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, Ekurd Daily, a multinational Kurdish news portal and Passport, a lifestyle quarterly. He resides in New York City and Washington, Connecticut.

 

Media
Tuesday
Feb092016

A HEALTH CARE PROPOSAL

Ted Cruz: “I will repeal Obamacare and propose commonsense reform that makes health care personal, portable, and affordable. I will expand competition in the marketplace, empower consumers and patients to make healthcare decisions with their doctors, and disempower the government from getting in between doctors and their patients.”

Donald Trump: “I would end Obamacare and replace it with something terrific, for far less money for the country and for the people.” 

Marco Rubio: “Obamacare is fatally flawed not just because it is poorly constructed, but because it relies on the outdated philosophy that the federal government can solve our problems through more spending, more taxes, more regulations, and more bureaucrats.”

Jeb Bush: “Fixing our broken health care system and lowering costs will be a top priority. With Congress, I will repeal and replace Obamacare with reforms that empower consumers with more choices and control over their health care decisions.”

The four leading contenders in this year’s Republican presidential campaign all agree on a single issue – repeal, do away, jettison, get rid of Obamacare. On Groundhog Day, February 2 the Republican controlled House of Representatives voted to repeal Obamacare for the 63rd time. However, not one of the candidates or Republican lawmakers has given us specific proposals for a viable replacement plan.

I have spent a couple of hours on the internet researching the candidates’ health care proposals and all I have come up with is hot air. Cruz and Trump have no plan at all except it will be “something terrific”. Jeb Bush has a nebulous three-point program: “promote innovation, lower costs and return power to the states”. Marco Rubio’s plan is more concrete - it will have an “advanceable [sic], refundable tax credit [so] that all Americans can purchase health insurance”, whatever the hell that means.

I join the Republican candidates in calling for the repeal of Obamacare and I propose that we substitute one of the tried and true time tested health plans already in use, alive and well and functioning just great. The plans are based on the “what is good for the goose, is good for the gander” and “all men are created equal” rules and are existing federal, state and local models.

Health care for all should be the same as that available to all federal employees. After all, two of the candidates, Cruz and Rubio, are currently employed by the Federal Government. What is good for them and for 8 million others federal employees should be good enough for you and me.

You will be happy to know that the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program is not some single payer socialist government boondoggle but is private health insurance that you alone choose and pay for. You can choose the “Blue Cross and Blue Shield standard fee-for-service family plan [which] carries a total of $1,327.80 per month [premium], of which the beneficiary pays $430.04.” The Federal Government pays 75% of the cost and that, my friend is not socialism but pure selfish capitalism. I am OK with that, I can live with that, so let’s replace Obamacare with that.

If the federal health care plan does not appeal to you perhaps a state employee plan will be more to your liking. Three of the candidates, Marc Rubio, Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush were at one-time state employees – Marc, a representative, Jeb a governor and Ted a state executive – all covered by such a plan. You have not heard them call for their repeal when they were enjoying the benefits, did you?

All 5.5 million Americans employed by the 50 states are covered by state sponsored health insurance, so why not you and me? Some states pay almost all of the insurance premium, Arkansas paying 97%; others pay less, West Virginia at 71%. Overall the states pay 84% of the premium with employees contributing 16%, according to a Pew Charitable Trust report that confirms that state employees pay a relatively low share of insurance premiums compared to their private-sector counterparts, leading the Manhattan Institute to call these plans “Cadillac Coverage High Cost Public Employee Health Benefits”. I wouldn’t mind having a Cadillac health plan myself.

Municipalities and towns employ even more people. My research indicates that municipal employees have the sweetest deal of all - some towns pay all insurance premiums. I find it hard to generalize since there so many municipalities and governmental entities involved but I glean that health insurance coverage costs municipal employees far less that you and I.  

So I join in calling for the repeal of Obamacare but on the condition that I can get health insurance that is available to federal, state or municipal employees – if these plans are good enough for 23.5 million of my fellow Americans they will have to do for me.

