Background Briefing

Ian Masters

Ian Masters

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In our divided country where fake news and alternative facts compete with urgent realities and scientific truths, Ian Masters’ “Background Briefing” offers a daily digest of analysis and insight into national and international events. While Donald Trump ignores the Presidential Daily Briefing, listeners to “Background Briefing” obtain the best open-source information from the most experienced specialists closest to the scene so that an informed citizenry can restore civic engagement and establish a fact-based consensus on how our country deals with the challenges we face.

Five days a week, Background Briefing asks knowledgeable and thoughtful experts to explain the complexities behind major news stories in long-format interviews.

The program airs Monday-Thursday at 5:00 PM Pacific Time and on Sundays from 11:00 to Noon, broadcast live on KPFK, 90.7FM in Los Angeles.

Ian Masters is an Australian-born and BBC-trained journalist and filmmaker. He has made a career of asking provocative questions of the most informed thinkers in order to bring light to the day’s most important news stories. Since 1980 his Sunday program, Background Briefing, has aired on KPFK-FM in Los Angeles. In 2009, the program expanded to five days each week.

Theme song: ‘One Time, One Night’ by Los Lobos

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We begin with recent criticism of Trump’s domestic and foreign policy coming from Senator McCain, former President George W Bush and former Vice President Joe Biden and speak with a foreign policy advisor to Joe Biden, Dr. Michael Carpentera former deputy assistant Secretary of Defense and Director for Russia on the National Security Council.  He joins us to discuss the price the US is paying for the absence of leadership in US foreign policy because of a disengaged and disruptive president who has little knowledge of or interest in global affairs, and has not staffed his government with foreign policy and national security professionals. With Iraq about to explode as our allies the Kurds are being squeezed by Iran whose influence in Iraq and Syria grows with the emergence of the “Shia Crescent” land corridor from Tehran to Damascus, we assess how much the generals around Trump who are preoccupied “containing” him, are not able to pay sufficient attention to the roiling global events that demand daily attention if not a strategy to deal with them.

Then we look into the latest expensive headline-grabbing by fringe groups on the far right wing like Breitbart, David Horowitz and Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute who deliberately choose to speak on liberal campuses like Berkeley where they are not welcome, to provoke students from minority communities with racist insults in the hope that they can extort media attention and become martyrs for free speech. Clay Calvert, the Brechner Eminent Scholar in Mass Communication and Director of the First Amendment Project at the University of Florida, Gainesville joins us to discuss the $600,000 expense incurred by his public university today because Richard Spencer decided to speak there even though a handful of students wanted to hear him while thousands showed up to protest Spencer shouting “Go home Nazis!”

Then finally we speak with another professor at the University of Florida, Gainesville, Michael Gorham about a different subject, the latest Kremlin-approved straw man to run against Vladimir Putin in Russia’s next presidential election. A Professor of Russian Studies whose latest project is “Russia’s Digital Revolution: Language, New Media, and the (Un)making of Civil Society” joins us to discuss how this time the daughter of Putin’s political mentor who is Russia’s equivalent of Kim Kardashian or Paris Hilton, will be running to split the opposition vote.


Background Briefing

The Cost of "Containing" Trump to US Foreign Policy

It Cost the University of Florida $600,000 to Have An American Nazi Speak Today

Russia's Kim Kardashian to Run Against Putin to Split the Opposition Vote


We begin with China’s leader Xi Jinping’s coronation of himself at the 19th Communist Party Congress where he promised a “new era” of Chinese power with his nation transforming itself into “a mighty power” that will lead the world politically, economically, militarily, and on environmental issues. In drawing a contrast to Trump without mentioning his name, Xi noted that China has “taken a driving seat in international cooperation to respond to climate change”. Scott Kennedythe Director on the Project on Chinese Business and Political Economy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and author of “Global Governance and China: The Dragon’s Learning Curve”, joins us to discuss Xi’s vision of a China he will lead with him at the top of the Communist Party, the Communist Party on top of China, and China on top of the world.

Then we speak with Lawrence Korb, a former Assistant Secretary of Defense during the Reagan Administration who was in charge of manpower to get an assessment of how the bitter and growing feud between Trump and families of the fallen is impacting morale and the important relationship between the men and women serving in the military and their families and dependents. We will discuss the apparently callous insensitivity of Trump who, in consoling a widow on her way to meet the body of her dead husband, is alleged to have said that the slain Special Forces sergeant “knew what he was signing up for, but I guess it hurts anyway.”

