DEYAN RANKO BRASHICH was born in Belgrade, former Yugoslavia, and is an Op-Ed columnist for Connecticut's Litchfield County Times.  He writes the monthly Letter From America column for Romania’s Scrisul Romanesc, a literary magazine and is the Editor-at-Large for  The Country and Abroad, another literary/art magazine where he authors the Dispatch from Abroad column. He is a frequent contributor to Pecat, the Belgrade, Serbia weekly news magazine, Britić, a magazine published in the United Kingdom, Ekurd Daily, a multinational Kurdish news portal and Passport, a lifestyle quarterly. He resides in New York City and Washington, Connecticut.

 

 

Media
Wednesday
Apr272016

AMERICA'S DOUBLE EDGED SAUDI SWORD

Published as Lead Opinion Article Ekurd Daily [Turkey Syria Iran Iraq] April 26, 2016

I do not like the Saudis very much.  Saudi Arabia is a vile, evil, corrupt oligarchy calling itself a monarchical autocracy, whatever the hell that is. It is a brutal dictatorship no matter what name it goes by. Years ago the Saudi Royal Family made a devil’s pact with Sunni’s Imams to promote and protect Islam’s Wahhabi brand of religion in exchange for continuing political support. That allowed this version of Islam to morph into a repressive intolerant creed seeking acceptance in the rest of the Muslim world.

Saudi Arabia was Osama bin Laden’s place of birth and home to 15 of the 19 hijackers of the 9/11 attacks. Conspiracy theories abound in the press and on the internet as to who was ultimately responsible. Domestic and foreign intelligence agencies have conducted wide ranging investigations. A United States Congressional inquiry resulted in a “Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States” [“The 9/11 Report”]. It suggested Saudi Arabia as a possible “source of foreign support for some of the September 11 hijackers”, however, 28 pages of the Report have remained classified and hidden from public scrutiny.

Members of Congress who have seen still secret portion of the 9/11 Report and anonymous sources have hinted that “the upper ranks of Saudi royalty bankroll[led] the attacks and facilitat[ed] the hijackers’ arrival in the U.S.” The information in the 28 pages “was suppressed to protect the United States’ relationship with oil-rich Saudi Arabia, which remains a key ally in the Middle East.” Money it seems is more important than lives.

Congress is prepared to pass the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, the new law that would allow the victims of 9/11 to sue Saudi Arabia if it “participated in terrorism …[then] … this bill would allow … victims of terrorism to go to court to determine if the Saudi government participated in terrorist acts. If the Saudis did….” as Senator Chuck Schumer puts it “… they should pay a price.”

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Wednesday
Apr202016

TO VOTE OF NOT TO VOTE THAT IS THE QUESTION

I never made my refusal to vote in municipal, state or federal elections a secret. In fact in November, 2008 I wrote an Op Ed piece explaining the “whys” and “wherefores” of my position. As a result of the current presidential election my abstention from voting in the New York primary was put in question. I feel that I must set the record straight and put this matter to rest, once and for all.

Initially I did not vote in the New York primaries since they are “closed” primaries. As an Independent, neither a registered Democrat nor a Republican, I cannot cast a vote. I cannot cross those party lines.  My vote, my voice does not count. I have been totally excluded from this phase of the “democratic” process.

With that said it is time to republish the article. Nothing has changed except things may have turned for the worst. I am adding update comments just to keep the record straight:      

TO VOTE OR NOT TO VOTE, THAT IS THE QUESTION

Now that the flying circus that we call the Presidential Election is finally over, with Barack Obama the victor and our next President, I have a public confession to make. It is a dark secret that I have shared with only my immediate family and some close friends, until now. I confess that I have serially committed crimes against democracy for over forty some odd years. For, if truth be told, I have not voted in Federal, state or local elections for all of that time. I confess that I have consciously committed these crimes by reason of principal and as a matter of conscience.

Before you pass snap judgment on my transgressions, hear me out. Don’t get me wrong, I am as passionately and intellectually committed to democratic ideals as the next person, if not more so being a naturalized American. I am also acutely aware of the problems we face be they Iraq, the economy, abortion and a host of others. I have strong opinions as to solutions to these problems that our elected officials should take. I have inculcated my children with these ideals and encouraged them to fully engage in the democratic process. One of my daughters was an aide to our own Joe Lieberman and served as an advance press spokesperson for the Kerry campaign. A second has written extensively on women’s rights and the plight of teen age girls, while the third is actively engaged in community affairs.

