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The new black is the old black. 1984 by 2024? Tsar Vlad on the couch.

Whilst pouring your Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque…

The new black is the old black.

Hong Kong: 1984 by 2024?

Tsar Vlad: on the couch.

Turkey: the six amigos.

Sleepy Joe: Still asleep.

Brigitte Bardot: And French elections.

Neutrality: Readers know that it’s serious.

Unclear on the concept: Vote 1 is a wasted vote.

History: Trumpster gets it wrong. Again.

Geography: Tsar Vlad’s frozen reserves.

Habits: How do you spell eucalyptus?

And…Wry & Dry sadly notes the passing of Rod Marsh: A rich character, the likes of whom now seen so rarely in this politically correct, woke world.

Whilst enjoying your Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque…

The new black is the old black

Those born after about 1989 have enjoyed, more or less, an Elysian view of the world. An epic and chronic [1] problem is… an internet outage for an hour. And then along came Tsar Vlad. His invasion [2] of Ukraine is epic and its consequences will be chronic.

The new black is the old black: countries need energy security, food security and sovereign (i.e. military) security. Sleepy Joe placed America’s flag in the innocent sand of Pollyanna politics. And, when awake, hasn’t noticed the sand being washed away. At least Herr Scholz (Germany’s leader) has noticed the tide has turned.

Reflectively, this issue is dotted with Russo/Ukrainian issues. And for once, Wry & Dry has abandoned his policy of strict political neutrality and sides without hesitation with Ukrainians.

[1] ‘Epic’ actually means heroic or grand in scale or character; ‘chronic’ means long-lasting.

[2] ‘Invasion’ has lost meaning recently, with incursions as immaterial as exploration so named.

1984 by 2024?

“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” [3] Wry & Dry wonders when the good folk of Hong Kong will realise that this might be their future.

Emperor Xi is now extremely concerned about Hong Kong. It’s not just the economy – which is now forecast to decline by over 1% in the March quarter and grow by just 2.4% in 2022 – nor the escalating covid crisis.

Nor even the fact that Hong Kong businesspeople are Asia’s new refugees; emptying Hong Kong to fill up Singapore.

It’s that the puppet regime of Carrie Lam seems to have lost control of Hong Kong.

Emperor Xi doesn’t like loose ends. Wry & Dry ponders that before he embarks upon his Taiwan Crusade, he will more fully integrate Hong Kong into China. That is, impose upon Hong Kong citizens the same oppressive rules as he does on those in the mainland.

For Hong Kongers, 1984 will probably come in 2024.

[3] George Orwell, 1984 – opening line.

On the couch

All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. So why is Tsar Vlad so unhappy? Unhappy enough to take the biggest risk taken by a Russian leader since Khrushchev in the 1962 Cuban missile Crisis [4].

And so, Wry & Dry has placed Tsar Vlad on his couch, so as to analyse his mind. And to see how big was the gap between his decision making process and that of the West (if Wry & Dry might animate a compass point).

The gap is big.

Readers will have noted the comment of a German cabinet minister last weekend, as Germany decided to step up to the plate with meaningful sanctions, massively increased defence spending and provision of military aid to Ukraine. He said, “We’ve talked and traded with Putin all these years, and look where it got us.”

This reflects a German realisation of the folly of its post-war naiveté that (a) economic interdependence and (b) the high cost of conflict would mean no wars.

This naiveté was based on the faith that humans are essentially rational. And that rational people weigh up the options and do what’s in their best interests, economic and otherwise. Ergo, Tsar Vlad may be a malevolent bastard, but he’s a rational one.

Err, wrong. Tsar Vlad is delusional, isolated and desperate. And not rational.

As one former diplomat put it: “Our leaders discovered with horror that the problem for Putin was not the security of Russia but his need to take back the Ukrainian lands… Putin [is] prepared to risk it all to satisfy his ethnographic-nationalist imperative.”

The psyche of a Russian autocrat is not based on rationality. And instead, is to accept that he/ she will die in office. Or swinging from a lamp post [5].

[4] In response to the placing of American ballistic missiles in Turkey, and the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961, Khrushchev agreed to Cuba’s request to place nuclear missiles on the island to deter a future American invasion. US President Kennedy successfully negotiated with Khrushchev. The crisis was the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a hot war.

