A Villanova Reunion: Home is where the heart is, despite Donald Trump

You can go home again. Despite the American writer Thomas Wolfe’s advice to the contrary in his novel, You Can’t Go Home Again, I went back to the US for the first time in a decade this month.
The occasion was Villanova University’s Reunion Weekend where I attended the 50th reunion of the Class of 1966 on the affluent Main Line 20 kilometres from centre-city Philadelphia. There were more than a hundred alumni from our class – mostly healthy septuagenarians – and hundreds more in class parties ending in the years 1 and 6, from 1956 to 2011, celebrating the good old days at Villanova and the national basketball championship won by the Wildcats in March.
It was quite a trip from Sydney to my hometown of Philly. After years of travelling on an Australian passport, I arrived in Los Angeles on the first leg of the journey to go through customs on my US passport. The Homeland Security agent looked at my photo, then me – a slimmer version than the picture — and said: “Welcome back home.” It was a far cry from the days when customs officials looked askance at my Aussie passport. It gave me a warm feeling to be welcomed home again.
I had decided to ask everyone I met on the trip what they thought about Donald Trump. Staying with friends in northeast Pennsylvania, I noticed a few Trump yard signs on neighbouring lawns, and a particularly nasty one: “Hillary for Prison 2016.” I felt better when all nine people at dinner party two nights later said they’d never vote for Trump. Hallelujah!
Then came the first night for the Class of 66 festivities: A welcome back reception at Picotte Hall at Dundale, a former private mansion now a venue for alumni and generous donors. It makes a McMansion look like a shack. The food and grog were plentiful, making it easy to steer the conversation toward politics. My first interviews were with three African-American bartenders; all of whom were definitely not fans of Donald Trump: “He may kill us all in a war. He’s no president. He’s dangerous,” said one. The suggestion was echoed by all three – none had a good word for the Donald, who once described a black man at a California rally as “my African-American.” He couldn’t understand why people thought he was racist. There are also fears that the British vote to leave the European Union because of feelings of disillusionment with governments will spread to the US given Donald Trump’s attacks on politicians and globalisation. In small-town America, where manufacturing jobs are disappearing, Trump is a hero. A manufacturing worker in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, about 60 kilometres from Philadelphia, John Keyser, who usually votes for the Democrats, told the New York Times this month: “I like him because he is to the point, and it’s time for a change. I think he’s got the oomph to rattle some cages.”
Later that evening, I asked an old friend, Steve Freind, the president of the student body for part of the year in 1966 (more on that later), and a former Republican representative for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, if he would vote for Trump. “Yes,” was his quick reply. “Why?” I asked. “I’m not going to vote for that (a rude word referring to Hillary. Steve doesn’t like her!).” Steve told me at the 40th reunion he didn’t like George W. Bush because he refused to demand that the United Arab Emirates should stop looking after the security of American ports and “his handling of Hurricane Katrina was atrocious.” He was just one of many alumni I talked to then who were against Bush; most because of Dubya’s involvement in the war against Iraq. In a piece in The Bulletin magazine in December 2006, I wrote: “I was proud of my fellow alumni. Despite their obviously comfortable lives, they were willing to sound an echo against George W. Bush and his war in Iraq.”
Ten years later the echo ringing around the halls of Villanova was against Hillary Clinton. A Villanova nursing graduate (they are the best), Lorraine (Farino) Brewer, told me at the reunion picnic: “Anybody but Hillary.” There was a fair bit of that going around. When I asked the Chair of the Class Committee, S. Curtis Seifert, if he was going to vote for Trump, he said “Yes” immediately. “I don’t like politicians and Donald Trump is not a politician.” Rich Galli, who’s an attorney in suburban Philadelphia, said: “I have to vote for Donald Trump. He’ll scare the foreign leaders and he’s not afraid to say what he thinks.” Joe McCauley, a retired bank vice-president, was standing next to his wife when I asked if he would vote for Trump: “My wife would kill me. I’m not going to vote, I think. I don’t think I’ll want to vote for Trump and I can’t vote for Hillary.”
Another old friend, Tom Sproul, who was one of my flatmates in the New Jersey beach resort of Wildwood in the mid-sixties, surprised me with his reply: “Who else am I going to vote for? I’m not going to vote for Hillary. She’s terrible on foreign policy.” An alumnus standing nearby chimed in: “I can’t stand listening to her.”
(Twitter Photo above of Wildcats at Reunion Picnic from Left: Eric Paschall, Nasir Reynolds and Kris Jenkins)
Some of the most interesting comments about Trump came from the Banmiller twins. Brian was a student government vice-president and Dave was also involved in student government and a member of Gamma Phi, the business honour fraternity. Dave now lives in Kingston, and is a former CEO of Jamaica Airlines. Dave said he met Trump at his house for lunch. Was he a good host? “Not really, he was arrogant and not very friendly. And I was CEO of Pan Am at the time.” I pressed him about whether he’d vote for Trump: “Well, I wanted to get Mitt Romney elected.” He thought Romney was a much better businessman than Trump – an opinion backed up in an article in a recent New York Times magazine by Adam Davidson: “Romney was an undeniable superstar in the field of private equity, and former business associates praised him as someone who could see a business problem more clearly than others and create powerful, profitable solutions. The professional biography of Trump, by contrast – though the man is clearly exceptional at something – hardly inspired such confidence.” I asked Dave again if he’d vote for Trump and he repeated he wished Romney would have run for president. He wouldn’t say for certain if he’d vote for him, but it seems likely: “I just wish Donald would tone it down a bit.”
Brother Brian had a similar response: “I don’t know who I’m going to vote for. He (Trump) should just shut up.” Brian is a long-time broadcaster and is now working for CBS. As a former business reporter at Fox News, he was surprised by the animosity towards Fox at CBS. He admitted Fox News was biased. I could have told him that. On a more serious note, I had written ten years ago about the battle between the well-to-do Tweeds, led by the Banmillers, and the down-to-earth Dirtballs, guided by Steve Freind et al (including me), during our senior year. It was a college brouhaha which saw Frank Eck elected student body president for half a year and Freind for the other half. A successful lawyer in Richmond Virginia, Frank died of motor neurone disease (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease in the US) in 2011. Brian and Dave took Frank for a cruise on the Queen Mary 2, including 24 members of both families in July. Brian wrote at the time: “He had a great time … then I visited Frank at his farm in early August. He died two weeks later. It was a blessing. He had lost total control of everything except his mind. Very sad.” Brian said later that Frank told him after a Mass on board the Queen Mary that he felt like the “luckiest man on the face of the earth,” quoting Lou Gehrig at his emotional farewell at Yankee Stadium. I told Brian and Dave at the reunion the Tweed-Dirtball feud was officially over: “The way you looked after Frank … it was just the best thing …”
I guess you can say that’s what friends are for. Later during the trip, I was thinking more about mates than I was thinking about Donald Trump. The gala dinner was a night to remember friends, with silver balloons made up with the class year on them, a clip of the Kris Jenkins basket that won a championship, a great band, Soul Patch Philly, and the university president, the Rev Peter Donohue, OSA, singing “New York New York.” (The photo at the top shows from left: Bill McCloskey, Bill Dolon, Tom Krause, Betty Keech & Jim Morgan. The photo below shows me hanging on to the ’66 balloon at the Keech house.)
IMG_1038 (2)
Fifty years on, my fellow alumni and their partners are still my friends: Jim and Roz Morgan, Tom and Betty Keech, Bill and Nancy McCloskey, Bill Dolon and Larrie Majors and Ron and Eileen Javers (Ron and Eileen weren’t at the reunion. I stayed with them the following week; their hospitality like my other friends was huge) and my best mate from my days in New York, James McCausland, fellow journalist and co-screenwriter of the first Mad Max film, who took me to Sydney as his photographer on an Israeli company freighter 45 years ago. He’s beaten cancer, but has severe back pain and I only wish I could wave a magic wand and make it disappear. He has a saint for a wife, Maureen, a former nurse and now lawyer, who loves him and cares for him. He came to northeast Pennsylvania from Staten Island to stay with the Morgans for a few days, and it was great to see him. I just hope he can make it to his daughter’s wedding later this year. I would wave the wand again to send him and Maureen to Melbourne first class on Qantas. I wish I could bring back my good friend Carol (Egan) McKeon, who died a few years ago. She and Dr Betty Keech were very close, having graduated with nursing degrees in 1966. Carol was wonderfully brilliant, so too was the president of our class, Jimmy Griffin, who died of cancer only a year after he graduated from Villanova. He could easily have become president of the United States, and I really believe that. His wife Ann Meyers has just established a Villanova scholarship in his name so that he won’t be forgotten. As long as someone from the Class of 1966 is still alive he won’t be forgotten. I wish we could bring him back, too. I believe in miracles, but this is a bridge too far.
Speaking of miracles, I hope Hillary Clinton gets the nomination; the FBI gets off its bum and admits it doesn’t have enough to indict her over email server allegations; she beats Donald Trump soundly in the presidential election, and Villanova repeats as NCAA basketball champions in 2017. Before I end this long-form post, I should put in a plug for my alma mater. Villanova is known for its sporting prowess: basketball and track and field come to mind immediately, but it also has excellent academic credentials. As Father Donohue mentioned in his address to the Class Dinner, Villanova is now a doctoral university and gone from a regional to a national status, with 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in its six colleges. Bloomberg Businessweek has designated Villanova as the number one business undergraduate university in the US, and the US News and World Report has consistently ranked Villanova among the top ten undergraduate engineering schools in the country.
There were two moments during the dinner when I choked up a bit: the singing of God Bless America and the school anthem at the end. God Bless America because everybody sang it loudly and passionately, and the school song because it brought back many memories:
Loyal heirs of Villanova
Sing a hymn of praise
To our dear old ALMA MATER
And our College days.
Donald Trump talks about making America great again. Well, Donald, if you were at the Villanova Room at the Connelly Centre on the night of June 10, you would have realised that America is still great and you’d need to find a new slogan for your hat. But one thing I’ve learned is that you can go home again. As the 20th Century US clergyman and author, Gerald Stanley Lee, once said: “America is a tune. It must be sung together.”
That’s a tune you should learn, Mr Trump.

