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
Friday
Apr192019

ROY COHN DIDN’T TAKE NOTES

Roy Cohn with client Donald Trump in 1984. Photo courtesy Bettmann/Getty Images

The much-anticipated Special Counsel Mueller’s report of his two-year investigation hit the newsstands this week. Politicians, historians, reporters and just plain folks spent hours agonizing of what was there and what was not. There was “there” that was just plain wrong and there was “there” not put in proper context. The little noticed or commented upon Roy Cohn vignette was, however, spot on.

The report speaks of a testy exchange between President Trump and Don McGahn, his White House Counsel. Trump “asked McGahn about notes he had taken of their meetings”. 

"Lawyers don't take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes," Trump said, according to the report. McGahn told him he took notes because he's a ‘real lawyer’ and it is important to create a written record”. 

"I've had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn. He did not take notes," Trump said, referring to the controversial attorney who worked for Senator Joseph McCarthy and who ended his career in disgrace, disbarred.”

For once Trump was right. Roy Cohn never took notes. He was a malevolent genius. He had a full state and federal law library imbedded in his brain. He never forgot a fact or a figure, that is until his final days when he was dying of aids and overcome by cocaine.

How do I know? Because I was there, Charlie - I was on the receiving end of that malevolent mind in three cases, the last one a dispute over the purchase price of Constantin Brancusi’s The Muse, losing all three – one on the merits, and two because the fix was in.

Years later I was waiting for the elevator in the grand marble lobby of the Foley Square Courthouse on Centre Street on my way to argue a case before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals when Roy Cohn breezed in with his entourage of legal acolytes. This was the courthouse where he made his bones – the conviction and subsequent execution of Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

He ignored me and we all boarded the elevator to the courtroom on the 18th floor. The elevator was still manned by a live operator and as we slowly ascended Roy turned to an assistant and asked for the briefs and the nature of the case on appeal.

After a brief exchange he started speed reading the briefs, apparently for the first time. He kept reading as he walked into the antechamber, the waiting room. Within minutes we were called into that grand wood paneled courtroom where so much law and history had been made.

Even though this was not my first time before the Second Circuit I was nervous, my mouth was dry. Not Roy, he kept reading the briefs and then finished with a long yawn.

Roy’s case was the first to be called. He strode to the dais and without a break argued his case, complete with cases references and citations – a veritable tour de force. He brooked no shit from one of the judges who made a faulty reference to a statute. He quoted verbatim the correct language daring the judge to chastise him at his peril. I sat there with mouth agape at the sheer virtuosity of this bravura performance picked on the fly in a manner of minutes.

Donald Trump was right – Roy Cohn did not take notes; he didn’t have to.

 

 

Thursday
Feb212019

EGYPT - I TOLD YOU SO, BUT YOU WOULDN’T LISTEN

 

I was bushwhacked by family last week. They asked that I write a piece on the Egypt/Yemen/Somalia/Saudi Arabia's intertwined wars and genocides that has the Middle East and millions at death’s door. When I said no - saying “been there, done that” - they demanded I do it anyway for they forgot.             

I just read that Egypt’s Parliament will “allow President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi to extend his rule until 2034”, that’s another 16 years. Now el-Sisi is a “great guy”, or so says Donald Trump, but are Egyptians willing to have a dictator rule their lives for decades, for life? “You betcha”, seems to be the answer.

Egypt is perhaps the world’s oldest civilization and the oldest country still in existence. It well deserves nomination for “cradle of civilization”. Egyptians were once number one on the international innovation index. Yet over time the Egyptians’ intellect atrophied and spiraled into collective stupidity, helped along by foreign intervention, first by the Romans, then the Arabs, then the British, French, Russians and Americans. They invented the maxim that those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it. So, for my Egyptian friends, and my family, I republish an article from The Litchfield County Times of July 11, 2013, all the while grumbling “I told you so”.  

THREE FAILED REVOLUTIONS HAVE DUPED EGYPTIANS 

I am hyper-sensitive when it comes to name calling and ethnic slurs, just look at my name. I bristle when people are derided as dumb Polacks, greedy Jews, smelly Pakis, stupid beaners, camel jockeys, frogs and gooks. There are many more but there is no reason to list them all.