[5] In the last 275 years, Russia has had 19 leaders: 9 died in office (“DIO”); 5 were assassinated (swinging from a lamp post “SFLP”); 2 resigned; 1 was deposed and 1 exiled. None were elected to or voted out of office by popular vote. Consider: Yeltsin (resigned); Gorbachev (resigned); Chernenko (DIO); Andropov (DIO); Brezhnev (DIO); Khrushchev (deposed); Stalin (DIO); Lenin (DIO); Kerensky (exiled); Nicholas II (SFLP); Alexander III (DIO); Alexander II (SFLP); Nicholas I (DIO); Paul I (SFLP); Catherine (DIO); Peter III (SFLP); Elizabeth (DIO); Ivan IV (SFLP); etc, etc. And Putin remains in power.

Turkey: the six amigos

Whilst the world focusses on Putin’s Ukrainian Folly, fewer eyes are watching Turkey.

There, another autocrat is under siege. Well, sort of autocrat and sort of under siege. Turkey’s Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been in power for almost 20 years. And the natives are getting restless.

It’s not just inflation of about 50%, a collapsing currency and electricity prices rising by over 50%. It’s that people are just getting fed up.

So, a bit of self-help has arisen. The leaders of six Turkish opposition parties have agreed to co-operate to end the Sultan’s occupation of the Sultan’s Tent in Ankara. [6, 7] The six parties are Turkey’s largest, except for the ruling AKP and the pro-Kurdish party.

This is a big deal. In Turkey, like in many multi-party democracies, the opposition parties tend to be small, single issue and fragmented. Rather like many of the fiefdoms in Australia’s Senate.

Wry & Dry wishes the six amigos good luck. Their project is a worthy one. But never underestimate the desire of an autocrat to stay in power. Nor the means he has at his disposal.

[6] Erdogan must face the polls before June 2023. He, as the President of Turkey, is both Head of State and Head of Government and is directly elected. He effectively has plenipotentiary powers.

[7] The official residence of the Turkish President is a 300,000m2 palace. The White House is 5,100m2.

Sleepy Joe: still asleep

Rather like those ageing former Politburo Soviet leaders, Sleepy Joe was propped-up whilst giving the State of the Union address to Congress this week.

It’s clear that the only thing Sleepy Joe does effortlessly is to portray boredom. It’s a win-win: he bores both himself and his audience. And whatever go-faster pills he took didn’t work.

Granted there were moments of authenticity, but mostly (a) minutes of confected outrage at Tsar Vlad or Republicans and (b) more minutes of dreaming – that word Elysian again arises. And then there were moments when the sheer weight of years on his brain began to show. Aside from slurring too many words, it must have come as a surprise to Iranians when they got a place in his speech. Maybe he meant to say Ukrainians.

‘Kenadz’ means ‘cheers’ in Armenian.

Sleepy Joe missed an opportunity to contrast his brand of leadership with Tsar Vlad’s shirtless belligerent nationalism.

But, no. He did what Wry & Dry thought was impossible, make Jimmy Carter [8] look like General Patton.

[8] Former US president, who saw good in everybody. An admirable sentiment for the Vicar of Dibley, but not for a US President.

Prends ça

Readers will know that the French presidential elections are upcoming. And that M Macron will certainly stand and certainly win. But like any election, there are the hopeful contestants who bid for the prize, knowing the bid will fail, but sure in the hope of getting a lesser, but well-paid role elsewhere in life. Or just their name in papers.

Consider Éric Zemmour, the journalist-provocateur who stormed into the campaign late last year with an anti-Islam crusade. As recently as last week he was polling at about 15% (behind Macron 25%, Le Pen 18%). His failure last week to quickly condemn Russia was compounded this week by him calling for French frontiers to be closed to Ukrainian refugees.

Which brought the retort of the year, from Brigitte Bardot, former film actress: “A dry heart that is indifferent to suffering… cannot save France nor be its president.”

Prends ça!

Neutrality – now it’s serious

The one country that has sat on the fence of international politics for longer than any other country has hopped off [9].

On Monday, Switzerland announced that it would join the EU in imposing sanctions on Russia. [10]

But Readers shouldn’t get excited. Neutrality means military neutrality.

[9] The 1815 Congress of Vienna (Austria, France, the United Kingdom, Portugal, Prussia, Russia, Spain and Sweden) signed a declaration formally recognising Switzerland’s neutrality.

