Whilst enjoying your Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque…
Nightmare in Canberra
Nightmares still populate Wry & Dry’s sleep. Whilst the whole world awaits Albo’s Jobs and Skills Summit (starting next Thursday), Wry & Dry’s mind is cast back to the Ruddster1. And the last big talkfest held by a prime minister.
That was the Ruddster’s Australia 2020 Summit in 2008. As many as 1002 delegates were formed into 10 working groups of 100 each2, to discuss 10 critical policy areas3. The Ruddster was clearly a decimalist.
The planning of the event reflected the Ruddster’s own organisational ability, being scheduled over the first two nights of Passover and having just one woman on the 11-member organisational committee4.
The summit’s report was released two years later, with 138 recommendations. The Ruddster rejected 135 of them.
The Australia 2020 Summit mirrored the Ruddster’s term in office. Much rhetoric, but nothing happened.
Albo will no doubt be hoping for maximum media coverage for his summit next week. But it is being held on the same days as the first two days of the AFL finals.
1 Kevin Rudd is in the pantheon of incompetent Australian prime ministers. His removal from office by Julia Gillard began a sequence of four subsequent prime ministers who would all be removed by their own party before completing a full term: Rudd, Gillard, Abbott, Turnbull.
2 Wry & Dry guesses that the last two delegates spent the time in the Member’s Bar at parliament house.
3 Productivity, economy, sustainability, rural, health & ageing, communities, indigenous, creative, governance, security.
4 Actress Cate Blanchett.
Greece is baaaack!
Readers will remember but want to forget the Euro-crisis caused by Greece 12 years ago.
2009 was the year when it looked as though Greece would cause the collapse of the European banking system, especially some large German and French banks.
Greece leads the world in a number of areas, with tax evasion and public accounts’ obfuscation near the top of the list. It started (accelerated, perhaps) when Greece sought admission to the euro. The EU’s (then) strict budgetary requirements were no problem at all for the master pencil-and-eraser bureaucrats in Athens.
Of course, borrowing costs for both the government and private companies fell considerably with the replacement of the drachma with the euro. And so the lads loaded up their respective balance sheets.
Then came the GFC. The tide went out, and Greece was fiscally as naked as an ancient Greek Olympian. And then someone peered more closely at the books. In 2008, Greek’s budget deficit was 15% of GDP instead of the supposed 3% in 2001.
Between 2004 and 2009 government expenditure rose by 87% whilst tax revenues rose by 31%.
The story gets worse. The shortened version is that there were EU and IMF bailouts, promises of reform made, etc, etc. And finally, 12 years later, EU fiscal supervision of Greece has ended. Germany, in particular, is much relieved.
But monitoring will continue until the last bailout loans are repaid. And that is in 2070.
Germany: no gas?
It might be that it will be a long, cold winter in Germany.
Tsar Vlad has the German economy squeezed in his energy-vice, as he further reduces gas supplies to it. Germany is obliged to cut its gas consumption by 15% as required under EU rules. But actually needs to cut by 20% to make it through winter without shortages.
Offices will be heated to only 19 degrees, instead of the normal 20 degrees. ‘Ardship. Neon lights will be switched off after 10pm. Private swimming pools cannot be heated. Public buildings will dispense only cold water.
The Germans are tough folk, though. Just think of those blokes wearing lederhosen. Wearing a few more layers isn’t exactly more ‘ardship. The big issue is for German industry.
And it’s not the auto industry (Mercedes says it can reduce its gas consumption by 50%). It’s the chemical (e.g. BASF), aluminium, glassmaking, copper smelting and paper industries. If gas rationing is introduced (more than the 20% required) the German economy will probably sink into the mud.
But Readers shouldn’t underestimate the ability of Germans to manage hardship efficiently. Half the country lived as a vassal state of Russia for 40 years until 1990.
Politics: Finnish style
How is it Finland gets a leader who understands serious fun and dances the night away?5
And Australia gets one leader whose idea of serious fun is quaffing beer in a pub or another whose is singing the praises of the Lord on camera?
