Matt Yglesias made a recent attempt to put the Hillary Clinton e-mail scandal of the 2016 election to bed. I have to say that I generally agree that this shouldn’t be as huge a story as it is, but he goes too far IMO for the reasons outlined below.
1) I’m concerned that the message people will take from this is “don’t admit you did anything wrong.”
2) “If she wanted ready access to both her email accounts, she would need to carry two smartphones. As any reporter in Washington knows, this indignity was in fact visited upon a huge number of DC denizens for many years. … Clinton decided to do something about it.” Ehh, come on. This is the kind of thing many people hate – not about Clinton, but about her surrogates (which then becomes hatred of Clinton). Their daily lives require a level of effort and hoop-jumping that is hard to state clearly in a blog post, but when the excuse for not following the rules that they routinely go to jail or get fired for not following is “I had to have two cell phones and it was too hard so I just didn’t” it comes off as particularly out of touch.
3) “Hillary Clinton — who is, again, his wife — also set herself up with an account on the same server. This is a bit unusual, but a lot about being married to a former president is unusual. What it’s not is suspicious.”
Okay, but again, it’s not like out of this world that people who already have trouble with trusting her – mostly because they have trouble with trusting her husband, which is a whole other post but still a reality – would find it to be suspicious, and telling them there’s no reason to be suspicious in whatever “shut ’em down” method the author seems to prefer would come off as pedantic and I’m glad she didn’t do it.
4) “I’d be left juggling phones and looking like an idiot, exactly how federal employees tended to look in the heyday of the double-fisting phones era. I would not want to do that. Colin Powell did not want to do that. Hillary Clinton did not want to do that. Because that would be terrible.”
The idea that rules were bent to avoid looking stupid is a troubling one, and it’s a kind of blindness that a lot of Democrats have that they don’t even notice when they attack Trump supporters for being blindly faithful to him. [Disclaimer to all: I am not a Trump supporter and I am voting for Hillary.] Sometimes being a government employee is a bad gig, sometimes it isn’t the West Wing; deal with it. Your lives are easier than nearly 100% of the world’s population. Even the use of “terrible” to describe a workplace annoyance is another example of the above-mentioned inability to understand what most people go through every day. Ask a guy negotiating a belt full of electronic monitoring tools while balancing on the rung of a telephone pole how “awkward” it must be to have a whopping two cell phones that you maybe need to get through your day.
5) “There are two possible interpretations here. One is that Clinton hatched the private email account plan as an elaborate dodge of federal record-keeping laws, but then months before the public became aware of the server’s existence complied with requests to turn them over. The other is that the federal records rule on the book was antiquated and a bit absurd, requiring officials to turn over paper copies of emails for no good reason, and simply got ignored out of sloppiness.”
Sloppiness. It’s at this point that the people who keep talking about this story have some weight on their side. Yes, vis-a-vis Donald Trump the idea of Hillary Clinton being “sloppy” is far more appealing, but it’s hard to say that not wanting your public officials to ignore rules due to “sloppiness” is not a legitimate concern when voting for president. For many it’s not just hard; it’s a dereliction of duty. People shouldn’t demean that impulse too easily, because it again displays the reason why so many Trump supporters so virulently hate Clinton supporters: You treat them like they’re idiots, when in fact they have real, sincere concerns.

Yglesias has a good point in that this story has received too much coverage. However, I don’t think the response should be to call bullshit on all of it. The appropriate response accurately points to the things Secretary Clinton did wrong, admits them as such, and then puts them in context. Yglesisas’s response may seem like an effort at that but it ignores so much that it comes off as a “yeah but whatever” response to anyone who doesn’t already agree with him. And in many of the ways I pointed to above, I feel like it displays an arrogance and a disconnect with working people that could be the death of the Democratic Party.

All that said, go eat your peas and vote against Donald Trump this Tuesday.

 

Continuing my pointless “I got the day off” wikileaks search for info on U.S. investment in Brazil’s oil industry, I found this classified cable on August 2005 meetings between Brazilian and U.S. trade representatives. Of particular note is the section on trade liberalization — specifically, a comment made by a mining magnate that was present:

Roger Agnelli of mining giant CVRD observed that Brazil and the U.S. have complementary economies that would stand to gain substantially from integration.

