COVID-19 Donald Trump Elections

Our Obsession With U.S. Politics

Image by Rolf Dobberstein,

For reasons attributed to the way my mind works, the 1950s children’s song ‘Nellie the Elephant has been in my head for months now.

If the complete domination of the airwaves by the US election is getting you down, just sing this happy refrain:

Nellie the elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus, off she went with a trumpety trump – trump, trump, trump.”

Yes, once heard never able to be un-heard.The song (Ralph Butler/Peter Hart) was first released in October 1956 by Mandy Miller and an orchestra conducted by Phil Cardew. (There’s also a 1984 cover by punk band Toy Dolls).

On Wednesday, every TV channel had live (and ongoing) coverage of the US election vote count, interspersed with snippets of local news. The blanket coverage continued yesterday and today. At one point we switched off and went out to sow grass seed and count birds.

This short discourse on our obsession with the US election begins with the obvious observation: “Why the hell should we care?” Surely we have enough problems of our own to solve without being mired in America’s divisive political miasma.

Media coverage of the US election this week (and what seems for a long time now), quickly relegated the triumphant third term return of Queensland Labor Premier Annastacia Pałaszczuk to a lesser position. It also relegated our own (small) battles with Covid-19 from top of the news, where it should be.

Covid and the obsession with events in Trumpistan lessened the usual impact of two major Australian sporting events. On Tuesday we had the Melbourne Cup, run without the usual crowd (100,000+); no outlandish hats, frivolity or drunken behaviour. Masked strappers led the horses in to the parade ring, while anyone within coo-ee of a television camera conspicuously wore a mask. This is Victoria, after all. The 2020 Cup was run and won, the day marred by the death of the top weight horse Anthony Van Dyck, which broke a fetlock and had to be euthanased. The other scandal from Cup Day, which added fuel to the ‘Nup to the Cup’ animal rights movement was jockey Kerrin McEvoy’s $50,000 fine for over-use of the whip on second-placed Tiger Moth.

Meanwhile in Adelaide, rugby league players lined up for the first of three State of Origin matches. The matches would normally have been held in May and June but this year, Covid restrictions forced a re-organisation of the classic inter-State contest.

The games are to be staged over three consecutive weeks; next Wednesday in Sydney then the following Wednesday, November 18, 2020, when Brisbane will host the third game and possible decider, depending on whether NSW wins next week.

There were other news stories this week which were not about the US election or Covid-19. Here’s a few you may have missed.

  • Reserve Bank cuts interest rates to 0.10%;
  • China suspends Australian wine imports;
  • Australia Post CEO resigns;
  • Girl, 3, found alive under rubble after Turkey’s earthquake;
  • Parrot saves owner from house fire – “Anton, Anton, wake up”;
  • Diego Maradona is to have brain surgery;
  • Queensland wins State of Origin 1, beating NSW 18-14;
  • The Goodwills release new single after lengthy hiatus.

President Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the US Supreme Court is a good example of the extent to which we have become immersed in American politics. The US Supreme Court became topical when Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died after a long illness. President Trump, as is his constitutional right, (although going against convention – no surprises there. Ed) recently appointed Justice Barrett, a favourite of conservatives, to replace Justice Ginsberg. Appointments to the US Supreme Court are rare, as Justices are appointed for life.

This issue dominated traditional media and social media alike for weeks, the focus being on the likelihood of Trump appointing a conservative judge before the election (which he did).

Meanwhile in Australia

Prime Minister Scott Morrison last week announced the appointment of two new Justices to our equivalent forum (the High Court of Australia). Federal Court Judges Jacqueline Gleeson and Simon Steward will replace outgoing Justices Virginia Bell and Geoffrey Nettle. The latter are due to retire at 70. The compulsory retirement age was brought in after a referendum in 1977.

Unlike the politically charged US Supreme Court, Australia’s High Court judges are appointed by the Governor-General in Council (which means he suggests potential candidates to the Attorney- General and then the PM, who makes the appointments).

