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 a Contributing Editor 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 and Passport, a lifestyle quarterly. He resides in New York City and Washington, Connecticut.

 

Media
Wednesday
Mar252015

SERBIA’S NEGLECTED 5TH AVENUE MISSION TO THE UN

Though far from wealthy, I live on New York’s Fifth Avenue. I am a winner in that uniquely New York lottery - buying an apartment in the right place at the wrong time – a time when New York was on the verge of bankruptcy. Today Fifth Avenue is unaffordable for the likes of you and me; nonetheless I have a vested interest in Fifth Avenue.

Every morning I take the bus down Fifth Avenue, also known as “The Museum Mile”, passing the palaces of yesterday and today. On the first block I go by the Straight mansion once owned by the Chairman of US Steel and now the $125 million home of a hedge fund prince. The Jewish Museum is next, once the philanthropist Felix M. Warburg’s mansion, followed by the Otto Kahn mansion now a private girl’s school; then the Carnegie mansion, once home of the owner of US Steel, now the Cooper-Hewitt Smithsonian, the Guggenheim Museum, the Neue Gallery, a Louis XIII/Beaux-Arts gem of a building, the Metropolitan Museum and the Frick Collection and its block long palace and garden.

Block after block Fifth Avenue has diplomatic, cultural and philanthropic institutions housed in splendid buildings. The French have two and even the Ukrainians have one. You are bowled over by New York University’s Duke Mansion and the Commonwealth Fund’s Stillman-Harkness House. Then you hit a shabby, sadly neglected relic of the past, the Beeckman Mansion [1905] at 67th Street, home to Serbia’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations.

The place has quite a history. It’s a designated landmark, never to altered or torn down. № 854, designed by Warren & Wetmore, also responsible for Grand Central Station, the New York Yacht Club and Washington’s Mayflower Hotel, was built for R. Livingston Beeckman, “the [very wealthy] well-known polo player and society man” who went on to become the Governor of Rhodes Island. It was later occupied by the Thaws, cousins of Harry Thaw – the cuckolded husband who “got away with murder” - shooting the architect Sanford White dead over his mistress Evelyn Nesbit, “The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing” - found “innocent” by reason of insanity.   

It was bought in 1946 by the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia – ironically, socialism buying capitalism – and now inherited by Serbia. Now that both Nikola Kavaja and Boško Radonjić are dead and gone I am free to violate the attorney-client privilege. They made plans to assassinate Josip Broz Tito during his visit to New York in 1963 either at the Mission, with a sniper shot from Central Park across the street, or up close and personal at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. Failing in that effort my former clients in a fit of political stupidity bombed the place in 1975. Luckily they did little damage, though blast scars remain.  

The place is a shambles inside and out. The roof leaks, the back façade has threatened to collapse for years. The electrical system has not been upgraded since before World War II. There ain’t a proper HVAC system in the place. The interior is a jury rigged warren of rooms unsuited for the Mission’s mission. The kitchen [?] and bathrooms should be relegated to a museum or demolished.

The building is architecturally significant: “[a] dignified Beaux Arts palace on a small scale. Only two windows wide, it rises three stories to an impressive two-story mansard roof with dormers and projecting bulls eye windows … the second story windows, with picturesque stone balconies, were surmounted by classical pediments; their grand size becoming the focal point of the façade.” It deserves to be saved.

One of the wealthy Koch brothers just made a $65 million donation to renovate the plaza in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art even though he no longer lives across the street. Now Serbia has its share of wealthy men, Milan Janković a/k/a Philip Zepter, Miroslav Miśković and Stanko Subotić, to name but three. You would think that one of these worthies would step up and pay for the renovation of the Mission and make us proud. 

The donor would probably get a tax deduction, not that it matters since income is seldom declared in Serbia. He would get naming and bragging rights having a building named in his honor. He would get favorable press which in Misković’s case is sorely needed. He would get a brass plaque recognizing his contribution on a landmarked building on Fifth Avenue.  As for me I would get to drive by Serbia’s Mission to the United Nations with pride in my heart.  

