Wry & Dry #19 FY-24: Albo: What. Me worry? UK: sinking ship. Israel: maths.

Ten stories you may have missed

  1. Albo: What. Me worry?
  2. UK: sinking ship?
  3. Israel: Netanyahu and maths
  4. San Francisco: panda diplomacy
  5. US: Supreme Court’s ethics, really?
  6. Ukraine: sleepless in Kyiv
  7. Victoria: crime and punishment
  8. Victoria: small business getting smaller
  9. Gaza: demographics
  10. Trumpster: wants even more publicity

1. Albo: What. Me worry?

Political opinion polls published on Monday screamed gloom for Albo. Primary support for Labor had fallen to 35% from 37%. And 60% of We-The-People were getting seriously antsy about the cost of living, mortgage costs, and everything else. Albo’s preferred PM rating had fallen to 40% from 47%.

In response, Albo gave the Alfred E Neuman comment1. Well, he actually didn’t say it. He didn’t need to: the same poll showed the Coalition’s primary support falling to 30%. Albo will be soundly sleeping; albeit in the pointy end of a Qantas A380.

But then the downstream effect of last week’s High Court ‘indefinite detention’ decision2 hit the fan. This decision has meant that 84 migrants, over half of whom have violent histories (including 3 murderers and several extreme sex offenders), have now been released into the community. Up to 340 may be released.

Initially, the government said that it could not legislate a response to the ruling until the Court released its reasons for the 4-3 decision, possibly until next year. Really? Yes, really.

The outcry from We-The-People could be heard wherever overseas Albo found himself. And so a hastily drafted bill was rammed through both houses of parliament yesterday, with the government accepting, without demur, six Coalition amendments.

Hats off to Acting PM Richard Marles for sensibly managing the process: Albo would have fought the Coalition on technical points. Marles’ quick thinking ensures that the weekend headlines will focus on other matters.

Like millions of others, Wry & Dry has to ask why the government did not have a legislative response in its back pocket in the event of an adverse High Court decision? Immigration Minister Giles and Home Affairs Minister Clare O’Neil were smugly asleep at their wheels.

Albo will return home to the bosom of Canberra with a little more about which to worry.

1 “What, me worry?” is the quote of Alfred E. Neuman, the fictitious mascot and cover boy of the American humour magazine Mad.

2 Last week the High Court struck down parts of the Migration Act. Essentially, the court said that it is illegal to indefinitely detain non-citizens who cannot be deported.

2. UK: sinking ship?

UK PM Rishi Sunak took his deck of wannabe-in-cabinet cards and shuffled them. And, in a sleight of hand that would do credit to Houdini, turned-up a card that wasn’t in the pack. The new Foreign Secretary isn’t even in parliament.

Former PM David Cameron gave himself the DCM from the House of Commons seven years ago. Never mind, said Rishi, we’ll make you a peer of the realm. And so, it will be The Rt Hon The Lord Cameron (of X, where X is a territorial designation he may wish to use)3.

His soon-to-be Lordship is best known for initiating the two referenda that plunged the Union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland into divisions not seen since the Roundheads battled the Cavaliers4. Those divisions were for Scottish independence and Brexit.

It’s possibly a very smart move by Sunak. His Lordship will add needed experience and gravitas to Sunak’s sinking ship of state. The degree of holing below the waterline is shown in the polls: Conservatives 23%, Labour 47% (cue audio: gurgle, gurgle, gurgle).

In the modern style of representing almost anything with a chart, Wry & Dry presents how They-The-Brits rated the eight most recent UK PMs. Cameron was seen to have been more successful than all except Thatcher and Blair. Mind you, that’s not a great achievement: five absolute disasters plus the very grey John Major.

3 But not to be confused, of course, with The Rt Hon Lord Cameron of Dillington, who was given a life peerage in 2004.

4 ‘Roundheads’ were supporters of the Parliament during the English Civil War (1642-1651). They fought against King Charles I (for whom the war ended badly – he lost his head) and his supporters, ‘Cavaliers’, who claimed rule by absolute monarchy and the principle of the divine right of kings. The Roundheads’ cause was hijacked by Oliver Cromwell. The term Roundhead was succeeded by ‘Whig’ and that of Cavalier by ‘Tory’ in the Exclusion Crisis of later that century.