Mr Morrison thanked the outgoing justices for their work.

Every justice appointed to the High Court carries a significant burden to uphold the laws of our land,” he said. “I congratulate Justices Steward and Gleeson and I wish them all the best.”

As this ABC report observed, our High Court process stands in stark contrast to that of the United States, where Supreme Court appointments are fought tooth and nail in a politically charged atmosphere.

An article in ‘The Conversation’ argued that Australians in general know very little about the workings of the High Court. The Canberra-based court and its panel of seven Justices is the last resort for civil cases which have been through at least one other legal forum.

The High Court’s independence is no better demonstrated by the recently decided case, Hocking v The Director of the National Archives. An academic, Professor Jennifer Hocking had sought access to the correspondence between former Governor-General Sir John Kerr and the Queen during Australia’s constitutional crisis in 1975.

The High Court held that Kerr’s papers were public record and not, as had been previously ruled, his personal correspondence.

The National Archives of Australia spent close to $1 million defending its position, an amount which could double after the High Court ruled that it pay Professor Hocking’s costs.

Even though a Pew Centre research report said 71% of Australians closely follow US news, it serves us better to be informed about domestic news. Start by following the High Court’s upcoming deliberations on Palmer vs State of WA over the ‘hard border’ closure.

The High Court of Australia is completely transparent (cases and judgements are available online). But as senior lecturer in law Joe McIntyre said in The Conversation article: “Whereas appointments to the US Supreme Court are a highly visible festival of political intrigue and showmanship, the process in Australia is a secretive affair occurring strictly behind closed doors.

As I post this week’s FOMM, US news channels are proclaiming Democrat candidate Joe Biden a narrow winner of the 2020 US election. Whether or not this is confirmed in the days and weeks to come, if you are one of the people who think Trump has to go, keep your spirits up (perhaps for another four years) by humming this ear-worm of a tune:

Nellie the elephant packed her trunk and said goodbye to the circus, off she went with a trumpety trump – trump, trump trump.”

(Wikipedia says the rhythm and tempo of this song is often used to teach people cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) (100 compressions per minute). 

COVID-19 Donald Trump Elections

When Campbell Newman lost his seat

Up to 60% of Queensland’s eligible voters will vote early or register a postal vote in the State election.

Queensland heads to the polls tomorrow, four years and nine months after the historic defeat of Campbell Newman and the LNP Coalition. I thought it would be interesting and educational to revisit those restive times, when Campbell Newman became only the second sitting Premier since Federation to lose his seat.

Mr Newman’s seat of Ashgrove was taken by Kate Jones, who ironically is quitting politics in 2020 to pursue other interests. The Tourism Minister’s last hoorah this week was to attack Clive Palmer on national television, saying his claim about a Labor death tax is “bullshit”.

Even with Campbell Newman losing his seat in January 2015, it was a close-run thing. Incoming Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk formed government with the help of one independent, Peter Wellington. The Labor Party increased its majority by four seats in the November 2017 election, despite Mr Wellington deciding to quite politics. So tomorrow’s poll is a contest between two women – Annastacia Palaszczuk, who is attempting to win a third successive term, and Deb Frecklington, in her eighth year in politics, hoping for a promotion from her highest position in the Campbell Newman government (assistant Finance Minister). Whoever wins, we are stuck with them for four years, courtesy of Queensland’s second referendum on fixed terms, which was got a Yes vote in 2016 (after a No in 1991).

In researching this topic, I uncovered a FOMM written in early February 2015, a year which also saw Prime Minister Tony Abbott ousted by Malcolm Turnbull before the former completed his term.

My blog on the Friday after the 2015 Queensland election called for more compassion, in politics and in daily life. It was also an attempt to soothe the “bruised egos and wallets of those who backed the wrong team.