 

Wednesday
Mar112015

KOSOVO - BE CAREFUL OF WHAT YOU WISH FOR

  Published as opinion article "Kosovo - Be Careful Of What You Wish For”, Britić, March 10, 2015 

In seeking independence Kosovo’s Albanians failed to heed the “be careful of what you for wish for” rule - the unforeseen and unpleasant result of independence; today that economic reality has come home to roost with a vengeance. Kosovo is now a place to flee, to abandon. Thousands have done so.

This Sunday [March 8, 2015] The New York Times lead article “Kosovars Who Fought for Land Are Now Eager to Leave” culminates two months of reporting on a mass Kosovar migration, a flood of refugees, northward through Serbia and on to Western Europe. “Once, Kosovars were laying down their lives to stay here. Now … we have come to a situation where we leave of our own free will” writes the Times. It then goes on to document political infighting, rampant corruption, crime and non-existent economy – all earmarks of a failed state.  

The Guardian, The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal have reported their take on the crisis complete with depressing photographs of the refugees’ plight. It is not a situation that anyone would welcome, but a state of affairs I had anticipated.

Everyone loves, me included, the “I told you so” moment proves your prescience, your intelligence, your standing above all the other animals in the human herd - as Jackie Gleason in his Reggie Van Gleason III mode would say with a knowing smirk “How sweet it is”, when it does happen.

I have never lived in ex-Yugoslavia full time, having only spent the first five years of my life there. All of my information on Yugoslavia and its peoples were third, or at best second hand - conversations, articles, books and the like except for a number of visits. My alienation and distance from the real thing gave me objectivity and perspective, a trait sadly lacking in Serbia and Kosovo.

At dinner one night in 1999 at the Klub Književnika on Francuska Street in Belgrade during the Kosovo War I went head to head with my Serb friends over Kosovo. The argument grew heated, so much so that had there been another glass or two consumed we might have come to blows. Buda, the venerable head waiter came over to our table and with a disapproving frown asked us to keep it down.

The argument, you ask? I said the best way to deal with Kosovo was to partition it, then dump it. Annex the predominantly Serb dominated north around Mitrovica, like Putin and the Crimea, have UNESCO declare Kosovo Polje, the 26 Orthodox monasteries and whatever else strikes your national pride UN protected World Heritage Sites and tell the rest to fuck off, good riddance and goodbye. My reasoning – you will never reverse Albanian demographics and for decades Kosovo had been an unproductive economic drain on ex-Yugoslavia, and now Serbia, a losing proposition.

I later wrote “Serbia could shrug off the burden of financially propping up a failing state and pass it on to the international community thus avoid dealing with a bellicose minority”.

The Serb emotional response was defiant “Kosovo shall remain a part of Serbia forever” ignoring reality with a heartfelt cry that “the Battle of Kosovo defines Serbs and Serbia” with numerous allusions to Kraljević Marko, Miloš Obelić and others that I did not readily recognize – pure sentiment, not a cold rational evaluation of Kosovo’s then economic and ethnic state.  

Kosovo’s Albanians were then just as emotional, delusional and irrational. They wanted independence, their own state, self determination at any cost ignoring that their very existence had been predicated on the largess of the other Republics of ex-Yugoslavia.    

Today Kosovo is a de facto if not yet de jure state – some question its recognized independent status. Since 1999 it has received over €4.5 billion [US$5.85 billion] in direct international aid with indirect costs paid for by the EU, UN and NATO yet to be calculated – the war cost ₤30.1 billion [US$49.6 billion] – yet poverty, deprivation, unemployment hovering at 35.1% [56% for those under 25] prevailing. Kosovo is a disaster waiting to take a turn for the worse.

Serbia may well adopt my smug and stupid “be careful of what you wish for” attitude and revel in the unforeseen and unpleasant consequences that have befallen Kosovo. But Serbia beware - the “be careful of what you wish for” rule is a double edged sword – does Serbia want a failed nation state full of ethnic hatred on its southern border? My advice – lend a hand, try to find a solution.

Wednesday
Mar042015

NET NEUTRALITY YES - CYBER WARS NO

Everyone including the editorial pages of the Washington Post, the New York Times and this newspaper are concerned with net neutrality and the future of the internet. Access to “the free flow of information and services” without limit and without undue financial cost, a present day equal protection safeguard, is a right worth fighting for and securing. Access to the internet has become a necessity much like the telephone, a service that has long been a public utility. That right is meaningless and hollow if the internet ceases to exist or is compromised.

