"Fidel Castro Will Never Die," said Hugo Chavez

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, close ally to Cuban Leader Fidel Castro, speaking at a public event on Saturday, denied persistent rumors that Castro had died.

Chavez was reacting to talk among Cuban exiles and echoed by foreign news outlets, especially in Florida, that the ailing Castro, 81, had passed away.

Castro, who turned 81 on August 13 with little celebration in Cuba, underwent intestinal surgery in July 2006 and handed power over temporarily to his brother Raul.

He has not been seen in public since before the operation, though he has appeared in photographs and eight videos, the last of which aired on June 5.

"Those who want him to die will be frustrated, because Fidel Castro will never die," said Chavez, one of the few who visited the revolutionary leader at his sickbed.

Chavez said that Castro "will always live among the people that fight for a better destiny. He will always live in the people of Cuba, of Venezuela, and of America."

Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque on Thursday, while attending an event in Brazil, also denied talk of Castro's death.

Castro "is steady, on track with his recovery, showing discipline, a lot of dedication and a lot of activity, writing, reading and working," Perez Roque told AFP .

Chavez's remarks on Saturday came at an event aimed at supporting his new party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which brings together the different leftist groups that support him.

Critics accuse Chavez of emulating Castro, and trying to impose a Cuban-style communist regime in Venezuela.

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Feminist Lobby Forgive Kevin Rudd

Amid the wall of noise that greeted news of Kevin Rudd's visit to a New York strip club this week, one voice was notably silent - that of the feminist lobby.

If Alexander Downer had been caught in the same situation as Rudd - in a club full of semi-naked lap dancers, blind drunk and representing Australia at taxpayers' expense - he'd probably be out of a job now.

And at the forefront of the charge would have been the country's notable and usually vocal feminists.

Their line of attack would have been easy to predict: Downer's visit to a lap-dancing club demeaned women generally, sent an appalling message to young women, in particular, about body image and, most importantly, betrayed the Howard government's real attitude to women.

In Rudd's case, however, feminists chose to forgive and forget.

Eva Cox, from the Women's Electoral Lobby, set the tone: "Going on the piss for one night, basically, and doing something dumb is not a cardinal sin - it's obviously not something he does generally. You can't condemn somebody for getting on the piss. We would never have elected Bob Hawke in that case.''

A number of questions and several points about Cox's observation.

First, if getting so drunk you can't recollect what happened is an excuse for sexist behaviour when you're in a strip club, why does it not then become an excuse for domestic violence?

The implication is the same - the man involved is not responsible for his actions because he's under the influence of alcohol.

The drunk's defence. It's an excuse most men wouldn't accept and nor should they.

Certainly, no one let me get away with it after my appalling performance at the Walkley Awards last year. While alcohol played a part, it did not justify my actions - a point I made at the time.

Cox would argue there is a big difference between hitting a woman and going to a strip club - except feminists consistently argue that stripping, like pornography, is not a "victimless'' crime.

According to this perfectly acceptable logic, the women in both situations are exploited because men pay for them to be exploited. They are usually poor and with limited employment choices.

Without men, there'd be no strip clubs and a lot less porn.

Cox, along with the National Foundation for Australian Women's Marie Coleman, also made a character assessment of Rudd.

"It's obviously not something he does generally,'' Cox says. Or in the case of Coleman: it was "out of character''.

On what basis do they make this judgment? I've known Kevin Rudd for more than 20 years. He came to my wedding and the christening of my son. I still wouldn't know what he got up to in his spare time. I doubt Cox or Coleman would have a clue, either.

And then there's what Cox, and many others, choose to ignore. Despite the allegation being put specifically to Rudd - and The Sunday Telegraph giving him six hours to consider it - the Opposition leader chose not to deny the claim that he had behaved "inappropriately''. Instead, he said he had no recollection.

It can only be imagined what howls of outrage would have come from Cox if Downer had squibbed the same question.

And finally, there's Cox's argument that if "getting pissed'' was a disqualification for high office, we'd never have elected Bob Hawke as prime minister. No. Hawke himself agreed it made him unelectable. That's why he made a public compact with voters to give up the grog.

Hawke was a teetotaller for all his time in power.

Compare the absence of feminist condemnation of Rudd with the thermo-nuclear response to Liberal Senator Bill Heffernan's completely unacceptable remarks about Julia Gillard being unfit for political leadership because she's chosen not to have children.

Gillard, along with Labor colleagues Tanya Plibersek, Nicola Roxon and Annette Ellis, came out swinging against Heffernan - justifiably, too.

Rudd himself declared Heffernan's remarks to be "a referendum on Mr Howard's character'', even after Howard refused to support his colleague.

But where were Labor women on Rudd's behaviour? Gillard's decidedly muted response was that: "He's acknowledged he made an error and I think that's all that needs to be said about it.''

The Daily Telegraph reported that Plibersek did not return calls.

In the case of Heffernan, Liberal women showed much more courage. Julie Bishop described his remarks as "totally unacceptable''. Helen Coonan used the same words. And Amanda Vanstone accused Heffernan of living in "the Dark Ages''.

Given the events of last week, it's hard not to conclude that when it comes to left-wing feminist condemnation of sexist behaviour in politics, only one thing counts: which side of politics the perpetrator comes from.

Perhaps we shouldn't be surprised. One of the most hypocritical episodes of modern politics was played out in the US during the Clinton presidency, when Eva Cox's American counterparts actually came to Bill's defence during the Monica Lewinsky affair.

Then again, when you think about it, Rudd's defence that he couldn't recollect nude lap dancers all around him is about as credible as Clinton saying he didn't inhale.

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