Bush Told Us Not a Penny More For Infrastructure (video)

Dandelion Salad

August 04, 2007
CSPANJUNKIEdotORG

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The Secret Behind the Sanctions – How the U.S. Intentionally Destroyed Iraq’s Water Supply by Thomas J. Nagy (2001)

Dandelion Salad

by Thomas J. Nagy
Common Dreams
Aug. 4, 2007
Published in the September 2001 issue of The Progressive

Over the last two years, I’ve discovered documents of the Defense Intelligence Agency proving beyond a doubt that, contrary to the Geneva Convention, the U.S. government intentionally used sanctions against Iraq to degrade the country’s water supply after the Gulf War. The United States knew the cost that civilian Iraqis, mostly children, would pay, and it went ahead anyway.The primary document, “Iraq Water Treatment Vulnerabilities,” is dated January 22, 1991. It spells out how sanctions will prevent Iraq from supplying clean water to its citizens. Continue reading

A Week in the Death of Iraq By Dr. Mohammed

Dandelion Salad

By Dr. Mohammed
ICH
08/05/07 “Washington Post

When will I die? That’s the question circling in my head when I awake on Wednesday. I’m sweating, as usual. My muscles ache from another long night of no electricity in weather only slightly cooler than hell. As I dress for work, other questions assail me: How will I die? Will it be a shot in the head? Will I be blown to pieces? Or be seized at a police checkpoint because of my sect, then tortured and killed and thrown out on the sidewalk?

I gaze at my wife as she sleeps, her face twisted in discomfort from the heat. What will happen to her if I die? Soon she’ll have no one in Iraq but me. Will she be able to identify my body? Will I get a proper burial?

I’m a dentist in my mid-20s, married to an aspiring dentist. My father is a prominent orthopedist who fled Iraq after being threatened by both Sunni radicals in al-Qaeda in Iraq (which wanted to recruit him and extorted money for his life when he refused) and Shiite ones in Moqtada al-Sadr’s Mahdi Army (because he is a Sunni). My father-in-law, who works in the oil ministry, has also been menaced; he will leave the country at the end of this month.

In fact, my wife and I left Iraq in July 2006 and went to Jordan. But I wasn’t able to find any work there, so we came back to Baghdad. Now we live here as quietly as possible, keeping a low profile. I don’t use my family name anymore. (And I am not using my full name for this piece.)

I walk to my job at a government clinic 15 minutes from my home at the intersection of a Sunni and a Shiite neighborhood. We’ve had lots of bombings nearby. On my way, I see the hulks of burned-out cars. Barbed wire and concrete blocks line the streets. The ground is strewn with bullet casings. Death is in the air. A car passes me slowly in an alley, my heart beats rapidly and I pray that I won’t be kidnapped or asked what sect I belong to.

At the clinic’s gate, I greet the guards. (I’m afraid of them; they might be members of a militia. Here in Baghdad, everyone’s suspect until proven otherwise.) I sign in and get the bad news: The diesel generator is almost out of fuel. We have enough for about one more day, and my boss thinks it could be a month or longer before the ministry of health will provide us any more.

How can we treat our patients? I ask angrily. My boss shrugs. We were already short of supplies. I feel bad for the patients, some of whom are really in pain, so I work as fast as I can. The clinic is open from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., and we have five dentists and three chairs. Normally, we can take 15 patients a day, but on this day, I treat eight myself.

* * *

I’m proud of my work today as I head home, where, as usual, there is no electricity.

In my neighborhood (and most of Baghdad), we depend on ourselves for power. In most places, there’s someone who owns a large generator and sells other residents eight hours of electricity a day. I pay $120 a month for that service. For an additional three hours a day, I use my home generator. That costs me about $150 a month because fuel here is so expensive. We have to wait six to eight hours in line to get any at the gas stations, which close at 6 or 7 p.m. The curfew starts at 11 p.m., so many people sleep in their cars until the stations reopen in the morning. This farce has created a booming black market in which fuel sells for double its official price.

Over lunch, my wife, who has just finished the final exams for her last year of dental school, tells me how scared, bored and hopeless she feels. How long will we stay in Iraq? she asks me. Until one of us dies?

If we leave again, I want to go to a country where we might have a future. I want children, but I promised myself that I wouldn’t have any as long as I’m living in Iraq. My children don’t deserve to be born in this country. I won’t make the mistake my parents made.

Later that day, we go shopping for food. This is the only entertainment we have in our lives, apart from the Internet. It’s so hot. I wish I could go out in shorts. But the militias don’t allow it. It’s too much to ask in Iraq. It’s too much to ask to be able to wear a goatee or a gold necklace. It’s too much to ask to drive my BMW because I could be killed for it. There’s too much that’s too much to ask for in Baghdad.

We have fun at the market, but on the way back, a pickup truck drives by with a dead body in the back.

* * *

On Thursday before dawn, an explosion rocks our house. I lie in bed, unable to get back to sleep, until it’s time to get up for work.

When I arrive at the clinic, my fellow dentists are sitting on chairs in the yard. That means we are out of diesel. We’ll have four hours with nothing to do (because we’re required to stay at work even if we can’t do any work), so I join them. The talk turns to the situation in Baghdad and the U.S. presence here.

“As soon as the Americans leave Iraq, Iranian jets will be over Baghdad bombarding every neighborhood that is not loyal to them, whether Shiite or Sunni,” one of the doctors says. I offer my opinion: “The U.S. should stay, because it’s not just Iran or neighboring countries that we have to fear. The Iraqi National Guard and the police are also our enemies now.”

In contrast, many uneducated or less educated Iraqis think that the U.S. military is at the root of every problem. They believe that if the Americans leave, there will be peace. I agree, up to a point, that U.S. troops are responsible for some of the trouble we have, but I don’t blame them. I blame the Iraqis who let this happen, who enjoy destruction and death — the sectarian government and the militias. They are the real cause of this tragedy.

We talk about the insurgents and the militias, both Sunni and Shiite, and about sectarian violence, which is skyrocketing. So are civilian casualties and the government’s lies, which are supposed to convince the world that it’s doing its job, that it’s winning victories against terrorism and that the terrorists are fleeing Iraq. Aren’t they ashamed of themselves? The only ones fleeing Iraq are good, honest Iraqis.

“What do the insurgents want?” another doctor asks. “What have they achieved after all those explosions and all those people dead?”