Muhammad Ali: “Who’s he?” asked the Harlem schoolkids

(AP photo above of Heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston)
Muhammad Ali was a hero of mine, even though I grew up in a white Philadelphia neighbourhood bordering on a black one where you were called a “n….er lover,” if you sympathised with African Americans. Racism was rife in Philly.
My crime was teaching in Harlem, the famous black community in New York City. I taught there because it was a way of avoiding the draft in the late 1960s, by teaching in a disadvantaged area. I decided I’d much rather teach black kids in Harlem, than kill Vietnamese kids in Vietnam. During my time there, a friend, a Vietnam veteran, came to watch me teach and observe the school. His comment was: “At least they gave us a gun.”
Regular readers of gonzomeetsthepress.com will have heard all my Harlem stories, except for one involving Muhammad Ali. In 1969 I was given a home room class of 12 sixth grade boys at IS88 (a junior high school then) at 114th St and Seventh Avenue. I was young and enthusiastic and the idea was to get close to the pupils, to curb the recalcitrant and encourage the keen. Yes, a few had behavioural problems, so I did my best to get them involved in their studies.
Well, I’ve always been a sports aficionado, having played and coached basketball, baseball and American football on a high school level, and taught how to box by my father, who was a US Navy World War II veteran, and unofficial light-heavyweight champion of the ships competition in the South Pacific. I can’t confirm that as my father never talked about the war, but my brother Jack, who’s no longer with us, told me that, so I’d like to think it’s true. (I’ve written to the Naval Archives for information on my Dad’s service record. I should hear soon.)
Anyway, my Dad was a boxing fan. In the 50s he was a regular watcher of the Gillette Friday Night Fights and used to invite friends and neighbours over for a beer and a chat. But they were not allowed to talk during the actual fight, only between rounds. If they talked, they were never invited back. Like most Dads in the neighbourhood, he was not a civil rights activist. That’s an understatement. He loved Rocky Marciano, the undefeated world heavyweight champion, but as time went by, the white boxers declined in number and African American fighters grew. He stopped watching the fights, but occasionally when a really big bout took place, he would turn on the TV, even if it involved two black Americans. His favourite line was: “I’ll bet you the black guy wins.” He used another word. So I never really found out if my Dad thought Muhammad Ali was a better boxer than Rocky Marciano. I’d like to think in his mellowing years, he would have had nice things to say about Muhammad Ali, although he’d probably call him Cassius Clay.
But I digress. This is not a biography of my father, although the more I think about it, I should write one. Jack Krause was one hell of a bloke. But so was Muhammad Ali. Going back to my teaching days in Harlem, I decided to give my class a lesson on boxing and Muhammad Ali as part of my campaign to get their interest. We had been doing profiles of famous American sportsmen, and there was an article in the New York Times about Muhammad Ali and how he was stripped of his heavyweight championship, had his boxing license revoked, after he was found guilty of draft evasion, was fined $10,000 and sentenced to five years in prison. He had refused to be inducted for religious reasons – he had joined the Nation of Islam in 1964 – and even more famously, told authorities why he didn’t want to go to Vietnam: “I ain’t got no quarrel with them Viet Cong. … No Viet Cong ever called me n—-r.” Thankfully, he was free on bail to tour US campuses and plead his case on Vietnam. Eventually, the US Supreme Court overturned his conviction by 8-0 in June, 1971. But he lost four years of his boxing career in his prime, aged 25 to 29.
But my teaching lesson was in 1969, and I asked the boys what they thought of Muhammad Ali. “Who’s he, Mr Krause?” asked Herman in the front row. “Yeah, who’s that?” echoed Howard sitting next to him. Not one of the African American pupils in Harlem had ever heard of Muhammad Ali, a former heavyweight champion of the world, one of the most famous boxers in the history of the sport. I was flabbergasted.
By the end of the class, they knew who he was. I told them how I had evaded the draft legally by teaching in a school in Harlem – a disadvantaged area where it was hard to attract good teachers. So in a way I was a draft evader. I don’t think I was a very good teacher then, I was still learning, but they responded to my enthusiasm, Muhammad Ali’s success and subsequent raw deal. It was my second year in Harlem, and I was already being called a “n—er lover” by the regulars in the pub across from my parents’ place in West Philadelphia. I was proud to be called that, but I hated the word – still do, of course. I loved those kids, but it wasn’t an easy gig. That’s another understatement.
Muhammad Ali was an Olympic gold medallist, the heavyweight champion of the world, a civil rights activist, and as Kevin Mitchell, the boxing correspondent for the Guardian and Observer, puts it in his wonderful obituary of Muhammad, he was not only a fighter, but a joker, magician, religious disciple and preacher. If you only have time to read one Muhammad Ali obit, this is it.
I’d love to hear what those sixth graders are saying about him 47 years later. There was only one Muhammad Ali, and I’d like to give the last word to Kevin Mitchell from his last paragraph. “Whoever Ali was, there was only one of him. Categorically, there will not be another. I doubt we could stand the excitement.”

Primarily a New York State of Mind

New York may be the city that never sleeps, but it sure is the city (and the state) that likes to vote. The presidential primaries came to New York yesterday, and the results may just be a turning point in the campaign.
As expected, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton won big, and they acted like winners. They also put on their best presidential personae during their victory speeches.
It was more pronounced in the case of the front-running Republican, Donald Trump, who in previous primaries advertised his golf courses, steaks and wine, slammed his opponents and mocked the media. This time he gave a short 8-minute speech, thanked everybody, called his rivals, Ted Cruz and John Kasich, by their respective titles, Senator and Governor, instead of “Lying Ted” and “Absentee Governor,” and was kind to the media. (Photo above by Jabin Botsford, The Washington Post)
As one CNN commentator said: “It was a fundamentally different Donald Trump” on his Big Apple stage – Trump Tower. His only dismissal of his main rival, Ted Cruz, was more of a boast than a sledge: “We don’t have much of a race anymore, based on what I see on television. Senator Cruz is just about mathematically eliminated. . . . We’re really, really rocking.”
And he was rocking. He stepped out on the Trump Tower platform to the tune of Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York,” and as we all know if you can make it there you can make it anywhere. With nearly all the votes counted, Trump won 60 per cent of the ballot, compared to 25.2 per cent for Kasich, and 14.8 per cent for Cruz. He now has 845 delegates to 559 for Cruz, and he needs 1237 to secure the nomination.
Trump warned the Republican establishment: “Nobody can take the election away from us,” saying the system was rigged. He suggested if he didn’t reach the magic 1237 number by the July convention, but got close, he deserved the nomination. CNN’s numbers man, John King, said he might even get there if he wins the five East Coast primaries next week, and can keep up his streak all the way to California on June 7. He was supremely confident in his hometown: “I can think of nowhere I’d rather have this victory.”
A distant third, Ted Cruz campaigned in Philadelphia, the major city in Pennsylvania, whose primary will be held on April 26. Cruz made a plea to the city’s Republicans: “Join me on this journey of less talk and more action because I know you may have been knocked down, but America has always been best when she is lying down with her back on the mat and the crowd has given the final count. It is time for us to get up, shake it off and be who we were destined to be.”
For Hillary Clinton, a senator in New York for 8 years, her victory over Bernie Sanders was particularly satisfying, telling her supporters in Manhattan: “You have today proved once again, there’s no place like home.” She added: “The race for the Democratic nomination is in the home stretch, and victory is in sight.” (Photo above by Melina Mara, The Washington Post.) And after a bitter slanging match with Sanders leading up to the primary, Clinton took on a presidential air and held out an olive branch to Bernie: “I believe there is much more that unites us than divides us.”
Her speech to the party faithful was longer than Donald Trump’s but as in past primaries, she was giving her stump address about barriers, in contrast to her Republican rival: “He’s been so against everything America stands for … so instead of building walls we are going to break down barriers.” In an emotional ending, she praised Erika Smegielski, the daughter of the principal of Sandy Hook elementary school, Dawn Hochsprung, who was killed in the mass shooting in Connecticut in 2012. Clinton said Erika has become an advocate for gun control, and “turned her sadness into a strategy and her mourning into a movement.” Let’s hope Hillary continues to push for gun safety, especially when the National Rifle Association takes aim at her.
Hillary Clinton got over a million votes, 57.9 per cent, to more than 750,000, or 42.1 per cent of the vote for Bernie Sanders. She has 1,893 delegates to 1,180 for Sanders, and needs 2,383 to become the Democratic nominee. The 74-year-old Senator from Vermont gave no sign he was about to quit, telling reporters: “Today we took Secretary Clinton on in her own state of New York and we lost. There are five primaries next week. We think we’re going to do well.”
Born in Brooklyn, Sanders tried to capture voters with a campaign ad
linking him to the Democrats’ legendary leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The narrator said over footage of the former president: “Even when the deck is stacked, a New Yorker will find a way to break up big banks, create millions of jobs and rebuild America. Some say it can’t be done again. But another native son of New York is ready: Bernie.”
Both Bernie Sanders and Ted Cruz have mountains to climb if they have any hope of catching up to Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.
Barring unforeseen events, always possible in this bizarre primary season, Clinton and Trump are likely to emerge as their parties’ respective nominees, and fight one of the dirtiest political campaigns in US history.
Let the mayhem begin.
PS Or Americans can listen to the wise counsel of President Barack Obama. This was his reaction to the Trump triumph: “Last night’s results should be a wake-up call to all of us.”