When it comes to ethnic slurs, the one that I do not condemn is the universal slight of “stupid”. As Joe Biden sagely noted “Americans have the right to be stupid”. But any number of countries and people deserve that distinction. Today its Egypt turn after three, and counting, failed revolutions.

Egyptians have just earned the Olympic Gold Medal for Stupidity, all 84 million of them. They deserve whatever the future holds for them, for they have surely screwed themselves royally even though most of them do not remember or were alive when King Farouk was sacked in 1952. They have exhibited ignorance and stupidity. I don’t care what their IQ and SAT scores are, or those other indices of intelligence we use to judge others. They are just plain dumb.

Three years ago, Egyptians were jubilantly dancing in the streets in Tahrir Square having forced the doddering 82-year-old tyrant Hosni Mubarak from office, leaving in place all those who enabled him to hold power for so long, including the military. What a hollow victory, what a wasted effort, what a failed revolution.

Power was wrested from the hands of an American backed and financed dictator of 30 years but left it in the hands of Egypt’s military and his collaborators and enablers. After enduring years of repression, torture and corruption, first under Anwar Sadat and then Mubarak, Egyptians took to the streets for three weeks of protest and a relatively peaceful revolution, even though a number of “martyr” deaths and casualties have been reported. What did this ruckus, this wasted effort, these sacrifices achieve? Nothing, nada.

The reins of power were seized by the “Vice President” Omar Suleiman. That office did not exist for 30 years and was specially created for a man who was the Chief of Mubarak’s General Intelligence Directorate, “intelligence” as in secret jails, murder and torture. Change what change?

When that didn’t work, the “Supreme Council of the Armed Forces” lead by Mubarak’s Defense Minister Mohamed Tantawi took over and ruled by brute force of arms. Within days the military dissolved Parliament and suspended the Constitution. Democracy what democracy? No, just another autocratic repressive regime put in place.

A constitutional referendum in March, 2011, parliamentary elections in November and the election of President Mohamed Morsi in June, 2012 were the run ups to the second revolution. The resulting cabinet was controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood, once an outlawed die hard fundamentalist religious party legitimized by the first revolution. Liberal and secular legislators walked out and boycotted the Constituent Assembly fearing, rightfully so, that Morsi and the Brotherhood would impose Islamic law and curtail human rights. Morsi protecting the rule of Islam and the Salafists issued fiats and decrees immunizing these radical changes from challenge.

The second revolution was in full bloom by December, 2012 with thousands clashing in the streets, some supporting Morsi and others violently demanding change.

The second revolution continued off and on for months. Depending on the news cycle and what else was happening in the world, say protests in Turkey and Brazil. We were sporadically made aware that it was ongoing but little more.

This second revolution failed to resolve the conflict. The economy, 40% controlled and owned by the military, was in shambles and bankrupt. A $4.8 billion International Monetary Fund bailout to prop up a country beset by fuel and food shortages was at stake. Tourism, the mainstay of the economy, had died. The Egyptian military was not about to see its financial assets wiped out, rendered worthless.

With the second revolution still roiling the streets, the Egyptian military using the pretext of civil unrest and sectarian violence executed a lightning coup d’état on July 3, 2013 removing and jailing Morsi, issuing warrants for the arrest of hundreds of Brotherhood leaders, shutting down Brotherhood television stations, all the while promising the world a swift return to democratic rule.

The Generals will not forget that it was an assassination attempt by the Brotherhood that led to Abdel Nasser’s Presidency and their prosperity. Nor will they forget that Anwar Sadat, another General who became President, was assassinated by religious extremists.

Today the Generals are set to have Samir Radwan, Mubarak’s former Finance Minister, sworn in as interim President. The military will continue to rule, with figurehead civilian puppets nominally in charge, propped up with $1.9 billion in US support yearly.  

The French will tell you “Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose”, or in this case the Egyptians. Just when I thought they couldn’t be any dumber, they go and do something like this. “My Egyptians are kinda stupid…The country is that way” to paraphrase Dum and Dumber, the movie, remember? Throwing out one dictatorship in exchange for another without change in sight, what a bunch of dupes.

 

 

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.