They have achieved nothing that a sane person would consider an achievement, I respond. They’ve made the country impossible to live in; they’ve terrorized people, killed Americans, made us afraid to leave our homes. They’ve taken control of neighborhoods after the people who lived there fled for their lives. All of this is an achievement to them, but not to a sane person like you or me. They have been brainwashed by fanatical religious clerics; they have been tempted by the money that flows from Iran and other countries or that they get from kidnapping and crime.

In the end, we all agree: The only losers are honest, patriotic Iraqi people. For them, democracy, liberation and freedom are just myths. All we want is to live a normal life.

When I get back from work, my wife and I take a taxi to Adhamiya, the district where my father-in-law lives. We normally spend Thursday and Friday with him. The driver, as usual, is afraid to enter the neighborhood, so he leaves us at the gate in Antar Square and we walk from there.

As we make our way to my father-in-law’s house, a confrontation starts behind us. We dash into an alley. I relive in my mind what happened the previous week: A sniper from the Iraqi National Guard shot at us and forced us to cower in a ruined building for what seemed like hours. It was on the same street, the only open road that leads to Adhamiya. People call it the “street of death.”

We finally make it to my father-in-law’s. After dinner, we decide to sleep upstairs, but just as my head hits the pillow, there’s an explosion in front of the house, followed by gunfire all around. We rush downstairs, where it’s safer, and sleep on the floor. We spend another day full of nonstop explosions and gunfire at my father-in-law’s before heading back home at noon on Saturday.

* * *

Sunday is a beautiful day. My wife and I make popcorn, sip cola and watch the Iraqi national soccer team beat Saudi Arabia 1 to 0 in the final for the Asian Cup. My neighborhood erupts in celebratory gunfire. Why don’t the shooters think about where their bullets might go when they hit the ground? Two people are killed and six are wounded from falling rounds.

After the shooting stops, I head out to buy cigarettes. I am amazed by what I see. There’s unity at last. People stream from Adhamiya and al-Saab and al-Kahira and meet at the al-Nidaa mosque intersection. They are celebrating on the same spot where on other days confrontations erupt, blood flows and people die. An Iraqi National Guard convoys rolls through, with soldiers dancing on top of the Humvees. I laugh out loud and feel safe for the first time since returning to Iraq.

I hurry home to get my wife and the digital camera. We head out to Palestine Street to watch the crowd and snap pictures. Then my wife gets an uneasy look on her face. All these people, she says, might attract a suicide bomber. We go home.

On the news that night: 16 people dead and 66 injured in Zaiona; 10 dead and an unknown number injured in Mansor. They were innocents celebrating the victory of their soccer team. Can’t they give us one happy day? Is that too much to ask? May God have mercy on their souls.

* * *

The next day, dozens more die across my country. This has become normal. We’re used to it. Iraqi lives are worth nothing; we’re just numbers in the news. In the past, Iraqis would wear black to mourn a young man for many years. They would cry forever. But not anymore. Now we bury in the morning and forget by the evening.

On Tuesday, my wife gets her grades from dental school. She has done well. I am so happy that I vow to confront terrorism and live a normal life for one day. I decide to drive my own car and take my wife to a nice lunch at the only good restaurant left in Baghdad. I leave work early, head home and remove the cover from my car for the first time in a year. And with it, I remove my fear.

Oh, how I’ve missed my BMW. When I tell my wife that we’re taking the car, she is afraid, but I convince her that nothing will happen. It’s just one day, I say. For once, we’ll live like normal people. I drive to the restaurant and feel so happy — and fearful at the same time. But we arrive safely, although I’m stopped at a police checkpoint and asked about my sect. Normally, they just ask where you live or where you’re heading, which are also clues, but this time they ask me directly. I have to lie, but luckily I have a neutral name that isn’t obviously either Sunni or Shiite.

We have a wonderful time at lunch. But much later, after I finally go to bed at 3 a.m., after the neighborhood generator stops, the eternal questions start up again. Will it ever end? When will I die?

last.of.iraqis@gmail.com – Dr. Mohammed writes the blog Last of Iraqis at http://www.last-of-iraqis.blogspot.com

© 2007 The Washington Post Company

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

Stock Market Meltdown By Mike Whitney

Dandelion Salad

By Mike Whitney
08/04/07 “
ICH

“Whatever is going to happen, will happen…just don’t let it happen to you.” — Doug Casey, Casey Research


It’s a Bloodbath. That’s the only way to describe it.

On Friday the Dow Jones took a 280 point nosedive on fears that that losses in the subprime market will spill over into the broader economy and cut into GDP. Ever since the two Bears Sterns hedge funds folded a couple weeks ago the stock market has been writhing like a drug-addict in a detox-cell. Yesterday’s sell-off added to last week’s plunge that wiped out $2.1 trillion in value from global equity markets. New York investment guru, Jim Rogers said that the real market is “one of the biggest bubbles we’ve ever had in credit” and that the subprime rout “has a long way to go.”

We are now beginning to feel the first tremors from the massive credit expansion which began 6 years ago at the Federal Reserve. The trillions of dollars which were pumped into the global economy via low interest rates and increased money supply have raised the nominal value of equities, but at great cost. Now, stocks will fall sharply and businesses will fail as volatility increases and liquidity dries up. Stagnant wages and a declining dollar have thrust the country into a deflationary cycle which has—up to this point—been concealed by Greenspan’s “cheap money” policy. Those days are over. Economic fundamentals are taking hold. The market swings will get deeper and more violent as the Fed’s massive credit bubble continues to unwind. Trillions of dollars of market value will vanish overnight. The stock market will go into a long-term swoon.

Ludwig von Mises summed it up like this:

“There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion. The question is only whether the crisis should come sooner as a result of a voluntary abandonment of further credit expansion, or later as a final and total catastrophe of the currency system involved.” (Thanks to the Daily Reckoning)

It doesn’t matter if the “underlying economy is strong”. (as Henry Paulson likes to say) That’s nonsense. Trillions of dollars of over-leveraged bets are quickly unraveling which has the same effect as taking a wrecking ball down Wall Street.

This week a third Bear Stearns fund shuttered its doors and stopped investors from withdrawing their money. Bear’s CFO, Sam Molinaro, described the chaos in the credit market as the worst he’d seen in 22 years. At the same time, American Home Mortgage Investment Corp—the 10th-largest mortgage lender in the U.S. —said that “it can’t pay its creditors, potentially becoming the first big lender outside the subprime mortgage business to go bust”. (MarketWatch)

This is big news, mainly because AHM is the first major lender OUTSIDE THE SUBPRIME MORTGAGE BUSINESS to go belly-up. The contagion has now spread through the entire mortgage industry—Alt-A, piggyback, Interest Only, ARMs, Prime, 2-28, Jumbo,—the whole range of loans is now vulnerable. That means we should expect far more than the estimated 2 million foreclosures by year-end. This is bound to wreak havoc in the secondary market where $1.7 trillion in toxic CDOs have already become the scourge of Wall Street.