Today’s debate is a purely domestic one over control by corporate and financial interests to access by consumers to the internet. As of yesterday February 26 the FCC has made internet access a public utility complete with regulatory oversight. What the debate ignores is the threat to the very existence of the internet by nation states waging cyberwars, some openly, some in secret.

Two years ago Secretary of Defense Panetta warned that America was facing a “cyber-Pearl Harbor” that could destroy our communications systems, power grids, financial networks, many functions of government, from military defense networks to emergency responders.

Forget the warning, cyber wars are here to stay, no longer make believe war games. In 2006 President Bush authorized Olympic Games, a cyber-weapons attack on Iran’s nuclear program. The cyber weapon, a “worm” dubbed “Stuxnet”, was a joint U.S-Israeli effort. Initially successful in 2010 the “worm” broke free “like a zoo animal that [had] found the keys to the cage” and began infecting computers worldwide rendering them useless. 

This was not an isolated incident. The US publicly accused China “of systematically stealing American high tech data” and was victim of Operation Aurora, another Chinese attack. Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company was attacked making “useless more than 30,000 computers”. Repeated denial of services attacks froze the operations of major United States financial institutions with the culprits yet to be identified but foreign states including North Korea are suspect.

Much of state sponsored cyber warfare is classified and only hinted at by “reliable government sources”. However a recently disclosed Edward Snowdon National Security document confirms and details the escalation of the Iran/United States cyberwar continued by the Obama administration notwithstanding ongoing negotiations to limiting proliferation.  

The mind set of governments in the cyber wars of today is: “If you fuck with us and our computers, we will fuck yours and just plain fuck you”.

Panetta got it right when he noted that “[a]n aggressor nation or extremist group could use these … cyber tools to gain control of critical switches. They could derail passenger trains… loaded with lethal chemicals. They could contaminate water supply … or shut down the power grid…” He also was spot on in warning that we “won’t succeed in preventing a cyber attack through improved defenses alone”. 

Panetta’s solution, calling for enhanced defense capabilities and enabling legislation, while proper is downright shortsighted and stupid. He is correct that cyber security must be pursued, but that solution should be directed at the rogues, the terrorists, the criminals, the non-state actors, not sovereign states.

The international community must reach a consensus on a moratorium on state sponsored cyber wars, or at least agree upon limitations - much like arms control or nuclear non-proliferation treaties. A draft of proposed international standards has already been published,  the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare [2013], which applies the principles jus ad bellum regulating the “use of force in international law, and jus in bello, govern[ing] conduct in armed conflict”. 

Absent consensus the world will spiral into a cold war with each state enhancing its cyber defenses while maximizing offensive capabilities. Each government will use its offensive capability to further its objective of the day, such as the destruction of Iran’s nuclear effort, justifying the attacks on national security grounds. Retaliation to such attacks will condemned as acts of terrorism by rogue states.

The world has experienced the expensive bankrupting race for larger and more destructive atom and hydrogen bombs. We have failed to outlaw nuclear devices and we continue to pay the price, always on the brink of a nuclear disaster. You would think the lesson learned would have us all agree to outlaw the use of cheap, ubiquitous computers as devastating weapons of war whose first victim would be the internet. 

 

Monday
Feb232015

KICKING THE €URO DOWN THE ROAD 

Image by Khalil Bendib

The Greek financial crisis just went into overtime with a resolution due in four months, kicking the problem down the road once again. Stocks closed on Friday at record highs but it ain’t over till it’s over – it could well go the other way. Keep tuned, either way the outcome will affect the world and you and me.

You have to tip your hat to the cunning Germans, the economic pillar of rectitude of the European Union. In 2010 Angela Merkel, Germany’s “Iron” Chancellor engineered a €240 billion financial rescue plan for Greece that averted, so they say, a collapse of financial markets and the disintegration of the EU.

What this slick former East German Communist apparatchik, now champion of capitalism, accomplished was a massive bailout of Germany’s own banks, financial institutions and economy at the expense of the smallest and poorest member of the original cartel, Greece. Now she – a true opportunist - and her Finance Minister want to bankrupt Greece and then buy it on the cheap, pennies on the dollar.

