I have to admit that I am a Harry Potter fan.  But then few aren’t as far as I can tell, and this apparently includes everyone at the Federal Reserve. In fact, they must be more than just fans… I think they have figured out the charms and spells taught at Hogwarts, and have even made visits to Diagon Alley for shopping excursions.  It is, at least, a way to explain their statements and actions regarding our economic situation. The only way that they can truly make their economic policy work is through magic!

Let’s start with Jerome Powell’s ever-upbeat descriptions of our economy. He must be standing in front of the Mirror of Erised, seeing only what he wants to see, when he writes his reports and notes for press conferences.

Someone must have a special bag with an undetectable extension charm where they can store things like IOU’s, and the truth about our failing economic policy that they hide from us.

I am sure they all carry Peruvian instant darkness powder, or maybe the all have deluminators, for the next time the balloon bursts so they can all disappear from sight (into high-paying corporate jobs where they… questionably use their networks to further undermine money.)

Finally, there is a clear explanation for the public’s acceptance of their “reports” and “policy”, not to mention how we have nearly forgotten all about the Great Recession and its causes: that would be the “obliviate” spell cast upon us all, our memories wiped clean.

If Voldemort is the ugly financial situation that we have experienced in the past, that brought so much pain to so many people, well, He’s back!

 

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In our house we have a running joke about how the Romans invented everything. It started with things like sewers and democracy and circuses- the obvious and more or less realistic.  Then it got ridiculous with their inventing peanut butter, the ballpoint pen, and time travel.

But now we are back to reality. An article by Jason Zweig in this weekend’s Wall Street Journal mentions how the Romans can be credited with the first recorded financial collapse.  It happened during the reign of Tiberius, (14-37 AD), when Roman financial laws were being enforced after being neglected and allowing for a bubble to occur. The enforcement caused a “credit crunch” resulting in a real estate crash. There you have it. It may be wrong to say that the Romans invented the financial crash, but in our house they get the credit.

Prior to the “Great Recession” of a few years back, a new asset class was developed based on bundled, asset-backed securities. These were called collateralized debt obligations, or CDO’s.  Most people will remember them in the form of securities tied to sub-prime mortgages, largely the cause to the that most recent financial collapse. Essentially this is the creation of money out of thin air. No, wait, it is the illusion of the creation of money. The money that was “created” came from working American taxpayers in the end! (And into the pockets of criminals who were not held accountable!)

To get back on track, the creator, or as a recent Wall Street Journal article refers to him, “the grandfather of CDO’s”, is at it again. This time he is bundling student loan debt! It seems one of the grandfathers of the 2008 financial collapse wants to relive his past.

My question: Is it really safe to let this man have anything to do with finance? Not only should he not have anything to do with “developing asset classes”, he shouldn’t even be allowed to be a cashier at 7-11.

For more on how student loan debt could help bring our economy down, see the Investopedia article on the subject.

It has been a few weeks now since I have returned from my latest visit to the Balkans. While there I continued where I left off on my previous visit- talking with anyone who would talk, seeing as much as I could see, and further developing my own ideas about the region.

Most of my visit was spent in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. But I also went on to Mostar, and then to the island of Vis in Croatia. I was in Sarajevo late last year, but I felt a need to return, that I had not accomplished all I needed to do there.  I still feel that way, but after a couple of weeks alone in the city I feel I understand the city, the country, and the region a little better. It would take endless pages to record all my reflections; this post is but a snippet, an encounter or two recorded during that time.

Walking-
Journal entry, 13 April, 2018:
It is evening in Sarajevo; the sun has set, but its faint glow causes the still-wet streets to shimmer. Outside my windows, across the Miljacka River is one of the main east-west routes through the city. The Obala Kulina Bana not only moves cars, trucks, and buses through the city, the Sarajevo tram rails share the road. The tram, or tramvaj, is a natural part of the city, public transport being a necessity in a city of this size.  It is an easy way to get from one end of the city to the other, or to get one stop to the next cafe or market. Sarajevo has not only the tram, but trolley buses, and regular buses- all running very efficiently from my experience.  There are routes covering every neighborhood, and you can get just about anywhere in a very reasonable amount of time, if not by public transport, then by taxis which are everywhere. If you don’t feel like catching public transport, Sarajevo is a very pedestrian-friendly city. I have been walking and walking in every direction, discovering more than I ever imagined, and certainly more than any guidebook can relate.

