Needing some context on what’s happening in Egypt? Trying to catch up? some of the best overview material I’ve found from Western media…Read more
Protests against the austerity budget cuts broke out all over Europe today, including Greece, Ireland, Slovenia, Spain, Romania, and PortugalRead more
Day of protests across Europe against government austerity measures, which unions say will slow economic recovery and punish the poor.Read more
I am going to get back on the saddle with this site after a 2 month hiatus – I had a lot of catching up to do after the G20 in other areas of my life, leaving G20 Breakdown on the back burner. But it’s now back, and I plan to be posting at least 2-3 times a week…
The plan is to focus it on the austerity plans around the world, tracking what is happening and reactions to it. It is not going to be solely G20 focused, though I will certainly be covering the G20 meetings in Korea in November 2010. Basically, the site will become about the austerity measures overall, with reports on the G20’s role, etc…
There is certainly a lot happening around the issue of economic austerity right now, from Romanian protests to the 300 U.S. economists who are warning against spending cuts, to the Bank of England working to get UK unions on board with the cuts (to mixed results). And mass protests are expected in Europe on September 29th against the austerity plans.
More to come…
[Image: PASCAL ROSSIGNOL/REUTERS]
I have been out of the loop the past two weeks and not posting much, but that is about to change as I embark on a project or two for the site…
For one thing, I am going to start doing some research into how the austerity programs will be implemented and set up a bit of a web template for each of the twenty G20 countries to follow their ‘progress’ in implementation and look at the real world effects it is having on their populations. I will be doing some other research and writing as well on other G20 related topics, including following Wall Street’s ‘recovery’ at the same time all these austerity measures are being put forward.
In the meantime (over the next week or so), I will be posting articles such as this one to keep people up to date on what others are writing.
The European right is capitalising on a crisis
Eurozone governments and European authorities are using the economy to justify pushing through rightwing policy changes
One thing should be made clear about the situation in the eurozone economies that is not clear at all if we rely on most of the news reports. This is not a situation where countries face a “dilemma” because they have overspent and piled up too much public debt. They do not face “tough choices” that will force them to cut spending and raise taxes while the economy is weak or in recession, in order to “satisfy financial markets”.
What is really going on is that powerful interests within these countries – including Spain, Greece, Ireland and Portugal – are taking advantage of the situation to make the changes that they want. Perhaps even more importantly, the European authorities – including the European commission, the European central bank and the IMF – who are holding the purse strings of any bailout funds, are even more committed than the national governments to rightwing policy changes. And they are further removed from any accountability to any electorate.
In 13 Bankers, by Simon Johnson (a former chief economist at the IMF) and James Kwak, the authors describe the emerging market crises of the 1990s and note that Washington used them to promote changes that it wanted: “When an existing economic elite has led a country into a deep crisis, it is time for a change. And the crisis itself presents a unique, but short-lived opportunity for change.” Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine, provides an excellent history of how crises have been used to introduce or consolidate regressive and unpopular economic “reforms”.
It has been a while since I posted, as I crashed a bit this week after the G20, I had A LOT of catch up to do on my paid job, I spent a bunch of time with doctor’s and hospitals dealing with casts and splints for my severely bent (not broken) wrist, and then yesterday I ended up in the hospital again with a severe allergic reaction to something I ate. All better now, but sheesh!
Regardless, none of this compares to all the crap people went through (and some continue to go through) over the past week from being detained by the G20 police state, but I needed to update the reasons for my absence on this blog.
Anyhooo, because of all this, I will just be putting up others’ content for the next few days while I try to catch up, and then I will begin with my own content again later next week. I will also have a small post next week about my experiences during the G20. For now, while I continue to process, I will simply say that I am (like many people I have talked to) sad, exhilarated, angry, hopeful and exhausted.
I am also thinking through how I will move the website forward now that the G20 summit in Toronto is over. It seems I am leaning towards continuing to follow the G20 closely as it leads into the fall summit in South Korea and into future summits. I will also follow the austerity plan the G20 has agreed upon and examine if the austerity is leading us to a double dip recession as some have predicted. And I’ll look at the effects they have on the various countries implementing them. This will be about 50%-60% of my work.
