Wry & Dry

America Last? Man with undetectable hairpiece. W&D got mail.

America First might become America Last

Wry & Dry was looking forward to a quiet week after the farce of Barnaby and the bonking ban.  All seemed well on world markets: most of January's share-market losses had been re-gained in February.  And the US (and Australian) company profit reporting season had gone reasonably well.  

And then along comes March.  And Tsar Trump.  And the announcement of 25% US tariffs on foreign steel and 10% on aluminium, "to protect national security."

Who is he kidding?  National security indeed.

Sure, Readers will know that Section 232 of the US Trade Expansion Act of 1962 allows Tsar Trump to adjust imports unilaterally, without a vote by Congress, should there be evidence of a national-security threat from foreign shipments.  Clearly, a weakened U.S. steel industry would be less ready to build tanks and other weaponry should a military crisis arise.

The law doesn’t define “national security,” so Tsar Trump has wide latitude to determine a threat. And that is what he has done.

Of course, the fact that Trump won the presidential election in steel manufacturing states is irrelevant.  And it gets weirder: the US is at effectively full employment, American steel workers are not losing their jobs because of cheap imports.

US steel and aluminium imports are about $34 billion p.a.  The US stock market lost about $600 billion in value on Trump's announcement.  Go figure.

The trouble with Trump's action is that it becomes a 'whack a mole'.  A trade war begins and other countries start putting on tariffs in retaliation.  And, in spite of what Tsar Trump says, this is not about imports of Chinese steel.  China is the 11th largest source of steel imported to the US.  

The other consequence is the price of everything in the US that is made of aluminium and steel will rise.

America First will become America Last.


Man with undetectable hairpiece

The standing-down of Barnaby Joyce caused much soul-searching at W&D's desk.  W&D would have to revert to hard work to keep the ink pouring from the quill.  Sigh. 

But all is not lost.  W&D is now pleased to report the good news that Silvio "bunga-bunga man" Berlusconi, Italy's former Prime Minister is back.  Well, almost.

Readers will know that Italy goes to the polls on Sunday.  But possibly not that the 81-year-old will be the king-maker in the new parliament.  Of course, his 2012 conviction for tax fraud means that he cannot hold public office.

But the centre-right alliance that he has brokered (Forza Italia, Northern League, Brothers of Italia, Us with Italy) looks set to take the largest share of the vote (37%).  Readers will know that the Northern League is a xenophobic and far-right party and that Brothers of Italy is effectively a fascist party.  W&D wonders if there is or was a Sisters of Italy?  Perhaps it was just name of an obscure religious order founded in the 15th century.

So, what is going on? Berlusconi has been tried 22 times on charges ranging from tax evasion and bribery to corruption and association with the Cosa Nostra.  His penchant for much younger women is overlooked by his often traditionally Catholic support base. Berlusconi's current partner, Francesca Pascale, is nearly 50 years younger than him.

Image result for image berlusconi

Aged 81, and not a grey hair in sight

W&D sees it simply that Italians will prefer the devil they know: he's a reassuring grandfather and animal lover (his campaign speech last Sunday promised free veterinary bills and no tax on pet food).  Italians like both.  And the fact that he promises to deport 600,000 undocumented migrants. 

But without Berlusconi's alliance winning 40% of the vote, the election will be a stalemate.  The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, was reported as saying that ‘we must prepare for the worst scenario,’ by which he meant Italy having ‘no operational government’.

Why worry, Jean-Claude, it hasn't had one since Mussolini. 

Cartoon il duce

Speaking of dysfunction...

W&D raised the alarm some weeks ago about Saturday's Tasmanian state election.  That alarm was because of Tasmania's hare-brained election system (appropriately called the Hare-Clarke system) that, on polling then, indicated the five multi-member constituencies would return 11 Liberals, 11 Labor and three Greens.  As each of the Labor and Liberal leaders had said each would not form a coalition or minority government, that would mean the Greens would become the government with just three of 25 seats.

Only in Tasmania.

Tasmanian election cousins

But it seems that Readers need not worry about dysfunction in Tasmania.  The early surge in popularity of the new Labor leader, the telegenic Rebecca White, has abated.  According to the latest polls, the Liberal should win 13 seats, Labor 10 and the Greens two.

However, if Liberals win just 12 seats, Greens leader Cassy O’Connor says she would introduce a motion of no confidence in the Liberal party on the first day of the new parliament, reversing an earlier pledge to work with either of the major parties to ensure stable government.  Readers can always rely upon the Greens to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity to be sensible. 

Dysfunction is never far away in Tasmania.  Much like Queensland.  And Western Australia.  And South Australia.  

Not that W&D is advocating a two-state Australia.  Not yet.  

Deepak, W&D's Uber driver, was talking about...

...house prices.  "How about that $28m home in Toorak," he asked.  "And the news in the paper was that it was sold for $17.7m in 2007.  What a massive profit.  That's the sort of house that Anjali would like."

"No, she wouldn't," W&D responded, "And neither would you.  Toorak is a wasteland.  Tidy streets, big houses, leafy trees and decent schools are all very nice.  But where are the great bars and restaurants?  Whatever happened to the likes of Glo Glo's.  And, in any case, the property price increases are not great."