Some of the country’s biggest banks are going to take a beating when AHM goes under. Bank of America is on the hook for $1.3 billion, Bear Stearns $2 billion and Barclay’s $1 billion. All told, AHM’s mortgage underwriting amounted to a whopping $9.7 billion. (Apparently, AHM could not even come up with a measly $300 million to cover existing deals on mortgages! Where’d all the money go?) This shows the downstream effects of these massive mortgage-lending meltdowns. Everybody gets hurt.

AHM’s stock plunged 90% IN ONE DAY. Jittery investors are now bailing out at the first sign of a downturn. Wall Street has become a bundle of nerves and the problems in housing have only just begun. Inventory is still building, prices are falling and defaults are steadily rising; all the necessary components for a full-blown catastrophe.

AHM warned investors on Tuesday that it had stopped buying loans from a variety of originators. 2 other mortgage lenders announced they were going out of business just hours later. The lending climate has gotten worse by the day. Up to now, the banks have had no trouble bundling mortgages off to Wall Street through collateralized debt obligations (CDOs). Now everything has changed. The banks are buried under MORE THAN $300 BILLION worth of loans that no one wants. The mortgage CDO is going the way of the Dodo. Unfortunately, it has attached itself to many of the investment banks on its way to extinction.

And it’s not just the banks that are in for a drubbing. The insurance companies and pension funds are loaded with trillions of dollars in “toxic waste” CDOs. That shoe hasn’t even dropped yet. By the end of 2008, the economy will be on life-support and Wall Street will look like the Baghdad morgue. American biggest financials will be splayed out on a marble slab peering blankly into the ether.

Think I’m kidding?

Already the big investment banks are taking on water. Merrill Lynch has fallen 22% since the start of the year. Citigroup is down 16% and Lehman Bros Holdings has dropped 22%. According to Bloomberg News: “The highest level of defaults in 10 years on subprime mortgages and a $33 billion pileup of unsold bonds and loans for funding acquisitions are driving investors away from debt of the New York-based securities firms. Concerns about credit quality may get worse because banks promised to provide $300 billion in debt for leveraged buyouts announced this year……Bear Stearns Cos., Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., Merrill Lynch & Co. and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., are as good as junk.”

That’s right—“junk”.

We’ve never seen an economic tsunami like this before. The dollar is falling, employment and manufacturing are weakening, new car sales are off for the seventh straight month, consumer spending is down to a paltry 1.3%, and oil is hitting new highs every day as it marches inexorably towards a $100 per barrel.

So, where’s the silver lining?

Apart from the 2 million-plus foreclosures, and the 80 or so mortgage lenders who have filed for bankruptcy; a growing number of investment firms are feeling the pinch from the turmoil in real estate. Bear Stearns; Basis Capital Funds Management, Absolute Capital, IKB Deutsche Industrial Bank AG, Commerzbank AG, Sowood Capital Management, C-Bass, UBS-AG, Caliber Global Investment and Nomura Holdings Inc.—are all either going under or have taken a major hit from the troubles in subprime. The list will only grow as the weeks go by. (Check out these graphs to understand what’s really going on in the housing market. http://www.recharts.com/reports/CSHB031207/CSHB031207.html?ref=patrick.net

The problems in real estate are not limited to residential housing either. The credit crunch is now affecting deals in commercial real estate, too. Low-cost, low-documentation, “covenant lite” loans are a thing of the past. Banks are finally stiffening their lending requirements even though the horse has already left the barn. Commercial mortgage-backed securities are now nearly as tainted as their evil-twin, residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS). There’s no market for these turkeys. The banks are returning to traditional lending standards and simply don’t want to take the risk anymore.

Bataan Death March?

Leveraged Buy Outs (LBOs) have been a dependable source of market liquidity. But, not any more. In the last quarter, there was $57 billion in LBOs. In the first month of this quarter that amount dropped to less than $2 billion. That’s quite a tumble. The Wall Street Journal’s Dennis Berman summed it up like this: “the Street is scrambling to finance some $220 billion of leveraged buy out deals” (but) the “mood has gone from Nantucket holiday to Bataan Death March”.

Berman nailed it. The investment banks took great pleasure in their profligate lending; raking in the lavish fees for joining mega-corporations together in conjugal bliss. Then someone took the punch bowl. Now the banking giants are scratching their heads– wondering how they can unload $220B of toxic-debt onto wary investors. It won’t be easy.

“The banks and brokers are in the bull’s eye,” said Kevin Murphy. “There’s article after article not only on subprime, but also banks sitting on leveraged buy out loans.” (WSJ) Credit protection on bank debt is soaring just as investor confidence is on the wane. In fact, the VIX index (The “fear gauge”) which measures market volatility— has surged 60% in the last week alone. The increased volatility means that more and more investors will probably ditch the stock market altogether and head for the safety of US Treasuries.

But, that just presents a different set of problems. After all, what good are US Treasuries if the dollar continues to plummet? No one will put up with 5% or 6% return on their investment if the dollar keeps sliding 10% to 15% per year. It would be wiser to one’s move money into foreign investments where the currency is stable.

And, that is (presumably) why Treasury Secretary Paulson is in China today—to sweet talk our Communist bankers into buying more USTs to prop up the flaccid greenback. (Note: The Chinese are currently holding $103 billion in toxic US-CDOs—and are not at all happy about their decline in value.) If the Chinese don’t purchase more US debt, then panicky US investors will start moving their dollars into gold, foreign currencies and German state bonds as a hedge against inflation. This will further accelerate the flight of foreign capital from American markets and trigger a massive blow-off in the stock and bond markets. In fact, this process is already underway. (although it has been largely concealed in the business media) In truth, the big money has been fleeing the US for the last 3 years. What passes as “trading” on Wall Street today is just the endless expansion of credit via newer and more opaque debt-instruments. It’s all a sham. America ’s hard assets are being sold off to at an unprecedented pace.

Credit Crunch: Whose ox gets gored?

When money gets tight; anyone who is “over-extended” is apt to get hurt. That means that the maxed-out hedge fund industry will continue to get clobbered. At current debt-to-investment ratios, the stock market only has to fall about 10% for the average hedge fund to take a 50% scalping. That’s more than enough to put most funds underwater for good. The carnage in Hedgistan will likely persist into the foreseeable future.

