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Hello from bankrupt Kiev, 4x4 capital of Europe

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Paul Mason | 21:36 UK time, Saturday, 21 March 2009

Eurocrash graphicI have been following the outrage over the AIG bonuses via the news channels on my tour of crisis-stricken Eastern Europe. Here in the Ukraine the situation is really perilous: the IMF's projected loan of $16bn is on hold until the country meets conditions. But these are becoming ever less stringent as it becomes clear the political situation is fragmented and the government cannot deliver.

However I can't help wondering what would happen if we substituted the words "BMW X5" for "AIG bonus". The West is, right now, via the IMF, preparing to bail out countries where a lot of people seem to drive top-of-the-range 4x4s; indeed, as the lead singer of a local ska band I have just interviewed put it, "there are more 4x4s here in this city than in most West European cities".

Its made me wonder what would happen if the IMF, as well as insisting on cutting wages and closing nurseries, simply ruled that all top-range 4x4 automobiles be banned in any country receiving a bailout. I think it might help concentrate the minds of the politicians and the business elite.

Watch my report from Ukraine below:

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  • Comment number 1.

    Don't worry Paul, you'll soon be back in Kiev- on-Thames, soon-to-be-bankrupt home of the Chelsea Tractor. Perhaps we should hava a pre-emptive strike on them...

    Cynicus Economicus notes today that we iin 'Old Europe' have an alarming tendency to believe 'it couldn't happen here'. You're not going to follow the rest of the media into that hole are you?

  • Comment number 2.


    Forgive me for going slightly off-topic here, but isn't this website just blatant Labour Party propoganda? Who's paying for it? Who's controlling the messages being posted?

    You're looking at G20 stuff by being in Kiev. Well, the website I've hyper-linked is indeed G20. But, oh boy, it's just scary what our Government is getting up to here. Has Gordon Brown no shame? Does he think we're all complete idiots?

    Brown's behaviour becomes evermore bizarre with each passing week. Is he alright do you think?

  • Comment number 3.

    Paul, can you share more insights into how these Eastern European countries created 10% economic growth per annum during the boom years? Presumably they have stocked up some foreign reserves during the process? If so, why not use the money to stop their economy from running to bankruptcy now?

  • Comment number 4.


    I have posted before: there are two James Gordon Browns, and if they ever meet, he will crumble.

    The 'Son of the Manse' believes he is brilliant, compassionate and a great leader.
    The 'Manse Monster' (alter ego, escaped from the cellar) is devious, scheming, angry and without scruple.

    Brown, like a string of previous PMs, is only in that elevated position because political parties operate on a bizarre basis; the mirror image of normal life. We saw, with Blair, the power of a devious Prime Minister to boldly go where no rational man would choose to go.

    Now we have Brown. Don't have nightmares.


  • Comment number 5.


    Look out for Vertu mobiles. That's where the IMF will draw the line.

  • Comment number 6.

    given their weather and road conditions 4x4 make more sense over there than they do in knightsbridge?

    given for the east ww2 did not not till 1989 to point out after 20 years they do not have traditions of good financial governance that countries like the uk or usa manifestly don't have either doesn't seem to go anywhere?

    rather than more descriptions of what is now obvious to everyone there might be a bit of public service in

    1. looking at the magic circle of finance of maybe 1000 people in the uk and showing how they are interconnected which was another reason no one took action on those who did blow the whistle.

    2. what are the growth industries in the uk and what do we have to do [and change] to head in that direction. [and which political party is best likely to take that direction]

    3. the blatant profiteering in not just energy but in food. wheat prices and animal feed are down but is bread or meat?

    4. are the next 12 months of polices driven by electioneering harming the national interest for political gain? When big picture focus is needed now? not tinkering saving jobs in marginals?

  • Comment number 7.


    People who charge around city centres in 4x4s are equally galling whether they be Sloane Rangers or the Great Gaters of Kiev. Here in Budapest, when there is high atmospheric pressure and little wind, the pollution gets trapped in the Duna basin and the air quality deteriorates significantly. So yes something has to be done.

    But is it not a matter for local authorities to take traffic restricting measures and central government to use the tax system to pressure people towards more green transport? I don't really see the connection with the downturn except to say that, as things deteriorate, there will be a lot of these monsters up for sale and precious few takers.

