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.

 

 

Past Entries
Media
Sunday
Feb172019

A GUN AND THE “BLUE BAYOU” IN CUTCHOGUE

Cutchogue RR station – view west 1970 – photo courtesy Derek Stadler Wordpress.com

It’s been a year since gunshots ended seventeen lives on a high school campus in Parkland, Florida. Back then the news was that the victims were the tipping point – that America’s love affair with guns was over, that change would defeat the entrenched self-interests of politicians and the National Rifle Association. Earnest teens grabbed the mike and the country’s stage promising to lead the charge for change.

A year has gone by and 30,000 Americans, male and female, gay and straight, 1,200 of them children, have died of “injury by firearm”. We keep singing that sad old song “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, marching in place, never coming up with a solution to America’s obsession with guns.

This gun thing is a love and hate conundrum that defies logic. It is uniquely American, except for them jihadi terrorists who have embraced Kalashnikov assault rifles and suicide vests.

I tried to explain this aberration to my European buddies in many a café and bistro while studying abroad. They loved Jeeps, Levi’s and I W Harper’s bourbon but they were deaf to the lure of the Siren song of the Wild West, the great outdoors as sung by the magazine “Boy’s Life”. A rifle for them was the hated symbol for the 18-month sentence of compulsory military service. For me, my first gun the Marlin 39A lever-action .22 was adventure and afternoons walking the woods.

Over the years on I tried to make the American gun thing understandable if not acceptable. I used my own brush with danger and a gun as an example.

In the nineteen-sixties we bought property on Long Island’s North Fork. Back then, before vineyards and weekenders changed the landscape, that thin stretch of land was a backwater, a relic that time had passed by. It was not the Hamptons of the South Fork with rolling lawns, trimmed hedges and grand estates where the likes of Jay Gatsby and the Buchanan’s partied. This was hardscrabble subsistence farm country where potato and the cauliflower were king, where duck farms polluted the waterways and oystermen hauled up the now empty steel rakes of their tongs.  

East End men were rough, their women neither easy nor forgiving – shit kicking farmers in work boots, army veterans nursing war wounds, young guys in fear of the draft and Viet Nam – they were there full of anger and resentment for us newcomers. 

Late one July afternoon, after a night in an emergency room and police stations caring for an abused child, we took the train out East. The railroad stopped in Cutchogue at a gravel lot that once had a raised platform and a waiting room. But the milk train no longer stopped there and only memories and old postcards reminded you what was once there.

While waiting for our ride home we trudged across the dusty lot and down Depot Lane to what was once the railroad station but was now a local dive run by a tough Polish broad who kept peace and order with hands the size of ham hocks. All the locals were belly up to the bar getting a head start on Friday night when we walked in.

I had spent two days in a sweaty rumpled suit as a lawyer volunteer for the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. In contrast, my wife, a beautiful blond glass of water, was as fresh as a daisy. We passed through the bar into the far room with its juke box and pool table picking up a couple of beers on the way, waiting for the ride.

The song that summer was Linda Ronstadt’s “Blue Bayou”. I played it time and again, shooting pool, ignoring that the tune and our presence was grating the locals raw. The comments became abusive and I could see a confrontation coming. I shucked my jacket revealing a Colt Detective Special – I was after all, a SPCC peace officer “on the job” and armed. That ended the confrontation and we walked out, waiting for our ride roadside

But the American gun thing has turned ugly. No longer were the armed confrontations one on one, shoot outs at the OK corral, good against evil. Guns now were used in schools, theatres, parking lots - shooting galleries with civilians and children as targets. With yesterday’s killings in an Aurora, Illinois warehouse, the time has come to for a declaration of national emergency and a reset of our and my shortsighted mindset.  