I wondered why he would even be there, so I looked up Agnelli and it turns out that in addition to the iron-ore business CVRD (now known as Vale), he also sat on the board of Petrobas, Brazil’s state-assisted oil company, and on Anadarko’s Global Advisory Board. Master Caution followers of the last few hours (all zero of you) will remember that Anadarko was one of the companies present at the 2008 meeting between U.S. oil companies and the Ambassador to Brazil that kicked off my interest in this subject in the first place.

That 2008 meeting, which took place just days after the price of oil topped $100 for the first time, also took place in a time of exciting oil discovery off the Atlantic Coast of Brazil. Two weeks later, Petrobas would announce the discovery of another enormous natural gas and oil condensate field nearby in the Atlantic, and energy pundits would wonder aloud in the coming months whether Brazil’s reserves would create a petroleum-independent Western Hemisphere.

“Pre-salt oil is like a pretty woman on a dance floor full of men,” Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Brazil’s president, put it bluntly. “Everybody wants a go.”

Flash forward to January 1, 2011, and newly sworn in Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff calls the oil and gas reserves off her Atlantic coast Brazil’s “passport to the future.”

I’m still having trouble connecting the dots here. I kind of feel like the U.S. government, in the form of vehicles like the U.S. Commercial Service and others, went down to Brazil over the course of the 2000s and pushed for more open trade policies because major U.S. oil companies told them to. My eyes hurt and I need more coffee and I’m not sure the story goes any further than that, nor am I sure that it’s all that interesting. U.S. companies meddling in South American politics for the benefit of energy companies: big deal, right? Still, it’s an interesting research project and it’s keeping my mind active while I wait to hear back about grad school applications.

More soon. Any help/comments/direction would be much appreciated.

“Brazil Cost”?

January 17, 2011

In my last post I noted how due to a surplus of free time I had begun sifting through the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks and found an interesting item about a 2008 meeting between major U.S. oil executives and the Ambassador to Brazil, in which the oil companies saw a “positive” environment for petroleum-related investments in Brazil.

I just want to see if anything came of it and what factors led up to it. So I’ve started searching, and just now found this. Check out point 8, about halfway down, titled “Brazil Cost.” This cable is from 2003 and apparently at that time the idea of investing in Brazil wasn’t quite as rosy (this was during negotiations and campaigning for the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), a debate that still goes on today throughout the Western Hemisphere).

Although developed country protectionism is always cited as a major problem undermining Brazil’s competitiveness, so are internal problems sometimes called the “Brazil cost,” i.e., high costs associated with Brazil’s tax structure, outdated social security system, labor code, poor education, and, in general, bureaucratic obstacles to commerce. While the GOB is committed to social security and tax reform, it seems to lack faith it can lower the “Brazil cost” sufficiently in the near term to guarantee Brazilian competitiveness in the free trade environment an FTAA agreement would create.

So what happened between 2003 and 2008? Was the “Brazil cost” lowered significantly enough to where U.S. oil companies believed the Brazilian investment picture was “positive”? Or does this just point to a difference between the outlook in Brazil for oil companies vs. trade generally?

So I had the day off today and I opted to read the paper for the first time in awhile this morning, and this story about an ex-Swiss banker giving information to WikiLeaks inspired me to take a look through those Cablegate memos that caused such a stir in the last few months.

I started by looking through some cables that had come out at the time of various events like the first Gulf War. Then I just started chronologically reading different bits of this or that from a year picked at random (2004) and found a hilarious example of gossipy celeb-worship on the part of the U.S. diplomatic corps. All the while I noted the increased frequency of dispatches coming from Brazil, as I tried to remember news stories from 2004 that would warrant so much information coming from the U.S. embassy there. There was, of course, the Aristide situation, which Brazil helped to deal with from a U.S. diplomatic standpoint.