 

 

 

Wednesday
Feb032016

THE WORLD’S REFUGEES - MEMORIES REGRETS & REMORSE

A version of this article was published in Britic on February 3, 2016 and Pecat on February 4, 2016

Breaking News: Sweden, January 28, 2016 - “80,000 could be expelled after refugee influx. Authorities prepare to deport tens of thousands with failed asylum claims after record 163,000 applications las year”. Al Jazeera

Breaking News: London, January 28, 2016 – “Germany tightens refugee policy as Finland joins Sweden in deportations. Germany will close its border to Algerians, Tunisians and Moroccans … [Finland] to deport around two thirds of 32,000 asylum seekers.” The Guardian

Breaking News: Geneva, January 30, 2016 – “10 Children Among the Dead as a Migrant Boat Capsizes Off Turkey … [a] little boy was among 37 people - most of them believed to be Syrians [Kurds] fleeing war and trying to reach European shores - who died when their boat capsized on Saturday and washed up on the rocky shoals of the Turkish coast.” The New York Times

Breaking News: New York, February 1, 2016 – “A law [has been] approved by Danish legislators [which] allows immigration authorities to seize valuable items, including jewelry and cash [in excess of $1,450] to offset the cost of resettling them.” Editorial, The New York Times

Breaking News: Oslo, Feburary 3, 2016 - "On Thursday, more than 70 world leaders are expected to meeting in London for a conference aiming to raise $9 billion for Syrians." The World Post

The US presidential race is on and you keep hearing that America is a country of immigrants. Every presidential candidate is bragging about his/her immigrant grandparents - Cuban maids and bartenders, God fearing Czech postmen and coal miners, Sicilian peasants or in the case of Hilary Clinton just plain common garden variety generic immigrants. But they all talk of immigrations past and not of immigrations present.

The presidential debate is all about America’s domestic immigration problem and ignores the thousands of Syrians, Libyans, Afghanis along with Iraqis, Algerians, Moroccans – it seems the whole world - emigrating – is on the move. It is a crisis that threatens to overwhelm the limited humanitarian resources in conflict zones and countries of ultimate destination – Western Europe.  It’s a crisis without a solution that has caught the world’s attention. The stop gap, knee jerk reactions to the crisis – opening up of borders, setting up temporary refugee camps and offering permanent resettlement is now under review.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I was a refugee in 1946 escaping on foot, at night across a shoot-at-sight border from then communist Yugoslavia. Upon reaching freedom my mother’s jewelry and gold coins were seized and confiscated by the British occupying military forces. For a time, I was physically confined [imprisoned] in a refugee camp in Graz, Austria. From 1946 until 1955 I was stateless. I have experienced the life of a refugee. As a result, I am sensitive and highly sympathetic to a refugee’s plight. 

All refugees are not alike and all migrants are not refugees deserving safe haven. A refugee escaping from a bloody civil war must be treated differently from a migrant seeking a more comfortable life.   

I have no personal knowledge of today’s refugee crisis. I rely on newspapers and television, images and statistics compiled by asylum states, NGO’s and the United Nations. From these I glean that a substantial number are not fleeing persecution or civil war but economic disaster making them, strictly speaking, economic migrants not refugees.  

Kosovo, the former Yugoslav Province today is peaceful policed by the United Nations [UNMIK] and the European Union [EULEX]. But the adult unemployment rate is “more than 35% … and the jobless rate among young people is 60%. Nearly 30% of the nation’s 1.8 million people live in poverty.” As a result, in just two months, January and February, 2015, more than 18,000 Kosovars applied for asylum in Hungary alone. Immigrants they may be but refugees they are not.

Last week a well versed columnist wrote that Kurds were fleeing their homeland because “[f]or most people life in Kurdistan is not a life and it is merely an existence in its worse form. There are no jobs, poor health care system, [and] uncertainty of the future.” That holds true for most countries in the region.

The UN Refugee Agency reports that 1,015,000 refugees arrived in Western Europe by sea in 2015. Of these 62% were men between the ages of 18-30, 22% were mostly-late-teenage boys and only 16% were women. “In Sweden … which like Germany has had an open door [policy], 71 percent of all asylum applicants in 2015 were men.”

Statistics bear out that these migrants are predominantly male in their twenties and thirties, reasonably well educated with marketable skills, the backbone of society the foundation of a modern sovereign state, that which makes or breaks a country. What will happen to the countries that they have abandoned?   

These migrants are not refugees in the true sense of the word. They have jumped ship, they have abandoned their countries. They have concluded that their countries are not worth fighting for or dying for. If their absence becomes permanent these countries will not recover. They will continue on a downwards spiral until they cease to exist, to be partitioned off among the squabbling tribes of the region.

What can the European asylum countries expect from these new permanent residents? If history is a guide, the new immigrants will not integrate, will not assimilate. They will remain apart from everyday life for “Gastarbeiter” culture is alive and well in today’s Europe. Just witness the thousands that take to the roads every summer travelling back home to Turkey, Bosnia and Greece.

The newly announced policy of asylum for true refugees and not for economic migrants is a just and proper response. The return of economic migrants to the country of origin furthers national rebuilding and ultimate stability of the region.