Thursday
Jan312019

CRAZY STUPID ASIANS & CRAZY BROKE FRENCHMEN

The most expensive home sold in New York City each year since 1982, adjusted for inflation. The very tall line is the $238 million penthouse. Credit via data from Jonathan Miller, courtesy New York Times

Stupidity is a human condition that is race blind. It is an equal opportunity affliction than crosses racial divides to be found in all corners of the globe. By chance, from time to time, a glaring example features a specific race – last summer it was Asia’s time in the limelight, ready for that Sunset Boulevard close up.    

Crazy Rich Asians, a film that got rave reviews, critics’ accolades, and made waves premiered late last August. It was nominated for twenty-one awards, winning four. It was touted as an all-Asian romantic comedy, that critics said was “bright, buoyant, and hilarious”, “an escapist rom-com delight”, that satisfied “the sweet tooth of romantic comedy fans” – entertainment, in my book, to avoid at all cost.

I confess of not having had the pleasure of seeing it at my neighborhood multiplex, so take my comments with a grain of salt. But as fate, or rather sheer laziness, extreme bad weather and nothing else to read would have it, I read both Crazy Rich Asians and Crazy Rich Girlfriend, two of the books upon which the film was based this week.

The books are about rich and privileged Singapore, Hong Kong, mainland Chinese and Malaysian young men and nubile women in a death spiral of acute terminal consumerism. They are in a perpetual state of arousal by affluence induced porn created by the likes of Dolce & Gabbana, Valentino, Dior, Altuzarra, Line Vautrin, Yves Saint Lauren, Alaïa, Cesare Attolini, Patek Philippe and on and on, ad nauseum.

These crazy rich Asians live and breed – yes, sex is the main ingredient of affluence porn – in exotic, luxurious locales: private dining clubs, five-star hotels, multimillion condominiums and other assorted haunts that are inaccessible to the likes of you and I.

All this urges you to admire these folks, to emulate them and to aspire to be more like them – join the consumerism of knock off merchandise, make do and be satisfied with stuff from Target, Dollar Tree and Dollar General.

I read the books during the fourth week of a government shutdown when 800,000 employees were working but not being paid. Many of them live paycheck to paycheck, with little or no savings. Some of them had to resort to charity food banks while others, security agents mainly, could not afford gas to get to airports and report for work. It was also the week that Melania Trump, the President’s wife, travelled to Mar a Lago on a government jet redecorated for $16 million to make it more to her liking – truly a Versailles moment.    

It was also the week that a hedge fund billionaire bought an apartment in New York for $238 million, after having bought a $60 million apartment in Miami and a $58.75 million Chicago penthouse, while another billionaire who happens to be the Secretary of the Interior said “there’s no real reason why [the government employees] shouldn’t be able to get a loan” to get by.

The reaction to Crazy Rich Asians and last week’s many Marie Antoinette “let them eat cake” moments should have been revolution - with civilians singing the Marseillaise, calling for armed rebellion and demanding an end to economic tyranny, for vengeance while flying the bloodied flag of liberty – remember that scene from Rick’s Café in Casablanca? Didn’t happen - the working stiffs in terror for their jobs were afraid to demand their due.              

This same week, across the pond, police were battling “Yellow Vest” protesters in Paris, Bordeaux and other French cities. This grass root protest was started over a modest fuel tax increase - not a big deal - but large enough to affect the daily lives of middle-class citizens. It has grown to a broad revolt against the economic status quo resulting, so far, in 11 deaths, with injuries to 1,900 protesters and to 1,200 law enforcement officers.

This demonstration against the status quo was not meekly showing up at Washington’s National Mall sporting a pink knitted pussy hat. It was storming the Bastille exacting damage except that it was the luxury boutiques on the Place Vendôme and the Champs-Élisées that took the hit.   

Why are the French willing to protest economic disparity, economic inequality, economic servitude? Asia is awash in mind boggling poverty yet I haven’t heard of the “poor, huddled yellow masses yearning to breathe free” hitting the pavement in protest. In fact, the only “breathing free” Asia news I read this week was of Bangkok residents donning surgical masks to clean the air that the government has allowed to be perpetually fouled.

