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.

 

 

Media
Friday
Jul272018

SAUVE QUI PEUT – IT’S EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF

PUBLISHED PEĆAT [SERBIA], BRITIĆ [UNITED KINGDOM] AND EKURD DAILY [TURKEY IRAQ SYRIA]

It appears that the Trump Administration is approaching critical mass and may implode momentarily - tomorrow, next week or in a month’s time. The Trump Administration, a human endeavor, is made up of men and women whose mettle will be tested and who will be judged by their actions or inactions while in office and in a time of crisis. How will they fare in history books yet to be written?

The French are deemed weak and willing to surrender when challenged by adverse events - their precipitous surrender in July, 1940 and the Quisling Vichy Regime that followed have yet to be erased from France’s proud escutcheon. If members of Trump’s cabinet follow the French model you will see every man/woman for himself/herself scrambling to safety forgetting the brave “women and children first” dictum.

The Brits are perceived as a nation of fortitude, of stiff upper lips, of Churchill’s “we shall fight on the beaches” and “blood, toil, tears, and sweat” - never admitting defeat. This perception flies in the face of the fact that Brits will fight to the last Frenchman in defense of their island. Some Cabinet members are sure to adopt this position, let someone else take the heat first and let me just slide by.   

Or perhaps Trump’s toadies will adopt the German “I was just following orders” Nuremberg defense when justifying their time and actions in office. And lest we forget, there are dozens of tried and true defenses, alibis and justifications out there, just waiting to be chosen.

I am sure that Gina Haskel, the CIA Director, will invoke the Nazi defense – she used it justifying her complicity in torture while being confirmed to her current post. Jeff “Beauregard” Sessions, the Attorney General will choose the “Higher Power” defense - he has cautioned us to “obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order.”

General Kelley, the White House Chief of Staff will use the Kellyanne Conway parallel universe “alternative facts” defense where words that were never spoken by Congresswoman Frederica Wilson are used to support a vicious attack on her credibility. Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, will downplay his Putin awarded Russian Medal of Friendship while defending his gutting of the Department of State.

I will not venture excuse and defense choices for the likes of Scott ‘thirteen open ethics investigations” Pruitt, Ben “the Pyramids were built to store grain” Carson, Wilbur “NAFTA is an ancient treaty” Ross, Steve “I firmly believe the US has to honor its debt” Mnuchin and Betsy “guns in schools to protect against grizzly bears” DeVos. Their collective intelligence and mine will be sorely tested when they inevitably publish their tell-all memoirs.

A true reckoning of their tenure will be found in the inevitable New York Times obituaries upon their demise.

Friday
Jul202018

INVESTIGATE THIS, INVESTIGATE THAT 

“MOUSE” JIM MORIN COURTESY OF MIAMI HERALD“In Helsinki, [President Trump] agreed to ongoing working level dialogue between the two security council staffs. President Trump asked [Ambassador John Bolton] to invite President Putin to Washington …” tweeted Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary. “Say that again?” “Okay!” “That’s going to be special!” said Dan Coats, Director of National Intelligence, blindsided while live on national TV learning of the invite. Interesting, says I.

That exchange of unvarnished shock and incredulity when taken in context with the throw-them-under-the-bus Trump craven performance in Canada, Brussels, London and Helsinki leads me to the only conclusion that makes sense to me: treason and high crimes and misdemeanors. Let’s investigate that, says I.

“Congratulations America, [you] are now into the second year of [the] single greatest Witch Hunt [of a politician] in American history”, twitted President Donald J. Trump. “The Mueller investigation is ridiculous”, declared Representative Devin Nunes, R-California. “It’s about time to get the damn thing over with”, said Trump defense lawyer Rudolf Giuliani. “Really?”, says I.

On July 17, 2014, Eric Garner, a fat black guy was selling “loosies”, single tax-free cigarettes on a street corner in Staten Island, New York. In broad daylight, in full view of passersby’s, with an iPhone recording the event, five of New York City’s finest tried to arrest him and in doing so put him in a headlock for 15 to 19 seconds, choke holding him and causing his death. The United States Department of Justice and the FBI have been conducting an investigation for four years and, as of this writing, it is not as yet complete.

Some investigations take longer than others. Some because they are complex and far reaching, others because they are impeded at every turn.

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy, the President of the United States riding in a convertible with his wife and another couple in Dallas, Texas was shot and killed by a guy using a mail order, second hand rifle purchased for $12.78. The assassination was in broad daylight, in full view of many spectators lining the motorway and with a camera filming the event. The resulting multi-national investigation interviewed thousands of witnesses, performed hundred forensic tests is still on going with the conclusions still disputed by some.    

