Opinion, By Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Curmudgeon quotes former [U.S.] Senator Everett Dirksen (R-Ill): “A billion here, a billion there; pretty soon, you’re talking real money.” And again: “A billion here, a billion there, a billion somewhere else, three to five billion for public works. You haven’t got any budget balance left.”
The Curmudgeon knows these quotes are from fifty or so years ago, and that most people in the U.S. don’t think of billions as being very important nowadays; we’re into trillions or quadrillions (or perhaps Brazillions). Nevertheless, the import is still there: if you spend and spend and spend some more, and don’t have the income to cover it, pretty soon you run out of money.
“… a billion here, a billion there?” Eight years ago, Petrobras spent around US$1 billion to buy a refinery in Texas to process heavy crude oil. Around the same time, it agreed to spend US$2.5 billion to build a refinery in Pernambuco to process heavy crude oil. In the former case, it wound up processing light crude oil, with the conversion costing another half a billion. In the second case, the costs have ballooned to US$20 billion, and the refinery still hasn’t begun refining anything. A billion here, a billion there …
“… a billion on something else”? Petrobras again. Because it doesn’t have sufficient refining capacity, Petrobras has to import gasoline for people to put in the tanks of their cars. But because [President Dilma Rousseff] doesn’t want the price at the pumps to rise, Petrobras pays a higher price to import than it charges motorists. The estimate is that Petrobras spends at least US$1 billion per month in subsidizing Dilma’s election campaign.
“… three to five billion for public works”? The Lula administration began numerous public works, most of which were supposed to be finished by the end of his reign. One egregious example is the diversion of Brazil’s most important river, the São Francisco. Once “Velho Chico” reaches Petrolina, part of its water will be diverted north and east, into the arid Pernambuco sertão (not coincidentally, Lula comes from Pernambuco).
The original estimate for this job was a laughable US$4 billion, completion date 2010. The current estimate is well over US$8 billion, completion date 2018. The administration knows the final cost will double that. Geologists and climate experts know the project simply won’t work: there isn’t enough rain in the headwaters of Old Man Chico to make it viable.
“… three to five billion for public works”? Let’s not forget the dozen football stadiums now (still) being (shoddily) constructed for the impending WC (World Cup/Water Closet, take your pick). The Federal Government has (so far) flushed over US$8 billion down the WC drain. Back in 2007 when Lula won the (rigged) bid to host the WC, he said taxpayers wouldn’t have to foot any of the bill.
He knew better, or should have known better. Dilma has now admitted that Brazilian taxpayers will pay all those billions: her excuses are: (1) the government couldn’t find private supporters; and (2) after all, it’s only a few billions in a trillion dollar budget.
“A billion here, a billion there, a billion somewhere else… billions for public works.”
Michael Royster, aka THE CURMUDGEON first saw Rio forty-plus years ago, fetched up on these shores exactly 36 years ago, still loves it, notwithstanding being a charter member of the most persecuted minority in (North) America today, the WASPs (google it!)(get over it!)