[10] Russians hold some SFR10.4 billion in Swiss banks.

Unclear on the concept

Readers could not have failed to notice the ghastly bright yellow ads in the daily rags for the United Australia Party.

The ads reflect the intelligence of its parliamentary leader (Craig Kelly) and the brashness of the money (Clive Palmer): “$1 trillion of Liberal & Labor debt means higher inflation and higher interest rates.”

But it’s a masterpiece of advertising: garishly eye-catching with a plausible sounding but alarming statistic.

The problem is that its call-to-action is: Vote 1 United Australia Party. Readers will note that no other major party instructs its supporters in that way.

If UAP voters do exactly as instructed, their vote will be informal, other than in the Senate. Voters must number every box, not just their first preference.

History

“I stand as the only President of the 21st century on whose watch Russia did not invade another country.” So said Donald Trump last weekend.

Not a big claim to check: there have been just 5 presidents this century. Did Russia invade anybody since 1 January 2000 during a President’s term?

Biden: Yes; Ukraine

Trump: No

O’Bama: Yes; Ukraine

Bush (G.W.): Yes; Georgia

Clinton: No

Back to school?

Geography

No amount of economic squeezing on either Russia’s economy or on so-called oligarchs will make Tsar Vlad change his mind. Valiant Ukraine will be smashed.

But the freezing of Russia’s foreign currency reserves by the West will mess up Russia’s finances for many years [11].

It will take a while for the sanctions to take effect. And sooner or later the sleeping giant of the Russian people will awaken. As happened in 1941 and 1917.

[11] Chart source: The Economist.

Habits

It’s a good thing he didn’t live in Woolloomooloo.

Snippets from all over

  1. Russia now fiscally ‘junk’

Global credit rating agencies Moody’s and Fitch have cut Russia’s credit rating to ‘junk status’. And MSCI Inc, the owner of global investment indices (similar to the ASX200, but global) has eliminated Russian equities from its widely-tracked Emerging Markets index.

Wry & Dry comments: None of which will affect Tsar Vlad’s billions.

  1. Nord Stream 2 pipeline files for insolvency

Nord Stream 2, the company behind the controversial gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea to bring Russian gas to Europe, has become insolvent, a Swiss official told state broadcaster

Wry & Dry comments: Too early to tell.

  1. Vegan army boots?

UK soldiers have called for vegan uniforms to be introduced, to fall in line with their dietary desires. The newly formed Ministry of Defence Vegan and Vegetarian Network is campaigning to create new policies that will empower members to maintain veganism.

Wry & Dry comments: So, it’s not okay to shoot a cow, but okay to shoot an enemy soldier? Good grief!

  1. Oil majors dump Russian investments

BP, Shell, and Exxon will end their investments in Russia. Each will take significant financial hits.

Wry & Dry comments: Good grief! Major energy companies putting principle above profit. But not all: France’s Total will not divest its massive investments. Of course.

  1. Germany to invest in defence

Germany will commit €100 billion to a special armed forces fund and would keep its defence spending above 2% of GDP.

Wry & Dry comments: About time, too. Angela Merkel, the previous Chancellor, had pretended that wars don’t happen anymore. And so, Germany spent a relative pittance on defence. But enough to send 5,000 helmets to Ukraine.

Data
  • The RBA left interest rates unchanged at the record low of 0.1%
  • Australia’s GDP grew by 4.2% in 2021. Long-term interest rates in the US (10-year Treasury notes) leapt above 2%, as investor sold government debt on the latest CPI data
  • Inflation in the eurozone accelerated to 5.8% in February from 5.1% in January.
  • Western banks are less exposed to Russia than used to be (source: The Economist):

And, to soothe your troubled mind…

Wry & Dry’s Quote

“Being on the US sanctions’ list used to be a status symbol of patriotism. But now it’s a requirement. If you’re not on it, it’s suspicious.”

An un-named Russian oligarch, explaining why he and his colleagues, as it were, are powerless to suggest that Tsar Vlad changes his mind.

Wry & Dry comments: The sword is mightier than the rouble.

PS A reminder that the opinions in Wry & Dry do not necessarily represent those of First Samuel, its employees, or directors.

Cheers

Anthony

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