We talked about compassion over the festive season, and how we could all try a bit harder. A few wise people wrote to me at the time and suggested that first you have to give yourself a break. But that week I felt an unlikely pang of compassion for Tony Abbott, under siege from his own party and the media. Just imagine how he might have felt going into the Press Club on the Monday after Queensland voters turned on the LNP.

The PM has a thick hide, obviously, but I imagine he might have had to do some meditation or yoga before he fronted the media pack. While it seems clear that the LNP’s narrow defeat in Queensland, with Premier Campbell Newman losing his seat, was all about that government’s arrogance and can-do-ism, inevitably Tony Abbott got the blame.

In typical style, the PM did not refer to the Queensland election in his prepared comments for the Press Club, although some of his detractors rode that particular elephant into the room. You could hear the knives being sharpened from up here in the mountains. A backbencher got a run on Radio National this week saying he had texted the PM to say he no longer had his support. Whether the inexplicable decision to bestow a knighthood on Prince Philip was the last straw or whether they’ve been keeping a list, we’ll never know. Whatever, I felt a bit sorry for the man. Being PM is an impossible 24/7 job that creates the kind of stress you and I would not want to know about.

“What did Tony Abbott ever do for us?” I hear you say. True, the Abbott government seems to care less about people who struggle financially; the ones to whom a $7 co-payment is a big deal. This (Federal) government scores low on Compassion, as did the former LNP (Queensland Government), which apparently thought it could do what it liked and no-one would take it personally, or be able to do anything about it.

The C-word I’d most like to introduce into contemporary politics is an old-fashioned one – Civility. ‘After you’, and ‘if it’s not too much trouble’, and ‘how has your day been?’. It costs nothing be civil with one another, but from my observations of political life here or in Canberra over the past 20 years or so, there is too much of the ‘us and them’ and ‘let’s get ‘em’. If you’re an Opposition Labor MP you have to vote along party lines, which means you disagree with everything the incumbent government has to say and ditto for the LNP when Labor is in power.

On that basis, the Queensland Parliament will be a shackled institution. The former Premier of Queensland would have us believe that hung parliaments are bad. But just why are they bad? Why not call it Consensus government? Imagine a Queensland parliament with 30 Labor members, 20 Libs, 10 Nats, 10 Greens, 14 independents and five ratbag parties to give us a bit of a giggle and keep the bastards honest. Select the most intelligent and fair-minded member as Speaker and we would indeed live in interesting times, when pollies would have to talk to one another to come up with policies they can all agree upon.

Meanwhile back in 2020

The other election preoccupying not only Australians, but the world in general, is the November 3 US presidential election. Sixty million Americans (about 40% of the expected turnout), have already voted – which may be portentious. Reactions to the polarising President, Donald Trump, have been extreme. Musician Bruce Springsteen, for example, says that if Trump wins, he is moving to Australia.

Bruce has any number of options to work his way through Australia’s migration red tape. As a business migrant he can just headquarter his music business here and tick all the boxes, especially the one that asks how much money he is bringing with him. He could also apply for an ‘exceptional talent’ visa. Above all. he has a very Australian name.

The numbers of American-born people living in Australia has almost doubled since 2001, when the Census identified 60,000. By the 2011 Census, this number had increased to 90,000. Five years later in 2016 it topped 106,000. On the annual growth rate, the numbers of US-born in Australia should now be around 120,000, the sixth-largest American population in the world.

As happens everywhere, people end up living somewhere they went to visit and then met someone (and stayed). But affairs of the heart and family ties is just one part of the puzzle. A 2015 investigation by the Sydney Morning Herald concluded there were economic factors at play. Australia, to a large degree, survived the Global Financial Crisis (GFC), which was an attraction for Americans looking to prosper somewhere else in the world that speaks English.

Post-covid and post-Trump, there is every reason to think Australia may again become the magnet for disenfranchised Americans that it was during the Cuban missile crisis (1962), the Vietnam war (1955-1975) and after 9/11 and the GFC.