The French have always been the canary in the coal mine when it comes to political change. In the United States other canaries are starting to sing the song of change, Elizabeth Warren is advocating an assets-based tax and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez proposes at 70% income tax rate for the wealthy. Perhaps Asians that make up more than half of the world’s population [4.463 billion people] will wake up and join in demanding just economic, if not political, change. Their voice could make the difference.     

Wednesday
Jan162019

HAS SUCCESS DESTROYED NATO ■ PUTIN’S NATO GAMBIT

GRAPHIC/IMAGE COURTESY OF GEO AWESOMENESS

Donald Trump, America’s Manchurian Candidate, has been elected, inaugurated and is now President of the United States. Vladimir Putin, Russia’s President, after the successful annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, is implementing his NATO gambit egging Trump to abandon NATO. Will the gambit succeed?

In 1945 at the end of the war, with colonial empires in taters, with the world order disrupted beyond repair, the boys in the halls of power - Whitehall and Westminster, the Quai d’Orsay and the Élysėe Palace, the Capital and the White House, with the complicity of Russia’s Kremlin and China’s Kuomintang - devised a new “Great Game”, a game by which they would continue to run the world. They called it the United Nations.

Like all casino games of chance, the United Nations was rigged, it was fixed from the outset. The real levers of power were vested in a private cabal to which only the boys with all the marbles belonged – the permanent members of the Security Council, each with unfettered veto power. Any country could play in that glass and concrete sandbox on New York’s East River, but the marbles never left the hands of the Security Council’s permanent members.

The Security Council’s veto power proved effective in shaping the course of events but did not allow for unfettered action absent unanimous consent. What do you do when the Great Game has to accommodate the wishes and aspirations of former colonial states, countries with teeming “not quite white” masses, inconsequential banana republics and powers with contrary political aspirations? You stay in the Great Game, you remain a member state of the United Nations but you set up an alternative, parallel game correcting the original mistake by making membership by invitation only.

The new game NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was invented in 1949. It was an alliance of member states bordering the Atlantic with Italy, surrounded by the Mediterranean, thrown in for good measure. This was a “whites only need apply, no third world countries invited” club dominated by the old pre-war world powers. It was a new world-wide military power that soon transcended its geographical roots with the accession of Greece and Turkey in 1952.

The Soviet Union threatened by this show of force responded in 1955 with the Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Mutual Assistance, also known as the Warsaw Pact, dragooning the likes of Albania, Bulgaria and Romania into an uneasy military alliance.

You know the rest of the story - the cold war ended, Germany united, the Soviet Union exploded, the Warsaw Pact imploded, the field of battle was abandoned to NATO, dominated and financed by the United States.

Many promises were made that NATO would remain a local, regional coalition, promises that proved patently false. In 1991 Poland and land-locked Hungary and the Czech Republic petitioned to join the European Union and NATO. In 2004 six countries were added to NATO rolls. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were North Sea countries but that could not be said for Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia. Recently Albania, Croatia and Montenegro were welcomed aboard tightening a constricting noose of military power around Russia.

NATO proved to be the vehicle with which “Western Powers” exercised military intervention without United Nations approval. The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait allowed deployment of aircraft in a war zone. The breakup of Yugoslavia allowed military forces to be deployed in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well as later in Kosovo. NATO deployments in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, and the Gulf of Aden followed.

Compared to earlier models, the Triple Alliance [Germany, Austro-Hungary, Italy 1882], the Balkan League [Serbia, Greece, Bulgaria and Montenegro 1912] the Entente and its allies [World War I], the Axis [the enemy in World War II], NATO has been a resounding success. It has expanded beyond all expectations with a 50 year and counting shelf life.

NATO expanded its mission from one of collective defensive security to one of offensive use of force securing global objectives far from the North Atlantic. No wonder Vladimir Putin is now deploying his latest gambit to defeat and destroy NATO, or at the very least deprive it of United States financing, support and influence.

