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
Jul142019

CROSSING THE BORDER – THEN & NOW

 Photo courtesy New York Times – Credit Julia Le Duc/Associated Press

Reading and watching the news I am outraged by the treatment of babies and children in detention facilities on our southern border. The image of a three-year-old curly headed girl with a tear stained face behind a chain link fence pops up on my television screen, alone and apparently without parent or guardian – a dangerous alien lawfully detained, no longer a threat to law and order.

This photograph, along with images of children huddled in aluminum wraps on cold, hard cement floors, came hard on the heels of an appeal by an animal rights organization seeking money to “help heal the deep physical and emotional scars that have been inflicted on them [the pets]”. “Right now, somewhere in America, there is an animal being beaten and another locked in a cage … these scared innocent animals do not realize there is hope for a better life…” Instead of kids the ad features pitiful photos of puppies and kittens behind bars and chain link fences.

The worst of the lot was the front-page New York Times photo of a drowned, dead “father and daughter … face down in the muddy water along the banks of the Rio Grande, her tiny head tucked inside his T-shirt, an arm draped over his neck …”, deaths which could have been avoided.

I am no stranger to illegal border crossings. In 1946, with our lives at stake, my mother, grandmother, brother and I fled ex-Yugoslavia seeking refuge in occupied Austria. The escape was the full nine yards, complete with a “coyote”, actually a moonlighting rural postman, who smuggled people out and smuggled contraband cigarettes back in across a border protected by mine fields and soldiers with orders to shoot at sight.

At dawn, after walking all night, our coyote pointed us to a distant military border check point flying the Union Jack. After checking in, Mom went to give our personal data to the British military, while my brother and I were treated to breakfast complete with tea, crumpets and jam – a war time treat. Then, as now, my brother and I were taken to a jail cell but the door remained open and the young soldiers made sure that than we had blankets keeping us warm while we took a nap.

The enlisted men who kept watch over us had just gone through death and war but remembered younger brothers and sisters back home. They treated us with human compassion, not like what happens today.

My other illegal border crossing was in 1954 during a visit to Niagara Falls. Now a displaced person, I was legally in the United States evidenced by a “green card” which I had promptly lost and hadn’t bothered to replace. By then I was as American as apple pie, decked out in Wrangler jeans, Keds high top sneakers and a T shirt.

With my parents strolling along the shore admiring the Japanese maple trees I followed a gaggle of tourists and a tour guard listening to his spiel about the river and the falls. They walked onto a bridge for a better look-see and I followed along. Walking back to shore we came to a subway like turnstile. As I was about to go through a fat, cigar smoking border agent asked “Hey kid, where are you going?” He shrugged when I told him I was going back to shore and asked “What’s your name kid?”

My name and my answer to “Where were you born kid?” set off alarm bells and laid bare the loss of my green card. What followed was an extensive interrogation of where I lived and went to school. The penultimate question “What’s your Principal’s name, kid?” and answer “Mrs. Tobin” proved to be good enough to let me back in to the good old USA, with a “What a dumb kid!” welcome.

What has led border patrol officers and detention guards to ignore the suffering and agony of the kids in their charge? Many have children of their own or have extended families with nieces, nephews, grandchildren of all ages – yet none have come forward to condemn and charge others and their supervisors of crimes and misdemeanors. Why?

The answer is to be found in the disproportionate distribution of wealth. On December 22, 2018, just before the Holidays, the United States government shut down and remained shut for 35 days. While the government “shut down” it continued to operate with the mail delivered, air traffic controllers manning radar screens and Social Security payments made. Government employees reported for work and performed their jobs. They just didn’t get paid.

With 78% of the United States work force living paycheck to paycheck there were no strikes or job actions. Workers swallowed their pride, kept their heads down, took their lumps and covered the most pressing of expenses with high interest credit cards, defaults and the $400 rainy day fund the average worker has squirrelled away and reported for work. Any other alternative would put them and their dependents at risk.

The choice was clear: do you ignore the plight of the kids in you care or are your kids and their survival of paramount importance? Clearly survival trumps the right thing to do. 

Monday
Apr292019

CALL HIS BLUFF

Photo courtesy of the National Archives - Soldiers from the 101st Airborne Division escort students into Central High in Little Rock, Ark. 1957. 

This is for those of you who still believe that public protest will carry the day, for the multitudes that have marched against “Brexit”, for the “yellow vests” that have taken to the streets of Paris, for  the “enough is enough” crowd demonstrating in Belgrade, for the “pink pussy” hats of Washington, DC, for the “women’s day” crowd in Istanbul, for all of those who still believe and dream, this one’s for you.   