That might not bother the robber-baron fund-managers who’ve already extracted their 2% “pound of flesh” on the front end. But it’s a rotten deal for the working stiff who could lose his entire retirement in a matter of hours. He didn’t realize that his investment portfolio was a crap-shoot. He probably thought there were laws to protect him from Wall Street scam-artists and flim-flam men.

It’ll be even worse for the banks than the hedge funds. In fact, the banks are more exposed than anytime in history. Consider this: the banks are presently holding a half trillion dollars in debt (LBOs and CDOs) FOR WHICH THERE IS NO MARKET. Most of this debt will be dramatically downgraded since the CDOs have no true “mark to market” value. It’s clear now that the rating agencies were in bed with the investment banks. In fact, Joshua Rosner admitted as much in a recent New York Times editorial:

“The original models used to rate collateralized debt obligations were created in close cooperation with the investment banks that designed the securities”….(The agencies) “actively advise issuers of these securities on how to achieve their desired ratings” (Joshua Rosner “Stopping the Subprime Crisis” NY Times)

Pretty cozy deal, eh? Just tell the agency the rating you want and they tell you how to get it.

Now we know why $1.7 trillion in CDOs are headed for the landfill.

The downgrading of CDOs has just begun and Wall Street is already in a frenzy over what the effects will be. Once the ratings fall, the banks will be required to increase their reserves to cover the additional risk. For example, “As a recent issue of Grant’s explains, global commercial banks are only required to set aside 56 cents ($0.56) for every $100 worth of triple-A rated securities they hold. That’s roughly 178 to 1 ratio. Drop that down to double-B minus, and the requirement skyrockets to $52 per $100 worth of securities held—a margin increase of more than 9,000%”.

“56 cents ($0.56) for every $100 worth of triple-A rated securities”?!? Are you kidding me?

As Mugambo Guru says, “That is 1/18th of the 10% stock margin equity required in 1929”!! (Mugambo Guru; kitco.com)

The high-risk game the banks have been playing—of “securitizing” the loans of applicants with shaky credit—is falling apart fast. There’s no market for chopped up loans from over-extended homeowners with bad credit. The banks don’t have the reserves to cover the loans they have on the books and the CDOs have no fixed market value. End of story. The music has stopped and the banks can’t find a chair.

The public doesn’t know anything about this looming disaster yet. How will people react when they drive up to their local bank and see plywood sheeting covering the windows?

This will happen. There will be bank failures.

The derivatives market is another area of concern. The notional value of these relatively untested instruments has risen to $286 trillion in 2006—up from a meager $63 trillion in 2000. No one has any idea of how these new “swaps and options” will hold up in a slumping market or under the stress of increased volatility. Could they bring down the whole market?

That depends on whether they’re backed-up by sufficient collateral to meet their obligations. But that seems unlikely. We’ve seen over and over again that nothing in this new deregulated market is “as it seems”. It’s all stardust mixed with snake oil. What the Wall Street hucksters call the “new financial architecture of investment” is really nothing more than one overleveraged debt-bomb stacked atop another. Ironically, many of these same swindles were used in the run-up to the Great Depression. Now they’ve resurfaced to do even more damage. When the crooks and con-men write the laws (deregulation) and run the system; the results are usually the same. The little guy always gets screwed. That much is certain.

At present, the stock market is running on fumes. Another 4 to 6 months of wild gyrations and it’ll be over. The NASDAQ plunged 75% after the dot.com bust. How low will it go this time?

Keep an eye on the yen. The ongoing troubles in subprime and hedge funds are pushing the yen upwards which will unwind trillions of dollars of low interest, short term loans which are fueling the rise in stock prices. If the yen strengthens, traders will be forced to sell their positions and the market will tank. It’s just that simple. The Dow Jones will be a Dead Duck.

So far, Japan ’s monetary manipulations have been a real boon for Wall Street–enriching the investment bankers, the big-time traders and the hedge fund managers. They’re the one’s who can take advantage of the interest rate spread and then maximize their leverage in the stock market. It works like a charm in an up-market, but things can unravel quickly when the market retreats or starts to zigzag erratically. The recent rumblings suggest that the volatility will continue which will push the yen upwards and cut off the flow of cheap credit to the stock market. When that happens, the end is nigh.

The American People: “We’re not a dumb as you think”

It’s always refreshing to find out that the majority of Americans seem to have a grasp of what is really going on behind the fake headlines. For example, The Wall Street Journal/NBC conducted a poll this week which shows that two-thirds of Americans believe that “the economy is either in a recession now or will be in the next year.” That matches up pretty well with the 71% of Americans who now feel the Iraq War “was a mistake”. Americans are clearly downbeat in their outlook on the economy and haven’t been taken in by the daily infusions of happy talk about “low inflation” and “sustained growth” from toothy TV pundits. In fact, the mood of the country regarding the economy is downright gloomy. “Only 19% of Americans say things in the nation are headed in the right direction, while 67% say the country is off on the wrong track”. Iraq , of course, is the number one reason for the pessimism, but the dissatisfaction runs much deeper than just that.

“Only 16% expressed substantial confidence in the financial industry”—“18% in the energy or pharmaceutical industries”—“17% in large corporations and 11% in health-insurance companies”. Only 18% of the people have confidence in the corporate media and only 16% in the federal government.

These are encouraging numbers. They show that the vast majority of people have lost confidence in the system and its institutions. They also illustrate the limits of propaganda. People are not as easily indoctrinated as many believe. Eventually the “bewildered herd” catches on and sees through the lies and deception.

The American people know intuitively that something is fundamentally wrong with the economy. They just don’t know the details or the extent of the damage. Decades of neoliberal policies have inflated the currency, broadened the wealth gap, and destroyed manufacturing. Workers can no longer buy the things they produce because wages have stagnated through a stealth campaign of inflation which originated at the Federal Reserve. When wages shrink, prices eventually fall from overcapacity and the economy slips into a deflationary cycle. This downward spiral ultimately ends in depression. So far, that’s been avoided because of the Fed’s massive expansion of cheap credit. But that won’t last.

Economic policy is not “accidental”. The Fed’s policies were designed to create a crisis, and that crisis was intended to coincide with the activation of a nation-wide police-state. It is foolish to think that Greenspan or his fellows did not grasp the implications of the system they put in place. These are very smart men and very shrewd economists. They knew exactly what they were doing. They all understand the effects of low interest rates and expanded money supply. And, they’re also all familiar with Ludwig von Mises, who said:

“There is no means of avoiding the final collapse of a boom brought about by credit expansion.”

