Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

6th February 1998

Copyright © 1998 Russell Brown

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and a big kia ora and a happy birthday to the nation, - although you'll forgive the absence of streamers and fireworks.

It's Waitangi Day, and we can't quite work out what to do about it and we're a little embarrassed that we can't get it together. We've rejected the plastic tiki version created by Muldoon, but we can't warm to a National Day of Grievance either.

Waitangi Day, frankly, is a little like our cricket team.We've tried a range of styles in the past 20 years, and we've even renamed it to see if that makes any difference. Apart from the odd flash of brilliance we just can't seem get it quite right - but we will, one day. And maybe this will be the year we start.

Still, we'll take the statutory holiday anyway - because if we don't, Max Bradford and his souless employer chums will steal it from under our noses. I heard someone this morning say that the estimated cost of each day's holiday to the economy is $150 million. I struggle to imagine what kind of sad fool you'd have to be to think like that.

The Prime Minister, of course, isn't having a holiday, even after the excitement of a budget policy statement which, as I predicted months ago, sets the scene for an assault on the poorest people in the country in order to seal into another round of tax cuts. If in doubt, bash the beneficiaries - they can't fight back. This will get very ugly, mark my words.

Even as I speak, she's working the crowds at Waitangi, having turned up yesterday to press the flesh and hung around long enough for morning prayers today. It was an extremely shrewd move, and an indication of the kind of finely-tooled politicking we can expect from Jenny Shipley.

But she needs to pace herself. She was bright red and bathed in sweat during yesterday's Waitangi walkies, and it looked a bit yukky for all those old folks obliged to hongi with her, I thought. Yes, it's jungle weather, alright. It's hot and it's humid and it's weird. And the rugby season starts in three weeks. Can you believe that?

Still, at least it's real - which is more than can be said for the place I spent last week; the Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. A place where hotel doors say 'Cast members only' - not "staff", but "cast" - where the golf course is dyed green, twice a year with coloured fertiliser, one shade for the greens and one for the fairways. If you find a nice little glade, and you aren't you how to feel about it, there'll be a speaker tinkling away amongst the leaves, to give you a clue.

America is great at mobilising sentiment, of course. I watched the Super Bowl and choked back a tear as the Denver Broncos' ageless quarterback John Elway - who I'd barely heard of three hours earlier - finally went all the way to the podium.

And, at some point in the melee, somebody asked Elway what he'd be doing tomorrow. "I'm going to Disneyland!" he shouted, as one might. By the following evening Disney had bought that footage and had it rotating four times an hour in the commercial breaks. America's coffee may be weak, but its consumerism is double-espresso.

I found myself moved too, in the course of Bill Clinton's State of the Union speech. Clinton was, of course, under seige as a president - but you'd never have known it as he wove presentation and reality into something that soared. He's a brilliant speaker, simply stunning; and even though much of what he promised hasn't a hope in hell of becoming law, it pressed all the right buttons.

It helps him, of course, that his Republican opposition, which has the majority in the elected houses, is stuck in retro. The Republican response, from Senator Trent Lott, was almost laughable. The Clinton administration is steering the US towards its first budget surplus in 30 years, unemployment is its lowest for a quarter of a century, and crime has dropped for five years straight. And what do the Republicans promise? To, er, build more jails and crack down on abortion.

Clinton knows he can keep the Republicans in line by acting tough on the international stage - specifically, by threatening to bomb Iraq, again. To actually do so would be monstrously stupid, but it could yet happen. I was struck by how very far away Iraq seems from America when you're there. It's not like being in Europe, where you feel part of the deal, and all sensible European leaders - this does not appear to include Tony Blair - are running for cover on this one.

The disturbing thing is that the decision may yet be made with regard to the President's penis. There must be something wrong with a system which sees the most powerful elected official in the world nailed to a wall over irrelevant details of his personal life.

It's not as if I approve of his lifestyle - it's creepy - but this is weird. Kenneth Starr, the independent prosector who is kicking down doors to try and prove that Clinton had sex with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, was originally empowered to investigate Whitewater, a shonky land deal which happened when Monica Lewinsky was about nine years old.

Given that Starr has spent four years and $30 million unsuccessfully trying to pin Whitewater on the Clintons, you'd have to go with Gene Lyons' book 'Fools for Scandal: How the Media Invented Whitewater' and conclude there's nothing in it.

Then there's the Paula Jones sexual harassment case - which occasioned the perjury both the president and Lewinsky are alleged to have committed. Jones is a former hotel employee whose gargantuan legal effort is being bankrolled by a right-wing group called the Federalist Society.

Now, I suspect that governor Clinton did, years ago, ask Jones for a blow job, and he did extract his penis to facilitate such. But when you respond to an invitation along the lines of 'The governor thinks you're really hot and he'd like to see you in his room', you surely cannot be too surprised when the executive todger is brandished. It's all a bit tacky, but there's no suggestion of coercion here.

Where it does get weird is that Kenneth Starr is also a member of the Federalist Society, and he also offered to write a brief for Paula Jones in 1994. He received a secretly - and illegally - recorded tape of Monica Lewinsky apparently spilling about her tryst with the President from another member of the Federalist Society, James Moody.

Moody got the tape from Lucianne Goldberg, a notoriously amoral literary agent who in 1974 was paid thousands of dollars by the Nixon camp to infiltrate and spy on George McGovern's presidential campaign. She handles mostly right-wing looney authors published by Alfred Regnery, a good friend of Mr Starr.

It was she who convinced Linda Tripp to bug her friend Monica, and she who directed Tripp to engage the services of George Conway, another member of the Federalist Society who - get this, folks - helped write the Supreme Court brief for Paula Jones! If it ain't a conspiracy, it'd make a pretty cosy dinner party.

Now, I think Clinton did sleaze around with Lewinsky - and with plenty of other women - and he probably lied under aoth, too. But this seems small beer compared to, say, Iran-Contra, where both Reagn and Bush lied to the press and to congress, flouted their constiution, appeased enemies and helped out a bunch of fascist thugs who were pumping crack cocaine into America cities. This isn't just a theory - the names, dates and faces are all well established.

Anyway, enough of all that. After all, the Hero Festival [] is in motion, and even though most of the events don't directly concern me and aren't for my benefit, I feel richer to live in a city where this is taking place. I hope the Human Rights Commission kicks the bigoted butts of Les Mills, David Hay and Phil Raffills, but in the end, it doesn't matter anyway. They're to be pitied.

Just one more question on the local government tip - when do you reckon Watercare Services will introduce a water conservation plan, like every other local authority in the country? The lakes are lower than this time last year and it's not going to rain much all summer. Or don't they want us to save water? Maybe they'd like a wee crisis. Because then they could fast-track that pipeline from the Waikato River that they've all got such a stiffy about? What do you reckon, customers?


    ==  ==      Russell Brown
  [ @ / @  ]                      
     /        ________________________________________
    (_)         "The views expressed on this programme
    ____)       are bloody good ones." Fred Dagg, 197?

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