Enjoy Wry & Dry: a cynical and irreverent blend of the week in politics, economics and life.
Ten stories you may have missed…
- Heaven: a busy week
- Dubai: COP that
- US: Haley’s comet
- Canberra: show me the money
- Liberal party: unclear on the concept
- Crypto-currencies: the own goal of endorsements
- RBA: Canberra colonisation
- North Korea: 100%
- History: Napoleon’s real legacy
- US: words
1. Heaven: a busy week
It’s been a busy week at the Members’ Entrance to the pearly gates to heaven. Wry & Dry’s Man In Heaven was there.
On Tuesday Charlie Munger arrived in a limmo longer than a bus. Charlie was Warren Buffett’s conservative investment alter ego. He arrived and immediately began arguing with St Peter about heaven’s recent investments (remembering that time doesn’t matter in heaven): “That St Peter’s Basilica property development in Rome was a waste of money. Better off investing in social housing.”
Yesterday, Henry Kissinger turned up, distributing business cards and immediately ordered St Peter to arrange meetings. First on his list was Klemens von Metternich1, then Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli2. Later required meetings (with agendas) were with Napoleon (why invade Russia?) and Hitler (why invade Russia?).
St. Peter was most discombobulated by all of this. “Firstly, Adolf Hitler didn’t make the cut. You’ll have to take an elevator to B1.”
“Secondly, you have the temerity to ask about mistakes that people made during their lifetime. What about you and Argentina, Chile, West Pakistan and Indonesia/East Timor? And you selling out Taiwan to China? All of these ungodly actions just for your so-called realpolitik chessboard diplomacy?”
“I’m pondering putting you in the elevator to B1. For eternity.”
Kissinger thought for a while. And then said, “That’s okay. I will have more ex-clients down there.”
St. Peter threw a thunderbolt in anger, “Exactly, especially Mao Zedong. Today Chinese state media paid tribute to you, describing you as an ‘old friend of the Chinese people.’ Actually, that decides it. For what you did to the people of Taiwan, you have no choice. You and all of your baggage are going down.”
“The one-way elevator to B1 is over there.”
1 Metternich was a conservative Austrian statesman who dominated middle European diplomacy during and after Napoleon. His wily moves at the Congress of Vienna 1814-1815 (that rearranged Europe after Napoleon) were all about the balance of power between states.
2 Machiavelli is best known for his clever political treatise The Prince. But his day job was balancing the other city states of 16th century northern Italy to the benefit of his Florence: Milan Venice, Genoa and the Papacy.
2. Dubai: COP that?
Readers might not be aware that the globe’s premier climate talkfest COP 28 began yesterday in that paragon of renewable energy: Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Such a clever idea to hold it in Dubai. After all, it’s not as though Dubai is the rail hub of the Middle East. Almost all of the 70,000 people attending the conference will have to fly there. So much for environmental concerns.
The irony doesn’t end there. The UAE is one of the world’s top 10 oil-producing countries. And it has appointed the epitome of fossil-fuel reduction, the CEO of the state-owned oil company Sultan al-Jaber, as president of the COP28 talks.
The Sultan’s company pumps about 2.7 million barrels of oil per day. He wants to double that by 2027.
The bigger news is, of course, that Albo will not be attending. This is because his besties (Sleepy Joe and Emperor Eleven) will also not be attending. And so there would be no opportunity to deepen those already very deep personal relationships Albo has recently fostered in London, Beijing, Washington, San Francisco, etc.
Albo’s time will be spent trying to figure out why the later polls show a 50/50 tie with the Coalition. And where his leadership has gone wrong.
3. US: Haley’s comet
Readers’ minds would normally spring to matters astronomical upon hearing the word ‘Halley’. After all, many would have witnessed the short-period comet lazily drifting across the heavens in 1986. By the time it returns in 2061 the State of Victoria would have been bailed out by the federal government, the Kingdom of England finally joined Scotland and Wales in the United States of Europe (Northern Ireland having long since merged with Eire) and Ukraine just pushed the last Russian soldier from its soil.
But Readers would have misheard. The current Haley is not a comet, but Nikki Haley, the only candidate smart and capable enough to prevent the Trumpster from being the Republican Party’s nominee for the USA’s top gig. Haley’s star, as it were, is rising following her clear victories in each of the three pre-primary television debates (in which the Trumpster declined to participate).
Her chances have risen more since the arrival of dosh. Lots of it. A group led by billionaire Charles Koch3 have decided that the Trumpster is a rotter and that Haley better represents a return to a more sensible politics.
Money is useful in America, especially in politics. But it’s not everything. Haley’s best chance is to come a strong second to the Trumpster in the early primaries and hope that his massive legal woes and costs pour sand into his campaign wheels. She might then offer him a pardon (if she wins the election) if he withdraws from the race.
She would then only have to defeat Sleepy Joe.
3 Kock was smart enough to inherit a massive oil-based industrial conglomerate from his father. He is the 22nd richest man in the world and a classic small-government libertarian.