The West Australian: You can’t BEAT it for breaking news

I wasn’t able to attend the media event below but I followed it with interest on Twitter and told the Walkley Foundation’s multi-media manager I would write something about it if I could find an angle. I found one — it’s all about the future of journalism, and if you want to know more, check out the websites of the Walkley Foundation and the Global Editors Network (GEN).
There was a significant journalism event in Sydney earlier this month which might have passed you by, especially if you’re old school and read the words “data-driven journalism prototypes.”
The event was the Editors Lab hackathon, part of the Global Editors Network’s (GEN) series and the Walkley Foundation’s program on innovation in journalism, also supported by Google. In plain English, the theme was: “Data-Driven Stories: Find or tell stories with data.”
Fourteen three-person teams from across Australia, including newspapers, television, and universities, took part in the two-day event at Macleay College in Sydney’s Surry Hills to produce the best journalism project based on data. Each team was composed of a journalist, a developer and a designer. If you still don’t know what I’m talking about, watch the video of the winning pitch from The West Australian — Joe Hardy, Sophia Lewis and Ben Martin, left to right. Photo above by Stephen Davis/Macleay College – as they explain what their project, “BEAT: A real-time visualisation of breaking news,” is all about.
Ben Martin, assistant editor at The West Australian, led the pitch: “The crux of everything we do is telling stories and telling them well. BEAT will help us identify those stories quickly, and respond quickly. It’s mostly designed for use by our senior staff on our super desk, which sits at the centre of our integrated newsroom and where all editorial decisions are made for Seven News’s Perth bulletin, thewest.com.au, and The West Australian newspaper.
“In the past few months, we have brought our digital department into our newsroom, so they now sit just metres from the super desk. Previously, they were on a different floor on a different wing of our building. Now, we have put people with technical and creative skills in the thick of the news business. It’s the start of something exciting and innovative, and to go to Sydney and win the hackathon was reassuring evidence that we have the talent to keep being successful in the world of digital journalism.”
BEAT puts live information from the police despatch system in an easy-to-understand, usable, graphical interface for their newsroom. MatCAD, the Western Australian police computer-aided despatch system, is made available to newsrooms via a password-protected website. But it’s hard to read and there’s too much data. BEAT polls MatCAD for new data every 30 seconds. It categorises each event by urgency, seriousness and newsworthiness, and delivers it on a dashboard accessible to anyone in the newsroom at a glance.
Ben Martin describes how BEAT is used in their newsroom: “When there’s a breaking news event, sending the right person with the right equipment to an event currently involves constant ‘where the hell are you’ phone calls, illegible scribbling on white boards and, basically, a fair bit of luck. I want live, official, reliable information that I can use immediately. A newsroom needs to respond to breaking news now because our audience wants its news now.
“BEAT tells me a serious crime story is breaking. My first question: where are my reporters? My photographers? My satellite trucks to beam pictures back to the newsroom? Is the helicopter available? Let’s add our Newsroom Logistics Layer to BEAT. By geolocating our staff and vehicles, I can see who is closest, who has the right equipment, the skills and ability to respond. We can make quick decisions. No more multiple phone calls. No more scribbling on a white board. We respond fast and efficiently to live news events.
“BEAT can also be used to identify fast-moving crime trends. We could filter for burglaries in the past two hours. If we see a spate of burglaries, we can give our audience hyper-local, real-time information. The message might be: “There have been seven burglaries in your suburb in the past two hours, check your locks and doors and check on your neighbours …” What could be more local, relevant and usable than that?
“We have already started identifying other usable real-time data which can be layered over BEAT: for example, road closures and traffic delays seriously impact our ability to get to breaking news. BEAT is a breaking news dashboard and vital newsroom logistics tool. It’s a simple, elegant, usable way to monitor the beat of your city.”
If you want to get more information about BEAT, click on this link from the Global Editors Network (GEN).
The West Australian will compete against other Editors Lab winners from Season 4 during the Editors Lab Final — the World Cup of Newsroom Innovation — at the GEN Summit 2016 in Vienna on June 15-17, 2016.
Sydney innovation experts from Fusion Labs presented an informal Launch Ready Award to the Sydney Morning Herald team — Inga Ting, Richard Lama and Kathleen Virnat -– who win up to two days of free consulting and training to help them take their prototype DataHub to a product launch. DataHub is an online forum that links journalists with researchers who are willing to share their data. Runners-up were the ABC team, with their Cooee app searching the corporation’s content to find what topics audiences are reading or responding to the most.
If you want a list of the teams, the judges, presenters, the organisers and more information on the Editors Lab series, go to the Walkley’s website where you can also find contacts for the event: Kate Golden, the Walkley Foundation’s multi-media manager, and Evangeline de Bourgoing, director of programmes for the Global Editors Network.

Why Trump will win: Remember Richard Nixon?