Beyond that, I think I will branch the site out into examining various issues of global capitalism that the G20 and G8 represent – environmental degradation and injustice, global and local poverty, the changing nature of work and opportunity, the security state, growth of use of police states for crises, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the focus on nuclear Iran, the building of borders and fences for economic and political refugees . Whew, that’s a lot now that I type it out!
This 40%-50% will basically be my opportunity to start commenting on the issues of the day that the G20 represents. I hope people continue to enjoy the site as I branch out, and will send me further suggestions of direction if they have them. Oh, and I’ll changing the banner at the top to reflect this.
Ok, check for more updates next week and until then, enjoy this article below from Justin Podur at Killing Train. It is an excellent backgrounder on what happened inside the meetings as well as with the protests outside.
And don’t stop checking the excellent work at the media coop, which did an incredible job at the G20 protests and do much, much more in bringing a critical, alternative voice to the issues.
The G20 Debacle
What it might have looked like inside the fence
Hosting the G20 in Toronto was the first of a series of political gambles by the Conservative Canadian government led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. At a time when US President Obama, leader of the world’s greatest debtor nation, was seeking additional stimulus money and therefore deficit financing (something the previous regime of George W Bush was no stranger to), Harper’s Conservative Finance Minister and delegate to the G20, Jim Flaherty, was advocating austerity. Flaherty, who was Finance Minister for the province of Ontario in the late 1990s, introduced to Canada’s biggest and wealthiest province what the poor countries had come to know as neoliberalism – shrinking public finances through tax cuts and spending cuts, privatization of public services, and the ideological use of the fear of ‘deficits’ to justify it all. No matter that Flaherty left Ontario’s finances in an abysmal state, far worse than he found them, with higher deficits and debts. Ontario’s “Common Sense Revolution” had accomplished other tasks: it had devastated the public sector and the social safety net, harmed the unions, thrown thousands more people out of their homes to live on the streets. To deal with the resistance generated by the unpopularity of these policies, the government boosted police budgets and police powers, meeting demonstrations with riot police and beatings.
Bodies like the G8 and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) are generally like minded, as they represent the minority of countries that are already wealthy. These countries have an interest in the current order, skewed as it is toward their interests. Until recently, they have had the power to keep things that way. But when what was then called the Asian economic crisis struck in the late 1990s, the wealthy countries let the biggest of the poor countries into a new club, the G20 Finance Ministers meeting. The new body could claim to be more inclusive: with China, India, Indonesia, and Brazil aboard, the G20 had the Finance Ministers of 80% of the world’s population and 80% of the world’s GDP. But as an informal gathering of Finance Ministers (Labour Ministers started to meet at separate summits years later), without any transparent structure, and whose debates took place away from the public eye, the gatherings were still suspect. Norway’s Foreign Minister recently called the G20 “the greatest setback since World War II”, “a grouping without international legitimacy”, with “no mandate” (1). The skewed membership and structure hides skewed power relations within the G20, where the G8 countries have far more say in how the world is going to be governed.
Because the lowest common denominator for countries with such vastly different problems and agendas is low indeed, the G20 meetings produce declarations of principle that are mostly platitudes. It is difficult to argue that they have done much, in their 11 years of existence, to stabilize economies, much less to deal with any of the other issues for which sound thinking about global finance is needed, from food and fuel system problems, development aid and war to environmental degradation and climate change.
This year’s declaration features platitudes, certainly, but also signs that Obama’s (probably half-hearted) desire for additional stimulus was defeated. The desire for stimulus was echoed by countries like India, whose growth is based on exports to the West and foreign direct investment from the West (which currently takes the form of giving away huge tracts of land and resources to multinationals). But other Western countries, and especially Europe, have to pass the crisis on to their populations or risk losing their position in the global economic hierarchy. This is where Canada’s proposals, and Flaherty’s proposals in particular, come into play.
