Enjoy Wry & Dry: a cynical and irreverent blend of politics, economics and life.
Five stories you missed
- Emperor Xi’s party balloon was the most talked about crash-into-the-Atlantic since an iceberg struck the Titanic almost 110 years ago. Beneath confected outrage on both sides, four things emerge.
- Sleepy Joe stayed awake in his own State of the Union address. Modern science is amazing.
- RBA Chief Teller lifted interest rates, again. And says there’s more to come.
- Green’s Senator Lidia Thorpe turned her coat to become an independent. She now sits in the Senate until 2028, at the Green’s expense.
- Spain spent €258m to build trains too big for its tunnels. Not quite as bad as spending $50 billion to build tunnels that no-one wants to convey trains that no-one will use.
Balloon? What balloon?
Emperor Xi has gently floated his balloon across the USA, driving speculation not seen since the 1947 Roswell incident1.
Item 1: How many balloons are there?
At least the US military identified this balloon as a problem, eventually. The bigger issue is that there have been at least four previous flights by Chinese balloons across the vast spaces of America that went undetected until they left US airspace. Wry & Dry is moved to ask: how many more have there been that have not been identified at all?
Item 2: Response crescendo
Readers could track the trajectory of China’s response better than the US military did of the balloon: we are investigating; we regret that it is our weather balloon blown off course; we think US politicians and media are hyping this up; everyone stay calm; the US attack on this balloon is a serious violation of international practice and law; we want our balloon back.
Item 3: Reality
Antony Blinken, Sleepy Joe’s top diplomat, was scheduled to visit China this week, to build diplomatic bridges or to at least try to stop those that still exist from being destroyed. Apparently, Emperor Xi had great hopes for the visit.
Which leads Wry & Dry to ask: what balloon-gathered intelligence could be so good that it was worth scuppering this process?
The answer to this is: none. The deployment of this balloon was a snafu of massive proportion. As Wry & Dry writes, someone in China is now living in a room even smaller than the one in which he lived last week. And without windows. Or visitors.
Item 4: Inside China today
The image of China as a smoothly co-ordinated machine with Emperor Xi at the wheel is not correct. There are departments and power blocks competing for advantage, that do not always communicate. Whereas, in the US a blend of modern technology and co-ordination exist.
1 The Roswell incident was the recovery, in 1947, of mundane metallic and rubber debris from a military balloon that crashed near Roswell, New Mexico. A military press release stated that a ‘flying disc’ had been recovered, but it was later retracted. Decades later, conspiracy theories began claiming that the debris was from a flying saucer and that there was a cover-up.
Sleepy Joe gave a speech…
It’s a weird turn of phrase: “State of the Union Address.” But that is what the US Constitution requires annually from the American president2.
And so Sleepy Joe mounted the podium. To the surprise of everybody, including himself, he not only stayed awake, but gave arguably the best speech he has given since knocking the stuffing out of the Trumpster’s boundless ambition to rule the world.
The problem for Sleepy Joe is that many of his legislative successes won’t be noticed by the average American for many years, e.g. infrastructure. His dozy image belies his success. And only 23% of Americans have a great deal of confidence that he can manage the job after two more years.
With the Republicans, now in control of the House, unable to agree amongst themselves, what hope have they got in agreeing with the Democrats? Sleepy Joe is a lame duck president. He won’t stand for a second term.
The presidential race, albeit 18 months away, will see an unholy race for the Republican nomination between a populist Phoenix trying to rise from the ashes (Trumpster) and a populist antediluvian also from Florida (Ron DeSantis).
And the Democrats will tear themselves apart, trying to avoid nominating Kamala Harris.
America’s only hope is not in its politicians, but that the business of America is business.3
2Article II, Section 3, Clause 1: The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”
3 Not quite said by former president Calvin Coolidge in 1925. He actually said, “the chief business of the American people is business.”
RBA Chief Teller raises interest rates, again
Wry & Dry is concerned that the Melbourne Football Club’s Grand Final record of 12 successive raises (i.e. goals) is going to soon be exceeded by the Chief Teller of the RBA.4
Dr Lowe on Tuesday raised interest rates for the 10th successive month. Dr Lowe’s aim is to control inflation, which hit 7.8% in December.
Inflation has spiked for two reasons.
Firstly, Tsar Vlad’s coveting of his neighbour’s ox5 i.e. Ukraine; which caused energy prices to leap. This affected not only the price of petrol at the servo, but also the cost of everything along the supply chain. Only those living subsistently were unaffected.
