Flop side of the coin

 Poring over some old holey dollars recently. Not the real thing, unfortunately. Rather, some slick website images of the real thing. At up to $500K apiece, you want something that looks pretty schmick.

Dripping with history, strange tangible aspect to them, intriguing artwork, high-end corporate nature to them. Hard not to love these things. Well beyond my modest stipend, sadly.

Nonetheless, I’ve secreted a modest 1800-year-old Roman coin on my person, which I like lugging around in my wallet. Weird, I know, but I’m still feeling that strange tangible aspect.

This coin has the sun god Sol on one side and the beak-nosed Emperor Gordian III on the obverse. Cost me $10 maybe 15 years back and it’s now worth around $150. Better return than my super, that’s for sure.

Maybe I should bung it on a nag, see if I can make some real lucci. Or better still, invest in some chump change. No, not that unregulated digital cash built on nothing, bitcoin, or any other dodgy cryptocurrencies. I’m talking about three-dollar notes.

Actually, I am talking coins – $3 coins. Nothing suspicious there, eh? You’d hope not, especially with Australia Post flogging them. Something has to finance all those Cartier watches they like throwing around, after all. Hold on, they’ve stopped doing that for the time being. I think.

Australia Post had been licking the competition with its parcel trade, so much so that Toll Global Express grabbed Christine Holgate with both hands when she ignominiously exited Auspost, with a nasty ScoMo boot up the clacker, for doing her job too well. Now it’s licking its wounds.

So it seems ironic that a three-buck brass razoo has assumed pride of place in its marketing catalogue, alongside the latest Great Aussie Coin Hunt. Mint stuff.

Actually, the $3 note holds a little-known place in Australian currency history. The $7 note, too, if you can believe that.

Back in 1966, when decimal currency was introduced, counterfeiters were quick to churn out high-grade forgeries. Lots of them. The Reserve Bank swiftly had the CSIRO research a new type of note to tackle the problem.

Author Nathan Lynch, in his new release, The Lucky Laundry, details the diffraction gratings, or holograms, moire interference patterns, photochromic compounds and polymer plastics they used to run out 1.25 million ‘optically variable device’ banknotes – as $3 and $7 notes, so they weren’t counterfeiting themselves. The tech was good but it wasn’t put to use until 1988.

Used to be a time when Australia Post’s stock in trade was stamps. Those sticky perforated squares people attached to things called letters. Spawned a creature called the philatelist. Kids collected them. I know I did. Still love them, too, great custodians of Aussie culture – everything from hairy-nosed wombats and sheepdogs to war heroes, natural wonders, lighthouses, explorers, scientists, Olympic medallists, you name it.

But I reckon Auspost kind of lost the plot when it started issuing entire footy and rugby teams at a time. All 34 teams. And then kids’ movies. Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Goofy, Harry Potter. Place has been turning into Maccas. Bubble-gum card stuff. Chips Rafferty would be turning in his grave. On Holgate’s watch, to coin a phrase, from what I can see, too.

You can even make your own stamps. Auspost has MyStamps offering personalised stamps for businesses. On special at the moment, as a matter of fact. At $25, you’ll save yourself $10 on a $35 set of 20 x $1.10 stamps. Showcase your logo, ad campaign, brand name, your own ugly head …

But it’s getting a bit out of hand now. All sorts of Aussie icons, idioms and idiosyncracies – cockatoos, bushrangers, magpies, jumbucks, the vanilla slice, Tassie devil, kelpies – are depicted on these coins Auspost is flogging. And it’s suss.

The term hooroo gets a guernsey ahead of hoon, howzat and headless chook. I’ll cop that. But gday, galah and grog all dip out because G’s been grabbed by Great Ocean Road. Hmm, what’s going there? Why not the Great Barrier Reef?

Darrell Lea’s snagged D ahead of drongo, derro, dropkick and dunny. R.M. Williams has usurped redback, ratbags and underwear impresario Reg Grundys. Product placement’s delivering Oz a good kick in the vernaculars.

Commercialism is cashing in on patriotism, that ideal considered politically as the last refuge of the scoundrel. Makes you wonder how long before you can mint your own vanity coins? Mullet boofhead on one side, pimped-up hoon car on the other. Could be legal tender for bogans.

Done it with the stamps, coins can only be a matter of time. I can see them already. Car dealers, estate agents and influencers with their own silver dollar two-up specials.

Mind you, if we could get one with Franco Cozzo, Australian imperator, 20th century, Norta Melbun anda Footisgray on either side, I’m in. And I’d keep it in my Auspost coin collector’s folder which, incidentally, retails for, you guessed it … $7.

Oh, one more thing, farewell to two of Auspost’s finest, Myrna and Terry, who took retirement leave of the Bareena PO last week after many years of diligent, professional and convivial care and attention to their constituents. Very much Newtown’s and Auspost’s loss. Many thanks and all the best, guys.

This article appeared in the Geelong Advertiser 31 May 2022

Grift to the mill at Mar-a-Lago

THE GRIFTERS’ CLUB: By Sarah Blaskey, Nicholas Nehamas, Caitlin Ostroff, Jay Weaver; Hachette

 Good word, grifter. Not really an Australian word, more a Yankee thing but it pretty much lines up with our con artist: a person who engages in petty or small-scale swindling.

Thing about this book is there’s nothing really all that small, petty sure, and cheap but it’s more about some fairly sizeable swindling.

Ground zero is Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in South Florida’s Palm Beach, a swanky to the point of chintzy mansion built a century ago by cereal magnate/philanthropist Marjorie Merriweather Post.