But then I found this, from 2008: a cable from Rio de Janeiro given the subject heading “U.S. OIL COMPANIES ON INVESTMENT OPPORTUNITIES IN BRAZIL.” It comes from a roundtable discussion Organized by the U.S. Commercial Service between then-Ambassador to Brazil Clifford Sobel and top-level executives from Chevron, Exxon Mobil, Devon Energy, Anadarko Petroleum Corporation, and Hess Corporation. The meeting took place on January 8, 2008, six days after the price of petroleum hit $100 a barrel for the first time.

According to the cable, the executives called the climate for investing in Brazilian oil “positive,” and Ambassador Sobel offers to advocate for them to the Brazilian government and state-controlled petroleum entities. I decided to look back through the earlier cables from Brazil, and see if I could trace any of the activity from prior years and connect it to the favorable situation (as seen by the oil executives) in 2008.

After about an hour of hard reading and googling, I found this site, CableGateGame. The amount of information contained in the WikiLeaks cables is immense and daunting, and CableGate can help with summaries of complicated texts, but it suffers from an awkward format. It’s still hard to know where to start.

I’m going to keep searching through CableGate and WikiLeaks and see if I can turn anything up that would explain/illuminate the meeting between major American oil executives and the government of Brazil. Questions I have include: just how “positive” is the investment climate in Brazil? What changes have taken place in the last decade to bring this situation about? How much oil is in Brazil? How will it be gathered and who benefits the most from a favorable oil trade with Brazil? I have others, but that’s my starting point. I’ll try to keep updating as info comes in and I welcome any help from whoever out there sees this.

Happy hunting,

JD

Another day, more Ramen, more reflection. I’m reusing the fork from yesterday to lighten the massive load of dishes I need to do before I move out of my apartment. My December rent is only partially paid. The remaining balance will be left with my keys when I leave on Saturday, the day my landlord and I agreed would be my last. My security deposit will remain in his company’s account.

I’m packing most of the rest of my belongings into black trash bags (Irish luggage) between sentences. There’s an Arctic cold front coming through in a few days. My electric bill (which also pays for my heat) is some where in the mid-hundreds; hopefully I’ll be out of here before they cut me off.

My heat doesn’t work as it is: the vent (placed near the ceiling, for maximum efficiency) just blows room temperature air. It’s been running at full blast for three days and the temperature has risen only a few degrees, if at all. It’s hard to tell. I’m in and out so much I don’t remember just where the little clear plastic stick on my temperature gauge was when I checked it last. Somewhere close to sixty. It’s somewhere close to sixty right now, but hope makes me think it’s a bit higher than yesterday. 

Why all the cataloging of the horrors and the kvetching and this worrying, oh, the worrying, and for what? Well, mostly because all we’ve been hearing for weeks is how no one knows what’s going to happen with the economy, but everyone’s scared. Rich people are scared, companies are scared, auto workers who make double or triple my salary are scared they might start making only half again or twice as much as me– what happens to folks like me working 40 hours a week like everyone else, taking home between $150-250 a week? Are we ahead of the game? Will our class of jobs simply get larger? Or will our jobs disappear? Will they be taken by some of the newly underemployed?

When things are at what you believe to be their worst, you tend to tell yourself that they can only get better. Things are pretty rough right now for people like me. Belts are tightened, hands wrung out, brows permanently furrowed. I know I’m not the only one feeling this way. And I don’t want handouts, I don’t expect immediate prosperity, I don’t want something I haven’t worked for– but is it too much to ask that things are at least prevented from getting any worse?

Of course it isn’t. Problem is, no one has a clue how to make that happen. Barack Obama was elected president in November and the nation felt a wave of hope. For a little while. One of the unmentioned (at least from what I’ve seen) effects of the Bush hangover will be a tremendous cynicism, worse than post-Watergate, and one that certainly won’t be salved by Reaganesque smiles and speeches that prod our ego.

Amid all the converging catastrophes we’ve heard about so often lately, even if Obama can figure out what to do with his time in office, how will he get any of us to actually believe he’s capable of it? How will he prevent infighting and cynical politics from derailing his plans? How will he do all that while keeping the original spirit of his actions intact? 

These aren’t new questions, but as the chill descends and Buffalo prepares for another hellish week of trial-by-ice, hope and answers seem harder to come by, like that extra $50 late charge for the rent or the few degrees between chilly and cold.

Stay warm.