Vladimir Putin’s end game is to install a Manchurian Candidate to do his bidding willingly, or unwillingly under duress of kompromat. The national security agencies are unanimous in their assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 Presidential election. Will our elected officials, our Senators and Members of the House of Representatives heed the words of the patriot Patrick Henry “Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country” and impeach and, if necessary, indict Donald Trump? To do otherwise would allow the Putin gambit to checkmate democracy.

 

Friday
Dec072018

A MODEST PROPOSAL FOR A PROPER PROTEST

THE DIRECTOR FRANK CAPRA ON THE SET OF “MR SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON”, 1939 OSCAR WINNER, THE ORIGINAL UNITED STATES SENATE PROTEST STORY – PHOTO COURTESY COLUMBIA PICTURES

Representative democracy is an endangered species. When destroyed it resurrects as a totalitarian democracy. “Not so” you say, “Is so” says I - but I write from the catbird seat as I point to Victor Arbàn in Hungary, Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Ertoğan in Turkey, Bashar al-Assad in Syria, Andrzej Duda in Poland, Milo Ðjukanović in Montenegro and, lest we forget, Donald Trump and the United States.

I can’t suggest appropriate protest for the rest of the world, see what’s happening in France, but I have a modest proposal for the United States. 

On January 20, 2017 Trump became the 45Th President. The very next day, Trump launched the first lie of his presidency. He had his Press Secretary, Reince Priebus claim that while “no one had numbers” the crowd “was the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period”, notwithstanding stark photographic evidence to the contrary. No one protested that lie, reporters and the media in the White House press room just snickered.

On that day, the President’s first full day in office, some 500,000 to 1,000,000 people, many of them women bedecked in “pussy hats”, pink hats complete with cat ears, marched in protest in Washington while another four million protested elsewhere in the United States. A proper and lawful protest indeed, but two years later of little impact.

Thereafter Trump lied day in and day out, including in the dead of night. The Washington Post keeps a Fact Checker’s database which “analyzes, categorizes and tracks every suspect statement uttered by the president”. As of October 30, it documents 6,240 Trump lies and misleading claims, a world record I believe.   

In January President Trump will give his second State of the Union address and “give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” If such “information” contains blatant lies, what would be a measured and proper protest?

In 2009, during a joint session of Congress President Obama informed Congress of the proposed health care legislation that would be the Affordable Care Act. In mid speech Representative Joe Wilson, a South Carolina Republican shouted “you lie” twice at the President. His “you lie” protests were met with a scattering of boos and a reprimand by the House of Representatives. It seems that his outburst was an acceptable protest – to this day Joe still represents South Carolina in the House. 

When discussing a proper protest during a Presidential State of the Union address, one potentially laced with lies and prevarications, you must differentiate between the Office and the man occupying that office. The Office must be given deference and respect, the man not much so.

When President Trump takes the podium and speaks this January, the presence of our elected Representatives and Senators, Cabinet Members, Supreme Court Justices and senior government officials is a mark of respect for the office he presently occupies.

If President Trump tells a lie or misstates the truth during the State of the Union, as he has done time and again, the proper response for the Representative, Senator or official is not to yell, scream or make a scene, or sit mute like a bump on a log but to stand up and make for the aisle and walk in mute but respectful protest walk quietly, somberly out of the Senate Chamber. If he or she has a husband, wife or significant other in the gallery they too, should they be so inclined, should get up and walk.

Sitting silently while the President lies makes them, by their silence and continued attendance complicit in his desecration of the office and a rebuke for the stated principles guiding our democracy. By walking out they would be dissing the man not the office of the President of the United States.

 

Monday
Dec032018

THE KING, JAMES BOND AND I

HRM KING PETER II OF YUGOSLAVIA & THE BRASHICH AND FINLEY LAW FIRM 1967

PUBLISHED BRITIĆ [UNITED KINGDOM] AND PEĆAT [SERBIA] DECEMBER 3, 2018 

This is “intern month”, a time to review the play between power and youth. Articles and documentaries revisit Monica Lewinsky’s encounters with Bill Clinton, the stained dress, the perjury, the false statements, impeachment and trial for “high crimes and misdemeanors”, a prelude for what awaits Donald Trump once the Democrats control the House and Robert Mueller drops the other shoe. 