Raising and spending $9 billion in aid for Syria and spending it in the region will deter unwanted and unsuitable immigration and ultimately save billions of dollars and present civil unrest.

I remember well the memories of my refugee years; I regret not having a solution to the world’s refugee and migrant crisis; I have remorse for the death of all migrants, adults and children alike, wish that I could do more.

 

 

Thursday
Jan212016

TODAY’S YELLOW PERIL: CHINA’S TOXIC BANKS

A version of this article was published in Ekurd Daily [Turkey/Iran/Iraq] on January 21, 2016 and Britic on January 23, 2016 

Donald Trump’s xenophobic solution to the ISIS threat is to quarantine and then exclude all Moslems from the United States. This is nothing new. In fact it was historically politically correct to exclude ethnic threats, real or imagined, starting with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 that stopped the Chinese from coming to the United States, keeping the “Yellow Peril” in check. Thankfully the law was repealed in 1943.

The historic “Yellow Peril” was a myth perpetrated by American political demagogues. Today China is an actual threat to the world’s economy – China’s toxic banks are an actual, very real danger.

I am far from expert in matters financial but I see hints of trouble month in month out. In December an independent report found China’s manufacturing sector contracting for 10 consecutive months. In January the Shanghai and Shenzhen stock markets were forced to suspend trading twice when circuit breakers kicked in to prevent panic selling. On January 18 the “Debt Binge by Chinese Companies Adds to Pressure on Government” made the front page of the New York Times followed by today’s lead business story “China’s Fading Factories”. All signs of potential distress.

China’s economy has many large commercial and industrial enterprises that are inefficient and unprofitable but deemed too big to fail. These “zombie companies”, the Times notes, are on state mandated life support.  The Government continues to bail them out and to order domestic banks to extend credit. “[B]anks usually keep rolling over debts and lending more, particularly for state-owned companies … where the controlling shareholder is … [the government]. The government has been hesitant to shut down companies over fears that large-scale payoffs might lead to protests”.

The Times features the case of Sainty Marine, a shipbuilding company in Jiangsu Province, as an example. The company has finished vessels ready for delivery but the price has “plunged from nearly $30 million in 2013 to $16 million now … Chinese shipyards are now littered with half-finished shells”. Notwithstanding the fact that the company is government owned the Bank of China, “one off the country’s biggest commercial banks, [has] pushed Sainty Marine into court … request[ing] the appointment of a liquidator, as Sainty Marine is already overdue on $81 million in loans”.

The Times notes that “[i]t is rare for state owned banks to pursue debts so aggressively”. 

Preventing civil unrest has found Chinese banks and financial institutions with a shortage of cash, a credit squeeze with “banks temporarily suspend[ing] lending in order to preserve cash, according to Caixin, the Chinese business magazine.”

Forced to seek cash Chinese banks have turned to 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 siren song of high interest rates was in Cantonese: “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.”

This is not to say that these unregulated financial transactions are Ponzi schemes. They may well not be. But they are “shadow banking” lending “outside the scrutiny of bank regulators” subject to abuse. Much of the money goes to funding property development and other dicey ventures where “[r]egulated banks will not make the loans because the borrowers are too risky” or simply keeping distressed projects afloat.

Risky loans with guaranteed high interest rates can morph into Ponzi schemes. When the music stops with not enough chairs to go around, when the property bubble bursts, and burst it must, when the shit hits the fan, Chinese banks will be the mirror images of those that were in crisis countries, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Cyprus, Portugal and Spain. 

Again I am not an expert in matters financial but from my point of view China and her banks are on a perilous course. You can bailout Greek banks, a country of only 10 million but can you bail out a banking system that services 1.4 billion?

You ask, “Why should this worry me, me who lives and works in ________ [your country, fill in the blank]?” Must I remind you of the global financial crisis of 2007-08? 

 

 

 

Friday
Jan152016

AMERICA’S PERSIAN GULF GAMES

Versions of this article were published  Pecat, January 15, 2016, Ekurd [Tukey/Iran/Iraq] January 16, 2016 and Britic, January 15, 2016.

In American Graffiti, George Lucas’ 1973 coming of age movie, young men drive jazzed up hot rods down a Southern California city’s streets with no destination in sight, just whiling away time with fun and hijinks. This week 10 young American sailors, including one woman, took two high performance United States Riverine Command Boats [RCB’s] on a Persian Gulf cruise to nowhere which ended up badly, but could have been far worse.