Spot the odd one out:
5 Ms. Marin was photographed enthusiastically dancing at a private party. One of the guests kindly posted the photos on social media. In response, the world split into two halves (is there any other kind) or, to use a modern word, went binary. Predictably. She’s tougher than she looks – look at the way she has pushed back Tsar Vlad.
Albo under pressure
Albo was doing so well.
But now the pressure is coming from all angles. Albo wants to seem presidential and above the fray. But all around him, the ideologues are baying. And the wheels will begin to wobble:
Quintuple-headed Hydra6. According to the Financial Review this morning, the problem uppermost in Australians’ minds is the cost of living. Then follows the economy, housing, etc through 10 issues. And when asked on an unprompted basis, it was the same. An inquiry into former PM Morrison’s quintuple-headed ministry misadventure doesn’t get a guernsey. Surely better to ignore the ideologues and focus on what matters. And just put in sensible rules to ensure secret multiple ministries don’t again happen.
Nation building. Melbourne-Brisbane Inland Railway (aka National Party pork) or Ord River Scheme anybody? Former PM Keating and those on his left want to tap the magic pudding of superannuation funds to invest in ‘nation building projects’. Surely better to tell Treasurer Grim Chalmers to get a grip and ensure that superannuation assets are used only for the financial benefit of investors?
Industrial relations. Workplace Relations’ Minister Burke has given the ACTU’s plan for a return to industry-wide bargaining a run. Albo should have told him to slap it down out of hand as being a prehensile idea. In the 1980s industry-wide bargaining set back productivity gains made over 30 years.
Time for Albo to get some dirt on his hands.
6 By definition, a Hydra is multiheaded. It’s from Greek mythology.
Technology: that ain’t a drone
Whilst successive Australian governments have been faffing around with submarines, frigates and other military equipment worth untold billions, a cheaper weapon has arisen.
This is real. It’s a drone called a Black Hornet and costs about $20,000. Each is about 16cm long, has a range of about 1.5km, night vision, a flight time of 25 minutes, is virtually silent and carries three cameras.
Built in Norway, 850 of the little fellas have been gifted by Borisconi to Ukraine. 7
Wry & Dry thinks there is real export opportunity here for Australia. Think of all the drones in politics. Federal, state and local governments are full of them.
7 Readers may also wish to research the Turkish built Bayraktar drone, a more lethal device: Fast, Cheap, Deadly
Musk v Twitter
A ‘whistleblower has come to the rescue of Elon Musk.
Readers will recall that Mr. Musk, the founder, Chairman, President, CEO and everything else at Tesla decided that he wanted to buy Twitter (apparently a social media outlet much used by the Trumpster).
Trouble was, that after Mr. Musk made his binding bid (for $44 billion), Twitter’s share price turned to custard in the market rout in June and later (reducing the company’s value to about $28 billion).
Mr. Musk did what any American entrepreneur would do. Walk away from the deal.
Twitter did what any American company would do. Lawyer-up.
Now a whistle-blower has lodged an 84-page complaint with Congress, alleging all sorts of dastardly deeds by Twitter. These deeds might prick Twitter’s balloon.
Mr. Musk is doing high fives with all of his children8. But his lawyers are aggrieved, as their brief may be significantly shorter than planned. And the second ski lodge in Switzerland may be put on ice, as it were.
8 Of which there are at least nine: Griffin, Vivian, Kai, Saxon, Damian, XAE A-XII, Exa Dark Siderael and twins born in 2021 the names of whom are not yet known.
Unclear on the concept
Sleepy Joe woke up one morning this week and decided that the government will forgive student debt of up to $10,000 per student whose income is less than $125,000 p.a.9 Total cost to They-The-US-Taxpayers: over $400 billion.
With the US university graduate unemployment rate of 2.9% and a debt forgiveness income ceiling of $125,000, Sleepy Joe might be accused of vote buying ahead of the upcoming mid-term elections. Well, in fact, he is.
Three points to make.
Firstly, Readers will remember that past Australian governments gave massive annual subsidies to Australian car manufacturers. The subsidies went up each year until they got to about $600m p.a. The outworking of this was the manufacturers eagerly increased their costs each year by the increase in subsidies. And the car makers pocketed the loot.
So it will be in the US, as universities put up their fees to match the Sleepy Joe’s largesse.
