journalist, historian and playwright who joins us from Iowa where the state legislature just passed a law criminalizing peaceful protest against oil and gas pipelines, punishable by up to 25 years in jail. He joins us to discuss his article at The Huffington Post “Iowa’s Anti-Protest Bill Would Make the Boston Tea-Partiers Felons” and how the Koch Brothers-backed bills through their front group ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, are already in the legislatures of 20 states and have become the law in Oklahoma.

Michael German | Thanassis Cambanis | Jeff Biggers

April 8, 2018

Trump Calls Out Putin for the First Time
Why Does the White House Press Corps Passively Stomach the Daily Diet of Lies?
Hungary’s Election Marred By Islamophobia and Anti-Antisemitism
Program Notes

We begin with Donald Trump publicly criticizing Vladimir Putin for the first time today in a tweet holding Russia and Iran responsible for backing the “animal Assad” for his use of a chemical weapon against women and children in which Trump threatened they would pay a “Big price”…Nina Khrushcheva, a Professor in the Graduate Program of International Affairs at the New School and author of “The Lost Khrushchev: A Journey into the Gulag of the Russian Mind”, joins us to discuss why Putin appears to be testing the boundaries of the democratic world’s tolerance for human right’s atrocities and the flouting of civilized norms. We assess whether the latest round of sanctions against Russian oligarchs and government officials, which Trump delayed implementing to the point where the likely targets had plenty of time to move their money stashed abroad, will influence Putin’s behavior and whether a threatened U.S. military attack on Assad will deter future provocations or trigger a wider war in Syria.

Then we examine why the White House press corps tolerates the sneering contempt that the Press Secretary Sarah Sanders levels at them daily while flagrantly lying as she defends her boss the Liar-in-Chief often to the point of laughable absurdity. Eric Boehlert, a Senior Writer for Share Blue Media and author of “Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush”, joins us to analyze the extent to which the press enables Trump’s reality TV presidency and government by stunt by following the bright shiny light down the rabbit hole instead of shedding light by exposing the obvious lies and sleight of hand of a tawdry and transparent carnival huckster.

Then finally we get an update on the elections in Hungary that were marred by ugly Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and speak with Charles Gati, a senior research professor of European and Eurasian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and author of “Failed Illusions: Moscow, Washington, Budapest and the 1956 Hungarian Revolt”. He joins us to discuss whether today’s strong turnout means a further drift to the right empowering the government of the increasingly authoritarian Prime Minister Victor Orban, or that the splintered opposition might win enough seats to constrain Orban in his fourth term in office.

Nina Krushcheva | Eric Boehlert | Charles Gati

April 5, 2018

Trump’s Reality TV Antics on the Border
General McMaster’s Parting Broadside
A Former Sinclair News Director on Having to Mouth Pro-Trump Propaganda
Program Notes

With Donald Trump sending the military to the Southern border to help build his wall, we will begin with President Trump trying to have it both ways taking credit for the drop in border crossings while ginning up fears of a looming invasion from Mexico. Ivan Eland, a Senior Fellow and Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independence Institute who spent 15 years in Congress working on national security issues, joins us to discuss Trump’s latest stunt in reaction to criticism from Ann Coulter which has him shoring up his base by making it seem he is doing something to deliver on his promise to build a wall that Mexico was supposed to pay for. We will assess how long our reality TV president can keep the press and the public distracted by his daily reality TV stunts to mask the utter incompetence of this dangerous ignoramus who was elected by a minority of Americans. We also look into whether reality will catch up with Trump’s increasingly frenzied performances and at what point will his base tire of his antics and realizes Trump is a fraud, because then presumably, the Republicans in congress will stop defending him thus making impeachment both possible and likely.

Then we speak with Steven Pifer, the Director of the Brookings Institution’s Arms Control Initiative and a former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine and senior director for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia on the National Security Council. He joins us to discuss outgoing National Security Advisor General McMaster’s broadside at the Trump Administration deliberately contradicting Trump’s claim that nobody has been tougher on the Russians than Trump has. We also assess the U.N. Security Council meeting today called by Russia to head off next week’s release of a report by the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons on their investigation into the use of a nerve agent against a Russian exile on British soil.

Then finally we speak with a former News Director of a TV station that the Sinclair Group took over and forced the local news anchors to mouth “Must run” pro-Trump propaganda mandated by the owners of Sinclair, the Smith Family. Aaron Weiss, who spent 14 years as a local news producer and news director, joins us to discuss his article at The Huffington Post “Confessions of a Former Sinclair News Director” and how Sinclair is forcing professional journalists to become state propagandists”.

Ivan Eland | Steven Pifer | Aaron Weiss

Timothy Snyder – June 6, 2017

We begin with the proposition that we may only have one year left to save American democracy from an autocratic president who is increasingly isolated from reality as he and his tightening inner-circle of right wing zealots move to undo institutions and confront the truth in a fascistic approach to governance that indicates a fascist worldview. Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale who has researched and written extensively on Hitler and Stalin, joins us to discuss his latest book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century” and how as the incompetence and crudeness of the Trump Administration drives down the popularity of the Republicans heading into the 2018 elections, Trump will try to stage a coup to overthrow American democracy. We will assess the extent to which American institutions already under attack from the Trump Administration like the judiciary, the military, the intelligence community, the press and now much of corporate America as well as an expanding majority of the American people, will fight back against Donald Trump’s incipient authoritarian regime.

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