But personal convictions and actions beg the question. The fact is that our present system of government and the means by which it is elected is fundamentally flawed and undemocratic. You are going to retort with that old chestnut that our democracy may not be perfect but it’s still the best in the world. So what, say I, we can always change our democracy and make it better. Then, and only then, will I exercise my right to vote.

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Monday
Apr182016

AIN’T GONNA STUDY WAR NO MORE

Published as featured OpEd Article Ekurd Daily [Iran Iraq Turkey] April 17, 2016; a version published as lead Front Page OpEd Article Britic April 17, 2016 and as OpEd Pecat April 18, 2016

 

The world is in a state of war. Read any newspaper still being published, turn on the television, the radio or power up your iPhone, get on the internet and you are confronted with dispatches from conflicts in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Ukraine, Kashmir, Mali, Nigeria with Boko Haram, Sudan, South Sudan, Darfur, Kurdistan, Chad and Yemen. Have I forgotten someone or someplace? I am sure that I have for there are so many out there.

After the First World War, the one that was to end all wars, Leadbelly, the black African-American murder convict turned folk singer, sang we “ain’t gonna study war no more” and a lot of people believed him. That war had been a conscript fueled conflict. The draft dragooned young men to fight a war of attrition by machine gun and mustard gas. Nine million soldiers, sailors and marines died. During the war sporadic reports of rebellion were reported including the spontaneous Christmas Truce of 1914 which ended with British officers threatening summary execution of soldiers not willing to return to the abattoir of the trenches.

That war did not abolish universal military conscription. Compulsory military service was an economic measure to counter the Great Depression as was the arms buildup which resulted in the Second World War. The draft again provided the raw fodder for war. Few had the courage to object.

That war taught France not to rely on conscripts to wage its foreign wars. The Indo-China [Vietnam] War 1947-1954 was fought by French and local mercenaries and the French Foreign Legion. The Algerian War, considered a domestic civil war, was fought by conscripts and resulted in defeat. Civilians turned part time soldiers had not stomach to fight and die.

The United States tried to fight its Vietnamese War 1955-1975 with a military made up of civilians. The result was equally disastrous. Not only was the war lost but the government faced unified opposition and revulsion to the war. Had the war dragged on and the draft continued armed rebellion would have taken place.

The point was made. A civilian population was not prepared to sacrifice its young to foreign wars. That was the role of paid “volunteers”, paid surrogates who would wage war in their stead. The concept of a modern “professional army”, an army of mercenaries, was born which continues to this day and is embraced by one and all. But it is based on the concept, now discredited, that the military industrial complex can defeat all.

The all “volunteer” armed forces in the United States are led by a cadre of professional officers, mainly graduates of West Point, Annapolis and the Air Force Academy. The education of this officer class has been funded by the taxpayer and is track to a middle class future in or out of the military.

The enlisted rank and file, the “grunts”, are the poor and disadvantaged young with little education and with little prospects for a future beyond a menial job at the prevailing minimum wage and a life of poverty. Enlisting at the age of 18 in the armed services ensure secure employment, medical and other benefits and a retirement plan upon completion of 20 years of active duty. That is the goal the soldier strives for certainly not for guts and glory.

The same is true for the participants in the ongoing conflicts that now rage. Take Syria - the armed force that is propping up the murderous genocidal Assad regime are in it for the money or the power that will come with victory. Russia and Iran have fielded their professional mercenary armies in support, the United States and its allies have done the same. It is true that there are still pockets of true believers on the battlefield, believers in a pluralistic democratic Syria but they are few, greatly outnumbered by the mercs.

The only players in the Middle East game of war not motivated by money, power and greed are the Kurds. They are intent in establishing a Kurdish state, a country where they will not be a dismissed minority but able to control their own destiny. Once the shoe is on one’s own foot it will be interesting to see how the Kurds treat minorities. 

In Iraq, Syria and now Libya you have the war against ISIS or ISIL while in Nigeria, Niger and Chad you have the war against Boko Haram. Marginalized Islamic European youths living on the dole are not joining ISIS in Iraq and Libya intent in joining a religious jihad. They are there to enjoy the sense of power, entitlement, recognition they crave, all a form of compensation as is the rape of girls and pillage in rural Nigeria.