  • Comment number 8.

    Let us all rant against the evils of the 4x4!

    Now this may, like attacking AIG bonuses and Fred Goodwin, be fun but does it make sense?

    No of course it does not. These are shibboleths against which the good and great who run the place want the people to rant so that we take our attention away from them. We should only attack these secondary targets when the primary ones are vanquished. (i.e Mervyn King, Nicholas Macpherson, Hector Sants and the entire MPC - these men need to be removed first!)

    It is however worth pointing out that the utility gain from having the use of a car, any car, against not having one is where the majority of the gain is made. It is just vanity and false pride that makes anyone believe that they need a huge 4x4 - even the sense that owning a gas-guzzler increase the size of their male member!

    So let us all praise the GeeWiz! (Not!?)

  • Comment number 9.

    My 11 year old car died last June and ever since then, trying to be green, I have opted for the bus and using public transport. What a waste of 9 months of my life!

    Alas, in my part of the World we only have the buses and incredibly expensive trains, plus a very unsavoury location for the train station. My entire life just slowed down, things that would take an hour by car became an entire day of waiting for, changing and waiting for buses. Many activities and hobbies that I used to love - surfing, walking in the countryside, visiting beaches - stopped simply because public transport did not go to such places or, if it did, the last bus home was so early that I had to return home almost as soon as I arrived anywhere.

    Why I am telling you this?

    Well, this last week saw me order a nice shiney new Honda 4X4. Having given up on buses I tried to buy a green supermini but found, at well over 6 foot tall, that I simply could not fit into one, nor could I get into the P(r)ius or the Insight or any other hybrid. Even large saloons from the likes of BMW, VW, Audi and Co are now remarkably small inside that, if you look online, you will find numerous resources about how unhealthy driving in such conditions are for breathing, for posture and, ultimately, for safety - not enough space between flesh and metal in many cockpits nowadays.

    So, despite being opposed to 4x4s and swearing never to buy one, I now find myself awaiting the arrival of one simply because the public transport is simply a no goner and, for a mixture of health and safety reasons, a 4x4 is the best option for myself.

    Living in London, or NY or Paris, it is very easy to be anti-4X4 when you have wonderful public transportation all around which is regular, easy to acccess and cheap to use. Most of us in the UK do not have this. Likewise, if you are under 6 foot you have no trouble fitting into the increasingly smaller superminis but the reality is that many people of 6 foot and over are unknowingly causing them health and safety issues by driving cars that are simply too small for them.

    Rant over - perhaps I should have gone to Riga to but my 4x4. If I had I could have asked that lead singer if he thought everyone over 6 foot should have their legs cut off in order to fit into a hybrid?

    One final rant, listening to the Stephen Nolan show on Fivelive last night he played an interesting item between the director of that new environmental film, no idea what it is called, and Johnny Ball - yes, Johnny 'Think Of A Number' and 'Playschool' Ball - who used solid science to absolutely wipe the floor with her about supposed global warming. It is on podcast somewhere and well worth a listen to if only for entertainment purposes.

    If you spot any gorgeous non-nutty single Latvian Women please bring one back for me Paul. But if you are passing by Budapest I will quite happily wait for one, so I am told, of the most beautiful women in Europe. Something to look forward to anyhow if you are heading there.

  • Comment number 10.


    I've just been reading one of my old Development Economics textbooks "The economics of Underdevelopment" by Agarwala and Singh. One of the essays in it is from Paul Baran. He asks a similar question. Pointing out that in many developing countries the workers and peasants have little disposable income to save that can be accumulated whereas the elites drive around in flash cars, have big houses and so on, the obvious question is, why do the Governments of these countries not slap big taxes on these items and incomes in order to generate the resources to be used for accumulation?

    The answer is obvious, and as obvious as the reason why the IMF will not ask those who drive around in 4x4's in Eastern Europe to give them up while they ask the workers to accept swingeing reductions in their living standards. The same people who run the Governments - developing and developed economies - and who run the IMF, do not come from the same class as those workers and peasants. They come from the same class as those driving the 4x4's and enjoying the lavish lifestyles.

    As Baran puts it they may not fancy death much, but they don't intend committing suicide to avoid it.