Okay, you’ve seen the headline above, and you’re reading this post to see if I’ve gone crazy. Well, no, I’m just accepting the inevitable.
Donald Trump is likely to win the presidency on November 8 because not enough Americans will realise how awful he will be and vote for him. They voted for Richard Nixon who claimed he was not a crook. But he was a crook and a liar and he ruined a generation of Americans. He had to resign on August 9, 1974 because of the Watergate scandal, and it was one of the happiest days of my life.
What does this have to do with Donald Trump? (A photo of him with fans above. Washington Post) Well, if you will allow me a certain amount of self-indulgence, I must return to 1971 when I was getting ready to go to Australia with my best mate, James McCausland, on an Israeli freighter. James was a financial journalist and we had met at United Press International in 1966 when I was a news editor, sending out three bulletins a day to ships at sea. He wrote the daily stock market report.
I had been teaching in Harlem for three years until I turned 26 and was no longer eligible for the draft. Teaching in a disadvantaged area made you exempt. A few of my mates who fought in Vietnam came to watch me teach, and said: “At least they gave us a gun.” (It wasn’t that bad!) When Richard Nixon bombed Cambodia in May of 1970, students around the US protested against what they saw was an incursion into another country; they had already been demonstrating against the war in Vietnam. The protests erupted into violence: Ohio National Guardsmen shot and killed four unarmed students at Kent State University. Such was the fear in New York of further violence that schools were closed down for a few days. Nixon thought it was the most successful military operation of the war. Many Americans of my generation believed it was a disaster and strengthened the Khmer Rouge cause which would eventually kill as many as three million Cambodians.
Given all this, Nixon was still able to convince Americans he would be a good president. As civil rights leaders marched around the country, fighting to desegregate schools, whites were battling to keep African Americans out of their suburbs. In 1971, Nixon pretended he was a statesman, not a politician trying to get re-elected. In his State of the Union address, he tried to sound like John F. Kennedy: “We have gone through a long, dark night of the American spirit. But now that night is ending. Now we must let our spirits soar again. Now we are ready for the lift of a driving dream.” I was telling any of my friends who would listen that Richard Nixon was a crook and a liar and they should not vote for him again.
Alas, many did, and Nixon won the election in a landslide against Senator George McGovern, whose campaign went pear-shaped after his running mate Tom Eagleton had to withdraw due to electric shock therapy for mental illness. Nixon had a 60 per cent approval rating. After my uncle died and left me enough money to get a flight back to the US and pay off my student loan in December 1972, I asked friends and neighbours what they thought about Tricky Dick. When they said I was right about Nixon, I asked why they voted for him. “We didn’t,” most of them said, to which I replied: “Well, how did he win by a landslide?” This was six months after the Watergate burglary and the Washington Post reported a scoop on October 10, 1972 from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein: “FBI agents have established that the Watergate bugging incident stemmed from a massive campaign of political spying and sabotage on behalf of President Nixon’s re-election and directed by officials of the White House and the Committee for the Re-Election of the President.” Despite all this, not just the burglary, but his love for the Silent Majority that alienated the liberals and his hatred for the Yippies and hippies, Richard Nixon was re-elected president. (Photo below of Nixon at Republican National Convention in Miami in 1968. AP file) Twenty months later he would resign, the only American president to do so.
Rick Perlstein, in his brilliant profile of the disgraced president, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America (Scribner), points out that some people still believed McGovern would win, but not by a landslide. One of those was the legendary political columnist of the New York Times, Scotty Reston, who wrote on the Sunday before the election that he couldn’t believe the Gallup poll which showed 59-36 for the president. To believe the poll, said Reston, “you must also believe that the American people regret corruption but have accepted it as an unavoidable part of American life and really don’t care about all those millions of dollars given to the Republican party by a few rich men and women, all the secret funds, and the bugging and burglary of the Democratic party and the fake letters and political sabotage and the guerilla warfare used in this campaign …”
Scotty Reston was wrong, and I’m afraid that the nay-sayers in the media are making the same mistake with Donald Trump. The division that Nixon helped create is still with the American people, as Trump’s call to build a wall to keep Mexicans out, and make it more difficult for Muslims to get in, is reaching the majority who are no longer silent as they drink their Budweiser and watch Fox News. Hillary Clinton, if she wins the nomination, which is likely if she does as well on Super Tuesday as she did last weekend in South Carolina, will be the voice of reason and tolerance. It seems to me many Americans don’t want to listen to that. They’re angry, jobless and jaded and want to kick bums in Syria, particularly ISIS bums. Donald Trump is preaching to the converted. My preferred candidate, Bernie Sanders, said Trump was dividing America, and appealed to voters to unite against the likely Republican nominee (after Sanders’ big loss in South Carolina): “Let me be clear on one thing tonight. This campaign is just beginning. When we come together, and don’t let people like Donald Trump try to divide us, we can create an economy that works for all of us and not just the top 1 percent.”
Columnist David Brooks writing in the New York Times doesn’t mention Richard Nixon, but he believes Trump is “the culmination of the trends we have been seeing for the last 30 years: the desire for outsiders; the bashing style of rhetoric that makes conversation impossible; the decline of coherent political parties; the declining importance of policy; the tendency to fight cultural battles and identity wars through political means. Trump represents the path the founders rejected. There is a hint of violence undergirding his campaign. There is always a whiff, and sometimes more than a whiff, of ‘I’d like to punch him in the face.’ I printed out a Times list of the insults Trump has hurled on Twitter. The list took up 33 pages. Trump’s style is bashing and pummeling. Everyone who opposes or disagrees with him is an idiot, a moron or a loser.” Nixon called people who opposed him idiots, morons or losers, and worse. Just listen to those tapes he recorded in the White House, if you can stand it.
Donald Trump excelled himself today in his ability to say outrageous things and get away with it – so far. When Jake Tapper of CNN asked Trump about white supremacist organisations like the Ku Klux Klan supporting him, specifically former KKK leader David Duke, he refused to disavow them:
Trump: “Well, I have to look at the group. I mean, I don’t know what group you’re talking about. You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group that I know nothing about. I would have to look. If you would send me a list of the groups, I will do research on them. And, certainly, I would disavow them if I thought there was something wrong.”
Tapper: “The Ku Klux Klan?”
Trump: “But you may have groups in there that are totally fine, and it would be very unfair. So give me a list of the groups, and I will let you know.”
The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza wrote about the KKK comment and a Trump retweet of a Mussolini quote: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” Trump said on NBC’s Meet the Press: “What does it matter if it’s a quote by Mussolini or somebody else? It’s certainly a very interesting quote.” Cillizza claims neither of these comments will adversely affect Trump on Super Tuesday: “For his supporters — and, at this point, that’s a lot of people — his willingness to completely spurn the political-correctness police is the very thing that draws them to him. And, his unwillingness to apologize when scolded by the news media or other Republican politicians for some of his inflammatory remarks make his backers love him all the more: He’s edgy! He’s anti-establishment! He tells it like it is!”
I think Donald Trump is likely to win because Americans are divided, angry, tired of politicians and political correctness, hypocrisy, broken promises, Wall Street and banks. I could go on, but then I would sound like Donald Trump. I’m planning on going back later this year to the US for a university reunion, and I will be asking people if they’ll be voting for Trump. I think the majority will say yes. I hope I’m wrong.
It will be an interesting campaign if the two most likely candidates secure their parties’ nominations: Donald Trump versus Hillary Clinton: The billionaire takes on Madame Secretary. Both have baggage, but the difference is that Trump doesn’t appear to care if he wins or loses.(I think Bernie Sanders would have a better chance of beating Trump, but Super Tuesday might kill his chances.)
But if Trump does become president of the United States, it’s unlikely to be the end of the world. After all, Richard Nixon was president for five years and eight months and America survived.
And this was what Hunter S. Thompson, the master of gonzo journalism and the man who could have written the best Trump biography if he were still alive, had to say about the ignominious president in his 1994 Rolling Stone obituary (reprinted in Atlantic magazine):
“Richard Nixon is gone now, and I am poorer for it. He was the real thing — a political monster straight out of Grendel and a very dangerous enemy. He could shake your hand and stab you in the back at the same time. He lied to his friends and betrayed the trust of his family. Not even Gerald Ford, the unhappy ex-president who pardoned Nixon and kept him out of prison, was immune to the evil fallout. Ford, who believes strongly in Heaven and Hell, has told more than one of his celebrity golf partners that ‘I know I will go to hell, because I pardoned Richard Nixon’.”

The Writers’ Revolution: Reclaim the book for authors and readers

Most Australian writers don’t make a lot of money. Of course, there are Peter Carey and Tom Keneally, and in the recent past, Colleen McCullough and Bryce Courtenay, and going further back, Patrick White and Morris West, to name a few.
They were well looked after by publishers and their marketing and publicity staff and literary agents and bookshops and the media. But the digital age intervened and brought disruptions to book sales as customers bought Kindles and e-books. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Booktopia et al targeted bibliophiles online. There were those who suggested books and bookshops would be joining newspapers in the morgue.
It was all about money and convenience and how people purchased Kindles or Kobos to read their e-books on trains, planes, buses or cruise ships. But publishers were still paying authors only 25% for digital rights, and writers were getting angry.
And thus was born the writers’ revolution. Five years ago a group of distinguished Australian authors, including Sue Woolfe and Bem Le Hunte, got together on a Sydney balcony and formed an e-publishing co-operative. Sue was the initiator, having had a few bad incidents with publishers, one who put an inappropriate cover on one of her novels, and another who dismissed her manuscript in a few minutes because she used the first-person narrative. The author of four novels including the multi-award-winning Leaning Towards Infinity, Sue decided to email a fellow novelist. He said e-publishing was a good idea, and it led her to emailing Australian publishers, telling them about her new manuscript and asking if they’d consider going into partnership with her. In her blog on her website, Sue chronicles how the passion of her fellow writers eventually developed into the authors’ portal, http://www.wutheringink.com, but not before her group, at first called The Royalties, were challenged by their lack of digital knowledge. Her plan was “to build a portal to enable Australian authors like us, luddites like me who almost have no bravery at all when it comes to the internet, to e publish. A site that any author can use. A site that attracts readers, and connects them with authors.”
Sue Woolfe and Bem Le Hunte and a number of authors finally got their site, and it was launched last week by another writer, a former NSW Premier and Australian Foreign Minister, and presently Director of Australia-China Relations Institute at the University of Technology at Sydney (UTS), Bob Carr (Bob Carr with Bem left and Sue right. A better photo of Bem — with glass of wine — and Sue below!). Among those at the launch at Bem’s home in Paddington were other writers and journalists, including children’s author Libby Hathorn (one of the original group), historian Anne Whitehead, Sydney Morning Herald literary editor Susan Wyndham and the SMH PS (gossip) columnist Michael Koziol. And the man who’s been promoting books for publishers and authors for decades (and Wuthering Ink), publicity guru, Alan Davidson, seen below with Bob Carr (that’s a glass of water!).
Bem Le Hunte started the proceedings with a welcome, saying Wuthering Ink is like a start up, a social venture, run as a literary salon at home. Her fellow co-founder Sue Woolfe recalled some of her blog chronicles, including a Bob Carr story: “I know he reads – one year I was head of the fiction judging panel for the Christina Stead Award, the Premier’s Award, and was told … to write comments for his speech on the short-listed books, which I duly did, and which he duly dismissed because he’d read all the books. His comments, which I listened to with great interest, were excellent, sophisticated, perceptive.” She added that many women’s books were on the short list, and Bob had read them all.
Over the years, she realised that writers lose 90 per cent of their income to publishers and bookshop, and “If Bill Gates was losing 90% of his income, he wouldn’t have much either.” Wuthering Ink was there for authors, said Sue, with an automatic author form which makes it easy for writers to digitise their books, their new and old work, which had often disappeared from bookshops. It also offers authors the opportunity to publish internationally by removing publishing territories, as well as increasing royalties by up to 80% for digital rights. It’s all on the website.
Bob Carr began by saying the NSW Labor Government had always been an advocate of meaningful funds for writers. He said the Premier’s Literary Fellowship from the NSW Ministry for the Arts had awarded Bem Le Hunte $10,000 for her second novel, There, Where the Pepper Grows, the story of Benjamin who fled his native Poland during the Nazi occupation, aiming to fulfil his father’s dream of settling in Palestine. But he and his fellow survivors are stranded in Calcutta (where Bem was born). It’s still a topical novel about the search for refuge.
After a brief sojourn to the immigration debate by calling for a reduction in the immigration rate because of “breakneck” population growth (and the preservation of Paddington’s heritage), Bob Carr returned to his love for books and the need for authors like Primo Levi to be able to tell their story. He talks about Levi’s book, If This is a Man, about how he survived Auschwitz. It took him a long time to get the book published, but he finally got his story into print. It was important because he wanted the German people to understand what was done in their name. Bob Carr says it would have been terrible if his story was lost.
Carr mentions Anthony Burgess, whose works weren’t best sellers at first. Gore Vidal was another author whose stories were overlooked in the beginning. Other authors who deserve more readership include Murray Bail, whose award-winning novel Eucalyptus, has “genuine Australian stories.” Carr says he’s just got around to reading the 1999 book. And, of course, Colleen McCullough, who wrote Thorn Birds. Her publishers kept asking for a sequel. But she didn’t want one, and wrote a series of books about the Roman Republic. Bob Carr believes authors should be allowed to control their own work.
Last week I wrote that I wasn’t sure how publishers would react to this authors’ portal. I have heard from a publishing source, who told me: “Well, as always it comes to ‘you get what you pay for.’ If you want the full publishing service — editorial/design/production/marketing/promotion terrestrial and digital — you’ll sell a lot more books and share the income with the publisher.” In my experience, there are many good, caring publishers in Australia (even the ones who rejected my novel!).
Independent bookshops didn’t disappear when Amazon and Borders moved into their market. In fact, the ones that cared about their customers flourished. Mark Rubbo, owner of Readings Books and Music in Melbourne, wiped out his rival Borders bookstore, simply by looking after his patrons and staying on top of his game. Here’s a great piece on how he did it. Wuthering Ink also aims to look after its readers as well as its authors, so that people anywhere in the world can get access to the writers’ works. Wuthering Ink is both a bookstore and a site for authors to digitise their works automatically and display them for sale. What do established authors think of the new site? Booker Prize Winner Tom Keneally said it was a “grand concept … a splendid idea.” Distinguished novelist James Bradley said: “I’m really interested to see where it’s ended up — it’s a great initiative.” And the celebrated playwright Stephen Sewell said: “Like the film actors, directors and writers who established the once great United Artists studio trying to wrest creative control back from the executives and moneymen, we wish to reclaim the book for the people whose hearts and souls go into them, and for the readers who cherish them.”
Don’t take my word for it; have a look at the website and Wuthering Ink on Facebook with videos of some of its founding family of writers. The authors are passionate and believe they are on the verge of a revolution. Just listen to Sue Woolfe: “We at Wuthering Ink have bent our brains to make our site luddite-friendly and automated to enable us all to publish our work in perpetuity.”
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Listen to the Wordsmiths: When words are hogwash