"What are you talking about?" Deepak seemed indignant.  "That's a $10.3m profit."

Property investment

W&D looked sympathetic,"Purchase costs, such a stamp duty, would total nearly $1m.  And if you annualise the return, that is a return of just 3.7% p.a.  That's not a good investment.  Okay, it's tax free, and it does provide accommodation.  But if you were buying as an investor, you'd also be up for annual land tax of almost $600,000, plus rates, agent's commission, etc.  I'm not sure that rental income would cover those costs.  And then there's capital gains tax when you sold."

Deepak looked confused.  "So, you mean it's not a great investment?"

"Shocking.  There is this wonderful myth about 'bricks-and-mortar' investing.  Generally speaking, as an investment, residential housing is a lousy proposition. Just do the maths each time, you'll see what I mean."

"Wow,"  Deepak looked shocked.  "That's a problem."

"Why," W&D asked."  

"Well, err, I've just bought a house as an investment property.  The agent said it was a sure winner.  And the mortgage broker said I could negatively gear, whatever that means.  And I got a special introductory interest only rate." 

"Oh, dear," W&D responded.  "And have you told Anjali?"

Deepak's eyes dropped.  "Um, no.  Not yet.  I thought she might be upset.  Especially after the Bitcoin purchase.  But after what you've just told me, she'll kill me.  What will I do?"

"Knowing Anjali," W&D's observed, "You might as well join a monastery."

Despotism is the new black 

Readers who study history will know that power in despotic states is transferred either when the despot ages to the point of atrophication (e.g Soviet Union), the despot anoints a family member (North Korea) or the people resort to violence (insert your African/ Middle Eastern state here). 

So W&D is wondering how things will end in China.  Chinese President Xi Jinping has announced a plan to abolish the ten-year term limit for President.  The ten-year term limit was a most sensible policy introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s to overcome the chaos of the last years Mao Zedong.  Actually, almost all years of Mao's reign were chaotic, but that's another kettle of fish.

Emperor Xi has now concentrated all power into his hands.  Allowing him to mould the Chinese state to his whim.  And in an even more opaque manner.

emperor new clothes

This will give him the tools needed to continue his policy of stamping out corruption across China  - an ambitious but noble task.  And to turn China's economy from a manufacturer for the world to a more balanced and consumer-driven one.  

Emperor Xi has no time to waste.  China's great problem is not North Korea, but demography.  The reversal of China's one-child policy has done little for the fertility rate (i.e. the number of children born to each woman), which is now 1.6.  A country needs 2.2 to maintain its population (excluding immigration).  As a result, China's population is expected to peak at 1.45 billion around 2030 and then fall sharply.  The number of working age Chinese began falling in 2012: over five million people now retire each year.

And Emperor Xi now has even more power to continue to rapidly expand China's military, economic and diplomatic influence to areas of national interest.  And quash the slightest sign of dissent.  Those wishing for the slow democratisation of China will have to wait for at least another generation.

Tsar Trump's rallying call was "America First."  But this nationalistic call was not the first from a large country.  It is now obvious that Emperor Xi's rise and consolidation of power over the years is a clear exposition of an unsaid "China First".  Tsar Trump cannot govern for more than eight years.  Emperor Xi will outlast him, comfortably.  And will compete with other modern despots Tsar Putin and Turkey's Erdogan in the race for the podium finish for the longest in power.

And W&D wonders what will be the colour of the inevitable little book of Sayings of Xi Jinping.  Red has already been taken.  

From strongmen to...

Readers will be familiar with the derision that was heaped upon Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau over his use of the word 'peoplekind' instead of 'mankind'.

Well, the sense that Mr Trudeau is nothing more than a flim-flam man has been confirmed after his recent and disastrous trip to India.  His support for the Sikh diaspora in Canada and implicitly their efforts for Sikh independence caused him to be snubbed by Indian government officials.  Things got really messy when it was revealed that Jaspal Atwal, a militant Sikh separatist convicted of attempting to murder an Indian politician in Canada, had been invited to at least two Canadian government-linked events. 

The clumsy attempts to cover up the invitation has led to a major diplomatic incident.  The embarrassment was enhanced as Trudeau took his family and dressed them, and himself, up in what he thought was traditional Indian attire.

The multiple costume changes in heavily embroidered kurtas and sherwanis made him look more like an actor on a movie set or a guest at a wedding than a politician who was in India to talk business.  

W&D expected nothing less.

W&D Mailbag...

...over-flowed this week.  Two topics caused Readers to put the finger to keyboard and punch in complaints.  W&D feels compelled to respond.

Tony Abbott and immigration

Some Readers thinks that W&D is too left-wing. Shame, shame!  And suggest that W&D is anti-Abbott and ignored the problems of immigration.

The first is absolutely true.  Abbott's motive had little to do with immigration and more with his desire (a) for publicity, for which he constantly yearns; and (b) to enhance his credentials as an alternative right-wing leader.  Abbott explicitly contradicted the immigration policy that he held so strongly when he was PM.  His case didn't explain his about-face.