Secondly, the $300 billion will be paid for by those who didn’t go to university, have repaid their debt or chose lower cost school to avoid a debt trap.
Thirdly, this is the most expensive peacetime executive action by a president ever. Spending $300 billion doesn’t have to go through Congress. Good grief.
This is Sleepy Joe’s worst domestic decision.
9 Australia’s university fees and borrowing arrangements are a little different to those in the US. Graduates in Australia start repaying the student debt once their income exceeds about $47,000. At that level, 1% of the outstanding loan is repayable each year. The repayment amount increases as salary increases, hitting 10% p.a. for income greater than about $138,000. Repayments are automatic and made via the tax system, graduates do not have to take any action. In the US, repayment is like paying off a car loan, monthly and the borrower makes the payment.
Medicine: a new disorder
Readers may recall that former Australian Olympic swimmer Scott Miller10 was recently arrested in Sydney for trafficking ‘ice’11. A mere 4 kilograms of the drug. He was also charged with a myriad of other offences.
At his trial, his lawyers will argue that he was suffering from ‘post-elite sport depression‘.12
Of course, it’s a well-known fact that the cure for post-elite sport depression is…
- supplying a prohibited drug
- dealing with property proceeds of crime
- participating in a criminal group contributing to criminal activity
- manufacturing or producing a prohibited drug
- conspiring to commit an offence
- knowingly directing activities of a criminal group
- knowingly taking part in manufacturing or producing a prohibited drug…
…all of which Miller seems to have tried with the energy he applied when he swam 100m using the butterfly stroke.
10 Miller won silver and bronze in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. He was defeated in the 100m butterfly final by Russian Denis Pankratov, who employed the ‘submarine’ technique of swimming underwater. Which he did for 40m of the 100m. The technique had been banned for breaststrokers and backstrokers. His then world record was later broken by Michael Klim.
11 Crystal methamphetamine is a stimulant drug, which means it speeds up the messages travelling between the brain and the body. It’s stronger, more addictive and therefore has more harmful side effects than the powder form of methamphetamine known as speed. Ice usually comes as small chunky clear crystals that look like ice.
12 Post-elite sport depression is actually now a widely observed ailment. Athletes such as Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps and Andrew Flintoff have made their depression public. Miller’s behaviour, however, seems to have gone outside the square.
“…of droughts and flooding rains.”
But it’s not this sunburned country that is in drought. Wry & Dry’s garden is so waterlogged that Mrs. Wry & Dry has planted rice.
On the other side of the globe, the rains refuse to come. And it’s been a field year for sleuths, archaeologists and history buffs. Consider what has been revealed as rivers and lakes run dry:
- ‘Hunger stones’ etched along the banks of central Europe’s rivers with inscriptions dating back centuries, and generally offering the same message to future generations: “If the water is low enough for you to read this, prepare for pain.”
- More than 20 Nazi warships, laden with explosives, were uncovered in Serbia as the Danube fell to its lowest level in nearly 100 years
- Across Italy’s shrinking river system, ruins of ancient civilisations have been discovered, including a bridge that may have been built by the Roman emperor Nero
- In the parched Yangtze River in China, three Buddhist statues believed to be 600 years old were found
- Five sets of human remains have been found as Lake Mead dries up in the Southwest US. Some of the bodies are tied to mob activity in Las Vegas decades ago.
It’s all about La Nina, apparently.
Habits: “Of all the [……] in all the towns in all the world…”
When tennis player Nick Kyrgios asked the umpire to eject a spectator, claiming she “looks like she’s had about 700 drinks” (she was ejected), he thought that would be the end of the matter.
Nuh. Mr. Kyrgios is now probably saying, “Of all tennis games in all the towns in all the world, she had to walk into mine.”13
‘She’ is a lawyer, with a desire to seek ‘vindication’ for her “very substantial damage and distress.”
So, she lawyered-up herself and has brought defamation proceedings. And lots of publicity.
13 “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she has to walk into mine.” Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart), speaking when Ilsa Lund (Ingrid Bergman), his former girlfriend, walks into his bar in Casablanca. Arguably the greatest of all movies.
