Russell Brown's HARD NEWS

10th May 2002 - Unfortunately, the President is a Chimpanzee

Copyright © 2002 Russell Brown

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so, a bad week for the international far right, then. One shot in the Netherlands, another disabused of his dreams of victory in France.

The French people, as we all know, gave themselves a fright, had a bit of a crisis over it, then stormed the polls to affirm that whatever it was they wanted, it was not Jean-Marie Le Pen. The fact remains, of course, that a Holocaust-denying racist got 18 per cent of the vote.

Pim Fortuyn appears to have been a very liberal sort of bigot - flamboyant and totally gay, with the pampered little dogs to prove it. The sort-of Elton John of the far right. He too was about to face an election, and was also likely to pull more than 15 per cent of the vote.

Yet none of that should concern us as much as some of the people who are actually in power. Last week, American Congressman Dick Armey told a TV audience that all Palestinians should be expelled from the West Bank - that is, their own land - so that it could be claimed for good by Israel. You may recognise this concept. It's called ethnic cleansing.

Armey is not some two-bit representative from nowhere. He is the senior Republican in the US House of Representatives. And here he was, proposing an action which amply meets the definition of fascism. In a civilised country, there would have been an uproar. But America, at least as far as its politics goes, is not a very civilised country.

Last week, Human Rights Watch announced that it had prima facie evidence that the Israeli Defence Force had committed war crimes in the Jenin camp. Not a massacre - just extrajudicial executions of civilians, using Palestinian children to search for bombs, that kind of thing.

And on the same day - the same, damn day - both houses of Congress almost unanimously adopted a statement of comprehensive approval of Israel. One or two Democrats tried to point out that the declaration was less anti-terrorist than anti-Palestinian, but such is the power of the T-word, and the banality of American politics, that little enough sense was heard.

Compare the babble of the American legislature to, say, Westminster, where Gerald Kaufman, the great Jewish Parliamentarian of his era, gave a stunning speech three weeks ago. "It is time to remind Sharon that the Star of David belongs to all Jews and not to his repulsive government," he said. "His actions are staining the Star of David with blood."

Was he accused by his Opposition of being soft on terrorism? Hardly. In the same debate, former Tory cabinet minister John Gummer pointed out that if Israel wished to maintain the legitimacy of statehood, it had to "be judged by the standards of a state and the standards of democracy."

The Palestinians are not and do not have a state. For 35 years an occupying army has denied them that right, among numerous others. If they are a murderous rabble, it's not hard to see why.

When we think of the Jewish people, we ought to think of an intellectual and cultural tradition that has helped shape us all. Not of the paranoid and sadistic state that Israel has become under Sharon.

One country - not least because of the hundreds of millions of dollars it furnishes every year - could change this. Unfortunately, the President is a chimpanzee. Bush orders Sharon to withdraw. Israel not only fails to withdraw but storms Jenin. Then Sharon turns away a United Nations inspection team - and smugly thanks America for helping him do so. Iraq should be so lucky.

And, unsurprisingly, none of it works. This week, Hamas created another martyr and another dozen victims with a suicide bomb. Sharon flew home from the US vowing yet more bloody revenge.

The problem is, not only is the American leadership inept, it is insane. This week, America - like some pre-modern theocracy, like the bloody Taleban - blocked a United Nations declaration on children's rights. The reason? It contained guarantees that people under 18 would have access to mental and sexual health services.

As the Guardian pointed out; every minute, five people under 25 are infected with HIV worldwide, and 10 teenage girls undergo an unsafe abortion. Bush believes they should not actually be told that contraception exists. Only that they should just say no.

Also this week, it was America that officially and unashamedly withdrew its signature on the establishment of an international criminal court. The reason? Its justice might actually apply to crimes committed by Americans, and not just by the bad guys. So much for moral authority.

This week's final American assault on international stability was its farm bill, in which plans for subsidies simply tear up World Trade Organisation agreements. Silly-arsed anti-capitalists who think that's a good idea should think again. Small farmers will barely see those subsidies. They will go to the factory farms that put anabolic steroids and bovine growth hormone into beef, that grow GM corn and soy and that make Monsanto rich. As I have noted here before, those who would abolish the WTO want to be careful what they wish for.

Back home, it all seems so much more trivial. Someone has laid a fraud complaint against the Prime Minister over the painting she signed, donated, but didn't paint. And - while people with genuine fraud complaints running to hundreds of thousands of dollars can't get the time of day - there is an "investigation" underway, under the guidance of one of the country's most senior detectives.

Nobody seems to want to own up to starting this farce. Not the school, not Henry van Dijk, who has had his money back and endless free publicity. And not the Act or National parties. It is hard, however, to conceive of any other motive than politics for this. It's reasonable to note that the National Party president - who created a bogus documentary crew to film Winston at the winebox hearings and lied to the commissioner about it - has some form in the dirty tricks business, but I'm sure she's mended her ways since then.

The danger for the PM remains clear and present, however. This trivial matter of morality can still tarnish the superb economic news the government would rather have people focus on. Trade's booming, employment's up and unemployment's down to 5.3 per cent - the twelfth lowest in the developed world.

The secondary teachers' dispute also has the potential to take the shine off things - although I must admit I sometimes wonder what the teachers think they're doing. After rejecting the deal recommended by their union, they're back in negotiation - or would be, if they didn't keep staging wildcat strikes. And then complaining because it's all taking so long ...

This week's round of walkouts came in response to a single newspaper ad in which the Ministry of Education stated its case. The ad was no more or less emotionally manipulative than the campaign the PPTA has been running for weeks on billboards and in newspapers. But, once again, it was hissy fits all round. My sympathy is waning.

Anyway, welcome back to the Black Caps, who got all too close to the awful reality of a suicide bomb attack in Karachi this week. It was a grim fit with the rest of their ill-starred, injury-hit tour, and they were on a plane home within hours. That's the thing about living here and not out there. You can always come home


Russell Brown

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