Europe’s recent wars, the breakup of former Yugoslavia and Ukraine’s civil war, are cases in point. The Yugoslav People’s Army stood down and abandoned its posts at the outbreak of the conflict. The void was soon filled by mercenaries, the Serb’s Arkan’s Tigers, the Croat’s International Brigade and the Muslims’ Green Berets. In the Ukraine even with a brokered peace the war drags on.

World leaders have declared war on ISIS. War is not what it once was when power and brute economic force could defeat your opponent. The French learned that lesson in Indochina and the United States in Vietnam, same country with a different name. Russia and the United States did not learn from Afghanistan adventures and the United States continues a lost war in Iraq. Rather than just “ain’t going to study war no more” the world better study war some more and come up with a new tactic to defeat ISIS because the present one just ain’t working.

 

 

Monday
Mar212016

KOSOVO YES - KURDISTAN NO

A version of this article was published as lead Editorial Ekurd Daily [Turkey/Iran/Iraq] March 18, 2016. A slightly updated version was published in Pecat on March 22, 2016.

Syria's Kurds on Thursday declared a de-facto federal region in Kurdish-controlled areas of northern Syria, drawing sharp condemnation from both the Damascus government and its opponents who decried the unilateral move as unconstitutional and setting a dangerous precedent – The New York Times, March 17, 2016

The Arab League has rejected last week’s declaration by Syrian Kurds of a de-facto federal region in northern Syria. The league’s deputy chief, Ahmed bin Helli, said on Monday that calls for federalization could impact Syria’s unity – Ya Libnan, March 21, 2016

International law is corrupted by the dichotomy between the “all countries are created equal” and the “all countries are equal but some countries are more equal than others” points of view or for that matter “all peoples are created equal but some peoples are more equal than others”.  

Take the United States as an example. The American Revolution was an armed rebellion in support of self-determination, independence - the “all countries are created equal” rule. Except for France, the Great Powers sat out that conflict out of fear of Great Britain. The Civil War was the reverse – it allowed the North to deny by force the South’s quest for self-determination and independence. The Great Powers abstained not wanting America’s sneeze to turn into a European cold, which goes to prove that international law and justice depends on your point of view.

Notwithstanding its constitution and the United Nations Charter the former Yugoslavia was allowed to disintegrate. Serbia, a former constituent republic, has Kosovo, a semiautonomous province with a predominantly Albanian Muslim population within its borders. Kosovo has declared independence which, as of now, is almost universally recognized.

Should Kosovo’s self-determination and independence be recognized? No, if you apply international law. Yes, if you follow world opinion. Yes, if you are pragmatically inclined – Serbia abandon its territorial claims and avoid dealing with a bellicose minority, dodging yet another civil war.

Spain has refused to recognize Kosovo - its constitution like Serbia’s prohibits regional self-determination and independence. Catalonia, an autonomous region of four northeastern provinces, has been demanding independence and recently held a prohibited non-binding referendum with 80% of the votes favoring independence. Eight million Catalans have the highest per capita income in Spain and the region’s economy is by far the most profitable and advanced.

Catalans do not wish to financially support Spain’s poorer regions, a flawed monarchy or a Brussels dominated foreign policy. Independence? No, as in Kosovo’s case based on international law. Yes, based on self-determination and selfish pragmatism, let the rest of Spain fend for itself.

Historically Crimea or better yet the Crimean Peninsula was never part of the Ukraine that has Kiev as its capital. By the 18thCentury it was an independent “Khanate” before being conquered by the Russian Empire and turned into an “oblast”, a controlled province. After the 1917 Revolution it became one of USSR’s Soviet Republics and in 1954 it was administratively merged into the Ukraine; throughout it was the seat of Russia’s naval power.  

This year during the Ukrainian crisis fueled by unprecedented political corruption pro-Russian forces seized control of Crimea. A referendum seeking self-determination and annexation by Russia passed and Vladimir Putin graciously obliged. Was this an exercise in self-determination or annexation by force by a not-to-be toyed with Russia?

Syria has been in a state of civil war for well over five years with casualties now in the hundreds of thousands and refugees fleeing the conflict in the millions. Something which has been billed as a “peace conference” on the Syrian conflict is now underway with the main Kurdish party excluded and not allowed to participate. Without their participation I do not give peace a chance.