Seems that they “drifted” – this is a term of art used by the United States Navy to denote a nautical navigation screw up – into Iranian territorial waters near Farsi Island some 90 miles off the coast of Saudi Arabia. Once the incursion was detected they were arrested and detained by Iran.

The initial explanation offered by the Navy was that these two high speed river patrol craft were travelling from Kuwait to Bahrain when one encountered engine failure which resulted in the uncontrolled “drifting” into Iranian territorial waters. But all’s well that ends well - after a brief period of detention the sailors were allowed to sail under their miraculously restored power avoiding a diplomatic debacle.

This incident raises questions that I would like answered. I mean no disrespect or malice; I am just asking.  

The two boats are reported to be part of the Harry S. Truman Strike Group, a grouping of ships, boats, planes and submarines centered around the airplane carrier of the same name. Starting November, 2015 Strike Group 8 is on a 36-month training and deployment mission in the Gulf coordinating with Carrier Air Wing 7. But why train and deploy some 12,000 nautical miles away from Norfolk, Virginia, her home port? Surely there are warm waters and cool sea breezes closer to home.

In today’s age of budget constraints, it seems flying the flag so far from home is not for the stated purpose of training but for a naked show of force, over naval supremacy in the region.  Is that a fair statement of fact? 

On December 26, 2015 “while transiting the Straight[s] of Hormuz several unguided rockets fired by Iran landed approximately 1500 yards away from the USS Harry S. Truman”. Why did the Truman and her accompanying vessels continue on course even though aware that Iran had announced in advance test firings? Why continue on course for at least half an hour towards the target site? Why place the carrier in peril a mile away from the impact site?

Is this another example of the “Don’t tread on me” or “Damn the torpedoes, full steam ahead” mental syndrome? This incident wasn’t reported or made public, why not?

Back to the incident, what in God’s name are two Riverine Command Boats doing in the Persian Gulf in the first place? A quick glance at a map confirms that that no rivers flow into the Gulf from the desert of Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain or Qatar. Any deployment of shallow draft boats designed for river warfare in the Persian Gulf seems irrational and counterproductive. What was the real purpose of their stated mission in the Gulf?

The boats, boats not ships, only 50 feet long are CB90 class fast attack boats of Swedish design are capable of carrying a “half platoon of amphibious infantry – 21 amphibious troops with full equipment” at speeds up to 74 kilometers per hour propelled by a high powered Rolls Royce jet-propulsion system. At $3 million plus for the basic boat they are fitted with sophisticated communication gear for these boats act as floating command posts. If a 2016 Honda Civic comes equipped with high tech GPS and navigation system you can bet your boots that these boats have really advanced high tech electronic navigation capabilities.

The United States Defense Secretary Carter claims that “a navigational error mistakenly took [the two boats] into Iranian territorial waters” and that the crews had “obviously has misnavigated when they came within a few miles of Farsi Island”. How can a ship’s captain “misnavigate” when using a computer guided GPS navigation system? Were the captains navigating relying on sextants and compasses? I think not, but I await answers.

Secretary Carter said that the Navy had lost radio contact with the boats but confirmed that the “GPS equipment on the boats showed the boats were in Iranian territorial waters”. You would think that the Navy’s 5th Fleet operation headquarters in Bahrain would keep tabs of its ships and boats in a highly sensitive theater of operations, wouldn’t you?

Yesterday the Los Angeles Times published a photograph of the two boats returning from Iranian detention at high speed leaving wakes a mile long, putting the lie to the engine malfunction story. Confirmation that the GPS was operational puts the lie to lost radio contact.


Another explanation comes to mind. You have a bunch of young seamen on two high performance boats without a care in the world going on a joy ride in the warm waters of the Gulf. Shut the radio and communications down and claim malfunction. Enjoy the sun and a little R&R. What a hoot, what a high! Reminds me of the Navy Patrol Boat, Riverine [PBR] cruising the waters of Vietnam’s Delta to the tune of Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries in Apocalypse Now.   

Exactly what happened and is happening in the Persian Gulf are the questions I would like answered. Is America playing “chicken” in the Gulf? Or is it playing a more sinister game? Or is it just playing in the Gulf?

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday
Jan062016

TURKEY: A FRIEND GONE BAD

Versions of this article were published in Pecat, January 6, 2016, Ekurd Daily [Tukey/Iran/Iraq] January 7, 2016 and Britic, January 8, 2016.