3. Israel: Netanyahu and maths

This is the fifth of more serious articles since the Hamas pogrom, the aim of which is to add some intellectual rigour to the debate.

Wry & Dry will commence with some stubborn statistics. Israel has a population of about 9.5 million. 7 million of which are Jewish, 2 million are Arab and 0.5 million are neither.

On the West Bank there are 3 million Palestinians and Gaza has 2 million. That’s 5 million Palestinians.

So, in thinking about What Next? has Mr Netanyahu done his maths? Oh, he’s done his maths on his parliamentary position – he needs the support of far-right parties to stay in power. And those far-right parties have behaved just as stubbornly and belligerently as those right-wing nutters in the US House of Representatives – holding the government to ransom over parochial issues.

Consider Israeli right-wing parochial issues such as the judicial reforms that split the country and the military; the planned spending on ultra-orthodox schools at the expense of public schools; the exemption of those schools from teaching maths and science (‘secular subjects’)5; and the aggressive development of nationalistic settlements on the West Bank that deny the eventual possibility of a pluralist society.

His focus on destroying Hamas is a correct one. But a smart leader would, at the same time, consider What Next? As former US Secretary of State Colin Powell said to George W Bush as he (Bush) contemplated invading Iraq, “You break it, you own it.” George Dubbya didn’t understand what Powell meant. Much less asking What Next? after putting Saddam Hussein in a coffin. And look how all of that that turned out. Iran is still laughing.

So far, Netanyahu has only said that Israel will “control Gaza for an indefinite period.” A smart leader would have added “…until a workable peace can be agreed.” And at the same time commence subtle overtures via the US to the secular but fragile government of the West Bank.

Netanyahu has done his electoral maths. And in so doing has mortgaged the future of Israel’s judiciary and children’s education. But he is ignoring the maths of demography. In the same way that Hamas and its supporters who chant “from river to the sea” ignore the fact that Israel will not disappear, so too Netanyahu ignores the fact that neither will 5 million Palestinians.

After king Ahab6, he is arguably the worst leader in Israel’s history. And 70% of Jewish Israelis want him to resign after the war is over.

5 These are Haredi schools. Haredi schools typically prepare boys for lifelong study of Jewish religious texts and law, rather than employment. By seventh grade, most of the curriculum focuses on religious content. In 2020, for example, 84% of boys in Haredi high schools studied no secular subjects. Haredi girls, who are expected to work and support their families once they marry, are taught a state-mandated core curriculum that includes secular subjects.

6 Ahab (reigned c 871 – c 852 BC) was the seventh king of Israel and was described as “more evil than all of the kings before him.”

4. San Francisco: panda diplomacy?

Emperor Eleven hit the most important point early on in his meeting 40 kilometres outside of San Francisco.

He may soon send pandas to US zoos. The animals would be “envoys of friendship between the Chinese and American people”, he said.

The pandas will have their work cut out. Emperor Eleven wants to take over Taiwan. Sleepy Joe will resist.

The Emperor also wants high quality American computer chips, playing the victim: “Suppressing Chinese technology equates to containing China’s high-quality development and depriving the Chinese people of their right to development,” he said. Really?

Sleepy Joe knows that such chips will be used by the Emperor’s military. And has said no.

And so it goes on. But there were two issues agreed upon: stopping the flow to the United States of the chemical precursors for fentanyl and a resumption of military-to-military communications. The latter sounds critical, but the reality is obvious: China will promptly close the communication if a crisis does eventuate.

But the pandas will still be there, to communicate if the military doesn’t.

5. US: Supreme Court’s ethics, really?

If Readers thought that the US was getting more absurd every day, then allow Wry & Dry to present Exhibit A for the week.

The US Supreme Court, the highest court in the world’s most litigious country, has announced it now has a Code of Ethics. This is in response to revelations of undisclosed property deals and gifts.

