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HARD NEWS 28/4/00 - Drunks, Puppets and Monkeys

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GOOD DAY MEDIAPHILES ... bear with me while I do my therapy. One of the reasons I keep on with Hard News is that it gives me the chance to shout at people who piss me off. It relieves me of the need to bore my friends and family with the details.

I don't necessarily expect the subjects of my irritation to hear me - especially when they're as far away as Miami - but it's been a while since anyone has pissed me off quite as much as the people whining about the fact that six year-old Elian Gonzales is back with his natural father.

Over Easter, the US Immigration and Nationalisation Service went and retrieved Elian from the house where he was being held. The AP photographer Alan Diaz, having been ushered into the house by the back door and directed to the bedroom where Elian was being concealed, got this century's first great news picture.

In the picture, a big, scary man from the INS points a big, scary gun at Donato Dalrymple, the fisherman credited with rescuing Elian from the sea. Dalrymple is standing in a closet, holding a clearly, and understandably, terrified Elian.

An outrage? Gimme a break. What on earth was this man even doing in the house at 5.30am? Dalrymple's role in this was both accidental and peripheral. He was not even the one who pulled Elian out of the ocean. But, like so many others in this case, he saw both a meal ticket and a mission from God in this little boy. He is to this matter as the pathetic Kato Kaelin was in the OJ Simpson case. His own brother has described him as a "puppet" and a "monkey".

This places him somewhat above Lazaro Gonzalez and his half-mad 21 year old daughter Mariseylis. These people, who, hours before the raid were still trying to dictate the terms on which Elian's dad could see his own son, aren't even close relatives. Paternal great uncle and second cousin? Pardon?

Lazaro - with four drunk-driving convictions in the past five years - is an alcoholic. His daughter, who actually appears to believe she's the boy's mother, has been screwing Jorge Mas Santos, the married son of the head of the Cuban American National Foundation, the looney exile group that has been funding the whole circus.

Between them, these two have repeatedly betrayed the original trust put in them by the authorities. They flouted the law, they posed this little boy with pictures of Jesus - they encouraged the 24-hour mob outside their house to believe he damn well was Jesus - and they put him up to a propaganda video that would have made Saddam Hussein blush.

And after the three-minute operation had been conducted, these people smashed up their own house and claimed the INS officers did it. Unfortunately, they were undone by their own pet photographer, whose pictures showed the door she told CNN had been broken in half to be 100% intact.

They lied about almost everything - including the character of Elian's father. They claimed he beat Elian's mother. He did not. In fact, Elian's mother took the boy on a horribly risky sea journey at the bidding of some guy she met in a nightclub.

Sure, they shouldn't have had to defect on a leaky boat. A free country would have just let her get on a plane. But not with her son. She didn't have custody of him. And since she drowned and he didn't, every single international practice has been clear: the boy belonged with his father. And the longer he spent in that disastrous and dangerous household in Little Havana, the more urgent restoration became.

Should the officers have gone in, armed as they were? Given that both Lazaro and Mariseylis had hinted darkly about there being "more than cameras" in the house, and that CANF nutters had been seen on the property with guns in the preceding days, they'd have been stupid not to.

Weirdly, the right-wing Republicans who normally seem so keen on guns in the home were apopletic this time. Rudolph Guiliani, the New York mayor who makes a practice of defending any old police practice, up to and including the shooting of innocent people, suddenly decided that guns weren't the way Americans do things. He called the federal officers "stormtroopers".

Democrat Al Gore showed why he's too gutless to win the president election by fudging before the raid and hiding afterwards, and you have to conclude that the only reason Clinton felt able to follow his own conscience was that he isn't looking to be elected. The Americans, with their elected judges and all, have a very big problem with interest groups.

But the thing that pissed me off most of all was the conduct of certain journalists - because, of course, I am one. The absolute trough of it all was a pathetic, almost laughable lead editorial in the Wall Street Journal, which claimed that the simple upholding of the law was a plot by Fidel Castro.

From there, it blasted off into outer space - proposing that "Congress should establish what drugs he may have been given while in US government custody -- before his beaming photo with his father." Say what? There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that the boy was drugged, still less with, as the WSJ suggested, drugs supplied by Cuban psychiatrists. Is it not roughly one billion times more likely that Elian was smiling because he was happy to be with his own father? Somebody needs sedating, and it's not the boy.

On to the pump in a local parish, and the West Coast's municipal leaders should possibly bite their tongues before they declare again that they'll reject the $100 million development package offered by the government in lieu of the right to keep on cutting down trees in public forests. Because if they really don't want it, maybe we'll give it to Northland, hey? I'm sure they'll be able to think of a way to use it.

There are, it must be noted, scientific arguments both ways on the native logging issue. You will - as both sides have - find experts who swear blind that "sustainable logging" either is or is not truly sustainable.

The economic argument is a little more straightforward. It amounts to: should you and I continue to sell Timberlands ancient trees at such a heavily subsidised price as virtually constitutes theft? Should we sell off the family woodwork and trust our ability to judiciously mess with rainforest ecologies without screwing them up? All for a relatively small number of jobs? Hell no.

If Timberland was charged the real value of the trees it cuts - let alone the trees it wastes - it would not exist. I'd rather put money into a sustainable business, thanks.

But according to the Coast Action Network nutters, Labour, Alliance and the Greens are apparently now expected to explain to their voters that they've changed their minds and abandoned their manifestos because a dodgy pressure group has told them to.

For yet another time, let's rewind: The clearly anti-logging parties - Labour, Alliance, Greens and a couple of others -collectively won a majority in West Coast Tasman in last year's election. The party that campaigned as the voice of the pro-logging West Coast - Act - reaped 1500 votes, a miserable SIXTH place.

It wasn't just soft-arsed urbanites who voted to leave native forests alone, it was West Coasters themselves. Isn't it time to get over it? To move on?

Goodness, there's been some bile this week, hasn't there? I ought to conclude then with a little bouquet to Auckland Rugby, who not only proved themselves to be Hard News listeners by giving me a couple of tickets to the Highlanders game as recompense for my recent trouble at the turnstiles, but who showed they knew the meaning of promotion by throwing open every seat at Eden Park for $5 on Easter Saturday. It's a slightly wilted bouquet, in that they completely failed to provide for the large and inevitable last-minute rush - this is Auckland, we're all far too busy to arrive more than half an hour before kick-off - but, hey, they're trying.

And hey, a doff if the cap to Carlos Spencer and Eddie Izzard. The ladies love them both, they're both bloody geniuses and they both make me smile - G'bye!

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