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  • Julian Dowse

A pox on both candidates!

I have discovered that when searching for images to insert into articles, copying of certain photographs will result in a slightly blurred reproduction. In particular, visages take on a slightly distorted appearance, which is entirely appropriate this week.

Donald Trump and Joe Biden managed in their first Presidential debate to utterly distort everything that democracy and national leadership should stand for.

There was screaming and allegations of cheating and fakery. It was raucous, uncontrolled, snide and bruising. And that was just the mood of the second round match between Kiki Bertens and Sara Errani at the French Open! The Cleveland debate refined disappointing.

If the proverbial alien from Mars was in Cleveland last week and asked what a Presidential debate was in America, they would have been informed that it is an opportunity for the two people contending to the be the leader of the world's largest democracy to outline their programmes, policies and promises for the forthcoming four years. Intended to be an edifying event, this year's first debate has been universally condemned as the worst Presidential debate ever.

The visiting alien would have been dumbstruck to realise that one candidate is a serving President and the other a former Vice-President who served in that office for eight years. The two of them made everything Presidential appear puerile in extremis. Despite their combined 151 years, they managed to revert to the worst of their nine year-old selves. My grandmother would have observed, "it is clear that neither of them have been brought up properly."

Following their egregious display, there were universal calls for a change in the format of the final two debates in an effort to restore some decorum and decency to the process.

However, we need not have worried. God has reminded us that he or she- Australian entertainer Helen Reddy, who died this week, proclaimed the deity female when accepting her Grammy award- has an omnipotent and devilish sense of humour. As the week ended it was announced that President Trump and the First Lady had tested positive for Covid-19, requiring them to be quarantined and/or hospitalised, putting in grave doubt the likelihood of the remaining scheduled debates occurring.

No doubt news of the Presidential pestilence will lead to this election campaign forever being known as the "Covid campaign." Will the President's infection assist the incumbent or will his affliction be a totemic symbol of a scourge that has crippled the country for which he will be held responsible? The pandemic claimed its one-millionth victim this week with the United States recording close to 210,000 of these deaths.

Suddenly, an election campaign that was already singularly bizarre becomes even more so. The President’s illness throws a range of scenarios into the electoral mix: What would happen if the President passed away before election day? What if the President is so incapacitated that he has to withdraw his candidacy? What would be the status of postal votes already cast if the Republican Party had to nominate a new candidate, most probably Vice-President Pence? Dare I say it, what role would the Supreme Court have in resolving applications and/or challenges to possible electoral scenarios?

It is unsettling and upsetting watching democracies fracture. They are precious and need to be appreciated, nourished and preserved. Springtime in Australia is when attention turns to the sport of horseracing. Words like quinella, trifecta and quadrella become part of our lexicon. A trifecta is when one successfully selects the first three horses in a race.

Regrettably, in recent weeks we have seen an unholy trifecta of events that have debilitated democratic principles and standards in Australia and America. First, the debacle of the Ruby Princess disembarkment in Sydney, for which no-one has taken responsibility; secondly the abandonment of responsibility for the quarantine fiasco in Melbourne and thirdly the nadir that was the first presidential debate. Is it any wonder that fewer and fewer consider a career in politics an honourable vocation?

Australia's Federation remains fractured by a series of interstate border closures and regulations and intrastate restrictions. This is especially the case in Victoria, where the effects of the lockdown have moved beyond enervating into the realm of the excruciating, notwithstanding that the worst of the restrictions may be lifted in a fortnight.

This sense of divided national purpose and focus is reinforced today as New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and Tasmania move to 'daylight saving' time. Until early April, 2021 the "indissoluble Federal Commonwealth" will have five different time zones: When it was 6.00 p.m. this evening in New South Wales, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria it was 5.00 p.m. in Queensland, 5.30 p.m. in South Australia, 4.30 p.m. in the Northern Territory and 3.00 p.m. in Western Australia.

Of course this year the French Open has been played at a different time. Players have been quick to comment on the effect of cooler autumnal days on the flight of the ball and the speed of the clay courts. Andy Murray complained of the cold playing conditions, which, given his Scottish blood, was somewhat surprising. Maybe his injured hips could not warm up quickly enough in the first round as he was easily beaten by 2015 champion, Stan Wawrinka.

