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The Other News Round-Up: Liars, wastrels and scamps

Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.

In a weekly column, Daily Maverick takes a look at some of the stranger news from South Africa and further afield. This week: we’re not alone on the gravy train.

In times of turmoil it’s tempting to think our problems are bigger than anyone else’s, but rest assured politicians can be rascals all over the globe. Because misery enjoys company, we’re dishing out blooper awards for some of the world’s greater- and lesser-spotted liars, wastrels and scamps. Naturally, the list below is far from exhaustive. Some, you may recognise. Others you won’t. Schadenfreude, us? Never.

The Postman Pat Award

Australia’s David Feeney, Shadow Minister for Justice, spent $152,125.33 in total on “office administrative costs” in 2014. He spent a whopping $100,000 on “printing and communications”, including 40,000 personalised letterheads in one month. Not one for email, then?

The Never Walk A-clone Award

We all struggle with time management sometimes, but when Julian Castro ran into a scheduling mix-up during his campaign to become mayor of San Antonio, Texas in 2005, he got his twin brother to stand in for him at a civic parade. Caught out, he claimed a parade announcer mistakenly identified his brother as himself. Curiously, the brothers had previously had a similar incident, with Julian being accused of standing in for his brother when Joaquin Castro ran for state legislator. Proving that no press is bad press, Julian did become mayor (eventually) in 2009.

The Move Over, Nkandla Award

South Australian MP Tony Pasin spent a spectacular half-a-million dollars fitting out just his Mount Gambier office in 2016. Tell that to everyone who’s emigrating.

The Quotable Quotes Award

Although there is some competition for public figures who might want to have their jaws wired shut – Donald Trump and Prince Philip spring to mind – special credit is due to James Watt, Secretary of the Interior in the Reagan Administration. Watt, addressing the US Chamber of Commerce about Affirmative Action, said proudly: “We have every mixture you can have. I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple.” He resigned shortly afterwards.

Honourable Mention – Silvio Berlusconi

What’s a Top of the Politician Pops without Berlusconi? Really, he needs a feature all his own. Some of his most memorable one-liners include “I believe that all my problems with Angela Merkel started when it was reported that I had called her “an un****able lard arse” (which he later said was a fabrication by media); “Even though I’m a bit of a rascal, the idea of 33 girls in two months seems to me a bit much” and “At least I’m not gay” (in response to one of his more memorable scandals). Cracked described him as “basically Scrooge McDuck , but (he) wears pants less often. He’s spent nine years running Italy like a frat house on double-secret probation.”

The Racism – You’re Doing it Wrong Award

The writer formerly known as Shelley Garland may have had white men all of a dither in South Africa recently, but in 2013, Republican Congressman Ted Yoho took a stand against the so-called tanning tax. The tax on the use of tanning booths was already in practice on a temporary basis, but the Affordable Care Act made it official, and Yoho believed it was a racist tax against whites. The excise tax was intended to discourage behaviour that could have an impact on the risk of melanomas, but Yoho – arguing that darker-skinned people didn’t need to use tanning booths – took issue with it, saying: “I thought I might need to get to a sun tanning booth so I can come out and say I’ve been disenfranchised because I got taxed because of the colour of my skin.”

The Rachel Dolezal Award

Italian MP Gianluca Buonanno plastered his face with dark make-up for a Parliamentary debate and asked if Italians needed to “make themselves darker” to receive more money from the government – arguing that the benefits system favoured immigrants. He had previously complained that Cabinet’s first black member “favoured negritude”. Critics asked if Buonanno had mistaken his location for apartheid South Africa. Eina.

The Republicans Explain Rape Award

President Jacob Zuma may have replaced the Mexican Wave with a mass facepalm when he announced that a shower would take care of HIV/Aids transmission during his rape trial, but apparently he wasn’t alone in that booby-trapped biology class. Also picking up tips from Homer Simpson/ Cartman from South Park/ Miss California 2012 Leah Cecil were US Republicans Todd Akin, Pat Robertson and Senator Saxby Chambliss. Akin famously said that “legitimate rape” would force the female body to “shut that whole thing down”; Chambliss put down sexual assault in the military to excusable hi-jinks when one puts a whole lot of hormonal young men in barracks together. “Gee whiz, the hormone levels created by nature sets in place the possibility for these types of things to occur, so we must be very careful how we address it,” was his explanation. Robertson, meanwhile, wasn’t weighing in on rape per se, but put the cherry on top with a blanket warning that feminism would “encourage women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians”. You’ve been warned, fellas. Rein that monkey business right in before it gets out of hand. Next thing you know they’ll be wanting the vote.

The Before There Were Alternative Facts Award

Cast your mind back to 1998, with Bill Clinton throwing out this head-scratcher: “It depends what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” We’re just going to leave that one there as the pioneer it is.

The Only in Canada Award

This is a tie between Prime Minister Stephen Harper, for the time he was asked if he were a vegetable, what kind he would be (and actually answering it); NDP leader Tom Mulcair, for a surprisingly realistic Angry Bird Halloween costume he posted on Twitter; and the time Liberal MP Justin Trudeau and Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau staged a boxing match.

The You Claimed for What? Award

English MPs have some remarkable expense claims listed in an in-depth report published by The Telegraph. Some of the more spectacular items include nearly £200 worth of light bulbs on one expense sheet; £1,645 for a duck island; £1.50 for an ice cube tray (really?); 70p for a bag of horse manure (was the horse politically necessary?); helipad hedge-trimming; £600 for a decorative hanging basket (now you know); a designer rocking chair; imported Kenyan carpets; dog food and a decorative toilet roll holder.

Feeling better yet? Probably not. But at least we know – for what it’s worth – that we’re not alone. DM


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