Obala Kulina Bana, Sarjevo, Bosnia- Gerald Trainor photo

The Obala Kulina Bana and the Miljacka River, on a cold and snowy day in Sarajevo.

Yes, Sarajevo is a pedestrian city, and being so, it is a city where the openness of the people can be felt as you walk down the street. People are out every day, on their way to jobs, to the market, to meet for coffee where they talk and reflect and debate, to… walk and meet other people along the way. I was compelled to walk myself, everywhere, and at all hours of the morning, mid-day, and night, from one end of the city to the other.  What about safety? Sarajevo is a city that feels remarkably safe- not once did I feel uncomfortable anywhere I ended up. In fact, I was surprised time and again at how open and helpful people were.

Bsonian coffee at a cafe called Ministry of Ćejf, Sarajevo BiH. Gerald Trainor photo.

Bosnian coffee sitting outside at the Ministry of Ćejf cafe at Kovači 26, just up from the Sebilj- an absolute must if you visit the city.

Carpets-
On this visit I was introduced to the traditional weavings of Bosnia- the carpets that have long been a part of the culture, but seem curiously missing from guidebooks, from most online posts, from everyday discussions, and even from museums. I had heard nothing about the tradition on either of my previous visits. But this time, after finding the carpet below on the floor of the apartment I rented, I immediately started asking questions.

detail of Bosnian carpet- Sarajevo, BiH- Gerald Trainor photo

Detail from the corner of a 2 by 3 meter “Bosnian” carpet showing traditional patterning. Although I am calling this a Bosnian carpet, it may in fact have been produced in Pirot, a town in southeastern Serbia known for its weaving. Priot is on already on my agenda for my next visit.

Bosnian carpets have a long history, with their roots in Turkish kilims. In Sarajevo, there was the famous Sarajevo Carpet Factory, where rugs were made for over 100 years. Styles changed with the times, but the importance of the carpet did not, at least until very recent times when it seems the “new” has replaced the old. Yes, younger people seem to be turning away from the old styles and trending towards mass-produced, “stylish” rugs from Ikea and the like. At least this was what one person stressed to me.

Another reason for the declining importance of traditional carpets might be the fact that they were an essential part of the dowry, which I assume is no longer important in itself.  Still another factor might be that the important events and entertainments where the carpets were used are no longer centerpieces of life. Carpets were an integral part of both the dowry and  gatherings- they were woven, handed down, or purchased as a sort of investment in wealth. Thus the fact that some very beautiful, 100 year old carpets can be found in almost pristine condition if you look in the right place. You will also find newly woven carpets in a few shops in the Baščaršija. Just ask around for directions if you don’t see them.

Museums-
The bottom line: if you get a chance to visit Sarajevo, do it. The people there will welcome you, not just as a source of income through tourist dollars- which is incredibly important to the city, country, and region, but as a visitor to their city. While there plan to walk; you won’t be sorry no matter where you end up or what you see.  Some highlights for visiting: be sure to visit any or all- if you can handle it- of the war museums. I visited the War Childhood Museum for the first time on this visit, not an easy task, but necessary. There you will find items donated by people who were young during the war, along with their written and video accounts of that time. The war is ever-present and cannot be forgotten. It is a part of everyday life there, with reminders on every street in the city.

Histoey Museum of BiH. Gerald Trainor photo.

The History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where I saw the permanent exhibit on the siege of Sarajevo. In serious disrepair, dark and cold inside, it felt like I might have stepped back into Yugoslavia. Don’t let that stop you from visiting!

Visit the Zetra Olympic Hall, the stadium, and museum and reminisce about the 1984 Olympics. See the National Museum with its fine collection of artifacts from the region’s early history, and the History Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina- be sure to go below the museum to the Caffe Tito Sarajevo for an espresso and a look at their museum-like collection. If it is the right time of year, take in a football match- FC Sarajevo or Željezničar– either one will do. See the ancient fortresses, walk along the Miljacka, and sit for a while drinking coffee in the Baščaršija. And be sure to take the cable car up Mount Trebević. It was damaged during the war and has just reopened after more than 25 years!

Wrapping Up-
For current news from the Balkans, see the Bosnia and Herzegovina page at BalkanInsight.com, for what appears to be some of the most impartial and unbiased reporting I have come across.