A crash is unavoidable because the policies were designed to create a crash. It’s that simple.

The Federal Reserve is a central player in a carefully considered plan to shift the nation’s wealth from one class to another. And they have succeeded. Nearly 4 million American jobs have been sent overseas, the country has increased the national debt by $3 trillion dollars, and foreign investors own $4.5 trillion in US dollar-backed assets. While the Fed has been carrying out its economic strategy; the Bush administration has deployed the military around the world to conduct a global resource war. These are two wheels on the same axel. The goal is to maintain control of the global economic system by seizing the remaining energy resources in Eurasia and the Middle East and by integrating potential rivals into the American-led economic model under the direction of the Central Bank. All of the leading candidates—Democrat and Republican—belong to secretive organizations which ascribe to the same basic principles of global rule (new world order) and permanent US hegemony. There’s no quantifiable difference between any of them.

The impending economic crisis is part of a much broader scheme to remake the political system from the ground-up so it better meets the needs of ruling elite. After the crash, public assets will be sold at firesale prices to the highest bidder. Public lands will be auctioned off. Basic services will be privatized. Democracy will be shelved.

The unsupervised expansion of credit through interest rate manipulation is the fast-track to tyranny. Thomas Jefferson fully understood this. He said:

“If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of our currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and the corporations that will grow up will deprive the people of all property until their children wake up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.”

We are now in the first phase of Greenspan’s Depression. The stock market is headed for the doldrums and the economy will quickly follow. Many more mortgage lenders, hedge funds and investment banks will be carried out feet first.

As the disaster unfolds, we should try to focus on where the troubles began and keep in mind Jefferson ’s injunction:

“The issuing of power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people to whom it properly belongs.”

Rep. Ron Paul is the only presidential candidate who supports abolishing the Federal Reserve.


FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

Bloomberg Outs the Insurance Industry by Michael J. Panzner

Dandelion Salad

by Michael J. Panzner
Financial Armageddon
Aug. 3, 2007

In Chapter 13 of Financial Armageddon, I touch upon the issue of insurance and the risks that Americans need to be aware of in the troubled times ahead when choosing providers, deciding on coverage options, and selecting and maintaining policies. Among other things, I note that:

besieged by financial pressures, insurers are likely to revoke many existing policies following claims. In some cases, cancellations will come even in the absence of misfortune, as entire underwriting lines or geographic regions are eliminated because of losses. Many policies will offer less value for the money. Rising red ink, falling investment returns, and growing counterparty woes will leave numerous insurers at risk of failing themselves. Under the circumstances, they will inevitably boost premiums, scale back coverage, and take a much harder line about honoring the terms of outstanding policies.

Continued…

h/t: Speaking Truth to Power


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Mis-Pricing the Risk – The Candidates and the Collapsing Economy By Alan Farago

Dandelion Salad

By Alan Farago
Counterpunch
Weekend Edition
August 4 / 5, 2007

Presidential candidates mis-pricing risk to American voters in dismal economy. In the summer of 2000, I looked out this same window in a small house on an island in Maine and, watching the tide emptying and filling the cove, contemplated what it would take for Gore to win the 2000 election.

I had a lot of company in despairing that advisors had prevailed in persuading candidate Gore to stifle the environment as a campaign issue.

At the time, I was spearheading a campaign to stop the Clinton administration from allowing political insiders and powerful campaign contributors in Florida’s largest county, Miami-Dade, from hijacking a former military base at the edge of the Everglades and turning it into a privatized, commercial airport.

Voters were upset enough how Clinton and Gore both were avoiding the environment that the beneficiary in the November 2000 election would be Ralph Nader—as indeed he was in Florida.

To be fair, Gore advisors had a rationale for believing that “the environment’ was on balance negative. The air base fiasco was far from the only mistake made in that respect.

But the lesson is this: insiders, cocooned in political campaigns and preoccupied with the challenge of raising campaign cash from an economic elite, tend to mis-price specific risks that touch ordinary people and ordinary voters.

While the Iraq quagmire is on voters’ minds, the 2008 election will be about the economy.

In this respect, Florida is again instructive to candidates who may be the next president of the United States.

Bloomberg reported (July 20,2007) on the weird manifestation of the housing boom and bust as dozens of construction cranes in Miami edge skyscraper condominiums toward foreclosure. “The oversupply will force prices down as much as 30 percent, the worst decline since the 1970s, and help push Florida’s economy into recession as early as October, said Mark Zandi, chief economist at West Chester, Pennsylvania-based Moody’s Economy.com, who owns a home in Vero Beach, Florida.”

Forget about October: the Florida economy is in a recession today.

Continued…

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

see:

THE MAP OF MISERY: WHERE FORECLOSURES ARE OCCURRING MOST HEAVILY

(h/t: Speaking Truth to Power)

Gunga Din Takes a Vacation by Stephen P. Pizzo

Dandelion Salad

by Stephen P. Pizzo
Atlantic Free Press
Friday, 03 August 2007

You may talk o’ gin an’ beer
When you’re quartered safe out ‘ere,
An’ you’re sent to penny-fights an’ Aldershot it;

But if it comes to slaughter
You will do your work on water,
An’ you’ll lick the bloomin’ boots of ‘im that’s got it.

Sure, you turn the lights out if you’re going away on vacation for a month. But the Iraqi parliament apparently went a step further when they left for a month away from away from the troubles in Baghdad – they turned off the water too.

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Much of the Iraqi capital was without running water Thursday and had been for at least 24 hours, compounding the misery in a war zone and the blistering heat at the height of summer…Residents and local officials said large sections of the city had been virtually dry for six days because the electricity grid can’t provide enough power to run water purification and pumping stations. (Full story)

Oh, and did I mention it’s 117 degrees in Baghdad this week? Of course, it is a dry heat…. which is one of those good news, bad news facts. This year it’s extra dry heat. Here’s an inconvenient fact – it’s drier in Baghdad this August than it was five Augusts ago when Saddam the Sadist ran the place. Back then, (before the Iraqis were liberated,) they had water every day. They also had electricity at least 18 hours every day.

Today Iraqis consider themselves lucky if they get 2-hours of juice a day.

That was before August 1. Now it’s down to an hour of electricity a day, and no water. Not a drop. Not for even a minute a day.

And did I mention it’s 117 degrees there now? So hot that even the pampered members of Iraq’s useless-as-tits-on-a-boar parliament skipped town for the month.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, the US Congress is about to bug out for a month as well. And you can be sure President Bush will be flying air-condition Air Force One, well-stocked with bottled water, to Texas for his annual Crawford ranch vacation as well.