I have an intern tale devoid of sex and scandal of my own, just an innocent coming of age yarn. Back then you had benchmarks - the first furtively smoked cigarette, the first underage beer, the first game of spin the bottle, a learner’s permit, your draft card and first legal beer at 18 - none as important than your first work permit.

A work permit – government authorization for a full-time summer job, or a part time job for the rest of the year – assured you an income, independent of the largesse of parents. You had to be 14, and after a medical exam, be of sound mind and body. The permit was goodbye to the demeaning dogsbody of newspaper deliveries, lawn cuttings and babysitting.  

Back then you didn’t have today’s “internships”, the non-paying slavery of gofers exploited with by snake oil salesmen’s promising future opportunities and riches. The work was hard but respected; appreciated and paid for in cash, not promises.

So, for years I worked at dirty, unpleasant well-paying jobs. That changed when my father volunteered me for one of those “intern” jobs that are part of this generation’s rite of passage – all prestige and glory without any compensation whatsoever. The “job” that I did not want was the unpaid “gofer” to HRM King Peter II of Yugoslavia,

So, I found myself in a suite in the Conrad Hilton Hotel on South Michigan Avenue in Chicago answering the phone, taking messages and doing errands for one bitterly cold week in December, 1965.

King Peter, living in exile at the Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo, was on his yearly trip to the United States visiting his no-longer-subjects, rallying the troops, raising money for the privy purse and keeping the flame of the Karađorđević Monarchy alive, or at the least flickering. This was a chore that he found demeaning, loathsome. HM’s ire was kept in check by his aide General T. K. Militchevitch, a role now filled by General John Kelley for President Trump.

The highlight of the Chicago portion of the trip was a black-tie dinner reception where pundits would speak, gentlemen would display their ribbons and medals, ladies would curtesy and show off their gowns and all would gorge on hotel banquet roast beef in Hilton’s Continental Ballroom.

Not being part of the powers that kept HM in check - dancing to a tune not of his liking - I became an unwitting ally. Like schoolboys we would sneak out for a drive but always accompanied by HM’s security detail, a Chicago Police Department Detective. A blue and white squad car was our vehicle of choice. The detective and the King were old pals – he was a Serb and had served on this detail for years – knew all of HM foibles and peccadillos. Sneaking out sometimes meant tasting the forbidden - in the case of HM, dropping by a local saloon for an early afternoon drink or three, an indulgence strictly forbidden by the General.

During these forbidden excursions, HM and I debated the assets of the ladies that had appeared in the first three James Bond films - Dr. No [Ursula Andress in a white bikini], From Russia with Love [Daniela Bianchi with her Lektor decoder] and Goldfinger [Honor Blackman just being Pussy Galore]. Notwithstanding our differences, we were unified in our unqualified agreement that the movies were the cat’s meow. During one such outing I casually mentioned that the latest Bond thriller Thunderball was playing at one of the movie palaces downtown and was closing the night black-tie affair.  

That lit HM’s fuse - every subterfuge to get us to see the movie before it closed failed. Every foray out of the hotel was chaperoned and our every minute accounted for - right up to the opening welcome at the black-tie affair.

The evening was dull and tedious and seemed to stretch interminably. That is until His Majesty walked to the podium and made an announcement: “I am sorry to interrupt this reception but I have a major issue to attend to. Please continue enjoying your evening and thank you for attending”. With that said, HM motioned to me to follow and we marched out of the Continental Ballroom. Timing was crucial - we had 10 minutes to catch the movie. With the siren on and lights flashing we made it to the Loop sliding to an icy stop before the theatre.

Enjoying Thunderball made “the winter of my discontent glorious summer” by this son of Karageorge, who was my very first client when I started practicing law.