  • Comment number 11.

    hey paul if you are fed up with the entertainment of local nightclubs there is a good show [watch online] from pbs frontline called 'inside the meltdown'

    [the afghanistan one is good as well]

    like what bbc used to be. no edgy cameras, no dumbing down. just good reporting cut sharp.

  • Comment number 12.


    Is the west really going to 'bail out ' the east?

    How on earth are we going to do that?

    I at least found it mildy encouraging today that George Osbourne ( I am not exactly a fan of his) talking about cuts in services, tax rises and tough decisions.

    At least they are not treating the electorate as being inhumanly stupid as labour are at the moment ( we shouold be recovering in July remember according to Alaistair Darling).

    If it needs to be increadibly tough (which it does) ...just tell us !!!!


  • Comment number 13.

    Thanks for all your concern about Kiev's nightclubs. I am in fact editing my report at 2300 local in my hotel room with a roomserviceburger. I hope that is public service enough. I take all the points and suggestions. One of the problems with EEurope is that they did not amass foreign exchange reserves or budget surpluses in the good times. On the 4x4 issue: I specifically said "top range 4x4s" because I have nothing against the humble Toyota Rav4, Honda or the noble Landrover V8. It is the Hummer, the Terrano, X5 et al that in this context I was meaning. And I have nothing against them per se, nor even somebody who has earned their money by the sweat of their brow deciding to blow it all on 15mpg wheels. Many of the people I spoke to in the last few days cannot help fearing that any money pumped into this country by the IMF without stringent conditions will simply end up in the bank accounts of rich people and criminals. And yet unless the IMF loosens the conditions it will be accused of letting Ukraine go bust. To see the IMF twist and turn on this bit of rope go here:

  • Comment number 14.


    Paul still isn't answering my question from previous postings: "Do you know what money is?"

    There is an awful lot of discussion on the blogs about money management, but if we don't know what money IS . . .

    And it is no good looking for some consensus of 'experts' - we know where that gets us! (:o)

    Anyone else want to have a go? Get it right - you might save the world (before J Gordon does).

  • Comment number 15.


    When the tailors offered to clothe the Emperor, in their finest materials and tayloring, he did a deal with them. He persuaded the tailors that debt was now worth more than silly old gold, so they went away loaded with debt. Of course, the tailors needed to live, so they, in turn, persuaded shop-keepers and suppliers that DEBT was the new cash - "it must be OK, the Emperor was using it".

    Then the credit crunch came, and soon everyone was dressed like a King - well, like an Emperor at least.

  • Comment number 16.

    Well the chickens are truly coming home to roost :)

    BBC Blogger of the Year 2008-2009

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    Do you think Paul Masons Idle Scrawl is the best BBC blog of the year or Pestons Picks, Stephanomics or Newslog.
    Nominate who and why for the ultimate BBC Blogger award of 2008-2009

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    Tell us who has been Most Creative, Funniest, Positive, Negative, Persistant use of Capitals or just plain correct throughout 2008-2009.

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  • Comment number 17.

    yes the effects of contagion spreading around the world.

    the frontline show suggests paulson [ex goldmans] let lehmans go bust not just because of some previous rivalry but to demonstrate the necessity for virtue in the markets [moral hazard]. When AIG came up next all those luxuries [of being virtuous] were pushed aside and it was bailed. The frontline show is quite good at following the path of paulson from no rules free market champion to one of the greatest interventionist in history.

    perhaps that is a journey the IMF [and others] will have to make and come to realise that in the face of contagion meltdown the ideas of economic 'virtue' are , in these times, a luxury? [and a mistake of the 1930s?]

  • Comment number 18.

    16 paul's is the best economic one. steffi was out the loop during the crisis and peston imo is part of the problem. ;)

    so for paul it should be 'home for tea and medals'.

  • Comment number 19.

    "Many of the people I spoke to in the last few days cannot help fearing that any money pumped into this country by the IMF without stringent conditions will simply end up in the bank accounts of rich people and criminals."

    I think we all know how they feel.

  • Comment number 20.

    >Its made me wonder what would happen if the IMF, as well as insisting on cutting wages and closing nurseries, simply ruled that all top-range 4x4 automobiles be banned in any country receiving a bailout.

    oh, it's so good you cannot make such decisions and never could

  • Comment number 21.