4. Canberra: show me the money
It sometimes takes a while for the fiscal chickens to come home to roost.
In Victoria, Emeritus Chairman Dan fooled most of the people for most of time, especially at the last election. The state now has the begging bowl out to Canberra and a new budgetary policy has been made: if it moves: tax it, if it doesn’t: tax it twice.
In Canberra, Albo and Treasurer Grim Jim are being squeezed in the vice of commonwealth-state fiscal reality.
On one side is:
a. the out of control NDIS and Albo’s reluctance to make a hard decision about cutting benefits and/ or cutting recipient eligibility; and
b. the GST distributions to the states and Albo’s reluctance to end the massively expensive grace-and-favour arrangements to Western Australia that former PM Morrison put in place to retain Liberal House seats there (he failed).
On the other side are the states and territories.
Albo said when he was opposition leader that he would work in harmony with the states. How, err, naive.
The states do not care about harmony – all each wants is dosh and lots of it. They are now grumpy because more than 50 considerable and Canberra-funded infrastructure projects have been cancelled. Add to that Albo wants the states to carry 50% of future NDIS costs. And they each (except WA) want a slice of WA’s GST top-up arrangements.
The fiscal chickens are roosting in Albo’s roof.
5. Liberal Party: unclear on the concept
Albo will not be too worried by the Newspoll that showed P Dutton had dragged the Coalition to a 50/50 position. Two exhibits.
Firstly, the Victorian Liberal Party was three minutes late in submitting its proposal for electoral re-distributions in Victoria. Labor, the Greens and 61 others submitted their proposals on time. Really? These clowns couldn’t run a bath.
Secondly, last weekend’s selection of Dave Sharma, Australia’s former ambassador to Israel and former House member, was not the main news arising from the ballot for a new Liberal Senator for New South Wales. It was that candidate Zed Seselja, former Senator for ACT, was actively supported by P Dutton (and former PM Tony Abbott).
Mr. Seselja rose without trace as a Senator, ending up as Minister for International Development and the Pacific in Morrison’s ministry. He was one of those politicians who saw his elected responsibility as primarily being a factional operative, rather than serving either his constituents or the greater good. He was well-known as one of the least energetic ministers, as shown by him visiting just one Pacific country in his tenure, and that was to Solomon Islands in the dying days of the dying Morrison government.
Why would wannabe PM P Dutton want to select as a New South Wales Senator a person from the ACT? Were there not any New South Welsh worthies?
Y’see, using the Wry & Dry Political Cutlery Indicator, Mr. Seselja is to the far right of the soup spoon.
And that is not the only worry. P Dutton had a choice of supporting: (a) a proven lazy but cunning political operative who fell at the last hurdle but who would work behind the curtain to discredit anyone to the left of the soup spoon; or (b) an experienced, capable and worldly person who would add considerable value to any government.
P Dutton chose badly.
6. Crypto-currency: the own goal of endorsements
It seemed like a good idea at the time. After all, famous sportspeople endorse products all of the time, whether or not the product has merit, or is indeed used by the endorser.
Binance, an American crypto-currency exchange, wanted to promote investment in non-fungible tokens (NFTs)4. What it needed was a famous sportsman to endorse the product. Famous footballer (i.e. soccer player) Cristiano Ronaldo was approached. He accepted. What could possibly go wrong?
Err, plenty. Ronaldo overlooked two matters. Firstly, investing in anything crypto-currency related is speculative, especially NFTs. Secondly, this is the USA, litigation capital of the galaxy.
Last November, Ronaldo launched a collection of NFTs with Binance, the cheapest of which was priced at $77. One year later, the value is about $1.
Loss-making investors have lawyered-up. To the tune of a $1 billion class-action lawsuit. They claim that Ronaldo is responsible for them losing money.
4 Non-fungible tokens are unique cryptographic tokens that exist on a blockchain and cannot be replicated. They can represent digital or real-world items like artwork. There can only ever be one non-fungible token of an item; in the same way that there can only ever be one Mona Lisa. On the other hand, crypto-currency tokens like Bitcoin are ‘fungible’, that is one Bitcoin is the same as the next Bitcoin.
7. Canberra: RBA colonisation
Treasurer Grim Jim has appointed a Brit, Andrew Hauser, to be the Deputy Chief Teller of the RBA, supporting Chief Teller Michele Bullock. Mr. Hauser is currently a guru at the Bank of England and extremely well qualified, with more degrees than a thermometer.
Is this a trend? Will PM Albo import even more Brits to fill gaps in the wastelands of the upper echelons of government and policy. If so, he might consider the following:
Borisconi: Australian’s current country-wide unhappiness suggests a person who can raise a laugh is needed. What better person at whom to laugh?
King Charles: Victoria desperately needs a person with squillions of dollars to be taxed. Look no further than King Charles himself – whose assets are currently mostly untaxed.
Elton John: Canberra is need of people who are great at reading the mood of the nation. Just consider Elton’s track record, for example Candle In The Wind.