What Flaherty called “Common Sense Revolution” in Ontario in the 1990s is called “fiscal consolidation” in the summit declaration (2). The declaration concedes that “sustaining the recovery is key”, but counterposes this with “the importance of sustainable public finances”. The enemy, once called “deficits”, is now recast, perhaps because environmentalism made it a bad word, as “unsustainable public finances”. The magic word “consolidation”, which means attacking deficits, occurs 19 times in the 27 page declaration. Consolidation is to be “growth friendly”, but it must happen. Canada worked hard to dilute any talk of financial sector regulation, and the declaration’s discussion of regulation is unsubstantial – promises of “strong measures to improve transparency and improve regulatory oversight”.
Another pillar of the G20 declaration is an absolute commitment to fight protectionism. Although every single member of the club of wealthy countries got there through protectionism, the G20, like the WTO, the IMF, and World Bank, remains wedded to “free trade” doctrine. The G20 countries are applauded for not trying to protect their economies from the crisis through tariffs.
Consolidation and free trade, which serve the western members of the G20 better than its big, poor members, are the substantial commitments of the declaration. Both sets of policies have proven immensely unpopular where they have been imposed. To defend them, like defending the summits, governments have turned to police forces and fear.
Beyond consolidation and free trade, the declaration contains well-intentioned but empty platitudes. A non-exhaustive list:
* Standing with the people of Haiti – while refusing to provide them nearly enough resources to recover from the earthquake, which would take a tiny fraction of what was spent helping the banks through their crisis.
* A commitment to Copenhagen’s toothless climate change protocols – for “those of us who have associated ourselves with the Copenhagen Accord”. Interestingly, “those of us” so associated look forward to “the outcome of the UN Secretary-General’s High-Level Advisory Group on Climate Change Financing which is, inter alia, exploring innovative financing.” Was that an unintentional slip, an admission that any innovative financing will probably have to come from outside the G20?
* A recognition of the need to share “best practices” after the Gulf of Mexico oil spill – talk of a moratorium on offshore drilling or any other such drastic measures is too much for the G20. A major coastal ecosystem, fishery, and food source can be destroyed; major banks have to be saved.
* $224 million in development grants for agriculture in Bangladesh, Rwanda, Haiti, Togo, and Sierra Leone. This highly generous sum amounts to about 1/5 of what was spent on security for the summit itself.
Given the bizarre billion-dollar price tag – a price tag that assumes that the citizenry is so boggled by large numbers that it can’t smell when something awful is cooking – the declaration cost about $37 million per page.
The spectacle of these finance ministers meeting to talk about passing on the costs of their economic crises on to their citizens has produced opposition, and large protests, wherever they were held. As the host of the summit, Harper had the choice of where to locate it. The financial capital of the country, Toronto, was a natural choice. But a major city meant a major protest. The city’s mayor, David Miller, suggested a contained area frequently used for conferences and meetings, Exhibition Place. Harper opted to hold the meeting in the downtown core, contain it with a multimillion dollar fence, and commence what might have been the largest police mobilization in the country’s history.
And the view from outside the fence
In the weeks leading up to the summit, the media was full of fearmongering. A Toronto Star “Survival Guide” advised staying calm around the police, and explaining to them whatever they wanted. A police official went a step further, in an unusual usurpation of authority by police to tell citizens what to do and where to go: “don’t come”. Security for such summits had in the past, at the highest level in Pittsburgh, run as high as $100 million. What was the $1 billion paying for? Some of it went to new, and lasting, police infrastructure: new water cannons, new sound weapons, new surveillance cameras, an array of nonlethal weapons intended to disrupt protests. The training, communications, and command systems would cost more. The overtime pay for the thousands of out-of-town police would cost still more. But $1 billion? No one believed there was any credible threat to the safety of the G20 officials. At worst, protesters might have smashed some windows, as they had in some previous global summits like the WTO protest in Montreal in 2005. Could smashed windows, or any conspiracy to smash windows, justify $1 billion in security expenditure? Could it justify the various changes to the law and emergency police powers that were put in place? The open question represented a political risk for Harper: if the protesters succeeded in capturing the agenda or disrupting the summit, Harper could lose some of his law-and-order reputation. If Harper’s police went too far, they might risk a backlash from the public, who have so far been very forgiving of Harper.