    OT, but when did that ever stop us:)

    I am an avid archiver of 'interesting' phrases, especially from our political masters.

    They are usually notable for the subtle twist in meanings often to be found, as here, to the extent of being 180 degrees the opposite of what is usually suggested by the term.

    This one just has to go in now: 'I've done nothing wrong'

    I think what was/is meant is not 'nothing wrong', but 'nothing yet illegal'. There is a difference of course, which most appreciate, though others, evidently may not.

  • Comment number 22.

    Meanwhile, in top breaking news, I await my invitation to the dinner party cooked by Jamie Oliver, as shared by our 'I don't do celebrity' PM.

    I am sure he will find many other matters of high import, including the sad passing of a young British woman from cancer, to focus our intentions where they should really be directed in what matters to the future of the country.

    And, I am sure, many fine reporting organisations will be on hand to assist.

  • Comment number 23.


    "I refer the honourable gentleman to the statement I made earlier (post 4 above) which said, in part: ' . . political parties operate on a bizarre basis; the mirror image of normal life.' Parties, of course, are just bunches of bizarre MPs.

    While we are 'doing' right and wrong, Mr Speaker, I would like to offer my sympathy in the suffering of Tony Blair and Iain Duncan Smith over their losses, due to the War on Money."

    Erratum: delete 'Money', insert 'Terror' - an easy mistake; both are abstract nouns that the foolish think they can manipulate for gain.

  • Comment number 24.


    Paul I dont think your public service motives are in doubt, but what of your employer?

    Here is a tricky little journalistic test of impartiality for the Newsnight team to have a go at.

    How about a piece investigating the primetime news editorial policies of the BBC? A good interview for Jeremy to interview the head of BBC news perhaps? Oer maybe he will 'decline' to appear or 'not be available'?

    Here is a question for jeremy to ask (10 times if needs be).

    ''How come on a day that there are further revelations about Lord Myners competance and appropriatness for his office and allegations concerning the behaviour of lawyers acting against the NHS does the BBC news headlines run with the death of Jade Goody?''

    Don't get me wrong, any death of one so young with young children is a tragedy (ask anyone in Africa) but what exactly is being served in the public interest by making a positive editorial decision to run this as the top story, i.e. the most important bit of news the nation needs to know this day in the opinion of the BBC, public service broadcaster to the nation , paid for as a tax on the people of this nation.

    Think about that for a moment or two.

    Surely the public interest would better be served by concentrating on relentlesesly researching and exposing the backgrounds and activities of our political, finacial and legal ruling elite?

    That really would serve the public interest and who knows what we may find that could be put a stop to.

    Now that really is worth paying a TV license fee for.


  • Comment number 25.


    Jane Goody with eternal Max Clifford, and 'young persons' asking Brown what he eats (not humble pie - that for sure).

    Following on from RobRocket #16: time for an award for Best Use of 'BBC'?

    Benign Banality Confection.
    Base British Crap.

  • Comment number 26.

    "Many of the people I spoke to in the last few days cannot help fearing that any money pumped into this country by the IMF without stringent conditions will simply end up in the bank accounts of rich people and criminals. And yet unless the IMF loosens the conditions it will be accused of letting Ukraine go bust."

    Huge problem. Ukraine has been a pawn in the political game between Russia and the West. Maybe the Obama administration will change this.

    A question should the Ukraine exist at all as it does at the moment? There are multiple identity crises. It's not just Russian v Ukrainian speakers - (though the differences are no more than those between English and Geordie) Like the former Yugoslavia, Ukraine is on a Catholic/Orthodox faultline too.

    The (Uniate) catholic Western Ukrainians think that they ar the only "true" ones. In the central Ukraine, both Russian and Ukrainian speakers tend to be Orthodox, and remember that Kiev was the first capital of Russia. In fact, the nickname for Russian speakers means "Muscovites". Tatar/Russian speaking Crimea wants either independence or to be part of Russia. Russian speaking Eastern Ukraine, especially the Donietsk area would rather be part of Russia than in a state dominated by West Ukrainians like Tymoshenko. Other West Ukrainians want their own state anyway. Central Ukrainians are confused. They want the perceived prosperity of the west, but close ties, maybe even re-integration with Russia. Remember, Ukraine did not seek independence. Like Belarus it was divorced By Russia when Yeltsin took power in Russia, effectively dissolving the Soviet Union.