Secondly, Emperor Xi unleashing covid; which caused (a) the state and federal governments to pour rivers of cash into the economy to keep it ticking over; and (b) consumer discretionary spending during the various lockdowns to virtually halt, so when the incarcerations ended, the cash poured out like verbiage from Barnaby Joyce.
The problem is obvious. The RBA can do little about the price of petrol. And as long as the federal and state governments keep spending like a drunken sailor the government’s fiscal policy is going to work against the RBA.
The outcome is, of course, the RBA’s cash rate increase will mean that those nasty bank people will raise mortgage rates. So those who were, for example, paying 1.99% for a two-year fixed rate loan, will now find themselves paying about 5.3% to re-fix, or about 4.8% for a variable rate loan.
Readers know that their bank has first dibs on their income (after those even nastier people at the ATO). So, there will be a lot less cash to spend on “other things”. Those who are well-geared and not well-heeled will feel much pain.
The bad news is that Dr Lowe has indicated that at least two more rate rises are coming. Thereby matching the MFC’s record.
4 Groan. But it remains a fact. In its 2021 demolition of Footscray, Melbourne kicked an even dozen successive goals to come from three goals down to nine goals up. Game over. “It’s a grand old flag, etc…”
5 The Tenth Commandment: “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour’s.”
Greens’ anarchist turns her coat
That quiet, courteous, well-spoken Greens Senator, Lidia Thorpe has turned her coat. And left the Greens to become an ‘independent’.
Ms. Thorpe’s Canberra career reached a highpoint when she was both dating a senior outlawed bikie gang member and sitting on a Senate law enforcement committee investigating bikie gangs at the same time. She was sacked from her position as Greens deputy leader in the Senate.
She now has a job until 2028, from which she cannot be sacked by her party. Farewell to the Greens, the party that gave her the number one spot on its Senate ticket last May. That’s gratitude for you. Her voice will now be louder than any other voice.
And buyers’ remorse for the Greens. Ms. Thorpe was gifted the #1 gig ahead of the far better qualified and experienced Julian Burnside.
Wry & Dry has now settled into his Chesterfield, with a Waterford of Perrier Jouet’s finest in hand for breakfast. And wishes to make a number of points.
Firstly, with the advent of the ‘above the line’ voting system in the Senate, the seat should belong to the party identified in the group. This is because the voter gives his/her vote to the party listed ‘above the line’. And not to an individual. If Ms. Thorpe had a milligram of integrity, she would resign from the Senate.
Secondly, the Greens have been duped, its pre-selectors voting with their hearts and not their brains. But they have been campaigning on that basis since the off, so no-one should be surprised that their decision has come back to bite them.
Thirdly, as Ms Thorpe more intensely advocates for Indigenous sovereignty, focus will now increase on what many are beginning to realise. That the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to which the PM is fully committed, is not about ‘a Voice’, it is about Indigenous sovereignty. As it expressly states. Ms Thorpe is quite correct in contradicting Albo as to the actual meaning of the Uluru Statement. On this matter, Albo made the same mistake as the Greens, making a decision on how he feels, not how he thinks.
Finally, Ms. Thorpe is no longer a Trojan horse within the Greens. She’s now in the open.
Albo should be afraid. Very afraid.
There is an industry organisation that annually gives awards, called The Grammys. These are awarded for “outstanding” achievements in the music industry.
The awards were originally called Gramophone Awards, but with (a) the decline of the gramophone as a recording/playback device and (b) the inability of many Americans to pronounce a word of more than two syllables, the moniker ‘Grammy’ became popular.
The disappointment in this year’s Grammys for Wry & Dry was that a woman born Beyonce Giselle Knowles but now known as just Beyoncé broke the record for winning the highest number of Grammys with 32. Wry & Dry is not familiar with either her provenance or body of work, but understands it to be, well, noisy.
The disappointment is that Miss Knowles’ 32 Grammys surpassed the 31 won by a man born György Stern, but known as Sir Georg Solti. Solti’s body of work would be well known to many Readers, especially as conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. For Wry & Dry, his rendition of Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition6 is quite extraordinary.
Wry & Dry suspects that Solti’s legacy will much outlive that of Miss Knowles.
By the way, with the recording/playback device of choice now being digital, Wry & Dry is surprised that the name The Grammys hasn’t been replaced by The Digits.
Which would suggest… Oh, never mind.
