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.

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“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.

OMG!!1 R F’ING J0RBZ!!1

November 14, 2008

The tech sector is officially bleeding jobs with everyone else. I wonder when the food service and preparation sectors will feel the pinch. I wonder when the manager will tap me on the shoulder to have a heart-to-heart in the walk-in cooler about what a good sport I am, about what a good worker I was and where my opportunities lie. I wonder when the financial situation will stop being an excuse for jokey headlines and ironic despair and will start being a chance to fundamentally reshape our economy and make and do things here in America again.

I wonder what will happen if General Motors falls apart. I wonder if we should let it– let the old economy die so the new one can be built to last for the generations to come. General Motors doesn’t have much of a future anyways, the way gas prices are going. They’ve resisted innovation at every turn and were beaten out by companies who– gas mileage aside –simply made a better product. The free market in motion, right?

The End of Suburbia

June 23, 2008

Take an hour and check this out while it’s still available.

The U.S. government will be sending out economic stimulus checks on a timed schedule based on the last two digits of the taxpayer’s Social Security number. According to the IRS website, my bracket of paper checks will be mailed “no later than” June 27.

Which means, of course, more months of barely scraping by, bouncing checks and saving money until I receive my check some time in July. By then, what with all that scraping and saving going on, I won’t need the money like I need it now.

Things have been tight, to say the least. I moved back to Buffalo from Boston with no job on April 1, and I finally got a steady job a week and a half ago. I haven’t gotten my first check. I’ve been buying food at gas stations with outdated credit card software because I know the transaction will go through and I’ll be able to walk out with something, even though I know it will be sinking my checking account further into the red and creating more overdraft charges for when I actually get some money in the bank. Things like cable Internet service or staying current on my cell phone bill that were previously just expenses now seem more like long term goals, something to start a change jar for like a trip to Six Flags or a new bike.

Now this. This idiotic Band-Aid solution to the nation’s financial problems. As a matter of policy, I don’t even want the check. The idea is to give everyone $600 and hope for the best. Hope they spend it in ways that stimulate a flagging economy. Hope they don’t save it or use it to pay off some debt like they should. It’s not a government assistance program, it’s not really government at all. We are being handed a modest sum and told to fend for ourselves. It’s individualistic and it misses the root of the problem: the people who need this money the most aren’t getting by on $600 checks. Between rent and the groceries and transportation costs and utilities– the money’s gone before we get it in the bank.

And so I disagree with the program. But, of course, I need the money. And there was constant noise about how May, May would be the month when we’d start to see this small, irresponsible brand of relief. Now I have to wait two more months.

It’s a good thing I listed my father’s address on my tax return. I’d done it because I was moving at the time and didn’t have an apartment yet in Buffalo. As it stands, my check will be even more delayed because my father will have to forward it from Albany. Let’s hope that after these next two months I’m not evicted, with the bank holding everything I own, forced to move back to my father’s to receive my check on time.