Any vestige of philanthropy it might have has long ago vacated the premises, as Trump’s low-wage largely immigrant staff might attest, if they’re game enough.

Cheap and chiselling is order of the day at Mar-a-Lago, behind its opulence and saccharine swish icing. That’s according to this account by four Miami Herald reporters who go to painstaking efforts to footnote every weird and wonderful account they offer of Trump’s briar patch stomping ground.

This means 50 pages of reference notes for 190 pages of mischief and mayhem. It also means they don’t want to be accused of writing fake news. I suspect it will guarantee it.

Hucksters, sycophants and entrepreneurs seem to be the stock in trade at Mar-a-Lago – what we’d call rip-off merchants, suck-holes and desperate wannabes.

Trump is like a shining beacon to them. They want to bask in his carotene glow, garner some of his success by proximity, borrow on his ubiquitous auriferous brand. And pose for selfies.

It’s the American way. He’s top of the heap. A number one.

Ironically, it’s also what happens when you drain the South Florida swamp, which is just what Hamilton Disston did to The Everglades back in the 1880s. This was smartly followed by miles and miles of new railroad and trainloads of northern holidaymakers.

“ … it’s safe to say Mar-a-Lago became the palace of the swamp creatures quite early,” write authors Blaskey, Ostroff, Nehamas and Weaver. You can almost hear them chortling at that one.

“At her lavish estate, which took a staff of seventy to run, Post entertained politicians, lawyers and businessmen who were crafting the industrial capitalism of the twentieth-century American state.”

Post hosted tycoons, moguls, movie stars, European aristocrats, all sorts of dignitaries, Ringling Brothers, Barnum & Bailey. The old bootlegger Joe Kennedy, father of JFK, lived next door.

After Post’s death in 1973, the property languished. She bequeathed it to the federal government, who found it too expensive to maintain and gave it back to the Post Foundation.

It went up for sale and Trump, sniffing something special, stepped in. He called it an old beat-up, over-grown Rembrandt and before you knew it, the circus was back in town, with all its schmick carnies. The quiet, old-money neighbours weren’t impressed.

Trump didn’t waste time drawing folks to his gilded country club and helping them part with their money. Staff memorised members names and faces and treated them like royalty. Guests knocked the door down for expensive tickets to charity galas, upper-crust balls, flash parties with pretty girls and celebrities.

Loads of nouveau riche stuff, even as Trump’s casinos elsewhere were sliding toward bankruptcy. The neighbours shook their heads, appalled “this man whose parents didn’t come over on the Mayflower took over Mar-a-Lago and was going to get in anybody who could afford it”.

Trump’s ancestral family business dealings aren’t much to recommend him but that’s another story. At Mar-a-Lago, he was entertaining the monied multitudes including the likes of Billy Joel, Paul Anka, Tony Bennett, Don King, Simon Cowell, Heidi Klum, Barbara Walters, even a certain Epstein for a while.

Early in the piece, he claimed Princes Charles, Princess Diana and Henry Kissinger were members. They weren’t. Still, the Clintons were, and deposed Greek king Constantine, the Beach Boys, football and basketball stars, models in their hundreds – and  wealthy Jews and African Americans that other Palm Beach snobbish, racist clubs wouldn’t admit.

Trump’s reputation for racism seemed to dissolve where money was involved. “Palm Beach is very much changing for the better,” he said, tongue planted firmly in his cheek.

By the time Trump became US president, his status among the greenback garrison of Palm Beach was bordering on god-like. And he loved them back. To the point of championing their interests well ahead of more traditional constituent interests.

Nepotism, cronyism and corruption in liberal measure are par for the course at Mar-a-Lago, our authors report. Lack of security, poor property maintenance, unhygienic kitchens and food, too. Trump’s a serious cheapskate when it comes to the things you can’t see.

Trump’s rejection of presidential-level security regularly has the Secret Service in conniptions but the idea is to keep the place open for members, and their guests, and access always within at least a theoretical reach.

Trump’s generous with his nods, smiles, light-hearted asides and photo ops – aware of what they mean for Mar-a-Lago’s business and also for his members and their business connections.

He’s selling influence, or purported influence, and it’s a red-hot commodity. So much so, in fact, that rackets have been sprung up with Chinese spielers flogging $20,000 travel packages overseas on the pretext of meeting the great orange at a Mar-a-Lago gala or conference. They charge in the order of $60K for pictures with the Don.

Lobbyists and business networkers have arranged meetings and links through Mar-a-Lago. Trump himself brings overseas leaders to Mar-a-Lago ahead of the White House – China’s Xi Jinping and Japan’s Shinzo Abe, for instance – then sends the taxpayer the bill. Nice little earner, that one.

Fall on the wrong side of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago mates, however, and you can find yourself out of work. Like Veteran Affairs secretary David Shulkin, elevated to his post after meeting Trump and Marvel boss Ike Perlmutter and a Palm Beach doctor, Bruce Moskowitz – then demoted just as smartly when he didn’t play ball as they dictated.

So the White House has effectively been moved south. Political advice comes as much from the barflies at Mar-a-Lago as public servants. Buy a membership, if you can, and you can find yourself in the POTUS club.

It’s all about jobs for the boys, with the best obsequious or cashed-up courtiers whispering in the king’s ear – and receiving a solid hearing. Trump doesn’t read, remember, so it’s really all about what he wants to hear.

Oh yeah, this is a bloke who thinks his head belongs with the Mount Rushmore collection. He must have rocks in it.