With Tsar Vlad’s invasion of Ukraine now at its six-month timestone (milestone?), Wry & Dry provides Readers who might have Ukraine-fatigue with a serious update.
1. Operationally: stalemate. While Tsar Vlad initially claimed large chunks of new territory in eastern Ukraine, neither side has been able to make advances. In recent weeks, Ukraine has launched attacks on military sites in Tsar-Vlad-held Crimea, flexing its ability to hit targets behind the front lines and bringing the war closer to home than many Russians had anticipated.
2. Economically: Tsar Vlad’s Tsardom is holding up…for now. Following Tsar Vlad’s invasion, Western countries mounted a unified response to cut Russia out of the global economy and cripple its finances.
Freezing of oligarchs’ assets has been the most publicised Western action but least effective. Tsar Vlad doesn’t care. Whining mates are not going to change his mind.
Financial sanctions have been only a little more effective. Measures to avoid using Swift (the international payments system) have exploded for all but large transactions. And as long as Tsar Vlad can stash his oil and gas revenues, all’s well.
Trade restrictions (excluding oil and gas) have been the most effective measure. The most crucial has been the ban on exporting of semiconductor chips and other electronic components. It will take time for this to work through the economy. The most obvious example was in May, when Tsar Vlad eased safety standards to allow for the production of cars without airbags and antilock brakes.
As The Economist sort-of commented, Tsar Vlad is getting a one-way economic ticket to nowhere.
Looking ahead…the next six months of the war will hinge on whether Ukraine can muster a counteroffensive in the south, winning back territory and proving to the West that it’s deserving of even more military aid.
Snippets from all over
1. Out of appeals and in jail
Malaysia’s disgraced former prime minister, Najib Razak, had his appeal against a 12-year sentence upheld. He had been sentenced for, inter alia, looting over US$1 billion from a Malaysian-government development agency. (Various).
Wry & Dry comments: Thereby showing that ex-heads of government can end up in the slammer. Be afraid, Trumpster. Be very afraid.
2. Colonial exploitation
Golf balls were the product of colonial exploitation, according to the University of St Andrews – with the game “imposed” around the world by the British Empire. (UK Telegraph)
Wry & Dry comments: Apparently cricket was also exploitive. Really?
3. Ford gets out the razor
Ford said it was cutting 3,000 jobs, mostly in the US, because it needed to slash costs for its $50 billion pivot to electric vehicles. (New York Times)
Wry & Dry comments: Expect the others on Motown (Motor Town i.e. Detroit) to do the same.
[UK] Inflation is set to peak at above 18% early next year after the latest jump in energy prices, according to an economist at the US bank Citigroup. (The Times)
Wry & Dry comments: A gutsy call. And if the economist in the frame gets it wrong, will he plead that the facts had changed and therefore so would his forecast?
5. Dating apps
Tinder is struggling to attract younger users who are starting to abandon the world’s dominant dating app, as Generation Z singles prefer hotter new services (Financial Times).
Wry & Dry comments: This is a market with which Wry & Dry has zero familiarity – and therefore he makes no comment. And what is Z Generation? A power station located in Zimbabwe, or perhaps Zambia?
6. Tsar Vlad needs more soldiers
President Vladimir V. Putin… ordered a sharp increase in the size of his armed forces, a reversal of years of efforts by the Kremlin to slim down a bloated military and the latest sign that the Russian president, despite heavy battlefield losses, is bracing for a long war in Ukraine. (New York Times).
Wry & Dry comments: The decree raised the target number of active-duty service members by about 137,000, to 1.15 million, as of January of next year. Tsar Vlad has no plans to retreat.
- Russia’s GDP fell 4% year to end June. No-one believes it.
- The German economy grew slightly in the June quarter, by 0.1%.
- China has cut two key lending rates, to revive an ailing economy.
- The euro slumped to its lowest level against the dollar since 2002, to $0.9934.
And, to soothe your troubled mind…
“We’re not happy with operational performance”
- Alan Joyce, CEO of Qantas, releasing its third huge successive loss and pondering the airline’s shambolic punctuality and service.
Neither are your customers, Mr. Joyce.
PS The comments in Wry & Dry do not necessarily reflect those of First Samuel, its Directors or Associates.