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
Tuesday
Jul212015

GREECE – THE RIGHT OR WRONG WAY

The European Union has just kicked the Greek crisis down the road with an €86 billion [$96 billion - ₤62 billion] euro bailout supported by draconian austerity measures. The plan is to stabilize the Greek economy in 3 years’ time and ensure repayment in full of the national debt. The EU is just whistlin’ Dixie. It just ain’t going to happen.

Christine Lagarde is right in predicting failure and calling for debt forgiveness. Angela Merkel is wrong in demanding repayment in full and denying reality.

I am not Paul Krugman, the Nobel Prize winner, New York Times columnist and Princeton University economics professor. Nor am I Christine Lagarde, the head of the International Monetary Fund, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor or Wolfgang Schäuble her Finance Minister - all of them with advanced university degrees, all players in today’s Greek tragedy. The best I can offer is a year of university economics and a nodding acquaintance with division and multiplication.

But by applying basic arithmetic I come to the conclusion that Greece is the land of the Walking Dead, death defying financial zombies and here is why: 

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Sunday
Jul122015

THIS THING ABOUT GREECE • I TOLD YOU SO

THESE "PIGS" WILL NEVER FLY - PUBISHED MAY 13, 2010 - LEAD OP ED ARTICLE - LITCHFIELD COUNTY TIMES  

You have to tip your hat to the wily French, the cunning Germans and the perfidious Brits, the economic giants of the European Union. These guys have just engineered a financial rescue plan for Greece, the current holder of the “Sick Man of Europe” title, to the tune of $146 Billion Dollars or €110 Billion Euros - or so they would have you believe. 

What these slick guys have accomplished is a massive bailout of their own financial institutions at the expense of the smallest and poorest member of the original cartel, the European Community. They are going to repeat the scam in the coming months, with Portugal and Ireland, the guys in the on-deck circle.

These five poor little “Pigs” (Portugal, Ireland, Greece and Spain) thought they could fly - soar with the eagles - but pigs can’t fly. Soar they did, for a little while, their economies fueled by the sun. Their sunny climates, except for Ireland, drove people mad, like “mad dogs and Englishmen going out in the midday sun” mad. People went just plain loco, fueling a building boom that had never been witnessed before. Money was poured into real estate investments, taking advantage of the climate without regard to supply or demand. Arid fields became gated retirement communities. Parched meadows were transformed into golf courses—until the aquifers ran dry. Money and credit were readily available. Illusory paper fortunes were made overnight, generating more cash to fuel more speculative investments.

As for the Irish, the Celtic Tigers, whiskey gave them that warm and mellow feeling; that sun in their gut clouded their reason. Initially primed by an influx of new economic investments, supported by government subsidies, they built with abandon and they bought with abandon. Rainy, cloudy skies looked sunny with the economic boom.

Governments encouraged the bubbles, very much the way that our government allowed us to get sucked into the sub-prime mortgage mess. Governments borrowed money to finance folly. Greece spent a reported $22 billion for the 2004 Olympic Games. That’s in addition to $28.9 billion paid for the necessary infrastructure to support the Olympics. All told Greece has a total foreign debt of €300 billion Euros or $441 billion Dollars today.

The Pigs have crashed, they couldn’t fly. They now have to pay—pay by being rescued by the European Union, all 27 members, including impoverished Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and the Slovak Republic. The international community will chip in through the International Money Fund. This isn’t a “rescue,” it’s just another loan that will have to be repaid with added interest. Some of the money is being put up by the home countries of the financial institutions guilty of irresponsible lending but a lot by countries with no dogs in that fight.

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Tuesday
Jul072015

DOING THE CRIME - PAYING THE FINE – NOT DOING THE TIME

Congratulations, you have just contributed to BP’s, that’s British Petroleum’s payment of historic $18.76 billion dollar criminal violation fines for the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Deepwater Horizon environmental disaster. Not only does the United States and the States of Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas and Alabama thank you, BP’s management and shareholders thank you as well for you generous if unwitting/unwilling financial support.

“No, I have not contributed to the BP settlement” you say. Yes, you have, says I. Do you really believe that BP’s shareholders, officers and directors are going to write a check and pay for their “grossly negligent” management of the oil wells? Of course not, let me explain how this works.

This past July 4th weekend, the nation’s busiest and most travelled, some of you pulled up and filled up at one of the several thousand of green, white and yellow sunburst branded BP gas stations in United States. When you paid for that gas and when you buy it for the next 18 years – a small portion of the price will be for the payment of “natural resource damage assessment” costs and fines for criminal Clean Water Act violations.

The settlement will be paid from current revenues and adding insult to injury, the settlement will be a tax deductible expense. For American tax payers it is a lose, lose and lose proposition. Lose on a befouled environment, lose on contributing to paying the fine and lose on lost tax revenue.

British consumers do not despair, you too will contribute. BP is a fully integrated world-wide company. When you buy BP petrol and products in the UK you will participate in the payment of the Deepwater Horizon crime fines. The same is true for most EU countries where BP also operates.