The end is near. President George W. Bush will leave office in about a week. Some of us have waited for this day with bated breath since the beginning of his first term. Others look to the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president with a mixture of fear, sadness, and anger: at the prospect of yet another untested leader, at lost opportunities, at the end of a high, wild, magical time when anything you wanted was possible– if you wanted what George Bush wanted you to want.

Many more of us have seen our opinions change with an almost quarterly regularity as this or that bit of information or circumstance caught our attention and reshaped our view of the man, only to flutter away like an autumn leaf or a blog post as more data took its place and confused us once again. 

As I write, a Maruchan beef-flavored Instant Lunch sits on the floor next to me, a fork resting on the peeled-back cover to keep it closed so the heat and steam will not escape and the noodles will properly absorb the salty brine that now envelops them. The scene in my apartment is much as it was five years ago in my Spaulding Hall dorm room at the University at Buffalo: sunlight peeking at extreme angles through a window with no view, socks and garbage strewn about the floor in nonsense, and a meal of sorts, two minutes away and counting, steaming quietly next to my right heel, with an anatomically suspect diagram of a cow on the cover to let me know what I’m supposed to be eating. In the new year of 2003, George Bush was a fact most of us (middle class white college students with disposable funds and no job) accepted and ignored, like credit card debt or the sun. 

I’m stirring the noodles now. Instant Lunch is so much better than straight Ramen (and so worth the extra fifty cents) because it contains little freeze-dried carrot scrapings and several bits of corn and scallion, the remains of the remains of industrialized food, put to use like the tendons and bone of the buffalo on the Great Plains in the days before AIM and central heating. You always have to cut the noodles, it feels like, to get the dish to mix properly. I used to spend an extra minute hacking away with a plastic butter knife to get my lunch to where I wanted it to be.

Back in the dorms in 2003, on another wintry night spent subsisting on sodium and wheat gluten, I was informed that we were at war. We had known for some time, of course, that this would happen. Most of us could recall the Gulf War (or had at least seen the History Channel specials) and we all remembered the Clinton air strikes on Iraq. Sort of. In the way that we remembered anything before 9/11 or before that week: distantly, incompletely, with a lot of gaps cobbed with bits of newspaper and spit over time. America was at war. Iraq was the enemy, or at least the target. Bush was president. The sun came up somewhere between our last kill on the virtual battlefield and our first class, and, sometime later, it would set, somewhere… over there. ::gesticulating:: Westish. (Looking back now it seems strange that more of us in the first-person shooter gaming community didn’t try to identify somewhat with our peers in the actual shooting-and-dying set. If we had, it most likely would have been done in a dubious and insulting manner and it’s probably better that we all kept our mouths shut as much as we did when interacting with the real world, whenever we did.)

The problem with trying to be clever is that you’re never quite sure if you’re succeeding, and so try harder and harder as time persists and the absence of an editor or audience persists, until you’re not really sure what it was you had to say or if, in fact, there was anything there to begin with.

Today, President Bush, in his last press conference in office, likened the current financial situation to a night of drinking. “Wall Street got drunk and left us with the hangover,” he said. (Eight days from the end, a world in crisis, and this is his last press conference; I’ll let that take you wherever you want it to.)

Hangovers have several stages. There is the initial joy at waking up alive, against all odds. Next a state of childlike wonder and an independence from one’s own life: bills and relationships and grades are forgotten, there is only the self, the mind. And then you have to get out of bed and face the world, face what you’ve done, who you became and what that person wanted and felt versus what you believe your sober self to be. Introspection sets in, if you have time for it, and its pretty much downhill from there.

What will our hangover be like? The bill has come due. The party is over and has been for awhile. We have slept amongst the garbage and the curdling puddles of excess decadence and now it is time to find our coats and get some breakfast. Where will we go from here? What will we do? What shall we eat? Will we act or remain paralyzed by guilt and recrimination?

I think it’s time to rinse out our mouths, apologize to those we trampled or spat on in the fury of the party, and make something of what’s left of the day. That’s just me, but I know from hangovers, and we really don’t have any choice.

Hopefully he keeps this up throughout his term. And hopefully it will be expanded to reach more than just YouTube viewers.