The normal operation of the legislative arm of government has ground to a shuddering halt because President Trump has ordered his Cabinet, in fact all of the executive branch to ignore congressional requests for testimony, for information and to defy any subpoenas for past and present members of the Administration.

Constitutional scholars and legal experts are engaging in nitpicking exercises of augury, interpreting statutory law and precedent to reach a desired course of action - achieving a political result to their liking. Personal prejudice and political gain should be set aside. The time has come to “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead”. Call his bluff, says I - let me give you a primer.   

Do you remember the black girl who wanted to go to Central High School, not the “separate but equal” one across town - the one for all the other pickaninnies - in Little Rock, Arkansas? That was in 1957 when Governor Orval Faubus predicted that “blood would run in the streets of Little Rock” if African-Americans teenagers attended the city’s racially pure all-white high school.

In 1954 the Supreme Court struck down “separate but equal” in Brown v Board of Education. Three years later black teenagers registered to go to the all-white Central High. In response Governor Faubus called out the Arkansas National Guard. This military deployment was to prevent “the bloodshed” and preserve the peace. In reality the deployment was to “prevent black students from entering [Central High] due to claims that there was ‘imminent danger of tumult, riot and breach of peace’”.

Not to be cowed, President Eisenhower called Governor Faubus’ bluff. The President signed Executive Order 10730 putting the National Guard under federal jurisdiction. National guardsmen, with drawn weapons and live ammunition, were ordered to support integration and protect the newly registered students. The good old boys backed down, integration and some semblance of the promise of equality was somewhat triumphant.

What does that have to do today’s political impasse, you ask. At issue is the measured exercise of constitutional power, an exercise that is devoid of politics and deal making, that unfolds in full view of the public and is carried live and unfiltered on national television.

Let me walk you through my recommended course of action: Title 28 United States Code 6103 requires that “upon written request from the Chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any [Federal Income Tax] return … specified in such request…”

On April 3, 2019 Richard Neal, the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee sent a demand to the Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Charles Rettig for six years’ worth of Donald Trump’s tax returns. The same demand was made of his boss Steven Mnuchin, the Secretary of Treasury. All he got was an “I’m thinking about it” response from Mnuchin.

Chairman Neal should convene the Committee and hold an up or down vote on the issuance of subpoenas to Mnuchin and Rettig with compliance demanded within 48 hours. Should the tax returns be not promptly and timely delivered he should convene the Committee and hold a second up or down vote to hold the two men in contempt of Congress.

If the politically correct course of conduct of “cover my ass” and obfuscation is followed the next step would be a referral of the contempt for enforcement by the Department of Justice and the Attorney General - that would be tantamount to surrender of power and subservience to a co-equal branch of government.

I remind Nancy Pelosi and Chairman Neal that the United States Capital Police was established in 1828 to protect Congress and its institutions and carry out its lawful mandates. Revamped in 1867, the Capital Police, now more than 1,800 strong, is the only federal law enforcement force under the direct control of Congress and responsible to the Sergeants at Arms of the House of Representatives and the Senate. The Capital Police has the “authority to make arrests and otherwise enforce the laws of the United States” for crimes committed in the designated area known as the Capital Grounds which includes the both Houses of Congress. [2 USC 1967]

Need I remind Nancy Pelosi, Adam Schiff, Jerry Nadler, Elijah Cummings, Maxine Waters and others that the act of contempt occurs on Capital grounds when a person refuses to honor a lawful Congressional mandate. The Committee issuing the subpoena or other lawful order issues a contempt citation and the person cited, in this case Mnuchin or Rettig is arrested by the Sergeant-at-Arms and “brought to the floor of the Camber, held to answer charges by the presiding officer, and then subjected to punishment as the chamber may dictate [usually imprisonment for punishment reasons, imprisonment for coercive effect, or release … ]". In exercising this power, the Capital Police has been charged with enforcing the laws of the United States – it can arrest both Mnuchin and Rettig and hold them subject to Congress’ inherent contempt authority.

Before you yell “Whoa, Nellie!”, let me assure it has been done before. In 1934, a former Assistant Secretary of Commerce was held in contempt and found his sorry ass jailed for 10 days in punishment. The Supreme Court ruled Congress’ action just, proper and constitutional, see Jurney v MacCracken, 294 US 125 (1935).

So, Congress, stop being a wimp, bite the bullet, call his bluff and take him and his toadies down.

 

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.