Let W&D give Readers the whisper:  Abbott will never politically die. But become the Silvio Burlusconi of Australian politics, to forever seek to regain what he sees as his rightful place as, if not king, then king-maker.  

The second is incorrect.  W&D didn't spend too much time responding to Abbott's criticism of Australia's level of immigration on economic grounds, as the arguments for strong immigration are self evident.  And these outweigh the spurious arguments about want of infrastructure (Terry McCrann's hysterical fear of a 16-lane Monash freeway is a more extreme example): a reduction in immigration by 100,000 p.a. as proposed by Abbott isn't going make much difference when spread across the major cities. 

The only possible criticisms of the high rate of immigration, to W&D's mind, are social issues.  For example, the high unemployment rate of non-English speaking migrants or the emergence of identity apologists who seek to displace Western values and freedoms.

The first of these can be addressed by a better sourced immigration policy.  W&D offers no solution to the latter.   

ABC, Emma and bias  

Some Readers thinks that W&D is too right-wing.  Shane, shame!  And suggest that W&D is anti-ABC and was unjustifiably harsh on Emma Alberici.

Not at all.  The simple fact is that the ABC has historically been left of centre on social issues and fiscally centre-right.  That’s mostly okay, social issues tend to reflect peoples’ biases/ prejudices – and it’s not realistic to suggest that someone’s view is either right or wrong.  Although most would concede that the ABC is not too tolerant of right of centre views on social matters.  ABC commands an audience of just 14% of television viewers and just 10% of radio listeners - take news and comedy out and each drops 3%.  Hardly worth worrying about.  

But on matters of fiscal representation, Emma Alberici’s article was unfortunate for two reasons.  Firstly, it reflected the recent tendency of the ABC’s journalists becoming commentators, rather than correspondents. Secondly, it showed that Emma has little knowledge of economics or of matters fiscal.   Her article was lazy journalism, dressed up as a serious piece just because of the ABC logo in the corner.  The fact that it was pulled from the website is testimony to its problems.

Generally speaking, W&D is not too concerned with political bias in the media.  The Age & Sydney Morning Herald are left-wing, News Corp is right wing.  And as their proprietors foot the bill for each, that is their choice.  Except that we-the-taxpayer pay for the ABC.

We-the-taxpayer should expect more than that which Alberici gave us.      

And, to soothe your troubled mind...  


Last words...

"Can little white lies lead to little white perjury?”  

-   A US television reporter, on news that Hope Hicks, the now-former White House communications director, had told a US congressional investigative committee that she told "white lies" on behalf of President Trump.

This is going to get messy.

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Some lightly salted absurdities from all over...

At the extreme left-hand end of the Bell Curve

Guess what happened next

Just as the plane's cabin door closed, Troy Futtun, 25, thought that he was on the wrong flight at New York's No 2 airport, Newark (actually in New Joisy).  What happened next?

a.  Troy realises he is actually on the right flight.  And all is okay;

b.  Troy alerts the flight attendant, and they re-open the door and let him disembark;

c.  Troy realises the plane is going to Chicago, and, what the heck, he's always wanted to go to Chicago; or

d.  Troy opens the emergency exit door and, using the inflatable slide, slides down to the ground.  

Close.  But no cigar.  The correct answer is d.  The plane was held up for five hours.  Troy was actually ticketed on that flight.  He was 'taken away' for psychiatric assessment.   


Actually, it was nothing to do with the wrong flight.  Troy saw the food trolley being loaded, saw the contents and decided to get out whilst he could.  

Pro-tip: when you want to shame someone on Facebook for flying the wrong flag, check your flag directory first

Best selling author Rebecca Morris got really angry when she saw what she thought was a Confederate flag (the flag of the 'south' in the American civil war) flying on a flagpole in a neighbour's front yard.  So she did what any smart think American vigilante would do, she took to Twitter and Facebook, shaming the owners of the home from which the flag was flying.  And giving the exact address.

“Hi. Suddenly there is a Confederate flag flying in front of a house in my Greenwood neighborhood. It is at the north-east corner of 92nd and Palatine, just a block west of 92nd and Greenwood Ave N. I would love to know what this ‘means’ … but of course don’t want to knock on their door."

This is what Ms Morris saw:

Norway flag


Err, egg on face.  The flag was that of a friendly country: Norway. 

Vigilante Morris has yet to apologise to flag owner Darold Stangeland, a Norwegian-American.  All she said was, “Are you kidding me?”

(Seattle Times) 

Norway was a clear winner in the medals table of the recent Winter Olympics.  Rebecca Morris was a clear loser.

Bank error in your favour...

Christina Ochoa thought there was something wrong when the ATM she was using dispensed a $100 note rather than the $5 note she requested.

So she did what any thinking American would do: keep on withdrawing.  She made more than 50 separate withdrawals that night.  Then the bank found out the next day.  And it wants its money back.

And they will get it.  Y'see, Christina is a customer of the bank.  With money on deposit.  Her account has been frozen.    


What was she thinking?


Have a wry and dry weekend.