The Trump factor is fairly obvious, as the ABC’s Lee Sales discovered when interviewing former US Secretary of State Richard Armitage (2001-2005), about next week’s election.

When the life-long Republican was asked what would happen if Donald Trump wins, he simply said: “Got any more room in Australia?”

FOMM back pages: Citizen Kang for President





deadline Friday on My Mind

Deadline Stress On The Road To Winton

Tambo Dam, which has nothing to do with this week’s FOMM, which I drafted a week before setting off on a road trip to Winton).

An old friend emailed me to say that when he saw a book review in the Sydney Morning Herald, he immediately assumed it was (a) my memoirs or (b) The Best of FOMM.

As he found out when reading the review, Friday on My Mind is a book by music writer Jeff Apter about the life of George Young. The late founder of the Easybeats wrote ‘Friday on My Mind’, a major hit around the world in 1966, with his songwriting partner Harry Vanda.

Friday on My Mind (the song), after which this weekly missive takes its name, is everything a pop hit should be. It starts with an irresistible ‘hook’ – the rapid-fire guitar intro that immediately cements the tune in your brain. It’s a circular song, starting with Monday morning (feels so bad), then names every week day through to Friday and back again.

This alone distinguishes FOMM from other songs about days of the week, which usually focus only on the day in question.

I was researching songs which name days of the week, finding yet again that if you have what seems to be an original idea, it has usually been done. Songs about a day of the week, or which mention a day of the week, for example.

Since the uncertainty and mass anxiety of COVID-19 set in around mid-March, I have been writing new songs. I’m not just writing, but using digital recording technology to flesh out the works in progress. Thus far, I have a seven songs which are at the point where I’d be happy to perform them in public, if I had a public to whom I could perform.

I had started toying with a song about deadline stress and how it always relates to a day of the week (if you have a weekly deadline). This new song is more likely to be about blogging and why millions of people around the world think other people will be interested in what’s on their minds. Some develop huge audiences and make some money, (like Nomadic Matt, which now has 1.5m followers).

Bloggers usually start with an ambitious bang and many vanish without trace within a year or two. The stayers stay by setting themselves deadlines.

A few years ago, I was writing about extreme weather in February; here and in the Northern hemisphere. This gave me a chance to reference the only song I know about February, a poignant Dar Williams tune. Along the way, I discovered a list compiled by Chuck Smeeton, who started the Cavan Project, with the aim of writing and posting a new original song once a month.

Apart from having an interest in lists, Chuck’s aim was to entertain people with an interest in music, but also to freshen up his songwriting by setting himself a deadline. Now, after writing a new song every month since 2012, he is packing it in. Sigh. I know how he feels after six and some years of writing 1,200 words a week.

Brisbane folk singer and performer John Thompson would also know how that feels. In 2011 he set himself quite a task – to research and record an Australian folk song every day for a year.

He achieved this goal, along the way uncovering old Australian folk music that might otherwise have sat undisturbed inside somebody’s piano stool. John wrote a few songs of his own on this ambitious journey, but in the main covered each song in his inimitable style. John finished the project, as befits his deft sense of humour, with Aeroplane Jelly, an advertising jingle which has blended into the culture, just like an old folk song.

I was chatting online to Brett Debritz, who was a sub editor at Brisbane’s the Daily Sun when it was a morning paper and later when it switched to afternoons. I asked if he could recall how many editions we produced. After conferring with a colleague, he said it was at least three, Monday to Friday at 7.30am, 10.30am and 2.30pm. We broke some good business stories in that final edition, which beat our rival The Courier-Mail simply by publishing before they did. Imagine that kind of deadline stress on a daily basis, next time you’re fretting about the article you’re writing for your monthly community newsletter.

I’ve never written songs to a deadline (which probably explains why my output has been so sporadic). I know songwriters who keep writing by exposing their new work to a collective. Some of these groups set challenges (a new song each day/week/month), and often written to a topic specified by the convenor. Some songwriters write songs together. I have always been a bit crap at collaborating (but I get 100% of the royalties).