What do you do when a friend goes bad? What do you do when a staunch ally puts selfish self-interest above common good? What do you do when your once tolerant secular neighbor becomes an intolerant Islamist jihadist? What do you do when your friend decides that universal human rights do not matter? In the age of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn the answer is simple – you simply de-friend or de-link him with the click of a mouse. But when your buddy is a country, Turkey, a member of NATO, well that’s another kettle of fish. 

With friends you often ignore the negative. Your fraternity brother’s drunken groping of a girl or throwing up in the bushes is shrugged away as youthful high jinks. So it was in July, 1974 when the Greek Junta staged a coup d’état in Cyprus and Turkey responded by invading a small part of the north end of the island. Boys will be boys, nothing to really get worried about was the prevalent worldview. Within days Henry Kissinger sat them down in Geneva to hammer out a cease fire.

A week later the Greeks woke up, came to their senses and the Junta collapsed but Turkey followed up with another invasion in August capturing 40% of the island. For the next 10 years the European Commission on Human Rights time and again found Turkey guilty of violations of the European Convention of Human Rights by the “displacement of persons, deprivation of liberty, ill treatment, deprivation of life and deprivation of possessions”, in other words “ethnic cleansing”.

These crimes were ignored. The sacrifice of several thousand Greek Cypriot lives and gross violations of human rights was a price that NATO was more than willing to pay for a united front against Russia’s nuclear threat. The United States and the United Nations have tolerated a divided and occupied Cyprus for 40 years while the rest of the world stands idly by doing nothing.

The Kurdistan Workers Party [the PKK] founded in 1974 is the voice and political wing of the Kurds, Turkey’s largest ethnic minority, some 15 million strong. The Kurds rebelled against the Ottoman Empire for centuries and against Turkey periodically since 1920. Since 1978 the Kurds have waged a rural-based insurgency coupled with urban warfare demanding the creation of an independent Kurdistan or, at the very least autonomy and full political and cultural rights inside Turkey.

The Turks have declared the PKK to be a “terrorist organization” and the US has gone along designating it a “Foreign Terrorist Organization” for it engages in terrorist activity. Of course it does, any revolution or war for independence is “unlawful” and involves the “high-jacking or sabotage”, “seizing or detaining … injuring … killing [an] individual” or “an internationally protected person”, “assassination” or “the use of any … biological agent … nuclear weapon … [or] explosive or firearm.” [18 USC 1182] You remember the American Revolution and the Greek War for Independence?

Yet this was politically expedient. It kept Turkey within the NATO fold and allowed the US to continue operating military bases on Turkish soil notwithstanding the fact that Turkey has acted in a like manner. The European Court of Human Rights found Turkey guilty of thousands of human rights abuses since 1970 – executions, torture, murder, wanton destruction of private property.

On New Year’s Day the New York Times reported that “Turkey’s Fight with its Kurds Lurches into War”. The Kurds’ declaration of self-rule in autonomous regions in Syria and their success against ISIL forces in Iraq and Syria are perceived as “a national security threat to the Turks”. For Turkey and its President Tayyup Erdogan “the Kurdish militants in Turkey are now the most important enemy”.

Turkey will use its military might to eradicate its domestic Kurd insurgency and ignore ISIL’s international war on terror. President Erdogan’s political self-interest trumps international stability. When push comes to shove his Prime Minister said that NATO concerns if they are in conflict with Turkey’s come will be ignored.

Erdogan speaks for Turkey when he said that the world “… want[s] us dead, they like seeing our children die. How long will we stand for that fact? I speak openly; foreigners love oil, gold, diamonds and the cheap labor force of the Islamic world. They like the conflicts, fights and quarrels of the Middle East”. I have not heard Turkish voices in opposition and only muted disagreement to his “[y]ou cannot bring women and men into equal positions” or that liberated women “have been engaged in the treason of birth control for years” statements.

As for his “Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism” and that “His executive powers have a precedent in Hitler’s Germany” statements, I won’t even bother to comment except to confirm that “America and Europe have been disgracefully acquiescent”.

So what do we do? Well, for starters Turkey is not the only country found wanting – throw the Saudis into the same basket. Both countries are Sunni strongholds and are using pretexts to fuel their opposition to Shiite Iran. Both countries have violated international human right norms and Turkey has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

What have we done in the past? We tried regime change but that has proven ill advised - see Chile, Nicaragua, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan, but ignore the problem we cannot. So when a friend goes bad, realize that he is a friend no longer and treat him as you would an enemy.

In the case of Turkey impose sanctions. Sanctions are a tool we have deployed against many including Russia most recently our ally in the war on ISIS. There is no reason why we should not deploy them against a recalcitrant, back sliding ally. Then “to thine own self be true” we would be.