Investigations of political scandals with hints of treachery and soupçons of treason are nothing new, nor are they easily and swiftly disposed of. Take France’s Dreyfus Affair which began with a conviction in 1894 and ended with an exoneration and vindication some twelve years later in 1906.

Notorious world class trials that require little investigation such as the “Trials of Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal” held in the Palace of Justice, Nuremberg at the end of World War II still took three years to complete – 1946 to 1949. Had investigation been necessary decades would have to be added to the “final solution”.  

Domestically the Iran-contra investigation took 6 years and 8 months to complete. The Bush passport investigation took 3 years. The Clinton Whitewater inquiry dragged on for 6 years and 8 months. The Clinton/Benghazi investigation was conducted by 5 separate Congressional Committees for 10 years collectively while the Clinton/State Department/FBI probe over some 32,000 deleted emails lasted 3 years. Multi-year investigations are the norm.   

The Muller investigation covers a presidential campaign spanning 3 years. It expanded to include the first year of the Trump Administration. It deals with collusion, perjury and obstruction of justice, as well as campaign law and income tax violations. It involves domestic as well foreign actors. We have Americans, Russians, Brits, Turks, Ukrainians, Saudis and other assorted Arabs playing leading and supporting roles. Actions taken and words spoken on three continents and four islands.

In one year the Mueller investigation has resulted in thirty-five, that’s 35 indictments; six, that’s 6 guilty pleas and two, that’s 2 trials about to take place. It has spawned an investigation of the President’s personal attorney and fixer, as well as the indictment, arrest and jailing without bail, of a Russian agent. A solid showing if there be one.

So, Mr. Mueller keep on investigating this and investigating that, and don’t forget that some dare calls it treason.

Thursday
Jun282018

WASSUP WITH THIS COURT? – IT’S VULGAR POLITICS  

Tim Bower, Supreme Court’s Citizens v Federal Election Commission Ruling, Gouache on Illustration Board, 2010

PUBLISHED PEĆAT [SERBIA], BRITIĆ [UNITED KINGDOM] AND EKURD DAILY [TURKEY IRAQ SYRIA]  

Larry Flynt, the legal scholar and publisher of Hustler magazine is one of my heroes, a staunch defender of civil rights and of the 1st, 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.

As party plaintiff and defendant, Larry played a prominent role in litigation reaching the Supreme Court, setting precedent. His legal positions flirted with extremes but were fundamentally fair and just. Extra judicially he weighed in with blunt, sometimes obscene, criticism of public figures. His “Asshole of the Month” column was subject of litigation reaching the Wyoming Supreme Court and the one in Washington, DC as well as being the subject of several law journal articles, including one published in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Brigham Young University Law Review.

Starting with the Burger and Rehnquist courts, Larry Flynt has found the Justices sadly wanting. He has savaged sitting presidents, senators, congressmen, moguls, celebrities and men of the cloth, most notably Jerry Falwell with the bogus Campari “First Time” ad that made it all the way to the Supreme Court. But he has reserved his most scathing opprobrium for the Justices, recently for Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and his wife, Virginia. As of today Neil Gorsuch should be added to that Pantheon of worthies.

His most virulent and intemperate attack on the “Supremes,” which earned him a contempt citation and a threat of jail, was when he called them “nothing but eight assholes and a token cunt”. After reading today’s Trump Muslim Travel Ban decision I would change that to “nine assholes including three sitting cunts.”

The Supreme Court has abandoned its role in deciding what is right and what is wrong; what is permissible, what is not; what is constitutional, what is not. The individual Justices now decide on the basis of what is political correct, politically correct to the party that has shoehorned them onto the bench. I wonder if Larry Flynt has anything to say this time around, I know that I do.

Article III of the Constitution establishes judicial branch as a co-equal governing body, along with the Executive and Legislative branches. Section 1 vests that power in “one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish…” Section 2 provides “[t]he judicial power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority”. Federal courts are limited to hear and decide actual cases and controversies and to decide them on the merits and not on partisan political bias.

Historically the “5-4” decision is a recent phenomenon. The Supreme Court averaged less than two “5-4” decisions per term through 1940. “In the period between 1801 and 1940 less than 2 percent of all the Supreme Court decisions were decided by 5-4 vote”. With the advent of the New Deal and with control vested in two dominant political parties, with no viable alternative, the Rehnquist and Roberts Courts finds the “5-4” decisions multiplying and averaging 60 cases a year or more than 20% of the Court’s docket.