My first “report” from Sarajevo and the Balkans can be found here. I have also written book reviews on Beyond NATO: A New Security Architecture for Eastern Europe (The Marshall Papers) and Anatomy of a Genocide: The Life and Death of a Town Called Buczacz, both of which are pertinent to the region.

For more reading on the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, see Silber and Little’s The Fall of Yugoslavia. It is an excellent place to start. For a more concise version, see The Collapse of Yugoslavia by Alastair Finlan. For guidebooks, I recommend the Bradt Bosnia and Herzegovina guide by Tim Clancy.

 

(Re-posted from another of my blogs- this post needed to be here as well, to support other posts about the Balkans.)

As a follow-up to my recent post on the Balkan wars of the 1990’s, I felt it was time to add more book reviews for those who might be interested in immersing themselves in the issues facing the Balkans and eastern Europe. With the future in mind, first on the list is a recent (fall, 2017) edition from the Brookings Institution titled Beyond NATO: A New Security Architecture for Eastern Europe (The Marshall Papers) by Michael E. O’Hanlon.

In summary, the book argues the case against NATO expansion and presents the alternative of a “negotiated agreement” between current NATO countries, the non-NATO and non-aligned states that would remain sovereign and neutral, and Russia. The catalyst for this new type of security agreement is Russia, and namely Russia’s fear of NATO and the west uncomfortably approaching, and eventually encroaching upon, its borders. The author does cause the reader to step outside the western view that our intervention in eastern Europe, most notably Bosnia, Kosovo, and Ukraine, even when labeled humanitarian, can be construed as threatening when viewed through Russian eyes.

The premise is that the new security architecture would act as a deterrent to Russian posturing and aggression and its plans for military growth, including nuclear weapons. It is believed that the coalition of neutral states, not overseen directly by NATO or the United States especially, will eventually allow Russia to cease their destabilisation efforts in the region, specifically in Ukraine and Georgia, and allow these and other states such as Armenia and Azerbaijan to develop towards normalcy after being able to turn away from a continuous defensive/offensive posture.

While theoretically possible, the concept relies on Russia’s acceptance of the new structure. Whether or not Russia accepts, and if so, their willingness and ability to remain faithful to the agreement, is a different story. There would be a built-in “range of responses” to different threats against the agreement participants, be that Russia or other nations. These responses could include anything from economic sanctions to expedited NATO membership for threatened agreement participants.

Street art in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Photo by Gerald Trainor.

Street art in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina, October, 2017. Note the artists use of a bullet hole for the left eye, obviously the starting point for the image.

Seasons in Hell: Understanding Bosnia’s War by Ed Vulliamy was published in 1994. At that time the siege of Sarajevo had ended, Serbia and its forces understood that the UN and NATO would actually take decisive action against them, and the concentration camps, mass murder, atrocities, and genocide of the war in Bosnia had been exposed to the world. Vulliamy’s book reports what was known at the time of publication and paints an ugly, demented picture of what was perpetrated on so many innocent people by the Yugoslav army/ the Serbian army, by “paramilitaries”, by criminals and thugs. But he also tells stories of hope, heroism, and bravery, of fighting against all odds, and of how so many of the people of Bosnia endured. Interspersing these stories in a book of this nature is absolutely necessary, lest the sickened reader cast the book aside. If you choose one book to help your understand the war in Bosnia, Vulliamy’s book will painfully, yet clearly meet that goal.

 

 

The title says it all. But if you need some clarification on my position, I support President Trump. And here is why: My favorite author is Edward Abbey. My favorite quote by Edward Abbey is “our only hope is catastrophe.” The meaning of the quote: the only thing that is going to save us is self-destruction. The earth will rejuvenate and man (we hope with more sound thought this time) will rebuild and recover. The sooner we get it over with, the better.

Thank you Trump, thank you Israel, for taking us another step closer to self-destruction!

John McCain’s forthright statements at the end of his life have left me with an idea for political honesty in general- terminal illness for more politicians! Granted, it is a rather gruesome way for them to finally win our trust. But at this point I will take honesty from politicians any way I can get it.

Anyone who follows politics, even just a little, must know about Senator John McCain and his terminal illness. In recent days I have seen a number of references to his not caring- even more than usual, what anyone thinks.  He has vowed to lay it all out there, to speak from the heart, since he has nothing to lose at this point. So we are left with John McCain speaking the truth, exactly what he feels and believes. The notion is refreshing. It’s unfortunate that all politicians everywhere aren’t dying, and thus speaking truthfully and honestly.