Readers would think that a judicial court would by its very nature not require a code of ethics. But clearly the collective conscience of the US Supreme Court has overturned this common understanding. Many US states have their own codes of ethics, however named.

Wry & Dry hastens to add that in Australia all judges and magistrates at every level are expected to adhere to the same Guide to Judicial Conduct7.

The obvious question arises now that a US Supreme Court Code of Ethics has been published. Will an aggrieved and unsuccessful person appeal because of a technical breach of the ethical code that seemed to adversely affect his/ her trial? This is America, after all8.

Just askin’.

7 Guide to Judicial Conduct, Third Edition, published for The Council of Chief Justices of Australia and New Zealand by The Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration Incorporated.

8 But that unhappy person cannot sue a judge: judicial immunity, whilst not enshrined in the Constitution, judges in the US have absolute immunity from any lawsuit for damages arising from their performance of judicial functions. This applies even if those actions were corrupt, malicious, or illegal. The only exceptions to a judge’s immunity to a lawsuit is if the conduct alleged was not a judicial action, or if the judge was acting in the complete absence of all jurisdiction.

6. Ukraine: Sleepless in Kyiv

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is losing sleep. For five reasons.

Firstly, the counter-offensive against Tsar Vlad is bogged. And that well before the winter freeze would bog everything anyway. The front line is on the same latitude as and is a mere 600 kilometres from Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad). Readers will have images of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942-3.

Secondly, the war in the Middle East has taken attention away from Ukraine’s struggle. There was a time when almost any Zelensky announcement would attract media attention. But not anymore – the world clamours for news from Gaza.

Thirdly, Republicans in Congress are increasingly reluctant to provide more funding. Sleepy Joe has requested a further $106 billion for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. Mike Johnson, the new Speaker of the House, has agreed to wave through $14 billion for Israel, but hasn’t released a dime for Ukraine, deciding to use Kyiv as political leverage. And in the Senate, the Republicans only want to release the money for Kyiv if the U.S. government tightens its rules for asylum-seekers. Wry & Dry can’t join the dots on that.

Fourthly, the spectre of the Trumpster as president looms as large in Kyiv as in Washinton. The Trumpster says that he would have the war solved in 24 hours. His friendship with Tsar Vlad is as close as the girl next door. The world sees that as directing Zelensky to surrender the balance of Ukraine.

Finally, Ukraine fatigue has set in. The daily news of how many of Tsar Vlad’s missiles had hit targets or tanks stopped at traffic lights nowadays doesn’t even make broadsheets. NATO has sorted itself out. And war is taking on the shape of the Western Front 1915-1917: stalemate with occasional flourishes.

The only recent good news is that on Monday, Tsar Vlad’s RIA state news agency reported that Russia’s Dnepr group command in Ukraine had decided to relocate troops to “more favourable positions” east of the Dnipro river. Which means they had retreated.

7. Victoria: crime and punishment

Today and next Friday, school students in Victoria have been encouraged to wag school and take part in demonstrations. Today’s is against climate change. Next week’s is against Israel.

The Deputy Premier Ben Carrol, also Minister for Education, said that one of the consequences for students wagging school to attend a demonstration could be a suspension.

Hold the phone. The punishment for voluntarily being away from school to be officially kept away from school. Really?

Wry & Dry imagines that the irony will be lost on the minister.

8. Small business: getting smaller

Emeritus Chairman Dan’s policies have harshly hit Victorian small and medium businesses. But he’s now out of the top gig and wouldn’t care.

According to the ScotPac Index9, only 17% of SMEs in Victoria are projecting revenue growth to March 2024, compared to an Australia wide figure of 55%. An amazing 92% of Western Australian SMEs are forecasting growth. Gotta like those minerals.

What’s going on in Victoria?

9 ScotPac is Australia’s largest specialist provider of SME working capital. The semi-annual survey is undertaken by East & Partners.

9. Gaza: demographics

With its usual focus on curious but often arcane data, the Economist magazine asked why children are a very high proportion of the casualties in the Gaza war.