At least the Iraqi parliament had an excuse most of us can at least understand, if not approve of – it’s hotter than billy-blue blazes in Iraq in August, and they’re tired of dodging hourly assassination attempts.

What’s Washington’s excuse for skipping town?

Simple.. in a word their excuse is … “Petraeus.”

Democrat or Republican, just ask them what the hell they’re waiting for before calling an end to Bush’s Vietnam and, to a person, they’ll chirp “General Petraeus.” They’ll explain that they understand you are hearing a lot of bad news about what’s going on in Iraq, but that such “anecdotal” reports are not useful. They are waiting to hear the real deal from our man on the ground there, General David Petraeus, when he reports to Congress in September.

Well, should you run into one your elected reps during, what we can assume will be their cool and well-hydrated August vacation, you might mention that, unless the 8-million severely under-hydrated folks in Baghdad are lying about their current “living” conditions, we don’t need to wait for General Petraeus’ report. We already know enough to know that that the US’s misadventure in Iraq has failed.

And now we learn that we’ve even failed as Baghdad’s Gunga Din. After four years, $600 billion dollars, 3700 dead US soldiers and who knows how many tens of thousands of dead Iraqis, we/they can’t even provide the hot, thirsty, and increasingly dirty, Baghdadians the most abundant resource on earth… water.

So it’s a 117 degrees in Baghdad, and the public water system is dry as a bone.

Let’s repeat that until it sinks in:

It’s 117 degrees in Baghdad and there’s no water.

It’s 117 degrees in Baghdad and there’s no water.

What could General Petreaus possibly tell us in September that would mitigate, explain or justify that single fact? What could he possibly report that would convince congress and the American people that 136,000 US troops and half a trillion dollars of our treasure have produced, or can produce, positive results for Iraq or the Iraqi people when one month before his testimony it’s 117 degrees in Baghdad and there’s no water service in that nation’s capitol city?

How can he explain away an elected Iraqi parliament that leaves it’s own people in such dire – life threatening – conditions to go on vacation for a month? A parliament that since it was elected has produced not a single piece of useful legislation. A parliament whose members, family, friends and militias have stolen more US aid money than they’ve invested into their nation’s infrastructure. How do you think they’re paying for those vacations aboard – trips they try to disguise as official business or for medical treatment. Even when the Iraqi parliament has not declared a mass vacation, up to half of them don’t show up for work because they are off gallivanting the globe.

“More than half the members of parliament, ministers and senior officials are on vacation, sick leave or on official assignment abroad” at any given time, a government official said on condition of anonymity. “It is common practice now that they spend more time abroad than in their offices. The main reason is their fear of being targeted inside the country.” (Full Story)

So if you are unlucky enough to run into one of our vacationing members of Congress this August, here’s all you have to do. Walk right up to them and, when they reach out to shake your hand, grab and don’t let go. Look them right in the face and recite the following:

“It’s 117 degrees in Baghdad and there’s no water.

It’s 117 degrees in Baghdad and there’s no water.

It’s 117 degrees in Baghdad and there’s no water.

What the holy hell are you waiting for?”

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.

The Daily Show – Who put the bomb in Obama? By Manila Ryce

Dandelion Salad

By Manila Ryce
The Largest Minority
Published Friday, August 3rd, 2007, 8:38 am

Slight differences in language to describe the same foreign policy of Obama and Clinton, along with subsequent post-debate comments have led to a feeding frenzy in the media. I’m glad to report that we have not reported on this non-story. Whether this decision was made consciously or out of pure laziness is probably best left up to your own interpretation. Anyway, the stigma attached to favoring diplomacy over military action has resulted in Obama slumming with Hillary for the title of biggest warmonger. Stewart sums up the idiocy of it all.

By now I imagine you’ve all gotten over the disappointment which is Barack Obama. You know, the candidate who wants to be like Hillary, who wants to be like Lieberman, who wants to be like Bush, who wants to be like Cheney. I don’t think anyone here was ever fooled into believing Barack was an anti-war candidate, but I personally didn’t expect him to make the incredibly stupid move of threatening Pakistan with military action. As if Hillary’s spin wasn’t devastating enough, now he’s being pwnd by Pakistani officials too. Pakistan’s Foreign Minister called Obama’s statement irresponsible, and said; “As the election campaign in America is heating up we would not like American candidates to fight their elections and contest elections at our expense.” Ouch. The Obarometer just hit a new low.

Et tu, Fisher-Price? by glitzqueen

glitzqueen

Featured writer
Dandelion Salad

by The Other Katherine Harris
glitzqueen’s blog

That Fisher-Price toys were top quality became a tenet of faith for me, when my son was small. They survived all a toddler could throw at them –- including being thrown, themselves –- and kept working. They even kept looking good. Since they didn’t splinter into threatening bits, their toughness was a safety plus, too. They were also designed and decorated cautiously, with no sharp corners or finishes nasty to gnaw on. From a Fisher-Price toy, you got a clear sense that the company understood little children and cared about them.

Given the trust earned by this firm through decades, yesterday’s news that they’ve recalled nearly a million toys was a surprise. That these toys are Chinese imports covered with toxic paint was a shock of high order — not much short of learning your grandmother runs a brothel.

To their credit — and that of Mattel, their parent company since 1993 — they noted the problem fast enough to sweep most offending merchandise off store shelves. Some did reach consumers, though, and despite efforts to get those products back, there’s no assurance of a happy ending. Somebody’s snookums is probably teething on a stacking ring laced with lead and suffering nerve and brain damage, as I write these words.

This didn’t have to happen to a company that managed to merit the loyalty of American families for 77 years. What caused it, of course, was greed. By this, I don’t suggest that Fisher-Price (or Mattel) is particularly greedy. Their overseas operations are said to be exemplary, compared to most. But the greed gestalt of the 1980s led them to start moving production outside America. Fisher-Price was then in heated competition with bigger, richer competitors: Hasbro, the Rubbermaid Little Tikes line and, yes, Mattel, which eagerly acquired F-P once it regained profitability.

I remember that sad era vividly. As the race to the bottom began, I watched clients close U.S. factories. The most ironic example was Pioneer Wear, then the world’s leading producer of western-style leather outerwear, from frontiersy fringed jackets to increasingly fashion-forward styles like suede suits, down-filled coats and knits with southwestern motifs. Expanding into product categories dominated by larger companies prompted the owner to move production offshore. John wasn’t notably generous to his Albuquerque seamstresses, but the wage they were paid to produce high-quality, labor-intensive garments was far too much, measured against his rivals’ outlays in Singapore and Malaysia.