In the event, the police forces took no chances, and quite probably took matters into their own hands. When the big march (well over 10,000 by my count, 25,000 by some counts) failed to pass police lines (given that about an equal number of police, 19,000 or 20,000, were deployed), and continued, a group of protesters doubled back before turning south towards the fence. Some of these covered their faces and, after they’d left the big march, smashed windows and police cars. While deep police lines backed by horses had prevented the big march from heading south to the fence, a gap appeared and a group of protesters was somehow allowed to head several blocks south before being stopped. At the southernmost location, Bay and King, a police car was somehow set on fire, although some eyewitnesses say there were almost no protesters around and also, mysteriously, no uniformed police (3). The role of police provocateurs in these events might eventually come out in court, to which I will return.
The point here is that at least through a passive decision, and more likely through active provocation, the police helped see to it that windows and police cars were destroyed. Journalist Joe Wenkoff followed the Black Bloc for 27 blocks without any police presence (3). A police source told Toronto Sun reporter Joe Warmington (4) that the police had orders to let it happen: “there were guys with equipment to do the job, all standing around looking at each other in disbelief.”
Almost no one was arrested during the smashing. Before the demonstration took place, police seized activists and organizers in raids – some of whom are still being held at detention centres. The (Saturday) night after the afternoon demonstration and the day after (Sunday), however, police rounded up hundreds of people – some 1,000 in total (which means $1 million security expenditure per arrested protester). Curiously, police had announced prior to the summit that they expected to arrest 1,000. Did they simply keep arresting until they met their numbers? Given the “catch and release” policy they followed (100 of the 1000 are still in detention, and many of those released have given shocking testimonies of abuse by police, outdoor cages, open toilets, denial of feminine products to prisoners) it seems likely.
People on Toronto streets reported seeing police operations that had no relationship to any protest or anything going on: riot police shuffling about, horse charges, rapid deployment from one part of the city to another, temporary closures of areas and sweeping up of random people into mass arrests. It looked to me like Harper’s people were flexing their muscles, testing the public stomach, seeing how far they could ride over people’s rights and liberties. Accompanying the show of muscle was a public relations effort – placing the burden of justifying the $1 billion security expenditure on some smashed windows and police cars (with damages probably in the tens of thousands).
Something of a public backlash did emerge. On Monday afternoon, 2600 people (by my count) protested the police response outside headquarters. Among the slogans: “No more cops on overtime, protesting is not a crime”. The same police who had been so abusive the day before were relatively quiet. Protesters didn’t see any riot gear, the bike police didn’t push people with their bikes as they often do at protests, and the horses stayed largely out of sight a block away.
Important questions remain about the dozens that remain in detention. Will the government pursue charges and seek jail sentences for protesters? If some of those who smashed windows were entrapped by provocateurs, will the evidence emerge in trial? Will the public allow the state to persecute protesters when the police role was so pernicious? And the question that, unfortunately, is likely to get lost in the details: since these summits are destructive when they are not useless, are they worth spending hundreds of millions of dollars, shutting down cities, destroying civil liberties?
Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer.
I love this comment on the YouTube page for the video:
I could play this video 100 times and it would never get old. Naomi speaks the truth and it saddens me what Ottawa and David Miller allowed to happen to Toronto.
June 28, 2010 10:00am Alternative Media Centre
The Alternative Media Centre, Toronto Community Mobilization Network and Movement Defence Committee held a joint press conference to present first hand accounts of the events that have been taking place in recent hours involving mass arrests, police violence and intimidation across the city. Here are those accounts (click to go to video).
Jesse Rosenfeld: The Guardian, Independent Journalist (and in the video above)
Amy Miller: Alternative Media Centre, Independent Journalist
Adam MacIsaac: Alternative Media Centre, Independent Journalist
Sharmeen Khan: Toronto Community Mobilization Network
Claire O’Connor OPIRG-Toronto (I don’t have the video, anyone?)
The speakers highlight the ongoing and politically motivated targeting of journalists and community organizers, as well as the profiling of people on the basis of clothing type, for carrying phone numbers of the legal aid hotline or for residing in certain neighbourhoods. They also reported on the cruel and brutal conditions under which people are being detained, arrested and imprisoned.