Nevertheless, I support the notion of a group of creative people meeting to discuss what they do in the privacy of their own home studios.

So, I had this song idea which roughly started “Thursday I’ve got Friday on My Mind’. While true, this was never going to sit well with the publishers of the original song. Plan B, then. The idea was to somehow describe the creative tension which never goes away when promising people something new on a particular day of the week.

If you have a thing about lists, check out Chuck Smeeton’s months of the year and days of the week songs lists (including 16 Songs about August). Among other list blogs are ‘20 musicians who own wineries’ and my favourite, ‘28 songs in unusual time signatures’.

The latter, of course, includes (Dave Brubeck’s Take Five and Jethro Tull’s Living in the Past, both in 5/4), Money (Pink Floyd, 7/4), Happiness is a Warm Gun (The Beatles, various time measures) and Peter Gabriel’s Solsbury Hill (7/8).

In the spirit of ‘it’s been done, but never done my way’, here’s a playlist I put together on Spotify; two songs for every day of the week. Most of them are sourced from the music of my youth (1964-1974), but there are examples from the new crop of songwriters (who latch on to the topic as though it was a new thing).

The standout track in my opinion is banjo player Ian Simpson’s ‘Friday on My Mind’, drawn from a mixed collection of instrumentals by Simpson and guitarist John Kane.

As I so often think, when arriving at this point in my Friday essay (1,150 words), as the lyric of work-in-progress goes, “Will anyone see this post and does it really matter, only to my readers, near and far and widely scattered.”

Jimmy Webb would tell you that is not a true rhyme, to which I could say…By the time I get to Winton…

FOMM back pages

We’re on the road for a few weeks. This is something we prepared earlier.

Media analysis

Journalism and Bees In a Bottle

Unsold newspapers being returned to sender. Photo by BW

One of those ubiquitous news portals this week outed The Australian Women’s Weekly for a string of what we in the journalism business used to call ‘howlers’. The AWW meekly apologised for mis-naming TV personality Richard Wilkins as ‘ Rachael’ in its front cover feature, one of several glaring errors. The knife job from Mumbrella (the news portal to which I originally referred), drew sharp comments from (ex) journalists. As the auld wifies used to say in my homeland: “People in stane hooses shouldnae throw glasses”.

To err is human, someone said, and I forget what you had to do to be divine. Mistakes happen across all levels of business and industry, in office jobs, in the pubic service and even, dare I say it, the arts. (For those of you who were paying attention, I wrote ‘pubic’ rather than ‘public’ to demonstrate how easy it is to mis-type). The skill of a journalist/editor is to catch the mistake and fix it on the read-through. The errors made in the Richard Wilkins profile will have caused red faces, but it is hardly a sign of a failed State. Wilkins and family laughed it off, like the good sports they are.

Hard to believe, but when I first entered a newsroom with intent, the newspaper still employed a proofreader. The paper was just moving to offset printing, retiring their one surviving Linotype machine. Pages would be ‘pasted up’ and the proofreader’s job was to read every word, including headlines, photo captions and advertisements. The proofreader was basically looking for typos and literals, as the time had long passed to save a reporter’s bacon on a legally dodgy story. The lawyers would already have done their own version of proofreading, at a much higher hourly rate.

Honest mistakes are made in the media, and the people who make them are often mortified. We are seeing more of it now because newsrooms have been gutted and fact-checking is not valued.

But then there are the deliberate editorial choices made about controversial content. The Australian’s editor, Christopher Dore, made a rare editorial decision to go public about the furore which arose on social media over a cartoon by Johannes Leak, construed by many as racist. Dore defended the cartoon as a satire of presidential candidate Joe Biden’s reference to ‘little brown girls. If you missed it, The Conversation’s balanced piece by RMIT journalism lecturer Janak Rogers, goes into the topic in depth. tful place in the world. We used to call such kerfuffle ‘bees in a bottle’ – give the jar a good shake. Nobody will get hurt unless you take the lid off.