Polarization has now spread to the judiciary so that “in the 2014-2015 term virtually every 5-4 decision … was split perfectly along party lines”. The Justices no longer decide what is right, what is constitutionally permissible, what is within the Executive’s power or what law or legislation is constitutional. They now decide cases based on the political agenda of the party that had nominated and supported them to become one of the “Supremes”. 

The Justices are no longer an independent judiciary, a co-equal partner in governance. The Supreme Court, as now constituted and operated along party lines, “constantly alters its interpretation of the Constitution” making it just another bunch of political hacks doing the bidding of vested political interests, see the just announced abortion free speech and anti-union decisions.

President Obama was denied his nomination and appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court by Mitch McConnell’s political demagoguery. Trump was able to fill this stolen Supreme Court seat. Now with the retirement of Justice Kennedy, the make up of the Court is crucial.

Why, you ask, should you care? You live in London, perhaps Belgrade or Tehran, or maybe Istanbul. Well, if you are a Muslim your travel choices have just been severely limited. If you live in Somalia the President’s authority to kill you with drones and wage war will be defined by this Court. The Court will decide if you are subject to detention at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. And that’s just for starters.

I have a solution for this dilemma: each presidential candidate must nominate 3 candidates for the next vacant Supreme Court seat. The names are put in a hat and once a vacancy occurs that seat is filled by the luck of the draw, by lot. Truly “blind” American justice, better than what we have now. I’m sure Larry Flynt would approve.  

Monday
Jun182018

MANAFORT, THE KIDS AND JAILS

Birkenau Nazi Concentration Camp – Then Germany, now Poland

 “Other governments have separated mothers and children” - Gen. Michael Hayden

PUBLISHED PEĆAT [SERBIA] AND BRITIĆ [UNITED KINGDOM] ON JUNE 20, 2018. 

FEATURE ARTICLE EKURD DAILY [TURKEY IRAQ SYRIA] JUNE 21, 2018  

Paul Manafort’s violation of bail conditions while awaiting trial and his abrupt remand started me thinking about jails and such. The images of children being forcibly separated from their moms and being held in a former Walmart department store, now a detention center - I still calls it jail - kept me focused on detention and deprivation of liberty. After all, I have had more than a fleeting brush with jails over the years. 

My first encounter with jail was pleasant. In July, 1946 led by a Slovenian “coyote” we walked through the night to escape communist Yugoslavia. At daybreak we turned ourselves in at an Austrian border checkpoint manned by British occupation troops seeking political refugee status. While my mom and grandmother were being interrogated, my brother and I drank sugar sweet tea – a war time luxury – with soldiers on the front steps. The men realized that my brother and I were dead on our feet. They opened one of the jail cells and covered us up with blankets for a welcome nap. All in all, a nice introduction to jail, not like what is now happening in Texas and Arizona.

My second jail experience during Christmas week in 1961 was the result of a street brawl in the parking lot of a Friendly’s restaurant. Forget the details, of who did what to whom, bottom line was that I was thrown into the back seat of a squad car and taken to Hartford’s Old Main Street jail, to a cell reeking of urine and vomit. The cacophony of sounds – shouts, yells, curses – was overwhelming. I was there for about four hours before being bailed out. But that experience made me promise to never, ever find myself in that position again.

Once I started practicing law it was more of the same. The Old Bronx Borough Courthouse, next to the old 3rd Avenue El, had a jail in the back. The guards treated inmates and the lawyers alike, except lawyers were exempt from the occasional shove, kick or punch. Rikers Island, the jail in the middle of the East River and Flushing Bay, was a dystopian nightmare. Access was by a steel grill encased bus over a bridge manned by armed guards. People were strip- searched in public with visitors shorn of privacy and decency. Rikers was “characterized by beatings, stabbings, and brutal treatment not only from the guards but also from inmates … deployed as ‘enforcers’ by the guards” – a place to avoid.  

I visited a guy convicted of manslaughter at Sing Sing, the “correctional” facility at Ossining, New York made famous by Hollywood’s James Cagney flics. It was just a grimmer, older version of Rikers Island. This was true of all of the domestic jails that I visited.  

In contrast was Allenwood, the Club Fed facility in Pennsylvania with a rolling green field and pasture campus. The split rail fences kept the cows off the premises, not the inmates in. You met your client or loved one in a park like setting at picnic tables in good weather. Inmates were given weekend passes usually spent at a nearby Marriott Hotel complete with a lush tropical garden and indoor swimming pool. For the “made guys” this option was for mistresses only, not wives.