    The new elite did hope for EU entry to solve all these problems, but that was a non-starter. Ukraine is now a potential failed state as well as an economic nightmare. I doubt that a peaceful solution to its political paralysis is possible.

    I went to Kiev in 1992 and 1996 with my late mother, who was born there. In 1992 it was still Soviet (and secular) in many ways. My abiding single memory of 1996 was of an old man outside a metro station crossing himself. When we got close I realised he was begging, chanting in Russian "For the love of God, alms?". Our hosts were as shocked as we were. This had recently been unthinkable!

  • Comment number 27.

    Paul, If you have time, never mind the night life, go to the Mikhail Bulgakov museum in the street below St Andrew's Cathedral (Andryeyevski spusk). It is largely dedicated to his most famous novel "The Master and Margarita", which describes how the Devil visits Moscow and causes mayhem by playing on the greed induced stupidity of the inhabitants. It's a dark comedy, but with many echoes in most modern societies at the moment.

  • Comment number 28.

    To sashaclarkson Post 26

    You forgot to mention that Western Ukraine was Polish until the end of WW2.

    The Soviet manipulated Curzon line that took the historically Polish city of Lwow from Poland and gave it to the Ukraine.

    Thats why its mainly Catholic.

    Shall we start breaking up all the Soviet or Western 'designed' countries of the world?

    Germany, Poland, Ukraine

    I say the world economy needs sorting out so countries have most of the money in the world and not individuals before looking at nation building again.

    The rich being greedy caused the problems, the rich should use their own pockets to help their economies and the eastern economies recover.

  • Comment number 29.

    #28 You forgot to mention that Western Ukraine was Polish until the end of WW2.

    The Soviet manipulated Curzon line that took the historically Polish city of Lwow from Poland and gave it to the Ukraine.

    Thats why its mainly Catholic.

    It's far more complex than that. After the Mongol empire disappeared, the whole of central amd western Ukraine became part of the Polish/Lithuanian empire. The western Ukraine remained under Polish rule until the partition of Poland divided it between Russia and Austria. After WWI it reverted to Poland again. Lvov was ruled by Poland but ethnically mixed. The Polish minority was expelled in 1939. But in the country, the peasants were Ukrainian speaking Uniate (Greek) catholics, wheras many of the landowners were Russian and Orthodox until the outbreak of WWII. Then there was the Jewish middle class in the towns too. Eastern Europe was not then in any way ethnically homogeneous. A problem in Ukraine now is that the ethnic Western Ukrainians have a very different idea of what it means to be Ukrainian than the ethnic central Ukrainians. Perhaps I should say cultural rather than ethnic. In central Ukraine it was Russian in towns, Ukrainian in the country, but both orthodox and reasonable coexistence. In Lvov/Lviv Ivano-Frankovsk etc it was and is different. There is little Russian spoken and a great dislike of Russians and Poles alike. We think of Poland as a victim in the 19th and 20th centuries, but they had their turn as oppressors too.

    The question is not whether the West should nation-build - it is of whether it will step in to stop the realignments in that part of the world which will inevitably occur.

    Russia will undoubtedly interfere - with the support of a significant proportion of the population - a majority in some parts, but fierce opposition in others. Many, even in Kiev, have close family - Ukrainian citizens - living and working in Russia - especially in the Siberian Oil/gas fields. Also, whatever the views of the political class, the armed forces still have very close links to Russia - and divided loyalties.

    This is a minefield potentially much uglier than the Georgian situation.

  • Comment number 30.

    #18 If you think Paul then put your case, I assume since Paul actually reads the posts on this blog then he will nominate himself (he may be too modest, but I doubt it :)

    Nominations close 30/03/2009

    #14,15,23 and previous, Barrie, calm down a bit, give the poor man a chance

    in the mean time read Robert Tressel's The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists chapter 'The Great Money Trick' for the true definition of what money (as opposed to wealth is)

    #28 'The rich being greedy caused the problems'

    There is nothing wrong with greed being an economic driver, the problems stem from the 'rich beyond most peoples dreams' accrueing further wealth, just what do they think they are going to do with it, do a Bill Gates and give a few quid to the poor ?