Back then financial pundits, in an attempt at gallows humor, called Europe’s ailing economies “Pigs” [Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain] for their profligate financial ways. Germans claimed that Greece was the poster child for all that caused Europe’s meltdown – unchecked spending, out of control pensions, social welfare, subsidies for the poor, paid maternity leaves, a bloated bureaucracy – all true but far from right.

The Greek Government is a criminal “Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization” [RICO] that had been brought to power, financed and kept in power by Germany and the EU. From the start Greece lied its way into the EU by providing false financials. Once in, Greece found itself awash with seemingly unlimited sources of money and easy credit. Greece started spending like a drunken sailor on shore leave.

Take for instance the 2004 Summer Olympics hosted by Athens that cost the Greek taxpayer at least €11 billion [$14.5 billion] some say €22 billion; today stadiums and venues are unused and abandoned. The sources of funds were high interest bearing Greek Government bonds snapped up by German banks and other European financial institutions, Greece loading up on impossible to repay debt.

Then you have the German ThyssenKrupp submarine deal, €2 billion for 4 submarines, the only one delivered floats sideways and has been in dry-dock for years or the Siemens/Hellenic Telephone scandal that resulted in a €300 million fine. Don’t forget the 900 Leopard 2A5 combat tanks manufactured by Germany’s Krauss-Maffei works and the 1,000 American Patton tanks all financed by Greek bonds now on the verge of default.

By the way England and Germany [population 145 million] have 400 tanks apiece while Greece [population 10 million] has 1,913 tanks; Germany 4 submarines are no match for Greece’s 11; Greece counts 207 jet fighters to Germany’s 105. Ever wonder why? Short answer: bribes, corruption and greed.

Greece, as noted, is a RICO criminal enterprise. The Prime Minister, the Ministers and their deputies, the Parliament as well as the Judiciary are all co-conspirators, all to some extent culpable. Transparency International finds Greece the most corrupt country in Europe, way down on its country watch list at 94 among the likes of Zambia, Moldova, Columbia and Mongolia.   

Rich Greeks do not pay taxes because, as Leona Helmsey noted “only the little people pay taxes” and in Greece the little people pay very little. Tax evasion “has been described by Greek politicians as ‘a national sport’ – with up to €30 billion per year going uncollected”. In 2005 “participation in tax evasion reached an estimated 49% of the population.”

The Greece has a list of 1,991 tax evaders and bribe takers with accounts with HSBC Bank in Switzerland, the “Lagarde List” made available by Christine Lagarde, the French finance minister now Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund, one of the bailout’s architects.   No one has been charged or convicted except for the whistle blower who published the list.  

If Greece stays with Euro and remains part of the EU, Germany wins; Greece faces decades of austerity to repay her debts, her assets sold at fire sale prices - Greece no longer Greek but a German colony. If Greece regains her sovereignty it foreshadows the demise of the European Union. Either way you and I will be financially affected, like it or not. 

     

Wednesday
Feb182015

MEASLES AND SMALLPOX DO NOT BELIEVE IN GOD

Published as: “Another View: Measles and Smallpox Do Not Believe in God”, The Register Citizen & The Middletown Press, February 18, 2015

Some contagious diseases can be prevented and curbed. For years public health laws and regulations were mandatory and across the board, brooking little if no exemptions. Time was that you couldn’t get on a plane to leave the country without your passport and that bright yellow International Certificate of Vaccinations - proof to the world that you were vaccinated against yellow fever, cholera and smallpox. There were no religious or vague “personal belief” exemptions. The only exemptions were unique medical ones, seldom if ever granted.

Religion and vague “personal beliefs” sometimes trumps science and reason which can result in death and deformity - unintended results detrimental to your health.

Alcohol can be harmful - prohibition, a public health measure on steroids, banned alcohol sales and consumption in 1920.  Opiates, hallucinogens, psychoactive alkaloids and the like - “drugs” - are said to destroy the mind and body. The public health initiative known as the War on Drugs prohibits their use since 1971.

In both instances the prohibition carves out an exemption based on religion. Prohibition did not apply to booze dispensed by priests, rabbis and ministers of the gospel. Likewise the faithful of the Centro Espirita Beneficiente Uniao do Vegetal [“Union of the Plants”], a recognized religion [?], are free to ingest hallucinogens to their heart’s content during religious ceremonies. You would think that the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment would kick in, giving us all the opportunity to sip and smoke.

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