“’When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less’.”
That was Lewis Carroll writing in the 19th Century when words meant something. Now words mean less rather than more, especially when spoken by politicians. It is a major theme of a book written by a wordsmith, Don Watson (photo above), award-winning author and former speechwriter to Prime Minister Paul Keating. In his introduction to Worst Words: A compendium of contemporary cant, gibberish and jargon (Random House, 439 pages), Watson chronicles how one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century, Graham Greene, liked Fidel Castro, even his four-hour orations. Greene wrote that Castro’s speeches were “not made up of evasions and oratorical tricks and big abstract words … they are full of information, down to earth, filled with details … he is the revolutionary brain in action …”
Watson uses a random sample of managerial language as an example of words that mean nothing: “In particular, the degree of formality evidenced across universities, regarding the documentation of risk strategy and risk appetite, processes to identify and manage risk, and reporting on new and emerging risks suggests that rigour in risk management is a key enabler in improving organisational performance.” Whew!
That prompts Watson to sum up what’s wrong with public language in this succinct paragraph, ending with one of my favourite words: “All public language inclines to pomposity and deceit, but modern public language inclines these ways acutely and nails it to the inclination. Unlike Greene’s Castro, it is also evasive and dishonest in its essence; abstract, devoid of useful information and concrete example, remote from human reality, filled not with detail but with hogwash.” If I were in the audience listening to Don Watson recite that passage, I would give him a standing ovation.
Recently, I gave a small speech to a public meeting at a local golf club on a proposed merger of two councils in North Sydney: Ku-ring-gai (where I live), and Hornsby. I’ve written a post about the meeting, but I had to read the proposal put forward by the NSW Local Government Minister to see why he backed the amalgamation of two councils that were quite capable of standing alone. It was written in managerial language that meant nothing. Here is an example: “The government detailed the benefits of the merger in the proposal, including ‘improved strategic planning and economic development to better respond to the changing community’.” I added this: “That line could have come directly from the ABC TV (satirical) series, Utopia. What does it mean? Absolutely nothing.” The audience laughed as did Garry West, the delegate of the Office of Local Government CEO, who will consider the submissions and pass on his assessment. It made my day.
Don Watson explains in the introduction what’s harmful about the language of management: “. . . as far as I know, no one has studied the effects on human beings of long-term daily exposure to jargon and clichés: but we may assume that a world whose language defies visualisation, and is stripped of all lyric, comic and descriptive possibility, is far from and ideal human environment and some kind of trauma may result.”
Once you’ve read his excellent introduction, you can look up all the jargons and clichés and words that you hate quite easily, as the book is alphabetical, from Tony Abbott’s “absolute crap” to the Australasian Bottled Water Institute’s “zero kilojoule hydration option.” The former was Abbott’s assessment of climate change; the latter is more commonly known as water. Watson gives examples: “The argument (for climate change) is absolute crap.” And “People willing to pay for the convenience of a zero-kilojoule hydration option when they’re out and about.”
For my favourite “worst” phrase, “going forward(s),” Watson gives five references, as in “Excuse me, can you tell me the time going forwards?” Politicians are the worst offenders. Richard Marles, the Shadow Minister for Immigration, who is also a co-host for a Sky News current affairs show on Saturday morning with Education Minister, Christopher Pyne, has four mentions in this category: two for the Julia Gillard ALP campaign slogan in the 2010 election. Here’s one Marlesism from the ABC: “What is very clear in terms of the best interests of the Labor Party now, what is very clear going forward is that everybody unites behind Julia Gillard.” And another one from the Sydney Morning Herald: “In terms of going forward we are utterly committed to the fact that we need to make sure.”
Watson also inserts some of his worst words to famous speeches to show how ridiculous they sound. For example, “access,” which has become a buzzword, as in Access Economics, and shows up in this Human Rights Commission report: “Language is a key issue of access for people from any non-English-speaking culture …” And from the sublime speech to the ridiculous word, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, with a not-so-accessible ending: “Four score and seven years ago, our fathers brought forth upon this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal (and should have equal access).” Poor Abe is probably spinning in his grave over that one.
I could go on, but I suggest you pick up a copy of Worst Words, and see if some of your most hated phrases have also earned a guernsey on Watson’s website: http://www.weaselwords.com.au where you can send your examples of atrocious words. It all started with his 2004 book, Death Sentence: The Decay of Public Language and continued in 2005 with Watson’s Dictionary of Weasel Words. And I almost forgot. Yes, Malcolm Turnbull does get a mention or two. Remember one of his first speeches as Prime Minister in September 2015? If so, you must be agile and innovative: “The Australia of the future has to be a nation that is agile, that is innovative, that is creative.”
If you like Worst Words, you’ll also enjoy a more formal book about language: Modern Australian Usage: A Practical Guide for Writers & Editors, 3rd Edition (Allen & Unwin, also 439 pages!). The author is another wordsmith, Nicholas Hudson, a long-time editor and publisher working with Australian writing and writers. In his preface, he describes what the guide is all about: “The issues it discusses are not invented: they are the issues which most often arise. The questions are the questions most asked. The mistakes are the mistakes most often made.”
It’s a well-written, readable book, and Hudson says its major inspiration was Fowler’s A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, “as will be obvious (but I hope not objectionably so) to lovers of Fowler.” I can’t say I’m in love with H.W. Fowler, but I have a 1984 edition of the book in its original form which he began planning with his brother Francis in 1911 that I have consulted on quite a few occasions in the past three decades. It’s a classic and every library should have a copy. Fowler was a scholar, but he wasn’t dry or pedantic, as you can tell by his lovely dedication of the book to his brother, who died before it was published. Francis George Fowler died in 1918, at the age of 47, of tuberculosis contracted during his service with the British Expeditionary Force in 1915-16. H.W. Fowler writes: “To the memory of my brother … who shared with me the planning of this book, but did not live to share the writing. I think of it as it should have been, with its prolixities docked, its dullness enlivened, its fads eliminated, its truths multiplied. He had a nimbler wit, a better sense of proportion, and a more open mind, than his twelve-year-older partner.” Hudson writes like that, too as he profiles himself in the preface: “ … it is a book written by an amateur, in both senses of that abused word. Firstly, it is by an unashamed lover of words in general, and of the Australian idiom in particular. Secondly, it is by one who is not a professional scholar.” Honest and humble, Hudson may not be a professional scholar, but he’s a professional writer.
He also writes about grammar, five succinct pages which tell you everything you needed to know about grammar but were afraid to ask: “If people say that they know no grammar, they are talking rubbish. If they knew no grammar, they would not be able to understand us and would not be able to construct sentences which we could understand. What they generally mean is that they do not know the jargon of grammar, so they cannot describe the rules. In this respect, grammar is like sex. Most people can do it, but if they want to discuss it they had better learn the names of the parts.” Sex: What a wonderful way to introduce grammar!
Hudson has an entry on weasel words, where he praises Don Watson’s “monumental book” for “creating a list which has been added to every day since (2004).” He says Watson’s examples “are so good that I need quote only one: John Kerry, America’s ever-more-pontifical secretary of state, recently began an answer about Middle East peace negotiations by declaring, as he often does: ‘I want to make this crystal clear.’ He then went on: ‘The president is desirous of trying to see how we can make our best efforts in order to find a way to facilitate’.”
Nicholas Hudson’s comment on Kerry’s declaration is so good, he deserves the last word:
“I fear that some Australian politicians have used even more words to say even less.”

