WRY & DRY #27: Tsar Vlad’s Butcher’s Bill. Sleepy Joe’s train ride. Grim Jim’s super Trojan horse.

Enjoy Wry & Dry: a cynical and irreverent blend of politics, economics and life.

Five stories you may have missed

  1. Tsar Vlad’s butcher’s bill.
  2. Sleepy Joe caught a train, in Ukraine, not flying, on the plane.
  3. Grim Jim’s super Trojan horse, but Albo is an honourable man.
  4. Naplan’s winners are children of non-English speaking migrants.
  5. Tsar Vlad’s economy: boosted by allies.
  6. Blackouts will return: bring out the treadmills.

Tsar Vlad’s butcher’s bill

Twelve months ago today, Tsar Vlad told his lads to park their tanks on a neighbour’s lawn.

The problem was that the neighbour got grumpy; showed spirit; had some powerful friends (who took a little time to see that it was not only Ukraine’s problem but their problem as well); and Tsar Vlad’s well-oiled military machine was found to be, well, an embarrassment.

A 56-kilometre single file of Russian tanks and trucks stuck in a traffic jam on the road to Kyiv would have been comical if not for its deadly purpose.1

Over 200,000 Russian and over 100,000 Ukrainian troops have been killed or injured.2 Some 7,200 Ukrainian civilians have been killed and 12,000 injured.3

The current cost of reconstruction and recovery is estimated to be over US$349 billion.4

Some 46 countries have provided US$107 billion in humanitarian and military aid.5

All of this to sate Tsar Vlad’s ego. How will it end?

Ukraine’s leader wants Russia expelled from all of Ukraine, including Crimea. That won’t work unless Ukraine attacks Russia, which it will not.

Channelling Stalin, Tsar Vlad will keep throwing bodies at Ukraine. Time is on his side. But he knows he cannot take much more of Ukraine than he already has. Outcome = stalemate.

The stalemate will morph into a negotiated peace and a De-Militarised Zone, whereby Russia keeps Crimea and some small parts of eastern Ukraine. And Ukraine joins the EU. But that is a long way off.

And Tsar Vlad? He will proclaim victory. Then die in office.

1 The battle plan was that the first battalion cross into Ukraine at 04:00 am on 24 February, and then advance straight to Kyiv arriving by 14:55. But the 1,000 tanks; 2,400 mechanised infantry vehicles; 10,000 troops and hundreds of supply trucks got stuck in the winter mud and had to use paved roads. Four weeks later, the convey was gone; either blown up or backed up.

2Source: Estimate by Norwegian Chief of Defense (January 2023).

3 Source: United Nations Human Rights Commission (6 February 2023).

4 Source: A joint report of the World Bank, the European Commission and the Government of Ukraine (9 September 2022).

5 Source: Kiel Institute (20 November 2022).

Sleepy Joe’s train ride

Sleepy Joe decided to visit Kyiv this week to get another stamp in his passport. The problem, how to get there? And back.

Flying Air Force One was, well, too risky.6 Those nasty Russians might fire a rocket.

Sailing Navy One would be too slow. And he might get seasick. The last president to throw up whilst abroad lost the subsequent presidential election.7

Which left public transport. Yes, a US president taking a common, or garden-, variety train. It might have been a bit old. And it was a 10-hour, overnight 800-kilometre train ride from Poland.

He must have got a special deal: the usual trip takes 12 hours. But it is cheap, usually costing locals about A$42, but a first-class seat cost about A$112.

Sleepy Joe arrived in Kyiv, had his passport stamped, took a few photos on his box Brownie camera and met some locals. Err, locals? And then re-boarded the Midnight Express to return to Poland.

6 Sleepy Joe actually left Air Force One behind, taking an anonymous USAF B-757 from Washington to Rzeszow–Jasionka Airport in Poland.

7George H Bush (i.e. Senior) became the first American president to throw up over the prime minister of Japan. It was at a state banquet in Japan, in January 1992. His public image suffered, and he was flogged by Willy Clinton in the 1992 presidential election.

Grim Jim’s superannuation Trojan horse gets lame

“We’ve said that we have no intention of making any super changes.”

So said Albo during the election campaign, when Leader of the Opposition. Wry & Dry believed Albo. After all, he is an honourable man.8

It’s not even 12 months later and the reality of the government’s money running out has dawned.

Treasurer Grim Chalmers announced on Monday that his government will legislate to give superannuation an objective. Woolly words such as “…to preserve savings, to deliver income for a dignified retirement…in an equitable and sustainable way” surfaced.

Readers will know that Grim’s announcement was a Trojan Horse to, among other things, change the superannuation tax regime.

Wry & Dry feels compelled to make a number of points.

One: the federal Treasury and the ATO believe that if it moves, it should be taxed. And if it doesn’t move it should also be taxed. Or more taxed. Superannuation is in the latter basket. Blend this with a government that is running out of money, then Readers should not be surprised at the fuss.

Two: there’s nothing wrong with cleaning up the obvious superannuation rorts that exist. But perhaps it’s unwise to tell voters one thing in an election campaign and then do the opposite less than 12 months later.