Criminal acts led to a disaster that left 11 dead and 3.1 million gallons of crude spilled into our environment. The co-conspirators, Halliburton and Transocean have paid additional billions to settle criminal cases. Yet some 5 years later no one has done hard time for the crime.

A Halliburton manager pleaded guilty to destroying evidence and was sentenced to probation. A BP vice president charged with lying to Congress is still awaiting trial. A BP engineer found guilty of obstruction of justice has granted a new trial on a technicality. Two on site hardhats had 11 counts of manslaughter dismissed by an appeals court and will go to trial on lesser charges in February 2016.

On the other hand if you are a black 18 year old and after shoving a clerk steals a couple of packs of cigarillos from a convenience store in Fergusson, Missouri you are hunted down by the police and summarily shot dead with no charges filed. In New York a 16 year old black kid accused of stealing a back pack spends 3 years in a Rikers Island jail without so much as a trial. Once free with all charges dismissed the young man commits suicide. Yet no one is charged with a crime in this miscarriage of justice that resulted in his death - go figure.

In May five of the world’s largest banks [Barclays, Royal Bank of Scotland, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and UBS] settled criminal charges that they had engaged in “brazenly illegal behavior … on a near-daily basis” in fixing spot foreign exchange markets. The fines paid totaled more than $5 billion dollars. Half a dozen employees were fired but no one was prosecuted - a slap on the wrist, business as usual.

Last week the Whole Foods Markets chain was accused by New York City’s Department of Consumer Affairs of “systematic overcharging”, that’s stealing money from you and me. Coconut shrimp were short by $14.84; chicken tenders were overpriced by $4.13 and vegetables shortchanged by $2.50 to $6.15. This “mislabeling”, I call it theft, was the worst NYC inspectors had seen in their combined careers. Just last year Whole Foods had agreed to pay $800,000 to “settle allegations it overcharged customers” in 74 California locations - a lesson not learned.

Paying criminal fines did not deter Whole Foods from again breaking the law. It does not deter other polluters and law breakers. Time and again banks and financial institutions have agreed to deferred prosecutions, admitted to crimes, paid fines only to repeat the process with a new set of accusations - turnstile justice for corporate America.

The Supreme Court has decided that corporations are people too. You can’t send a corporation to jail but you can jail corporate officers and employees. A month or two in Rikers Island, a couple of years in a federal lockup – doing hard time not just paying a fine - would quickly change the way business is done.   

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Friday
Jun262015

WHY DOES THE CONFEDERATE FLAG STILL FLY

Versions of this article were published as the Guest Column: “Why Does the Confederate Flag Still Fly” in The Register Citizen and The Middletown Press - June 30, 2015

Have you ever wondered why the Confederate flag still flies over state capitols, cities and cemeteries in the South? The Stars and Bars was the war flag of the Confederacy during the Civil War, a misnomer if there ever was one. “War” is a state of armed conflict between nations. “Civil” is a state of affairs defined by courtesy and politeness. Put them together and you get “civil war” the antonym to the bloodbath that was the United States between 1861 and 1865.

Civil wars usually end with summary executions of the leaders of the rebellion followed with reprisals aimed at the rank of file. The reprisals - massacres and brutal suppression with economic sanctions ranging from confiscation to expulsion – are administered with unchecked fury. Justice in the eyes of the victors is absolute and without mercy.

Secession and armed insurrection started the Civil War. Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis and the South were all guilty of treason - “levying war” against the United States as defined by and in the Constitution. Yet after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and Lincoln’s assassination his successor Andrew Johnson, a southerner by birth, issued a number of Presidential Proclamations granting first amnesty then full universal pardons to the rebels. As a result not one man guilty of treason was ever arrested much less prosecuted.

Pragmatism and self-interest had intervened – justice was denied. There were too many guilty men to be dealt with, to be brought to justice and punished for acts of treason that had cost one million lives and millions of dollars. The South had been given a free get out of jail card; amnesty and pardons had washed away the sins of the South and its rebels.

By avoiding retribution the South side stepped the need to face the grim reality of defeat. It could honor its military heroes, the Jeb Stuarts and Jubal Earlys and erect statues in their name in town squares. It could celebrate the victories of the Battles of Bull Run and Carthage and mark Confederate Memorial Day in ten states. The men who had participated in rebellion had been granted full Presidential pardons and were now cast as defenders of home and hearth. The South came to believe that it had not lost the war and continued to fly that rebel flag with pride and impunity.

Amnesty, the base pragmatic solution that prevented further bloodshed, had trumped justice and the rule of law. The display of the Confederate flag, the symbol of the rebellion, could not be prohibited once the acts of treason forgiven and crimes rendered null and void.