In those Reagan Years, when the Culture of Greed took hold, the notion of doing anything to protect American jobs became anathema. Besides turning manufacturers loose to produce goods wherever they chose, with no penalty attached to selling them here, he kept busy demonizing unions; closing public mental institutions and releasing the patients to “community care” (aka homelessness); empowering the media to lie with impunity; deregulating everything in sight; and generally bolstering big business by any and all means. For the benefit of utilities and oil companies, he swiftly killed solar and other alternate energy development by ending Carter’s tax credits to consumers who bought their products, thereby funding further R&D. In the blink of an evil eye, the firms were gone (many of my clients among them).

That’s when America’s infrastructure began degrading, too. Which brings us to (sinister music break) The Bridge that fell Wednesday evening, after being pronounced “structurally deficient” in 1990.

This didn’t have to happen, either. We had 17 years to fix that bridge (and others ticking toward ruin) and, back in the 1990s, we had money. Remember that big surplus? But would the Republican Congress authorize the necessary spending? Read this 1993 article. While all Republicans wouldn’t agree with its author that having a national transportation system constitutes a “socialist nightmare”, such thinking has been prevalent enough to foster serious neglect — with the ultimate goal of privatizing more and more public resources.

Yesterday I read and heard torrents of outrage from people of both parties, the theme being that American bridges aren’t supposed to collapse.

Well, American babies’ toys aren’t supposed to poison them, either. Nor are American steam pipes and levees supposed to burst for lack of maintenance. Nor are Americans in a drowning city supposed to be abandoned and later housed in death-trap trailers. Nor are Americans supposed to die in mines and refineries known to be operating in hazardous ways. Nor are Americans supposed to suffer from “approved” drugs holding perils concealed by the makers. Nor are Americans supposed to brush their teeth with Chinese antifreeze and eat seafood from Asian water so filthy the fish can’t live in it without chemicals destructive to human health.

This brings us to another related story that broke yesterday.

Testing by several states has found about half the seafood we import from Asia is tainted with substances so scary that even our lax FDA bans them and yet the FDA — now headed, like all similar agencies, by “regulators” who abhor regulation — tested a meager .06 percent of shipments last year and rejected a miniscule .01 percent. In defense of this execrable record, director of seafood safety William Jones set up the straw man of universal testing and said, “You can’t test every single entry. If you did, you wouldn’t have any food.” His claim of a shortage is illogical, too. America has loads of coastline and fish farms. We’re importing 83 percent of our seafood (up from 57 percent in 1996) only because corporations make more money by buying overseas.

Behind all of this is the same greed –- a greed so extreme that it negates the traditional social contract between a government and the governed. Everywhere we see parts of the same picture: a danse macabre portrait of deliberate decay, brought to us by those who don’t give a damn about the citzenry, except insofar as we can be induced to buy both their products and their lies on the airwaves they monopolize (which we’ve forgotten we own) and insofar as we can be taxed to support corporate subsidies and bailouts; war profiteering; militarism; paramilitary forces; prisons and police state powers; privatization of government functions; environmental destruction as a path to drill Arctic oil; an educational system structured to produce terrified worker-bees laden with debt; special breaks for the ultra-rich; the export of our own jobs and foreign “aid” programs designed to reduce other countries to the same level of subservience that the Masters of the Universe call “freedom”.

Let’s face it, the Masters of the Universe want America broken. It’s nothing personal; they want every nation broken, except in the capacity of its government to control the people. Then all they have to do is control the governments, which are easy enough to buy.

Let’s face this, too: Reagan’s economic policies were continued and even expanded under Bill Clinton. He happily gave us NAFTA and signed the Telecommunications Act of 1996 with pleasure. Al Gore was all for it, too. (Links to remarks by both are HERE.) This legislation erased virtually all limitations on media ownership, allowing vast conglomerates to form and flourish. Thus were fully unleashed Rupert Murdoch (Hillary’s new best friend) and the other media pirates who had begun throwing objective, newsworthy news overboard when Reagan’s minions overturned the Fairness Doctrine. His FCC first attacked it in 1985, the same year when Australian-born Murdoch became a naturalized American citizen because only citizens could own U.S. television stations Amazing, isn’t it? We fret about the duplicity of immigrants marrying for green cards, but welcome into the corridors of power those whose selfish purposes exist on a grander scale. Murdoch isn’t even a duly tax-paying citizen for us, thanks to Newscorp’s complex structure, transnational scope and use of offshore havens, and soon the fabulist of Fox, the New York Post and the Weekly Standard (to mention just a few of his holdings) will start spreading his smarm in the Wall Street Journal, too.

So where lies hope, if any? Certainly not with Hillary, and Obama is also cavorting too freely with the grillionaires. The extent of media venom against Edwards reinforces my perception that he’s our best shot at regaining some semblance of democracy and economic justice after nearly 30 years of rampant corporatism.

Funny that there are now middle-aged people who can’t remember America before Reagan. If you’re one of them, please accept my solemn word that life was far, far better for regular folks in every respect. Small businesses provided about 80 percent of all jobs, so most people had cordial relationships with colleagues and even competitors. Health insurance and services weren’t so expensive that families feared being bankrupted by illness or injury. Just about anyone could afford college at a state-run school, because tuition was cheap (in some states free) and even those earning minimum wage had more spending power than today. There was a feeling of calm about having what you needed — maybe not all you wanted, but enough –- and in that calm were dignity and purpose. There was confidence in government, too. Its agencies existed to do their jobs, not to pretend or refuse to do them, so pollution was on the wane, for instance. Apart from importing oil and tropical fruit, we were self-sufficient and the oil prob was being effectively addressed until Reagan reversed the progress. Best of all, the media were still honest. That kept most elected officials pretty honest and barred Nixon from doing grave damage, although the forces of darkness were massing then for a mighty assault.

The past three decades in America, during which the majority have lost so much to a tiny minority, will be seen someday as a brief detour from our founding principles or as the beginning of the end. I can’t see any middle ground. It shouldn’t be hard to reject toxic toys, poisoned food, tumbling bridges, crumbling levees, manipulative media, crappy jobs, dying communities, endless war and other forms of dominating others, mindless test-based education, laws and regulatory agencies that favor the powerful and bought-and-paid-for politicians of both parties who try to tell us there’s no alternative to death-by-free-trade. At least it shouldn’t be hard, if we view all this as the unified phenomenon it is: not capitalism, but unbridled corporatism trying in its fascistic glory to make slaves of us.