Sanders and Trump: An odd couple of winners

“If someone told you ten years ago that Donald Trump would win the New Hampshire primary for the Republicans and Bernie Sanders would win the Democratic primary, you would have said they were crazy.”
That was Jake Tapper, CNN presenter, speaking to the nation only a few minutes after the polls closed and the network projected that the brash billionaire and the self-described democratic socialist would win their respective primaries. His fellow presenter agreed she would have thought they were crazy, but I’m not so sure.
Americans have always loved people in all walks of life who tell it like it is. Politicians like Abraham Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman (all courageous presidents); sports stars like college football coach Knute Rockne, pro football coach Vince Lombardi, baseballer Ted Williams; civil rights leaders like Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Rev Dr Martin Luther King, poet Langston Hughes, and congressman John Lewis, to name just a few. One of the CNN commentators actually confirmed there was such a category: “Fifty-two per cent of ‘tell it like it is’ Republicans are voting for Donald Trump.” Trump won 35.3 per cent of the votes (100,406), way ahead of Ohio Governor John Kasich in second place on 15.8% (44,909), with Texas Senator Ted Cruz in third spot on 11.7% (33,189), and former Florida governor Jeb Bush not far behind in fourth on 11.0% (31,310). Florida Senator Marco Rubio was in fifth place on 10.6% with 30,032 votes. Rubio admitted he performed badly in the last Republican debate, but promised his supporters: “That would never happen again.” Good luck with that, Senator.
Trump’s victory speech (Photos: Trump’s thumbs up above, Bernie Sanders celebrates at the top and John Kasich waves to supporters below. AFP & AP) confirmed he would continue to “tell it like it is”: “I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created — remember that. We’re going to knock the hell out of ISIS.” He repeated his promise that he would build a wall to keep out the drugs from Mexico, adding: “We are going to make America great again, but we are going to do it the old-fashioned way. . . . The world is going to respect us again, believe me.”
On the Democratic side, it was a two-horse race with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders leaving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton at the starting gates. He won by 60.4% of the votes (151,584) to 38.0% (95,252) for Mrs Clinton, who had her husband and daughter behind her, pretending to look upbeat. Former President Bill Clinton doesn’t like to lose, and his wife was not able to emulate the Comeback Kid’s victory in the New Hampshire primary in 1992, which led to the White House for the Clintons.
Bernie Sanders continued his war against Wall Street and income equality and repeated his revolutionary aspirations: “What began last week in Iowa, what voters confirmed here tonight, is nothing short of the beginning of a political revolution,” Sanders said. “We will all come together to say loudly and clearly that the government of our great nation belongs to all of us, not just a few wealthy campaign contributors.”
The 74-year-old Senator has become something of a cult hero to young voters, and many could be seen at the venue in Concord, New Hampshire, along with those old enough to be their parents and grandparents. It was a long speech, but his enthusiastic supporters applauded often and chanted “Bernie” whenever he stopped to catch his breath. In his concession to Trump, Governor John Kasich made a funny comment about the Senator’s speech: “Bernie talked so long I thought he was going to get his 77th birthday before he got off the stage.” The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza described Kasich’s speech as the best of the night. It was, he said, “an emotional call to action for a different kind of politics and a rejection of the Trumpian movement that has seized the Republican Party over these last eight months all rolled into one.” Kasich said in his opening comments: “Just maybe we are turning the page on a dark part of American politics because tonight the light overcame the darkness of negative campaigning, and you made it happen.”
On the other hand, Donald Trump was being his usual outrageous self: the Wall against Mexico, repeal Obamacare, protect “the sacred second amendment” (if everybody had guns, San Bernardino and Paris wouldn’t have happened), etc. And then I realised something: Donald Trump is a celebrity with a simple message and Bernie Sanders is a socialist with a simple message. I never thought this would happen, but I found myself agreeing with a New York Post columnist. John Podhoretz has this to say in his column today: “Donald Trump and Sanders have a remarkably similar and remarkably simple message, and it’s this: You’re being screwed. They agree that international trade is screwing you, that health care companies are screwing you and that Wall Street is screwing you … Simple, straightforward and catchy — that’s the key. And none of it is your fault. Everything bad that’s happening, everything that makes you nervous and worried and uncertain about the future, is the result of a great wrong that is being done to you.”
Then I heard one of my favourite columnists, EJ Dionne, of the Washington Post also talking about Sanders’ simple message in an interview with Fran Kelly on RN Breakfast today: “His pitch is very simple: We have a corrupt political system in which money plays too big a role which leads to government policies that create these radical inequalities in our society. And you can do his pitch in an elevator in 25 seconds, 30 seconds or a minute if you want to elaborate on it.”
If they continue with their simple messages and “don’t f—k up,” as a woman told Prime Minister Turnbull offering him good advice in Canberra last week, I will have to make a bold prediction: the Democratic and Republican nominees in the election campaign later this year will be Bernie Sanders v Donald Trump. Like Jake Tapper, if I told you that would be the case last year at this time, you would have said I was crazy. You would definitely tell me I was crazy if I mentioned I would vote for Bernie Sanders if he wins the Democratic nomination. I think he’d make a good president.
But it’s a long and grueling campaign, and if Hillary Clinton (Photo earlier in the campaign below) can win the upcoming Nevada caucus and the South Carolina primary, she’s back in the race. And if Donald Trump does stuff up, and Cruz or Bush or Rubio or even Kasich (candidates Carly Fiorina and Chris Christie have pulled out of the once big field) win a few primaries, then they have a chance of securing the nomination. Then there’s the wild card, the former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is considering a run as an independent if Donald Trump looks like being the Republican nominee. Take out your wallet, Mr Bloomberg.
As is our wont, we were having a discussion in the local yesterday about the apparent lack of good candidates in both parties, given that there must be more than a million Americans who would make an excellent president. But it seems you need the money and the backing of one of the major parties. Bernie Sanders has opposed Super PACS (Political Action Committees), groups who raise funds for their favourite candidate, saying he wants small individual contributions; he doesn’t want money from billionaires.
And politicians are on the nose. Both Trump and Sanders are aware of that. Sanders, the long-time politician, declared his anti-establishment credentials in his victory speech: “What the people here have said is that, given the enormous crises facing our country, it is just too late for the same old, same old establishment politics and establishment economics. The people want real change. Together we have sent the message that will echo from Wall Street to Washington from Maine to California.”
Hillary Clinton was also aware of the anti-establishment feeling from sea to shining sea, echoing some of Sanders’ policies on campaign finance reform and Wall Street in her concession speech: “People have every right to be angry. But they’re also hungry. They’re hungry for solutions. What are we going to do? What is the best way to change people’s lives so we can all grow together? Who is the best change-maker?” At this point in the campaign, the American people don’t seem to believe Hillary Clinton is the best change-maker. If she doesn’t start to win some primaries, she may have to make some changes in her own life and go back to the board of the Clinton Foundation which “builds partnerships between businesses, NGOs, governments, and individuals everywhere to work faster, better, and leaner; to find solutions that last; and to transform lives and communities from what they are today to what they can be tomorrow.”
That’s one solution.

A tale of two councils: Will they ever stand alone again?

Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till it’s gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
I thought about this song by the legendary Joni Mitchell the other day as I was driving around a parking lot trying to find a space to attend a public inquiry into the proposed merger of two councils in Sydney’s north, Ku-ring-gai and Hornsby.
The meeting was held at the Pymble Golf Club in St Ives, and there was no access at the venue to public transport so everybody had to drive or get a taxi, possibly a Big Yellow Taxi like the one in Joni Mitchell’s song. It took 20 minutes to find the St Ives Village parking lot, and ten minutes to find a space. St Ives isn’t exactly paradise but it was much nicer 40 years ago before the developers reigned supreme. The golf club had no parking space for its members, so they closed the gates, even on drivers with disabled stickers. The Friends of Ku-ring-gai Environment (FOKE) president, Kathy Cowley, said: “The State Government apparently did not inform the club what this meeting was about. They were very secretive.” The government organisers said no attendees were locked out or turned away from the meeting. Yes, but it took us a long time to get there!
The New South Wales government wants to merge councils, allegedly to save money for residents, but Ku-ring-gai ratepayers believe it’s the State’s way of silencing the pesky locals about the growing number of high rises and McDonald mansions in the region. One of the few people at the 400-strong meeting who backed the proposal was the mayor of Hornsby, Steve Russell. He said: “I am confident that an amalgamated council will deliver substantial savings in the long term. The estimates are that up to 70 million in ratepayers’ dollars will be freed up for community services such as libraries and sporting fields, not the mention better planning.” (Photo of Steve Russell addressing the meeting below)
The general manager of Ku-ring-gai Council, John McKee, played a much different songbook, pleasing to the audience, when he pointed out the council was financially sound, with healthy operating surpluses for the past ten years. There was no need for a merger and Ku-ring-gai was fit to stand alone. On the claims of multi-million dollar savings, McKee said the $70 million forecast in the merger proposal would be small in comparison to the total budget of the councils, representing less than 1.5 per cent in savings — an average saving of $11 per person or 22 cents a week for the next 20 years! There was much applause at that assessment. McKee said: “Bigger is not better.” (Disclosure: I am a long-time resident of Ku-ring gai, and said the same in my short speech, adding “Small is beautiful. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”)
John McKee also compared the two suburbs: Hornsby is mostly rural, while Ku-ring-gai is urban. Hornsby is five times larger than Ku-ring-gai, which covers approximately 85 square kilometres. By 2030, the merged council will cover 540 square kilometres, with an increase in population from 270,060 to 350,000 – much larger than other merged councils in North Sydney. He said research showed: “… In many instances cultural differences between merged councils is an ongoing issue which in some cases is never resolved.”
Among his conclusions: “Both communities are already large and financially sustainable, and the community is opposed to the proposal.” Here’s a transcript of his speech. (Photo below of John McKee addressing the meeting.)
Although a vast majority of speakers were opposed to the amalgamation, a commercial property owner said dealing with the Ku-ring gai Council was impossible: “Never once have my calls been returned. I find them very good about telling me what I can’t do, but little or no help telling me what I can do.” Others, including me, said they didn’t have any problems with the council.
Mike Gooley, a Ku-ring-gai resident for 45 years, said: “The Baird government has betrayed the people of Ku-ring-gai … This is just a power play. The less councils there are, the more power they have.” Many other residents echoed those remarks.
FOKE’s Kathy Cowley said four generations of her family have grown up and lived in Ku-ring-gai. She has been a long-time Ku-ring-gai activist, fighting to preserve the region’s heritage and beauty. She claimed residents have been lied to: the KPMG report on the proposed merger was full of flaws, with the government not allowing access to the complete study. “This is not about people and the local community, it’s about the government streamlining things for planners and developers and taking away what little voice the community has left,” she said. Given those lies, Kathy Cowley called for a plebiscite to allow the residents to vote on whether the merger should go ahead.
Another FOKE member, Janine Kitson, tried to address the meeting face to face. The speakers were asked to direct their comments to the delegate, former Liberal MP Gary West, who will decide the fate of the merger and was seated in the front of the room. The organisers were trying to maintain order by avoiding any confrontation. It did seem a bit odd to me, but we all faced the front. Ms Kitson faced the audience and said: “I’m here to talk to the community.” She eventually gave in and turned around to Mr West, who had said earlier: “My duty is to listen to all submissions and consider them.” Ms Kitson described it as a sham meeting. (The photo of Ms Kitson, left, and Kathy Cowley at the top of the post is from the North Shore Times. All photos by Virginia Young.)
There was another session of the inquiry at the Pymble Golf Club later that night, which was addressed by Ku-ring-gai mayor, Cheryl Szatow, who had a video presentation, including photos of all the awards won by the council – yet a council not fit to stand alone. The one the mayor and the general manager are proudest of is the 2014 Bluett Award for Excellence in Local Government. Here is her presentation(it’s large).
One of the most powerful speakers was Diane Conolly, a political staffer to the former Liberal Premier Barry O’Farrell (she was his diary secretary when he was the NSW Opposition Leader). She said this was the first time she had spoken out at a public meeting because she was tired of the Baird Government’s broken promises. She claimed the government had already decided the result. Although the North Shore has some of the safest Liberal seats in the country, she warned Mr Baird: “There is no longer such a thing as a safe seat.”
If that happens, it will be one of the biggest political upsets since John Howard lost the election and his seat in 2007. But if Gary West was listening closely to all the submissions and considering them, he would have to recommend the proposed merger should not go ahead, or at least recommend a referendum to let the people have their say.
There were quite a few Liberals at the public inquiry who said they wouldn’t vote for the Baird Government if the proposed merger was adopted.
Mr Baird, are you listening?