My first brush with foreign jails was at Brazil’s notorious Women’s Penitentiary at Bangu, near Rio de Janeiro. I was representing two mules - two dumb, white, blond teenage girls from Trumbull, Connecticut who had been arrested transporting drugs. Housing was dormitory style, open to the weather fronting a large communal courtyard where everything, including safety was for sale. The two blond mules were dead in the water, facing a sure 10 years in that slammer. That was until the American Consul took pity, arranged for bail, two temporary passports and the next flight out of Brazil, proving that God’s law trumps Caesar’s.

Military jails are a different kettle of fish. The one I visited, Cárcel de Caseros in Buenos Aires, run by Argentina’s military Junta was originally an orphanage. During the “Dirty War” [1974-1982] it housed communists, Monteneros, Peronists, dissidents of both sexes and all persuasions. While 30,000 are believed to have died in that war, some 18,000 became “detenidos-desaparecidos” and were no more. The children of the “desaparecidos” were separated from parents and their whereabouts and identities are not known. It was later established that the Junta had 340 holding facilities – detention or concentration camps. Argentina’s separation of children from their parents, the numerous detention facilities for dissidents are a dark premonition of what can happen here on our southern border.

Which brings us back to Manafort, the separation of a child from a parent, the detention of that child and what, if anything, to do about it.

Manafort is a wealthy privileged white guy who ran with the rich and influential “one percenters” of this world. He amassed a fortune from domestic movers and shakers and Ukrainian politicians and oligarchs. When arrested he was able to put up a $10 million-dollar bond and remain in luxurious house arrest sporting an ankle bracelet, sipping a good vintage Bordeaux while awaiting trial. Only an additional crime - suborning perjury – while on bail really pissed off the judge and landed him in jail. But remember, there are some 485,000 people in the United States who are currently in jail awaiting trial.

You would think that the numbers alone would bring about bail reform. I regret that reasonable bail is only for the few able to afford it and not for those who are only cloaked with a presumption of innocence. I wonder if the moms and the kids separated at the border are given a chance for bail while awaiting a decision on their asylum application? I think not, they are not of the coddled, privileged Manafort class.

As to the ICE and Homeland Security agents manning the Southern border I would remind them that the mistreatment of prisoners – yes, that is what is being done to the detained moms and kids – is a crime under both international law and domestic law. The United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees everyone “the right to life, liberty and security of person” [Article 3], that no one shall be “subjected to torture or to cruel, or inhuman … treatment or punishment” [Article 5], that they shall be afforded protection from “violation of this Declaration” [Article 7] and that “no one shall be subject to arbitrary arrest … [and] … detention” [Article 9].

So, what should the ICE and Homeland Security agents do? Well my suggestion is to grow some balls and just refuse to separate and detain the moms and the kids. Federal law protects them: Title 5 United States Code § 2302 makes it illegal to fire or punish a civil servant “for refusing to obey an order that would require the individual to violate a law”. 

If the National Guard or other military personnel is involved I remind that the mistreatment of prisoners is also a crime under Article 93 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and that it is a crime to obey and carry out an illegal order [Articles 90 – 92 UCMJ]. The “just following orders” defense ain’t going to work if charges are ultimately brought.

Jeff Sessions, the current Attorney General would have you believe that “if we build the wall, if we pass legislation to end the lawlessness” then “all’s well that ends well”. Me, I am singing “I was not a Nazi Polka” while looking at the photo of Birkenau, the Nazi concentration camp posted by Gen. Michael Hayden, the former head of the CIA who courageously told the world that “other governments have separated mothers and children”, just like we are doing now.

Thursday
May312018

RIGHTEOUS CRIMES & JUST MISDEMEANORS  

When does a criminal and immoral act against the body politic become the right thing to do, a “righteous crime”, a “just misdemeanor”?

Had you assassinated Adolf Hitler on August 31, 1939, the eve of World War II, you would have been guilty of murder, a crime in violation of §211 or §212 of the Strafgetzbuch, the German Criminal Code, and a clear violation of God’s Sixth Commandment. In hindsight, because of what Hitler did prior to August 31, and what he would do after, it would have been the right thing to do - to assassinate in cold blood - and that, my friend, would have been a “righteous crime”.