    They should either put their wealth to work or they should lose it, just hanging on to it is an obscenity. (their money they can keep)

  • Comment number 31.


    Instead of taking away their luxury 4x4 the IMF should issue community service orders to the leaders of the nations requiring help.

    They only get the bail out money on the condition that the ruling elite take turns to work a rota for 6 months on a community project in a slum in some other country other than their own (in case they get killed in home grown slums). If they refuse to take the assignment the IMF refuses the bailout money, I think their people may get a little angry with them at that point if they dont accept a bit of humility in return for bailing out thier own countryfolk (isnt that what genuine leadership should be in part about anyway....)

    They should only be allowed to inhabit a position of political of fiscal authority upon the completion of a 6 month supervised tour of community service in some deprived area.

    1) This may focus their minds somewhat and keep their personal greed in check if they have the real prospect of doing real work for a real 'hands on' just cause if they don't.

    2) It will help with the huge disconnect that has built up again between the ruling classes and the people they are supposed to serve.

    I dont suppose such ideas will get an airing at the G20 while they tuck into their oysters and caviar washed down with Don Perignon.


    How was the burger by the way?


  • Comment number 32.

    Nos 24

    For me the Jade thing is OK if it does get more women to have these smear tests. It could only be embarrassment, humiliation and worry to have to have that done. I have a friend who, after a mastectomy goes through emotional hell when she has a mammogram coming up. I dropped my pants only once for the doc who saw fit to shine a torch through my balls switch it on and off and have his own little light show - he seemed pleased with the result. MY humiliation was totally un-diagnosed.

    The Myerson thing was not OK I switched off - a real low point NN.

  • Comment number 33.


    I have long felt that 'independent enquiry' should mean our lot get investigated by the Norwegians or Turks etc. The Iraq war would have only needed one enquiry to prove what we all know.

    Not sure Mandy is right for shovelling though.

  • Comment number 34.

    Maybe I've got this wrong, but doesn't your job include, somewhere along the line, identifying how the focus of your reporting will affect the lives of the people that pay your wages?

    So how is the situation in Latvia likely to affect people here?

    Apart from any bailouts to the new EU states, surely the EU movement of labour is likely to be a very big issue if unemployment hits 20% there?

    Or don't we talk about that?

  • Comment number 35.

    Budapest was worse. In 1966 I followed Liverpool in their away game with Honved along with a camera crew and World in Action team. The taxi driver when he dropped us off at our hotel said would we mind if he dropped us off the street before as if he took us to the door the secret police would interview him for two days to find out what we had been talking about....almost like Ms Smith's fair and pleasant land..

  • Comment number 36.

    Paul - It would seem just as valid in the run up to the G20 to be looking at Brazil and India for ways forward:

    Any plans to head out there in the near future?

  • Comment number 37.

    I live in Kiev, i.e. Central Ukraine.
    Ladies & gentlemen, before you speak of how Ukraine should be broken up please do some homework and learn something about this country, which has a history of more than a 1000 years long. Dear sashaclarkson, Kiev was never a capitol of Russia [and this alone tells it all about your knowledge of the area]. It was a capitol of Kiev Rus, a medieval state which existed before Russian and Ukrainian people even formed. Julia Timoshenko is not a western-Ukrainian, she was born in Dnepropetrovsk, Central/Eastern Ukraine, and she is not being hated anywhere. It is not true that Ukraine did not want independence - there was a referendum here in 1992 and 90% of the population supported the independence. It is not true that western and central and eastern Ukrainians do not consider themselves one people. It is not true that question of Orthodox vs Catholic or Uniate religion is of any significant importance here.
    In short, please stop writing mindless lies!
    In fact, only about 15% of the population wish to reunite Ukraine and Russia. While cities of Central and Eastern Ukraine (but not the rural areas!) are Russian-speaking they do not want to abandon the independence. In fact it was the russian-speaking population in Kiev which started the Orange revolution of 2004, and even if our leaders have discredited themselves the idea itself remains undiminished. Our country has awful vices, but please do not add to it some ill-informed and stupid mythology.


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