Syria has been shattered into many pieces. One of the most identifiable and cohesive shards left is the area that houses Syria’s Kurdish minority, the people that are less equal than others in the region. An autonomous federal region would be a step forward in securing peace. Of course, a de facto partition of Syria is “messy and unpalatable to most parties” because of the “all peoples are created equal but not the Kurds” principle.   

Self-determination and independence are nothing but regime change, some good, some bad, all born in chaos but so are the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria. An independent Syrian Kurdistan seems like a good idea to me.

 

 

Wednesday
Mar162016

MORE LIPSTICK FOR CHINA’S PIGS

 A version of this article was published as the lead Editorial in Ekurd Daily [Turkey/Iran/Iraq] on March 15, 2016

“You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig” Barack Obama, candidate for president 2008. “You can put lipstick on a hog and call it Monique, but it is still a pig” Ann Richards, Governor of Texas 1992

“Pig” and “pigs” were disparaging acronyms for the economies of Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain, the four EU countries that couldn’t refinance their sovereign debt or bail out their over-extended banks in the financial crisis of the 1990’s.

Serbs and Serbia are grand masters when it comes to matters porcine, be it culinary or financial. Karadjeorge, Serbia’s first modern leader was a pig farmer before being elected king. Serbia was the largest exporter of pigs in the 1800’s and the second largest exporter of canned hams in the 1970’s. In fact, JAT, Yugoslavia’s national airline bought 22 DC-9’s and two DC-10’s planes partially paying for them with $3 million in canned hams.

In the 1980’s and 1990’s Serbia mastered the art of putting lipstick on its financial institutions. Red ink on balance sheets was lipsticked into a don’t worry, be happy pink. That is why Beogradska Banka, Beobanka, Jugobanka and Investbanka are no longer with us.

China is today’s candidate to join the group and its banks declared “pigs”, non performing financial institutions in need of bailouts. China’s banks are in dire straits. They are over extended and many of the loans made to government owned or controlled enterprises are in default. The financial press has documented only the situations that have come to public attention – many other transactions have been hidden or simply remain just line items on obtuse balance sheets.

A year ago Chinese banks forced to seek cash threw a Hail Mary pass, a desperate strategy - soliciting deposits by offering “financial products” and “wealth management products” with “yields far above the government’s benchmark savings rate.” A year ago the ads read “China Merchants Bank will issue a high interest financing product starting from June 28th to 30th. The product will be 90 days with a 5.5% interest rate. Please call us now”, with a follow up a day later: “The interest rate of yesterday’s product has been raised to 6%. (Product duration is 90 days). There is limited access to this product. First come first served.”

Few caught the football and the gambit did not solve the problem. Last week the press reported that a major Chinese shipbuilder China Huarong Energy Company Limited, in default on $2.17 billion in bank loans would issue equity, presumably shares in the company, rather than repay its debt. The report goes on to assert that mainland China regulators are “working on a [broad] plan to allow troubled companies to repay loans with shares instead of cash.”

This short term fix would paper over the bad nonperforming loans and “beautify” bank balance sheets but would not solve the underlying problem – bad loans made to failing companies on express government orders. Eswar S. Prasad, a Cornell University economist and former IMF China specialist notes: “This is a classic case of putting lipstick on a pig. Bank balance sheets may look prettier but nothing fundamental changes.”

China has made a huge investment in real estate, nearly $1.5 trillion last year alone. But the unprecedented building boom has turned into a building bust with millions of apartments going unsold and standing empty. Slathering more lipstick on Chinese pigs the government is urging, if not outright forcing China’s large migrant population to settle down, get mortgages and buy the unsold units.

The latest “lipstick on the pig” gimmick is the People’s Bank of China plan to “allow banks saddled with growing quantities of bad loans to sell that debt to investors” but making sure that “the effort did not create the kind of risk-laden financial products that played a major role in the 2008 global financial crisis” according to Zhou Xiaochuan, the Bank’s Governor.

A bad nonperforming loan does not miraculously turn into a sound financial instrument with just a change in ownership, even if the value is deeply discounted. If the nonperforming loan is discounted to its true worth the selling bank would have to book a corresponding loss. That is not the goal, rather it is “to sell of bad debt … to ensure that more bank loans flowed into supporting the real economy, rather than turning over old loans”.

Banking pigs made pretty with application after application of lipstick are still pigs. The Chinese economy’s game of musical chairs could end rather abruptly to everyone’s dismay.