But gee, they make a lot of noise.

Sadly, it is what we have come to expect from The Australian, a conservative national broadsheet newspaper launched in 1964. Its opinion columnists tend to be dry conservatives and the political tone is decidedly to the right. The Oz, as it is known, has many critics. It often rates mention in news outlets whose sole mission is to critique journalism.

Mumbrella, Crikey, the ABC’s Media Watch program and other current affairs programs leap upon journalists who write slanted stories or indulge in epic errors of fact. Increasingly, social media is the place where people froth about journalism today, singling out examples of appalling spelling and misuse of grammar, hostile beat-ups and stories that are just plain wrong. I do feel like critics should be more tolerant of mistakes in regional news outlets, as staffing levels in this sector have been drastically reduced. In some cases there are not only no proofreaders, there are no sub editors either. (Ed: Even FOMM has an editer (sic).

I know many people are dismayed by the state of journalism and the rush to the bottom by those who survived the purge. In May, the situation became much worse for those who rely on local news. News Corp announced the closure of more than 100 regional daily and non-daily titles. Some survived as digital-only and a few newspapers are still being printed. Our locals, The Warwick Daily News and The Border Post (Stanthorpe), are no longer printed. A selection of Warwick district stories appear in The Chronicle (Toowoomba) and the WDN and BP have online editions. But it’s not the same. And we have to buy firelighters.

Fortunately, the Southern Free Times, owned by the Star News Group, which publishes community newspapers, has continued to print, albeit with a short hiatus. Editor Jeremy Sollars said the Free Times went into print hibernation from April to early June. He continued to produce an on-line edition, working part-time from home.

We had fully intended to resume printing again at some point but did not have a clear idea when that might have been.

“We saw the announcement by Warwick Daily News and The Border Post (Stanthorpe) in late May as a clear opportunity.

“Since our first print edition in early June we’ve had a tremendous response from both local advertisers and readers. Clearly our community values a printed news product, complemented by website/social media.

The Free Times covers the Warwick/Stanthorpe/Inglewood and Border regions – currently 8,000 copies a week. The paper is not home delivered, but is bulk-dropped to around 100 retail and community outlets.

“I believe that print publications like the Free Times have a very strong and healthy future in regional centres like Warwick and Stanthorpe,” Mr Sollars said.

Despite the shake-up of a venerable industry, there’s something for everyone out there in the on-line world. My best advice to those with a thirst for reliable, quality journalism is (a) buy a Tablet or an iPad and (b) source a mix of free and paid news feeds. All on-line news portals allow you to customise news and filter it to the topics you prefer, so you don’t get overwhelmed.

In no particular order, I recommend ABC Online, SBS News, The New York Times,The Guardian, the Conversation, the New Daily and Crikey (the ‘stayer’ of independent papers, founded in 2000). Then there’s the left-leaning Saturday Paper and The Monthly, both published by the Schwartz Media Group. If you want another view of world news, try Al Jazeera. When it comes to business and economics, The Economist carries a hefty annual subscription, but worth it if you have a vested interest in the fate of your investments.

At which point I should add that a subscription to The Australian includes access to the Wall Street Journal.

For those with budget constraints, I recently discovered The Independents

which aggregates news from more than 50 sources, some of them mentioned here. It’s set out in an easy to browse format.

Or if you are plain fed up with the news and its follow-the-pack mindset, you could instead binge watch (in no particular order), all seasons of Grey’s Anatomy, Homeland*, The Bureau*, Breaking Bad*, Goliath*, House of Cards, The Crown, The Bridge* and Homecoming. By the time you come up for air (Christmas 2021), it might all be over. Or it might be like yesterday: The Oz publishing offensive cartoons and being castigated for it (and as usual, not at all contrite).

*confronting and/or violent content