Just as in Europe, prominent people here are still busy striking moral attitudes about Joerg Haider, the Austrian head of the Freedom Party now being treated as the greatest menace to Austrian decorum since the Turks besieged Vienna in 1683. Try this one from Paul Fireman, chairman and CEO of Reebok International, handed down from Reebok headquarters in Stoughton, Mass., on Feb 11, 2000.

"In 1994, I learned from an associate in London that Joerg Haider appeared in an Austrian video wearing Reebok products. Upon learning of this, I ordered an immediate investigation, and found that an employee in Austria, acting on his own behalf, without any knowledge of Reebok International, had provided product for this video. This individual's actions were a clear violation of Reebok's code of conduct, and totally against what we stand for. I asked for his immediate dismissal from our Austrian subsidiary. Reebok responded quickly and responsibly to a deplorable situation. Reebok has never supported Haider. His opinions are abhorrent to me personally, and in direct conflict with the values of human rights that form the core values of this company."

Reebok just closed a factory in Indonesia, firing 4,000 workers. When Reebok's lawyer was asked about severance, he is reported to have replied, "Over my dead body." So, here we have a company that makes its money off the sweat of ill-paid Asians, many of them teenagers, and its boss strikes a great moral posture about his "core values," firing the unfortunate fellow who gave Haider a pair of Reeboks six years ago. If Bill Clinton or Madeleine Albright appeared in Reeboks, what would Fireman do? After all, Haider -- so far as I know -- hasn't actually killed people. Clinton and Albright have had a hand in the deaths of millions, starting with kids in Iraq finished off by sanctions.

People want a token Nazi to wave around, and I guess Haider fills the bill. Reams get written about him, and actually existing, murderous Nazism marches on undisturbed. Bill Clinton and Congress send a fresh billion to death squads in Colombia, and the Brits nix tetanus vaccines for kids in Iraq.

Lou Reed protested Haider by canceling his concert in Austria, though he had no equivalent compunction about singing in Germany, France and other Euro-states with plenty of recent blood on their hands. So, why disappoint the fans in Vienna, most of whom are doubtlessly utterly opposed to Haider?

As retailed in the press, Joerg Haider's crimes are thus far unimpressive, particularly when compared with those of the leaders of the European Union, who invoked sanctions against Austria for daring to abide by the consequences of a democratic election. In the same week that Haider's Freedom Party helped form a ruling coalition, these same E.U. leaders stood accused by Human Rights Watch of presiding over war crimes against Serbia.

Now, for all I know, each weekend Haider dresses up in full Hitlerian rig in the Carinthian castle his uncle seems to have acquired in the Second World War at a forced knockdown price from its Jewish owner. But we must stick to the known record, and in Haider's case, it's not meaty. He's said that the Waffen SS were brave patriots. Reagan went all the way to that cemetary in Bitburg in 1985 to make the same point. More recently, Germany's Green Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, unleashed the Luftwaffe on Serbia's civilians, so Haider seems to be securely inside the official moral margins of the Western alliance. There are no doubt Waffen SS vets in Carinthia, with uniforms nicely pressed in the bedroom closet, and pensions rolling each month from Bonn, but Haider is mostly honoring the long-dead. They were very much alive, with blood fresh on their hands, when the commander in the U.S. zone of vanquished Germany, Gen. Lucius Clay, was forced by his own government to reverse denazification, thus, engendering a Nazi renaissance so pervasive that, by 1947, 40 percent of all higher civil servants and 30 percent of private industry owners in the Western zones were former Nazis. By 1950, two-thirds of West Germany's teachers had more than trivial Nazi pasts. The State Department's George Kennan advised against denazification on the grounds that, first, the elimination of Nazi influence in Germany "is impracticable," and second, "we would not find any other class of people competent to assume the burdens (of leadership). ... Nine-tenths of what is strong, able and respected in Germany has been poured from those very categories which we have in mind, (i.e.) more than nominal members of the Nazi party."

Haider's pledges to restrict immigration should scarcely make him a pariah in Europe, where Haider's prime critics in Germany and France and the U.K. have all discriminated viciously against immigrant workers. High on the bill of indictment against Haider is his hearty commendation of Hitler's economic policies, particularly regarding employment. Who is Haider supposed to praise -- Herbert Hoover --THE deficit-hating FDR of 1932, before he started applying policies borrowed in part from Mussolini? In 1933, when Hitler became chancellor, unemployment stood at 40 percent, and savage deflation was in progress. By 1936, German unemployment stood at 1 percent, a recovery achieved -- contrary to persistent belief -- without the stimulative effects of arms spending. Hitler launched a construction boom, in housing and autobahns. He told the bankers to stop whining about deficits, and kept interest rates low. So, he was a Keynesian. Haider most certainly isn't. He's said he admires Margaret Thatcher and that epigone of Thatcherism, Tony Blair.

To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2000 CREATORS SYNDICATE, INC.