Then finally we speak with Jonathan Tasini,the author of “The Essential Bernie Sanders and His Vision for America” who is President of the Economic Future Group and the host of the “Working Life” podcast whose new book “Resist and Rebel: The Peoples’ Uprising in America” will be out soon. He joins us to discuss his article at CNN “America needs higher wages: not lower taxes” and how increased unionization and a higher minimum wage, not lower taxes for the rich, will boost the American economy.

Background Briefing

The Self-Coronation of China's Leader

The Growing Bitter Feud Between Trump and Families of the Fallen

Americans Need Higher Wages, Not Lower Taxes


We begin with Trump’s latest distraction as he keeps the disgusting lie that Obama did not console families of the fallen alive by doubling down, questioning whether Obama consoled the family of Trump’s Chief of Staff General Kelly with a letter when they lost their son in Afghanistan, when in fact General Kelly and his wife sat at Michelle Obama’s table at a White House breakfast for Gold Star families. David Graham, a staff writer for The Atlantic joins us to discuss his latest article at The Atlantic “How Trump Changed the Topic to Obama’s Consolation Calls” and the method to Trump’s madness as he continues to distract the press and the public with outrageously false claims and inflammatory statements instead of addressing questions of policy and leadership in particular why were the Green Beret’s in combat in Niger and what is the U.S. doing there and what is our military strategy in Africa etc.

Then we will look into the brimming issue of impeachment and speak with the author of a new book, just out, “A Citizen’s Guide to Impeachment”. Joining us is Barbara Radnofsky, who has practiced law for nearly four decades and was the first woman in Texas to run as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate and for Texas Attorney General. We discuss her article at The Washington Post “The Founding Fathers designed impeachment for someone exactly like Donald Trump” and her article at The Los Angeles Times “The Founding Fathers provided us with a way out of troubled presidency – the direct, doable process of impeachment”.

Then finally with the fall of the Syrian city of Raqqa, the last stronghold of the Islamic State in Syria, we speak with Middle East expert and a Fellow at the Center for a New American Security, Nicholas Heras. He joins us to discuss how a city that was once a prize is now a pile of rubble requiring billions in funds to restore it, and the challenges facing the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces of mostly Kurdish fighters who have liberated a Sunni Arab city but have Russian and Iranian forces and Assad’s Shia Army poised just miles away.

Background Briefing

Trump's Latest Distraction: Lying About Obama Not Consoling Families of the Fallen

"A Citizen's Guide to Impeachment"

What Follows the Fall of Raqqa?


We begin with Trump’s promise to “look into” a report on his nominee for drug czar after a Washington Post/60 Minutes expose revealed that Congressman Tom Marino pushed legislation that hobbled the DEA in combatting the opioid crisis by preventing their enforcement efforts against big drug companies and distributers who manufacture and peddle Oxycoten and similar drugs that have killed close to 200,000 Americans. The editor of The Journal of Drug Policy Analysis, Mark Kleiman, a Professor of Public Policy in the Crime and Justice Program at the Marin Institute for Urban Management at NYU and author of “When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment”, joins us to discuss the legislation championed by Marino and Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn, who received $200,000 in campaign contributions from pharmaceutical companies, that prevented the DEA from seizing suspicious shipments of pills to rogue pharmacies and corrupt doctors. We will also assess what President Trump might offer in terms of solutions when next week he is expected to declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency.

Then we get an analysis of the results of the Austrian elections which indicate a major shift to the right inflamed by an Islamophobic and anti-immigrant campaign by the handsome 31 year-old Sebastian Kurz, the leader of the People’s Party which captured 31% of the vote and is likely to form a coalition with the right wing Freedom Party founded by former Nazis. Christian Schueller, Senior Editor in the magazine and documentary department of the Austrian TV network ORF, joins us to discuss the rise of anti-immigrant populism and nationalism across Western and Eastern Europe.

Then finally we examine the fate of the Kurds in Northern Iraq who are surrounded by enemies Turkey, Iran and now the government in Baghdad which just seized oil-rich Kirkuk, the cash cow of Iraqi Kurdistan. Henri Barkeya Professor of International Relations at Lehigh University who was a member of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, joins us to discuss how a more engaged U.S. President and State Department might have prevented the Kurds from going ahead with a referendum on independence which has backfired, spreading more instability and possibly provoking conflict across the region.

Background Briefing

Trump's New Drug Czar Hobbled the DEA

The Rise of the Right in Austria

The Kurdish Independence Referendum Has Backfired Dangerously