This doesn’t have to happen, because there is really only one enemy and we are many.
see:

Fisher Price Recalls 1 1/2 Million Toys! Lead Paint! (video)

Imports Cause Consumer Safety Concern by Ralph Nader

Olbermann: THOMAS THE TRAIN COVERED IN BRAIN DAMAGING LEAD PAINT! (vid) plus commentary by Lo (Playmobil Toys)

Mumia Abu-Jamal — When War BackFires! + The Puppet Makers! The Message Stupid. (videos)

Dandelion Salad

August 03, 2007
Suryu

see:

Bush Directive for a “Catastrophic Emergency” in America by Prof. Michel Chossudovsky (Iran)

Bill Moyers: The Secret Government (must-see video; 1987)

Bravery, tears and broken dreams by Robert Fisk

Mount Ararat, towering symbol of Armenia, is an awful reminder of wrongs unrighted

Dandelion Salad

by Robert Fisk
The Independent
Published: 04 August 2007

There is nothing so infinitely sad – so pitiful and yet so courageous – as a people who yearn to return to a land for ever denied them; the Poles to Brest Litovsk, the Germans to Silesia, the Palestinians to that part of Palestine that is now Israel. When a people claim to have settled again in their ancestral lands – the Israelis, for example, at the cost of “cleansing” 750,000 Arabs who had perfectly legitimate rights to their homes – the world becomes misty eyed. But could any nation be more miserably bereft than one which sees, each day, the towering symbol of its own land in the hands of another?

Mount Ararat will never return to Armenia – not to the rump state which the Soviets created in 1920 after the Turkish genocide of one and a half million Armenians – and its presence to the west of the capital, Yerevan, is a desperate, awful, permanent reminder of wrongs unrighted, of atrocities unacknowledged, of dreams never to be fulfilled. I watched it all last week, cloud-shuffled in the morning, blue-hazed through the afternoon, ominous, oppressive, inspiring, magnificent, ludicrous in a way – for the freedom which it encourages can never be used to snatch it back from the Turks – capable of inspiring the loftiest verse and the most execrable commercialism.

There is a long-established Ararat cognac factory in Yerevan, Ararat gift shops – largely tatty affairs of ghastly local art and far too many models of Armenian churches – and even the Marriott Ararat Hotel, which is more than a rung up from the old Armenia Two Hotel wherein Fisk stayed 15 years ago, an ex-Soviet Intourist joint whose chief properties included the all-night rustling of cockroach armies between the plaster and the wallpaper beside my pillow.

Back in the Stalinist 1930s, Aleksander Tamanian built an almost fascistic triumphal arch at one side of Republic Square through which the heights of Ararat, bathed in eternal snow, would for ever be framed to remind Armenians of their mountain of tears. But the individualism of the descendants of Tigran the Great, whose empire stretched from the Caspian to Beirut, resisted even Stalin’s oppression. Yeghishe Charents, one of the nation’s favourite poets – a famous philanderer who apparently sought the Kremlin’s favours – produced a now famous poem called “The Message”. Its praise of Uncle Joe might grind the average set of teeth down to the gum; it included the following: “A new light shone on the world./Who brought this sun?/… It is only this sunlight/Which for centuries will stay alive.” And more of the same.

Undiscovered by the Kremlin’s censors for many months, however, Charents had used the first letter of each line to frame a quite different “message”, which read: “O Armenian people, your only salvation is in the power of your unity.” Whoops! Like the distant Mount Ararat, it was a brave, hopeless symbol, as doomed as it was impressive. Charents was “disappeared” by the NKVD in 1937 after being denounced by the architect Tamanian – now hard at work building Yerevan’s new Stalinist opera house – the moment Charents’ schoolboy prank was spotted. Then Tamanian fell from the roof of his still unfinished opera house, and even today Armenians – with their Arab-like desire to believe in “the plot” – ask the obvious questions. Did the architect throw himself to his death in remorse? Or was he pushed?

Plots live on in the country that enjoyed only two years of post-genocide independence until its 1991 “freedom” from the decaying Soviet Union. Its drearily re-elected prime minister, Serzh Sargsyan, permits “neutral” opposition but no real political debate – serious opponents would have their parties and newspapers closed down – and he recently told the local press that “the economy is more important than democracy”. Not surprising, I suppose, when the corrupt first president of free Armenia, Petrossyan, is rumoured to be plotting a comeback. Sargsyan even tried to throw the American Radio Liberty/Free Europe station out of Armenia – though I suppose that’s not necessarily an undemocratic gesture.

Nonetheless, interviewed by Vartan Makarian on an Armenian TV show this week, I found it a bit hard to take when Vartan suggested that my Turkish publisher’s fear of bringing out my book on the Middle East – complete with a chapter on the 1915 Armenian genocide – was a symbol of Turkey’s “lack of democratisation”. What about Armenia’s pliant press, I asked? And why was it that present-day Armenia seemed to protest much less about the 20th century’s first holocaust than the millions of Armenians in the diaspora, in the US, Canada, France, Britain, even Turkish intellectuals in Turkey itself? The TV production crew burst into laughter behind their glass screen. Guests on Armenian television are supposed to answer questions, not ask them. Long live the Soviet Union.

But you have to hand it to the journalists of Yerevan. Each August, they all go on holiday. At the same time. Yup. Every editor, reporter, book reviewer, columnist and printer packs up for the month and heads off to Lake Sevan or Karabakh for what is still called, Soviet-style, a “rest”. “We wish all our readers a happy rest-time and we’ll be back on August 17th,” the newspaper Margin announced this week. And that was that. No poet may die, no Patriotic War hero expire, no minister may speak, no man may be imprisoned, lest his passing or his words or incarceration disappear from written history. I encourage the management of The Independent to consider this idea; if only we had operated such a system during the rule of the late Tony Blair… But no doubt a civil servant would have emailed him that this was a “good time” to announce bad news.

In any event, a gloomy portrait of the poet-martyr Charents now adorns Armenia’s 1,000 dram note and Tamanian’s massive arch still dominates Republic Square. But the dying Soviet Union constructed high-rise buildings beyond the arch and so today, Ararat – like Charents – has been “disappeared”, obliterated beyond the grey walls of post-Stalinist construction, the final indignity to such cloud-topped, vain hopes of return. Better by far to sip an Ararat cognac at the Marriott Ararat Hotel from which, at least, Noah’s old monster can still be seen.

FAIR USE NOTICE: This blog may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes, to advance understanding of human rights, democracy, scientific, moral, ethical, and social justice issues, etc. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 107 of the US Copyright Law. This material is distributed without profit.