War often defines the difference between crimes and righteous violations of law. The military defeat of the Third French Republic and by the legitimate vote of the French National Assembly on July 10, 1940 Marshal Pétain was granted all the powers of government and established Vichy France. A year of occupation, subjugation and humiliation followed – many laws and regulations including the Statut des Juifs [Statute on Jews] enslaved and brutalized French citizens. On August 21, 1941 a German officer was assassinated in the Paris Metro. The Germans executed three innocent civilians, with the promise that for every German killed thereafter ten Frenchmen would be executed. The killings, assaults and murders that followed were “righteous crimes”, notwithstanding Napoleon’s Code Pénal.

If need arises, duly constituted governments can be toppled by “righteous crimes”. In 1941 the Yugoslav coup d’état replaced the pro Axis Regency and installed King Peter II, a minor to the throne. The coup committed crimes, violated laws and international agreements. But at the time, in the minds of many including the United States and Great Britain it was the right thing to do.

Crimes against property, in times of war it’s called “sabotage”, can likewise be deemed “righteous”. After Germany invaded Poland the Polish Home Army “damaged 6,930 locomotives, set 443 rail transports on fire, damaged 19,000 rail cars “wagony” and blew up 38 rail bridges.”

Righteous crimes do not occur only in times of war. December, 1989 was a time of peace, yet a time of terror in Communist Romania. The dictator Nicolae Ceauseşcu and Elena, his wife were “tried by a drumhead military tribunal on charges of genocide … and abuse of power”. “They were convicted … sentenced to death, and immediately executed on Christmas Day…”

Crimes of violence are felonies. Crimes in the nature of protest are by their very nature mild misdemeanors. During the Vietnam War hundreds of young men “knowingly destroyed, knowingly mutilated” their draft-cards. These acts of civil disobedience were rarely prosecuted. This exercise of free speech, notwithstanding a Supreme Court decision to the contrary, was a “symbol of protest performed by thousands of young men in the US and Canada” which changed the course of history and ended the war. 

While engaged in that war the United States was in state of crisis in 1971. Successive administration had lied, bamboozled and flimflammed the world as to the nature and extent of the conflict. It took one man, Daniel Ellsberg, a mid-level Rand Corporation military analyst willing to violate the Espionage Act of 1917 and face charges of theft and conspiracy carrying a possible sentence of 115 years to bring truth to light. Yet even that was not enough – it took Ben Bradlee, Katharine Graham and The Washington Post and Punch Sulzberger and A. M. Rosenthal of The New York Times committing “righteous crimes”, publishing stolen top secret classified information, to finally bring truth to light for the world to see.

The world today is in crisis due to the erratic behavior of Donald Trump who occupies the White House and because of America’s size and influence has a “unique capability to influence global affairs”. It is the world and not just the United States that is at risk. He has brought on this crisis by disregarding accepted norms of behavior with the usual checks and balances being unmanned by a compliant-do-nothing Congress, including Republicans and Democrats alike, and a “deep state” unwilling to commit “righteous crimes” and “just misdemeanors”.

Donald Trump’s income tax returns, sources of income and source of funding was a critical issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. The norm of tax disclosure was rejected by Donald Trump – the rejection continues to date. A candidate’s suitability for office and his potential for undue and conflict of interest must be fully disclosed to the electorate. It was not. Yet access to the returns at the Internal Revenue Service could be had by any number of individuals. Why did no one, as a matter of civic duty, commit a “just misdemeanor” and make them public? It would have been the right thing to do.

In February, 2017 during advice and consent hearings on the appointment of Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Senator Elizabeth Warren started reading the 1986 statement of Coretta Scott King, Martin Luther King’s widow, in opposition to his earlier judicial appointment. She was stopped by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with “The senator has impugned the motives and colleague from Alabama”. Sadly, Warren backed down and rather than standing her ground. She stopped reading and was censured, silenced. Her response should have been “Fuck you Mitch”. At best she would have violated a Senate rule, a “just misdemeanor”. Had she been removed from the Senate floor and arrested she would have committed a “righteous crime”.    

On May 24 Republican members of Congress had a classified meeting with Department of Justice and FBI officials with Democrats excluded while the White House Chief of Staff Kelly and Emmet Flood, the president’s lawyer, attended. Democrats should have crashed and stormed the meeting, a violation of some Congressional rules but they would have been doing the right thing.

I have a list of proposed “righteous crimes” that I would like to see committed in getting rid of Donald Trump, the buffoon now occupying the White House, and his cabinet of toadies and ass kissers. I am loath to do so lest I be accused of aiding and abetting, but do not forget to send me your email address, lest I forget.