Other highly ranked players struggled to adjust from New York to Paris. Daniil Medvedev, a semi-finalist in New York, lost in the first round. Victoria Azarenka, a finalist in New York, lost in the second round. Serena Williams, who was beaten in the US Open semi-finals by Azarenka, withdrew from her second round match because of injury . Only three Australians, Daria Gavrilova, Astra Sharma and Marc Polmans, all of whom were born overseas, progressed to the second round, but none of them could make it to the third. Alex De Minaur was diminished in the first round together with most of the Australian male players.

The Women's second seed, Karolina Pliskova, also lost in the second round to Jelena Ostapenko, whose first title win was at the 2017 French Open. Despite having only won three titles in her career, Ostapenko career earnings, sans sponsorship endorsements, are close to $ 9,000,000.00. Lucrative is as lucrative does. Australia's best cricketers are currently in covid-ridden India competing in the Indian Premier League. It was reported this week that Steve Smith and Pat Cummins, regarded as Australia's best batsman and bowler, will earn close to $6,000,000.00 between them over the next three months.

If only the Federal Treasurer could discover such a spectacular source of revenue. In a year where rearrangement of scheduled events has become commonplace, Josh Frydenberg will deliver the nation's Budget this week, some five months behind schedule. In May, he was on the cusp of being able to spruik about achieving a Federal Budget surplus for this financial year. This week he will announce a projected deficit for the next financial year of close to $200 billion and an overall national debt that will amount to 40% of the nation's Gross Domestic Product. One cannot blame Senator Mathias Cormann, the nation's longest-serving Finance Minister for announcing his impending retirement!

Polonius implored people to neither "a borrower nor lender be." In the economic environment of a pandemic, governments around the world are both. They are borrowing at a time of historically low interest rates to stimulate the economy through providing-effectively lending- a range of grants, incentives and support payments to individuals and businesses. Whilst specific individuals and businesses do not have to be repay such largesse, the nation's taxpayers must do so at some, increasingly distant, point of time.

Economics is a curious craft. As governments plough nations into further debt, they reassure the population that growing national deficits are "good debt" as they will be assisting economic recovery and underwriting important infrastructure projects. Similarly, people are told as they borrow gargantuan sums to purchase homes that these borrowings are also "good debts". The difference is that people must repay their mortgage and credit card debts regularly or they will be in breach of their legal obligations. The sovereignty of governments gives them the ability to pay back the debt if and when they can. After all a government can only repay a national debt when the government is spending less, and taxation revenues are paying all the interest bills. So, for the moment let's empty the coffers and write future generations the largest "You owe us" note in history.

Governments do not have to worry about retiring debt in the same way as tennis players must inevitably face the reality of having to consider an end to their careers. To all things there is a time and a season. As the Grand Slam season of 2020 ends, the following players may wish to give thought to retirement as they become regular first and second-round losers at Grand Slam events: Men-Nishikori, Gasquet, Sock, Isner, Querrey, Wawrinka and Monfils ; and Women- Kuznetsova, Watson, Cornet and Serena herself. Father and Mother Time always win.

Clerics do not have to worry about either mandatory or inevitable retirement. Cardinal George Pell, notwithstanding limited flight options, has returned to Rome to resume residence at the Vatican. Is it slightly unsettling that, despite his absolute exoneration by the High Court, the Cardinal appears to be far more comfortable living in a home far far away than in his own country? Pell now appears destined to be a permanent exile. Maybe time is not capable of healing all wounds.

As one generation fadeth away, there is always interest in the nature of the new. This year in Paris ,Mayar Sherif, became the first the first Egyptian woman to play in the main draw, taking a set of Pliskova in the first round. Tunisia's Ons Jabeur, a quarter-finalist at this year's Australian Open has become the first Arab woman to make the last 16 in the French Open. Seeded 30, Jabeur will play America's Danielle Collins to reach another Grand Slam quarter-final. Collins, who at 27 is a relatively late achiever on the Women's circuit, reached the semi-finals in Melbourne in January and has continued her good form beating former French and Wimbledon champion , Garbine Muguruza, in their third round match.

Whether the next generation of male players led by Tsitsipas, Zverev and Thiem can further their claims as heirs to the tennis thrones of Nadal, Federer and Djokovic will be known by this time next week. The prospect of a Nadal v Thiem semi-final is enticing. At the the end of the first week Nadal and Djokovic look in ominous form. Halep appears unassailable, but if 2020 has taught us anything it is that supreme confidence in the predictability of the future is rarely justified.

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