If at the end of the Second World War Germany’s political and military leaders [Hitler, Ribbentrop and Himmler], the Waffen SS and concentration camp prison guards had been granted amnesty and full pardons the use of the National Flag of Germany [1935-1945], the blood red one with a black swastika in a white circle, would not be prohibited as it is in many countries and could well be displayed in some German cities and towns. It is not because our moral compass worked in 1945 while it did not in 1865.

Before you bristle at my mention of Nazi concentration camps let me remind you of Andersonville, the Georgia prisoner of war camp where 13,000 men died of starvation and exposure and the Elmira, New York hell hole where many more perished. Trials for treason, war crimes and crimes against humanity – Sherman’s “Marching through Georgia” for one – would have done our country some good.

The time to lower the Confederate flag is long past. It has acquired secondary meanings - it was adopted by the Klu Klux Klan in the 1910’s and by stupid ignorant assholes today. So let people display the Confederate flag if they will, as some misguided fools do the Nazi one, but not on public property, not as government speech or by public officials, not on our watch.

 

 

Tuesday
Jun162015

TODAY’S GUNS OF AUGUST

Versions of this article were published as "Today’s Guns of August" by Britić on June 16, 2015 and Pećat on June 17, 2015


The Guns of August
is a book about the blunders, miscalculations and general fuck-ups starting with an assassination in Sarajevo that led the death of 10 million soldiers and 5 million civilians in the First World War. Thirteen Days is Bobby Kennedy’s account of the Cuban Crisis and the narrow escape from nuclear holocaust in 1962 when Nikita Khrushchev tried to move missiles into Cuba. These books should be must reads for Barack Obama while he vacations on Martha’s Vineyard in August.

In July Obama will sign an agreement with Fidel Castro’s Brother Raul restoring full diplomatic relations with Cuba some 50 years after the crisis. He should remember how close we came to the brink of disaster when we intercepted and blockaded missile carrying Russian freighters bound for Cuba in international waters. He might want to reconsider his announced plan to deploy “battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons … in several Baltic and Eastern European countries”.

In response to Jack Kennedy’s failed Bay of Pigs Invasion Khrushchev’s decision to deploy medium-range and intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missiles in response was tantamount to a declaration of war. The United States could not allow offensive strike capabilities to exist some 90 miles south of Miami and within striking distance of every major American city including Los Angeles and Seattle. What makes Obama think that this proposed deployment of forces only 500 miles from Moscow [Riga, Latvia to Moscow, Russia] will go unchallenged and unanswered?

Kennedy’s embrace of the Monroe Doctrine - “Don’t Tread on Me” or the Western Hemisphere – was as rational and prescient in 1962 as it was when first made by the President in his State of the Union Address in 1823: any interference with countries in North or South America “would be viewed as acts of aggression, requiring United States intervention”. What makes Obama think that Putin and Russia do not ascribe to their own “Don’t Tread on Me” policy?

Like it or not the agreements made at Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam divided Europe into two spheres of influence – Western Europe dominated by NATO and the United States and Eastern Europe dominated by Russia and it puppet states. That has changed with the demise of the Cold War. Russia has been downsized with the defection of former client states and the independence of post-Soviet states - Ukraine, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and 10 others.

On the other hand NATO has dangerously expanded beyond its original mission and Charter. Between 1999 and 2004 it has co-opted 8 former Warsaw Pact countries, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Slovakia, all on Russia’s very borders. It is no wonder that Russia feels threatened.

An enemy on your border is not to be tolerated which explains our Cuban policy of embargo and containment for 50 years. Socially media reflected this mind set. Red Dawn, possibly the worst movie ever made, played on our fears - Russia using Cuban and Nicaraguan forces invades the United States in that make believe scenario and an intrepid band of teenagers led by Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey wage a guerilla war for freedom, justice and the American way.

A mirror image of this scenario is playing today on Russian TV with the American aggressors supported by NATO forces trying to gain control of Ukraine and the Crimea. On domestic TV the Cold War series Deutschland 83 premieres on Wednesday with an East German spy telling an American general “On your maps, Russia may be very far away but it’s as close to Bonn as say, Ohio is to D.C. The fallout alone would destroy us”. The reverse sends shivers up Putin’s spine.

Obama’s plate is full with Iraq and Afghanistan disintegrating, Syria and Libya imploding, Isis and the Taliban ascending. Why add another distraction by positioning battle tanks, heavy weapons and advance equipment and 5,000 battle ready troops within striking distance of the Kremlin? This is an unnecessary provocation. It violates a “crucial provision of a 1997 agreement between Russia and NATO in which the alliance [NATO] pledged not to station substantial combat forces near Russia”.

To claim that the Pentagon “is merely deploying the equipment, not the troops themselves” notwithstanding the 5,000 soldiers “guarding” and “maintaining” the equipment or that “positioning the equipment forward saves the United States Army time, money and resources” are silly word games to be derided with appropriate hoots and hollers.

Putin and Obama should re-read The Guns of August and Thirteen Days and cancel any deployment of forces. There is no good reason to tempt fate just to save face.