Malcolm Turnbull: Born to rule; Must keep his cool

In the pub near the Northern Sydney suburb of St Ives, where Prime Malcolm attended boarding school, one of the regulars has not joined the “I love Malcolm” fan club. When asked why, he replies: “I didn’t have a view on Malcolm Turnbull, until I met him.” It’s not a favourable view, and he says the same could have been said of a former Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
This wily pundit is possibly referring to the PM’s massive ego, which loomed large in his final year at Sydney Grammar as head prefect and joint school captain in 1972 when he gave a hard time to the boys at assembly and everywhere else. Midnight Oil drummer, Rob Hirst, a year below the head prefect, wrote in The Bulletin in 2007 that “Turnbull managed to alienate almost everyone around him, students and teachers alike. A fighter and a winner, he nevertheless had a dearth of people skills: a ‘plummy brew of eloquence, imperiousness and un-humble pie, plus a kind of sighing, saturnine resignation that his job necessarily involves being constantly surrounded by cretins.”
This is how Paddy Manning, the author of Born to Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull (Melbourne University Press), sets up the school days of the man destined to become Australia’s 29th Prime Minister: “However much Turnbull hated his early years at boarding school, he retained a deep affection for Sydney Grammar …” At Sydney University in 1973, Turnbull was influenced by the eccentric and exceptional writer, Bob Ellis, who described his new friend as “ardent, ambitious, promiscuous and old beyond his years.” Later on, when Turnbull was a freelancer in the NSW press gallery, studying for a law degree, his ambition sometimes got the better of him, as Manning points out: “From the beginning he had an ability to piss people off, and he stepped on a few toes as he learned his way around. Something like this happened once too often for Channel Ten’s Paul Mullins who, ticked off by some snide Turnbull remark, decked him.”
This did not deter Turnbull from his goal of becoming prime minister. After pursuing journalism, writing for The Bulletin, and according to colleague Suellen O’Grady, pounding the keys of his typewriter so hard his desk shuddered, the man born to rule won a Rhodes scholarship at the end of 1977. David Dale, a journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald, met Malcolm Turnbull in the mid-70s, when he told Dale he wanted to be Prime Minister by the time he was 40. “For which party,” asked Dale. “It doesn’t matter,” replied Turnbull.
It’s not difficult to see where young Malcolm Turnbull’s ambition came from — both his mother and father. A friend of Malcolm’s father, Bruce Turnbull, estate agent Bill Bridges, said Malcolm “always wanted to be PM, Bruce wanted him to be, and so did his mother.”
Manning focuses on the relationship between Turnbull and his mother, Coral Lansbury, an actress, author and academic, who placed him in that boarding school when he was 8, leaving Malcolm and his father, two years later for another man. Turnbull acknowledged his father protected him from much of the pain; the other theme, according to Manning, was “whether his mother’s abandonment spurred him to succeed from an early age.”
His mother kept letters from his father, castigating her for leaving them, while he told Malcolm she hadn’t really left him. On a 2009 ABC Australian Story profile, Turnbull remembered what his father said: “No, she’s just gone to New Zealand to do some studies. She’s coming back. Don’t worry. Everything’s OK.” Everything was not OK, of course.
But the career of Malcolm Turnbull took off after his father died in a plane crash in 1982, leaving his son independently wealthy, allowing him to pursue fame and fortune. It also helped that he married Lucy Hughes, daughter of the prominent lawyer, Tom Hughes, with friends in high places, and niece of the prominent art critic and author, Robert Hughes. It was a marriage made in political heaven. (Photo above after the swearing-in ceremony: Malcolm holding grandson Jack, from left, his daughter Daisy, wife Lucy and son-in-law James Brown. AAP, Sept 2015)
Turnbull’s fortunes soared after he successfully defended Kerry Packer against allegations in the 1984 Costigan Royal Commission that he was “Goanna,” a figure linked to murder, drug smuggling and tax fraud. Turnbull said the commission was “one of the blackest episodes in Australian legal history.” Packer was extremely grateful to Turnbull for clearing his name.
His next successful defence involved former MI5 agent Peter Wright, author of Spycatcher, which alleged the head of Britain’s domestic counterintelligence was a Soviet spy. The book was to be published in Australia, but the British government, led by Margaret Thatcher, tried to stop it. Lucy Turnbull helped win the case with her knowledge of international law, arguing that Britain was attempting to enforce its own laws in Australia. Manning writes: “The case set the pattern for their relationship, as much a successful professional partnership as a marriage.” The book was published in the US, Australia and New Zealand, and Turnbull tried to be humble in a TV profile: “I hope I don’t exaggerate my abilities. By the same token, no one would accuse me of hiding my light under a bushel.”
Nor was he hiding his money anywhere either. Turnbull set up a cleaning company with former NSW Premier Neville Wran and became a merchant banker. His business venture with Nick Whitlam, son of Gough, Whitlam Turnbull, went south in 1990, with Whitlam citing staff resentment against Turnbull, whose nickname in the office was “the Ayatollah.” After Whitlam’s departure, the bank was renamed Turnbull & Partners and Nick and Malcolm did not speak to each other for many years.
There was another foray by Turnbull into Packer’s backyard, helping with the repurchase of Channel Nine from Alan “You only get one Bond in a lifetime,” Bond and the Tourang bid which prompted Kerry Packer to accuse Trevor Kennedy and Turnbull of treason, and prevented Packer from getting control of Fairfax. When Glenn Burge and Colleen Ryan wrote the definitive account of the Tourang saga, Corporate Cannibals, Turnbull demanded to see the galley proofs and insisted on minor changes, including footnotes. Manning sums up the brouhaha: “As a former journalist, Turnbull certainly knew how to make enemies in the media.” He also knew how to keep making money: Getting in early on the internet service provider, Ozemail, in 1994, earned him $40 million when it was sold in 1998. It also put him on the BRW Rich List, with an estimated $65 million.
Then there was the Republican campaign. The Australian Republican Movement (ARM) was launched in 1990, run out of the offices of Turnbull & Partners, with financial support provided by Malcolm. Turnbull became chairman and poured $2 million into the ARM, until the fateful date of November 6, 1999 when Australia voted no to a republic in a referendum. After ten years of fighting the good fight, Turnbull gave one of his best speeches in which he blamed John Howard for the loss: “Whatever else he achieves, history will remember him for only one thing. He was the prime minister who broke a nation’s heart. He was the man who made Australia keep a foreign queen.” Of course, there were others who gave credit to Howard and Kerry Jones of the Australians for Constitutional Monarchy (ACM), including Labor’s numbers man, Graham Richardson, in an interview with Nine’s Laurie Oakes on the referendum broadcast: “You’ve got to pay tribute to Kerry Jones and John Howard. They’ve out-campaigned the ARM.” ‘Laurie Oakes responded.’ “It was an unscrupulous, misleading campaign but it was clever, Graham, but wasn’t the ‘Yes’ campaign fairly un-clever’?” Turnbull admitted the monarchist campaign of promising a referendum for a directly elected president worked but he added in his speech: “… Do not forget who told you to vote ‘No’ with the promise … a promise they never, ever intended to keep.” Columnist Peter FitzSimons, who helped with the 1999 campaign and is now involved in another one as ARM chairman, said he did not blame Turnbull for the success of the ACM’s strategy: “I don’t think Malcolm was responsible. I think it was a brilliant line from the monarchists.” Malcolm is still a republican, but a very quiet one these days. He’s even met the Queen.
The rest is political history. Twenty years after his failed bid in his seat of Wentworth in East Sydney, Malcolm Turnbull beat Liberal Peter King so handily in the pre-selection, the former NSW Liberal President ran as an independent in the 2004 federal election. Turnbull won again, but this time he needed the help of Prime Minister John Howard and spent $600,000 of his own money on the campaign. The ultra-rich MP with an arrogant background tried to mend fences with the voters by listening for a change: “I learnt a lot from my mistakes. Clearly, your approach to people and issues must be more grassroots-based, people-based.” It’s a lesson he’s still learning. Along the way, Lucy fought her way through Labor Party machinations to become deputy mayor, then lord mayor of Sydney and in four years, approved $50 million worth of developments, cleaned up Kings Cross, removed a lot of graffiti and put the first bicycle path through the city. As Manning puts it, Lucy and Malcolm were now a “true political double act.”
From here it was a long way to the top. Four hundred of his supporters showed up in Federal Parliament on November 29, 2004 to hear his maiden speech. Opposition Leader Mark Latham quoted John Lennon, saying the audience could “perhaps, instead of applause, they could just jangle their jewellery.” Turnbull continued to boost his profile, speaking out on unfair dismissal and work choices, before it was “dead, buried and cremated,” and climate change. Howard promoted Turnbull to Cabinet in 2007 as Minister for Water Resources and Environment. As things went sour for the Coalition Government in 2007, Turnbull told Howard he should consider resigning (at least he had the courage to do so). Malcolm had the fight of his political life in Wentworth, but managed to win. When he called John Howard to tell him the good news, the prime minister wasn’t very happy as he’d not only lost his leadership, but his seat as well. Empathy was still not a strong point with Malcolm.
Turnbull became Opposition Leader in 2008 after behaving badly toward the incumbent leader, Brendan Nelson. Nelson suggested Turnbull had “a narcissistic personality disorder,” which took a battering with the Godwin Grech affair. It’s a long and complicated story, but can be summed up thusly: Grech was a Treasury official who leaked Labor policy details to Turnbull, persuading him that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Treasurer Wayne Swan had done an underhanded deal over a 1966 Mazda Bravo Ute (hence the nickname: “UteGate). The evidence for this was a fake email forged by Grech. It was a monumental blunder by Turnbull, made worse when Australian Story filmed the Opposition Leader as the story broke, prompting Lucy to say: “How can you concoct an email?” It led to a censure motion in Parliament by Kevin Rudd, who said Turnbull was not only not fit to be opposition leader, “but he has also disqualified himself from ever being fit to serve as leader of this country.” It was perfect at that moment, but it wasn’t the only time Kevin Rudd had gone too far in a political assessment.
Despite this spectacular setback, the backbencher became a shadow minister, then a minister and quietly waited nearly six years to knife Tony Abbott and achieve the title he’s always wanted: Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. So far the new PM has lifted his popularity and pounded Labor leader Bill Shorten in the polls, who at one stage was rating 14 points as preferred prime minister to Turnbull’s 69 per cent. The jury is still out on whether Malcolm Turnbull is “born to rule” for as long as Menzies or Howard.
But you can’t argue with the Liberal Party historian, Ian Hancock, on his assessment of Menzies and Turnbull as having the same characteristic: “Born to rule.” Hancock told Manning: “Being born to rule and being picked out as somebody who has obviously got this capacity to be at the very top doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get there. You’ve got to fight.”
Malcolm Turnbull is a fighter.
I can recommend Malcolm Turnbull: Born to Rule as a very readable and insightful profile of the Prime Minister, with myriad stories and comments. The former Fairfax business journalist Paddy Manning does get bogged down in some of the details on financial stories like Tourang, Ozemail, HIH and NBN, so you can skim through those chapters, but I applaud his footnotes – they’re at the back of the book so you don’t get distracted. And there are many: see pages 393-431. I also hate clichés (who doesn’t, except politicians), but I wasn’t as bothered by Manning’s use of them as the esteemed novelist and playwright Louis Nowra was in his excellent review of the book in The Weekend Australian of December 5-6.
And while we’re discussing footnotes, I was given a book for Christmas which tells the other side of the story. It’s about another politician, who wasn’t born to rule, but became prime minister anyway, and it also has footnotes, but they’re all at the bottom of the page. The Short and Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign of Captain Abbott by Andrew P. Street (Allen & Unwin, 293 pages) tells that story in a droll and snarky sort of way. The footnotes are frequently funny, but there are too many of them and some can be distracting. The first one is on page 3 and refers to the “unambiguously bang-on title”: “1. Let’s be honest, you knew exactly what this book was about the second you picked it up. Thanks for doing so, by the way. Very good of you, and don’t think it’s not appreciated.”
Street is a Fairfax columnist who chronicles the gaffes, blunders and disasters that beset the Abbott government, including the one that cemented Tony’s nickname as “Captain.” It was his captain’s call to bestow a knighthood on Prince Philip, which caused whoops of hilarity around Australia and was the beginning of the end of the Abbott prime ministership. In one chapter, Street paints a Monty Python-like conversation between Abbott and an imaginary staffer who cannot believe the Prime Minister’s insistence that the Prince needs recognition. Here’s an excerpt: Imaginary Staffer: “… he needs to be given some recognition, you think?” Abbott: “Look, just send the damn email.” IS: “Rightio then. Anyone else I should know about?” Abbott: “Well, I’m also thinking we should make Queen Elizabeth a dame.” IS: “Let’s save that one for 2016, maybe.” Abbott: “Eh, fine. Hey, how’s about Pope Francis?”
If you don’t mind reliving the short and excruciatingly embarrassing reign of Tony Abbott, and need a laugh or two, buy Street’s book. He’ll be very grateful.