6 The composition is based on pictures by the artist Viktor Hartmann.
Where is Bob Hawke when needed?
Former Australian PM Bob Hawke always loved an industrial disputation.7 Especially one that gave prominence to his role in solving the disputation.
His passion commenced in his role as head of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and continued when he became Prime Minister. The famous 1989 pilot’s disputation gave him a chance to show he, as PM, had lost none of his industrial disputation skills from the salad days at the ACTU. Nor his desire for publicity.8
Well, this week, tens of thousands of nurses and ambulance staff in the UK have been on strike. This follows earlier strikes by teachers, train-drivers, baggage handlers, bus drivers and postal workers. This is all about the erosion of wages in the face of high inflation.
Hawke is probably looking down from his pub in the sky at the UK’s PM, Rishi Sunak, and wishing he were in Sunak’s shoes. He would be telling St Peter that he would have the whole mess solved in a trice. And get a peerage for his work.
The problem is that this bout of UK industrial disputation hides years of neglect of productivity improvement by both Conservative and Labour governments. For example, (a) the National Health Service is burdened by not only massive bureaucracy, but also a fundamental design problem (i.e. make any service totally free then don’t be surprised by increasing excess demand); and (b) the railways have many operating conditions that existed in the days of steam.
What is surprising is not that the UK has a moderately successful economy, but that it hasn’t become a second world economy.
7 Among the Silver Bodgie’s legacies is the creation of the noun ‘disputation’, to be used instead of ‘dispute’.
8 The Australian Federation of Air Pilots had campaigned for a 29.5% pay increase. In a first, Hawke sided with the employers. The RAAF, international pilots and airlines were all called in. All striking pilots eventually lost their jobs. Hawke’s success and subsequent preening probably emboldened him to breach his secret agreement to stand down in Paul Keating’s favour.
The government’s newbie Assistant Treasurer Stephen Jones has had his, and the government’s, first black eye.
One of the more useful successes of former PM Morrisons’ reign was to require public offer superannuation funds to itemise and disclose, inter alia, donations. This was in part over concern that public offer superannuation funds were making significant donations to political parties.
One of Mr. Jones’ first actions once he had been given his parliamentary locker key was to introduce regulations to overturn the itemised disclosure rules.
But in a rare alliance, the Greens, Liberals, Nats and cross-bench Senators voted to give Mr. Jones a black eye. And disallowed the new regulations. Each for different reasons.
The Greens wanted revenge for Mr. Jones reneging on a backroom deal to fine law-breaking bankers; the Liberals because they want the world to know how much dosh industry superannuation funds give to Labor; the Nats because they think that superannuation is a form of superphosphate – which should be free from regulation; and the cross-benchers because it gave each a chance to spout that they were not a patsy of government.
The cross-benchers might now feel emboldened to flex their muscles.
Cheap places to live
Readers of Wry & Dry are well travelled and global in outlook. But the cost of living in Australia is now getting seriously damaging to their wallets and purses, if one might say that in this gender neutral world.
So, Wry & Dry was attracted to a survey published this week in the august Economist magazine. That survey ranked cities in Asia Pacific by a cost-of-living index. Opportunities abound for Readers to move to cheaper climes. Wry & Dry will not dwell on the survey’s arcane statistical and factorial underpinnings, and merely present the data.
Benchmarking the most expensive city at New York = 100, it is not surprising that Singapore tops the poll at 100, with Hong Kong not far behind at 98. Sydney comes in at third most expensive at 83 and Melbourne next at 81.
At the other end of the scale, it is entirely possible that Karachi is the cheapest city for very good reasons, although a work colleague of Wry & Dry visited it over summer and delighted in its charms. Mind you, visiting is different to living.
To Wry & Dry’s mind, Bangalore (more correctly Bengaluru) might have significant attractions to Australia: language, cricket and a growing transit system. It has reputation as both the ‘Garden City’ and ‘Silicon Valley’ of India.
So, when the mortgage rate doubles, the price of Perrier Jouet blows the budget, the level crossing upgrade causes your commuting time to double and Chairman Dan finally breaks your spirit, Wry & Dry urges Readers to consider Bangalore.
Nice work, if you can get it
“He who dies wealthy, dies in disgrace.” So said Andrew Carnegie, one of the builders of the US steel industry9, who gave away some 90% of his fortune before he died, mostly to establishing libraries around the world.