8. North Korea: 100%
Something is desperately wrong in North Korea. At last weekend’s elections for local assemblies, candidates for the Workers’ Party of Korea received 99.91% of the vote.
There are no reports of the fate of the 00.09%.
9. History: Napoleon’s real legacy
The recently released movie about Napoleon caused much gnashing of French teeth. Mostly about the historical inaccuracy of parts of the movie. Although the historically accurate teeth ignored in the movie were those of Joséphine. Jo had stumpy black teeth, not the come-hither mouth of actress Vanessa Kirby.
Wry & Dry digresses. The movie presents an opportunity to take a shallow dive into Napoleon’s legacy.
Introduced the Napoleonic Code (a standardised legal system), abolished serfdom in Poland, introduced administrative systems for French schools and created the Bank of France.
Reintroduced the slave trade, gave right of divorce exclusively to husbands, looted art and artefacts for Musée du Louvre, and sold the territory of Louisiana (consisting of all or most of Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Arkansas and Louisiana) to the then US for $15m.8
Napoleon’s military record cannot be questioned: 17 years of wars, six million Europeans dead, France bankrupt, her overseas colonies lost. And how about invading Russia just before the onset of winter?
Enjoy the movie. Assess the history. And beware Napoleon memorabilia – last week some dufuss paid $2m for one of Napoleon’s hats. It was size XXL.
8 Most of the balance of the US west of the Louisiana Purchase was either stolen from Mexico or bought from Russia (Alaska). And in all cases taken from indigenous peoples.
10. US: words
“… of the Year” awards are clogging up Wry & Dry’s in-tray. This week it is Word of the Year, as judged by an Amercian dictionary: Merriam Webster. Its WotY was ‘authentic”. Apparently, in the US, the assessment of which word is WotY is based on the increase in the number of searches for a word. So, all those extra people don’t know the meaning of ‘authentic.’
‘Authentic’ and the other finalists certainly reflect the American educational wasteland. ‘Dystopian’ was up there. As was ‘implode’, perhaps following the implosion of a submersible searching for the wreck of the Titanic (Readers might ask if ‘submersible’ was also a finalist), and ‘coronation,’ following a small family ceremony in London.
Wry & Dry actually heard one American speak of Charles being ‘coronated’, which sounded like a form of ritualistic Anglo-Saxon torture. Which perhaps it was.
The American word-finalist-surprise to Wry & Dry was ‘indict’. And for this expansion of the lexicon of the average Amercian, the world must thank the Trumpster, as he has been indicted four times.
Snippets from all over
1. Sweden closer to joining NATO
Sweden’s foreign minister said he had received assurances from his Turkish counterpart that the country would soon drop its objection to Sweden’s bid to join NATO. Mr. Billstrom said that Hungary will also ratify the application. Both countries have blocked Sweden’s application for more than a year. (The Economist)
Wry & Dry comments: Tsar Vlad’s invasion of Ukraine enhanced NATO by two members (Finland and Sweden) rather than weakening it.
2. Tsar Vlad boosts military spending
President Putin has approved a record increase in spending on the armed forces, with defence set to swallow almost a third of Russia’s national budget for the first time since the Soviet era. (The Times)
Wry & Dry comments: Tsar Vlad is going all in.
3. China slows
An official gauge of China’s manufacturing activity indicated contraction in November, signaling continued weakness in the economy. (Wall Street Journal)
Wry & Dry comments: A canary in the coal mine?
4. Trumpster breaks court ruling
Donald Trump has been accused of using his company’s funds to pay his tax and legal bills, in breach of a court ruling that requires him to notify a financial auditor before withdrawing cash. The former president reportedly moved $40 million from the Trump Organisation into a personal bank account in three cash transfers. (UK Telegraph)
Wry & Dry comments: Does anyone think that he really cares?
5. China: cash leaping over walls
Affluent Chinese have moved hundreds of billions of dollars out of the country this year, seizing on the end of Covid precautions that had almost completely sealed China’s borders for nearly three years. (New York Times)
Wry & Dry comments: Hmm, if China is so good, why the cash outflow?
6. Sultan of sin
Turkey’s exports to Russia of goods vital for Moscow’s war machine have soared this year, heightening concerns among the US and its allies that the country is acting as a conduit for sensitive items from their own manufacturers. (Financial Times)
Wry & Dry comments: Sanctions? What sanctions?
- Australia: CPI fell to 4.9% in the year to October, down from 5.6% in September.
- Eurozone: inflation fell to 2.4% in the year to November, down from 2.9% in October.
And, to soothe your troubled mind…
“The last time I saw him in Beijing, he paid me the compliment of telling me my conceptual approach to strategic policy most closely resembled that of his own.”
Paul Keating, writing of Henry Kissinger, in a media release.
Thereby elevating himself, in his eyes/ to his mind/ in his heart, to somehow be a policy peer of Kissinger. Modesty was never a characteristic of Keating.
PS The comments in Wry & Dry do not necessarily reflect those of First Samuel, its Directors or Associates.