Three: the media and opposition have conflated two quite separate issues, although both involve superannuation.

The first is that Grim sees superannuation as low hanging fruit to co-invest with government in his various ‘nation building’ projects. These would be at the expense of the primacy of investment returns for the sole benefit of the investor. “Tell ‘im he’s dreamin’.”

The second is that superannuation is a tax-advantaged retirement-investment vehicle, that has provided, for ‘some’, too much tax-advantage. Grim wants the ‘some’ to pay more tax.

Grim said yesterday that he is considering a $3m cap on a person’s superannuation account. Err, how would this work? Consider just three examples of many problems:

  1. If those with more than $3m in superannuation had to withdraw the excess, would that excess be subject to CGT?
  2. What if the superannuation account has a major investment of real estate, would the property have to be sold? You cannot sell a lounge room.
  3. What if market forces caused the portfolio balance to fall sharply after exceeding $3m and the excess had been withdrawn, would the investor be able to top up? And claim back the transaction costs?

Four: Albo, on retirement, would currently be eligible for a pension of about $416,000 p.a. Assuming he lives for another 25 years after retiring and applying an IRR of 7%, that equals a superannuation fund balance of $5.1m. But Albo, like many public servants and politicians, will be exempt from any cap on the balance in their superannuation account as their scheme is ‘defined benefit’. And there is no capital balance to cap. “One rule for them, another for me.”

Grim has shown that he lives in a world of theory. Not the world in which we-the-taxpayers/ investors want a Treasurer to inhabit.

His superannuation Trojan horse has gone lame.

8 “And Brutus is an honourable man…” Shakespeare brilliantly used Marc Antony’s repetition of Brutus being an honourable man in his famous “Friends, Romans, countrymen, lend me your ears” speech from Julius Caesar. This is in response to Brutus’ speech where he justifies killing Caesar because of his ambition. Antony’s references to Brutus as an honourable man subtly and ingeniously show that Brutus is anything but honourable, while also serving to show that Caesar was not the ambitious man Brutus had painted him to be.

Children of migrant families excel

Australia has a nationwide school exam for children in years 3, 5, 7 and 9. It is called Naplan9. The purpose of Naplan is to track educational success across time and across schools.

Mission accomplished: Naplan has successfully tracked the ongoing decline in Australian educational standards.

But, importantly, there is some very good news. For example, in the top 10 achieving schools in Chairman Dan’s Republic, between 60% and 90% of students were from non-English speaking backgrounds.

Good grief. Hats off to these migrant children.

So, does this mean that parents of these children devote more care and attention to their children than native English speakers? Or are these children just more intelligent?

9 National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy. Introduced by then Education Minister Julia Gillard in 2008.

Russia’s economy has not fallen over

Contrary to many experts’ opinions (and to Wry & Dry’s), Tsar Vlad’s economy has not fallen over. Forecasts of a 10% fall in GDP for 2022 have missed the mark. Tsar Vlad announced a 2022 outcome of -2.4%.

Why is it so?

Well, exports have boomed. To some countries. For example, imports from Russia by China were expected to sharply increase. But the greatest increase in Russian imports has come from India (mostly oil) and Hungary.

The UK, Canada and Australia have reduced their imports from Russia to virtually zero.

When workplace safety gets ridiculous

It’s 12 months since Tsar Vlad invaded Ukraine. And 67 of the 81 diplomatic missions that left Kyiv immediately following the invasion have now reopened. Including those of the USA, UK and Canada.

But not Australia’s. The Reason? The Workplace Health and Safety Act.

“The security situation in Ukraine, and Kyiv in particular remains complex [and] challenging – it hasn’t improved,” says Jan Adams, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Secretary.

So, if Albo wanted to visit Ukraine, he would be welcomed by the Canadian ambassador. Or perhaps the US ambassador. Or the British ambassador.

It seems that the flag flying over 13A Kostelna Street, Kyiv 01901 is not one with the Southern Cross:

Government in action

Victoria Police have discovered that its security cameras are Chinese. And hence there was a risk that someone in Beijing might see dark secrets. So, it has been decided that VicPol will replace all Chinese made cameras.

And this morning VicPol announced that it “will replace all Chinese-made cameras by the end of next year.”

How is that for speed? Another 20 months of free streaming for the lads in Beijing.

Bring out the treadmill

Blackouts are on the way.

Or so said the Australian Energy Market Operator last weekend. Five coal-fired power stations are expected to shut in the next 7 years, with energy ‘reliability gaps’ appearing in two years in New South Wales and in three years in Victoria.

The AEMO’s CEO said that, “Urgent and ongoing investment in renewable energy, long-duration storage and transmission is needed to reliably meet demand from Australian homes and businesses.”

But, Readers, don’t panic. Into the deep end has waded the federal energy minister, the purposeful Chris Bowen. He said that the operator was not suggesting Australians should expect blackouts in future. 

Hold the phone. That is exactly what he said.

Now wait for the blame game to emerge, once the lights go out.

Update: Minister Bowen hasn’t changed the goal posts, just how to get there. Well, not yet anyway. Changing his mind on gas as a transition energy source, he effectively said yesterday that it would be: “…For the entire grid, having gas there at least as a fallback is pretty important for the foreseeable future.”