The answer is linked to demographics: about half of the population of the Palestinian territories is younger than 20 years old, a much higher share than the average of other upper-middle income countries:

10. US: Trumpster wants even more publicity

In a request that surprised no-one, the Trumpster announced that he wants his trial to be televised. Err, hmm. Readers: which trial? Is it…

  1. Trump Company Asset Valuation Trial (New York – current)
  2. Defame Who Trial? (New York – 16 January)
  3. Find Me Another 2,000 Votes Trial (Georgia – 15 February, maybe)
  4. Conspiracy to Overthrow the Election Trial (Washington – 4 March)
  5. What Hush Money/ Who is Stormy Daniels Trial (New York 25 March)
  6. Classified Documents Trial (Florida – 20 May)

Close. But no cigar. It’s #4.

Now, if the trial were televised, with the Trumpster as the star, what Hall of Fame Legend Status would this represent for him?

  1. Victimhood
  2. Certifiability
  3. Derangement
  4. Narcissism
  5. Venality
  6. “Truth, Justice and the American Way”10

Close. But no cigar. All of the above.

10 With apologies to Superman, the television series.

Snippets from all over

1. Chip competitor to Nvidia

Microsoft has unveiled its first bespoke chips for artificial intelligence in the cloud, as developers clamour for alternative suppliers to Nvidia, which dominates the market for AI processors. (Financial Times)

Wry & Dry comments: The demand for AI kit is getting out of hand. Demand for Nvidia’s A100 and H100 chips has far outstripped supply over the past year, and OpenAI was forced on Tuesday to “pause” new sign-ups to its ChatGPT Plus service after a “surge in usage”.

2. Napoleon critics

Critics in Britain and the US are showering praise on Sir Ridley Scott’s biopic of Napoleon Bonaparte, but in France the film has been panned as an Anglo-Saxon caricature that plays fast and loose with history. (The Times)

Wry & Dry comments: Apparently French soldiers in 1793 didn’t shout “Vive la France” with American accents.

3. Little Sparrow reborn, sort of

Warner Music plans to use artificial intelligence to recreate the voice and image of French artist and singer Edith Piaf, nearly 60 years after her death. (CNBC)

Wry & Dry comments: Édith Giovanna Gassion was one of France’s best-loved singers. She died of liver cancer in 1963, aged 47.

4. US: negative ratings

Moody’s Investors Service on Friday said it was revising the outlook on the U.S. government’s ratings to negative, while affirming the long-term issuer and senior unsecured ratings at Aaa. (Wall Street Journal)

Wry & Dry comments: Moody’s is the only major ratings’ agency to retain the US’ triple A rating. S&P and Fitch each have AA+.

5. UK: bonus forfeit

Dame Alison Rose [former CEO] has forfeited £7.6m after NatWest scrapped her bonus entitlement and share awards over her role in the Nigel Farage debanking scandal. (UK Telegraph)

Wry & Dry comments: She breached client confidentiality. She chose the wrong client.

6. Spain: PM’s deal with Catalans gives him power

After weeks of haggling, Socialist leader Pedro Sánchez has clinched a vote in parliament to lead Spain for another term as prime minister. He has secured a four-seat majority in the 350-seat chamber, after sealing an amnesty deal for Catalans involved in a failed bid to secede from Spain. (Financial Times)

Wry & Dry comments: The clemency deal gave him seven votes, taking him over the line.


  1. Australia: unemployment rate rose to 3.7% in October, from 3.6% in September.
  2. US: inflation fell to 3.2% in the year to October, down from 3.7% in September.
  3. UK: inflation slows to 4.6% in the year to October, down from 6.7% in September.
  4. US: net savings rate is now negative; other than during the GFC, this is first time since records began in 1947.

And, to soothe your troubled mind…

“I am disappointed with a capital D.”

Daniel Mookhey, Treasurer of New South Wales, responding to news that the federal government will now jointly fund infrastructure projects with the states on a 50:50 basis instead of the current 80:20.

Such a clever riposte. Would his disappointment have been larger had he expressed it all in capitals. And perhaps in bold face. and underlined. Good grief.

PS The comments in Wry & Dry do not necessarily reflect those of First Samuel, its Directors or Associates.


Anthony Starkins

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