Australia’s Gina Rhinehart, who was smart enough to inherit a fortune and even smarter to grow it into something a lot bigger (i.e. Hancock Prospecting’s iron ore company, valued at some $40 billion), has started handing out $100,000 gifts to 41 of her 4,000 employees. This munificence is to celebrate her 41st year being in charge of the company.
Nice work, if you can get it.
But, to emulate Carnegie, she needs to give away about another $36 billion. And to philanthropic causes.
9 Carnegie was a canny Scot, who migrated to the US and led the expansion of the US steel industry in the latter part of the 19th century. He sold his steel company to J.P. Morgan for what would be valued at $50 billion today (surpassing John D Rockefeller for a short time as the richest American). His name is remembered in his many endowments, including Carnegie Hall, Carnegie Mellon University and Carnegie Museums.
At least 20 prisoners, believed to be jihadi militants, took advantage of the earthquake and escaped from a jail in north-west Syria.
The jail, known as the ‘Black Prison’ has about 2,000 involuntary guests, of which about 1,300 are former members of ISIS.
Never waste a crisis.
Snippets from all over
1. Hug a cow
The Animal Welfare Board of India has issued a notice appealing to people to celebrate “Cow Hug Day” on February 14 to spread “positive energy” and encourage “collective happiness.” (Hindustan Times).
Wry & Dry comments: Will the cow need to give consent?
[UK PM] Rishi Sunak has cleared the way for fighter jets to be sent to Ukraine after President Zelensky urged Britain to “give us wings” in a powerful address to parliament. (The Times)
Wry & Dry comments: Memories of “Give us the tools and we will finish the job.”10
10 “We shall not fail or falter; we shall not weaken or tire. Neither the sudden shock of battle, nor the long-drawn trials of vigilance and exertion will wear us down. Give us the tools, and we will finish the job.” Winston Churchill, UK PM, 9 February 1941, in a request to US President Roosevelt for military aid. US Congress was in the midst of debating the now famous Lend-Lease scheme for military aid. Most Republicans voted against the legislation in each house, but Roosevelt’s Democrats prevailed. He signed the legislation on 11 March 1941.
3. Europe (and Australia) bans Russian diesel in order to weaken Putin
The European Union (EU), together with the G7 countries and Australia… are banning the import of refined Russian oil products, mainly diesel but also kerosene, fuel oil and heating oil. (Le Monde)
Wry & Dry comments: This is different to the oil embargo, as Europe is more dependent on Russia for these oil derivatives than it is on oil itself.
4A. Google enters AI chatbot race…
[Monday] Google has produced its rival to ChatGPT as the battle for the future of internet search comes to a head. (The Times)
Wry & Dry comments: Google’s chat bot is named ‘Bard’. But it’s not yet out of the box, or even ready to be put in the box.
4B. …but Microsoft integrates an AI chatbot first…
[Tuesday] Microsoft is integrating the technology behind the viral chatbot ChatGPT into its Bing search engine, hoping the artificial intelligence upgrade can help it chip away at Google’s dominance of the search market. (Wall Street Journal)
Wry & Dry comments: For the first time, Google’s dominance of internet search will be challenged. The ‘New Bing’ has been four years in the making.
4C …and Google’s shares tumble
[Wednesday] Shares of Google parent Alphabet closed almost 8 per cent lower on Wednesday, wiping billions of dollars off its market value. (Financial Times)
Wry & Dry comments: Wall Street digested the potential damage to Google’s search dominance (and hence profits) from a new artificial intelligence battle with Microsoft.
5. Tsar Vlad’s budget update
Russia’s budget deficit reached Rbs1.76tn ($25bn) in January as the Kremlin boosted defence spending and western sanctions began to hit the country’s oil and gas revenue. (Financial Times).
Wry & Dry comments: Year-on-year oil and gas revenue fell 46% and expenditure rose 59%. See below for charts on Germany’s declining dependence from Russia (source: www.spiegel.de).
6. ABT (Anyone But Trump)
The US donor network led by billionaire industrialist Charles Koch has signalled it will oppose Donald Trump’s bid to secure the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. (New York Times)
Wry & Dry comments: But the Trumpster knows where other deep pockets are.
- The RBA raised its base cash interest rate by 0.25% points, to 3.35%.
And, to soothe your troubled mind…
“Hey, did anyone lose a big white balloon? We have found it.”
- Myrtle Beach Visitors Center, Twitter account.
What they didn’t say was that the balloon was shredded.
PS The comments in Wry & Dry do not necessarily reflect those of First Samuel, its Directors or Associates.