The Minister has a problem: how to slash fossil fuel emissions by 43% and increase the share of renewables in the grid to 82%. All in 84 months.

The Man From Snowy River

Croesus ‘The Man From Snowy River’ Turnbull did some good things. Err, well, okay. It’s a maybe. And, yes, it remains arguable whether his Snowy 2.0 answer to the question about the energy crisis was a good thing.10

Y’see, the problem with large projects is that there is always a big gap between The Vision and The Build.

Chairman Dan’s Suburban Underground Rail Loop is a case in point: a 90-kilometre $50 billion project is now a $50 billion plus project for just the first 22 kilometres, and the first sod has only just been turned.

Wry & Dry has weighed Croesus Turnbull’s Snowy 2.0 project. And found it wanting. Consider:

  • Completion time was 4 years. Is now 12+ years.
  • Cost was $2 billion. Is now $20 billion.
  • Taxpayer contribution was $0. Is now $1.4 billion.

And most embarrassingly, reports suggest that most of the electricity needed to pump the water back uphill for Snowy 2.0 will come from coal-fired power stations, not renewables. Worse still, albeit being a battery, Snowy 2.0 will be a net consumer of electricity, not a generator, with ‘round-trip’ losses of 30%, plus another 10% for transmission.

Sigh. Another nation building project turned to custard. Perhaps, there was another way to solve the energy crisis…

10 Snowy 2.0 is a project to modify the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme to capture energy from “pumped hydro”. Two existing dams will be linked by a 27-kilometre underground tunnel and a new underground power station. This will allow water to be pumped and re-used – because it will flow through the turbines twice.

Woke editing

The death hand of wokeism has again been raised. This time by a British publisher, Puffin Books (part of Penguin). Puffin hired ‘sensitivity readers’ to review Roald Dahl’s children’s books.

And in a triumph for wokes, words such as ‘fat’ and ‘ugly’ have been excised and gender neutrality has emerged, ‘small men’ are now ‘small people’.

Wry & Dry suggests that the sensitivity police at Puffin write to the French government, demanding changes to the La Marseillaise, the French national anthem. Perhaps:

Arise, children of the Fatherland Peopleland
Our day of glory sharing has arrived
Against us the bloody flag nasty sign of tyranny unfair thoughts
is raised; the bloody flag nasty sign is raised.

Do you hear, in the countryside
The roar of those ferocious friendly soldiers peace keepers?
They’re coming right into your arms
To cut the throats of ask your sons children, your women birthing people to leave!

To arms negotiate, citizens!
Form your battalions discussion groups
Let’s march talk, let’s march talk
That their impure blood bad thoughts
Should water our fields.

Snippets from all over

1. The British paint, sure can

Four people have been arrested after a campaign group painted a Ukrainian flag on the road outside the Russian Embassy in London. (UK Telegraph).

Wry & Dry comments:  Modern art; so evocative.

2. Iran’s currency collapses

Iran has introduced fresh restrictions on foreign currency sales after a rush on euros and dollars weakened the rial to an all-time low of 500,000 against the dollar. (Bloomberg)

Wry & Dry comments: That should boost tourism.

3. Vegan students

Cambridge University students have voted to push for a completely vegan menu across its catering services. (UK Telegraph)

Wry & Dry comments: …which will lead to a great business opportunity in Cambridge.

4. M Macron backs Russian defeat not crushing

French President Emmanuel Macron said in an interview that he wanted Russia to be defeated in its war with Ukraine, but not “crushed”. (Le Monde)

Wry & Dry comments: Two bob euro each way?

5. Turkey

As Turkish authorities grapple with the agony of a mounting death toll from the deadliest earthquake in a century, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is confronting a parallel crisis: the disaster’s blow to an economy that was already in urgent need of repair. (New York Times)

Wry & Dry comments: Sultan Erdogans policies have led to an annual inflation rate of 58% (down from 85% in November).

6. ‘Ardship

The Duke of York fears that he will be forced out of his luxury home in Windsor if the King tightens the royal purse strings. (The Times)

Wry & Dry comments: Pizza Express in Woking is hiring.

Wry & Dry’s fact checker in the UK advises that Prince Andrew:

  • rents (paid up-front £7.5 million for refurbishments and another £1 million for a 75-year lease from the Crown Estate, no provision for a rent review) a 30-room Georgian mansion, set in 40 hectares
  • has an income of £249,000 a year tax-free from the sovereign, for performing royal duties (which he no longer does)
  • has a navy pension of £20,000 a year
  • sold his former marital home (a gift from the Queen) for £15 million
  • sold his ski chalet for £19 million (bought for £13 million)

Nice work, if you can get it.


  1. Australia’s wages grew at 3.3% in 2022, the highest outcome since 2012.
  2. UK consumer confidence rose by 7 points, to -38.

And, to soothe your troubled mind…

“We should give him a little box to stand on.”

  • Chairman Dan, speaking of Opposition Leader John Pesutto, during question time.

A sad example of the reality of Dan Andrews.

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


Anthony Starkins

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