The G8/G20 Summit: Martial Law, Political Violence and the Washington Consensus against Free Trade

As is the annual tradition, this year's G8/G20 summit in Toronto was met with violent protests. This is only to be expected when world leaders meet with global loan sharks and trade organizations to talk finance, trade, energy and security, especially given the fact that developing nations, regional interest groups and non-governmental organizations remain marginalized in the talks and negotiations. As the Christian Science Monitor reported:

With developed countries focusing on – and arguing about – stimulus spending vs. austerity measures and whether to impose a global bank tax, the summit is unlikely to meaningfully address the priorities of least-developed countries: reforming the governance of international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund to give them more of a say; loosening requirements for IMF loans; ensuring predictable aid flows; and open trade access to developed markets.

The summit took place in the city's center, fortified by a billion dollar security operation that would be difficult to distinguish from the implementation of martial law – police had even been secretly granted special arrest powers for the duration of the summit. Business Week described the security situation:

A 12-block section of the central core is surrounded by concrete barriers and three-meter (10-foot) high metal fencing, part of Canada’s largest-ever security operation with 20,000 police and security guards. Canada is spending as much as C$1.2 billion ($1.16 billion) for the meetings to host world leaders, including C$930 million on security. . . .

Police set up two lines to block the crowd, first with a group of officers on bicycles to turn the demonstrators away from the security zone. A block further south, police in riot gear and on horseback or with police dogs blocked an intersection. The Toronto Transit Commission closed subway, bus and streetcar service in the downtown core of Canada’s biggest city. Regional train service into downtown was also halted and buildings including Brookfield Place on Bay Street were locked down.

However, this did not stop hundreds of people from breaking with the officially permitted protest march on Saturday, in order to attempt a breach of the security perimeter that had been set up by police. A clearly well-organized Black Bloc launched attacks against symbols of state and corporate power: police cars were set on fire, windows of banks and prominent multi-national corporations were smashed, even mainstream media outlets were targeted for aggression. Responding to the violence at a press conference on Saturday, Toronto Mayor David Miller stated: "This isn't our Toronto and my response is anger." Ironically, this statement likely also captures the sentiment of the summit's most violent opponents, whose actions were unimpeded, and perhaps even stoked, by the billion dollar security operation. In response, riot police escalated their tactics leading to assaults against journalists reporting on the protests. From the NYT:

As the police escalated their tactics, reporters were often kept at bay. Steve Paikin, a prominent Toronto journalist, said that he was escorted away by two police officers who saw his media credentials just before they moved to arrest a large number of demonstrators who were protesting the city’s temporary restrictions on civil liberties.

Mr. Paikin said he saw another journalist, Jesse Rosenfeld, a contributor to Web site of The Guardian, the British newspaper, being held by two police officers while a third punched the reporter in the stomach. After Mr. Rosenfeld fell to the ground, the third officer jabbed an elbow into his back, Mr. Paikin said.

Violence perpetrated by Black Bloc anarchists was denounced by protest groups seeking to influence leaders at the summit. At The Green Market, Richard Matthews wrote last week, before Saturday's protest:

Although the UN chief has voiced his support for the green economy, security concerns for the G20 meetings in Toronto have forced the cancellation of the "Greening the Supply Chain" event. . . . The security presence is not only to ensure that foreign terrorists cannot use the event to attack the world's economic leaders, it is also in place to protect against domestic militants whose tactics have earned them the name Black Bloc. The self-described anarchists have declared war against capitalism and they seek violent confrontation with the authorities. . . .

Events were being cancelled days before the start of the G20. On Tuesday June 22, 2010, Green Enterprise Ontario and Live Green Toronto were prepared to present an event titled "Greening the supply chain - an eco-opportunity." However, instead of discussing ways of developing a green purchasing strategy, Toronto is closed for business.

This marks a familiar bifurcation among protest groups – distinguishing between those who peaceably assemble to petition leaders for the redress of grievances and those who seek violent confrontation with authorities – and shows the relation and disconnect between the wholesome face and the violent underbelly of the public body politic. However, this distinction also perfectly mirrors the disconnect that is constitutive of the global political establishment itself: world leaders put on a show of confidence, cooperation and goodwill toward all in front of the cameras while their policies result in the violent disruption and even destruction of the lives of millions, if not billions, of people worldwide.

Ironically, while many protest groups at the G8/G20 summit can be characterized as left-wing and far-left-wing organizations, among their most prominent goals is the reform of subsidy and export policy in industrialized nations, along lines that would please hard-line libertarians and even conservative Republicans. From the CS Monitor:

A leaked draft (pdf) of the final declaration of the summit, dated June 11, renews the G20’s commitment to “refrain from raising new barriers to investment or trade” until 2013. But it fails to set a strict deadline for the conclusion of the World Trade Organization’s Doha Development Round of negotiations. This has been a sticking point between developed and developing countries, mostly over agricultural exports and subsidies.

The "sticking point" can be summed up in just a few lines. Developing nations demand restrictions on agricultural subsidies like those handed out in the United States and France, arguing that they act as a barrier to free trade and provide an unfair advantage to concerns from industrialized nations; and so they call for a "level playing field." Ironically, industrialized nations like the United States and France argue that the subsidies are necessary to ensure a "level playing field," since American and French farmers would simply not be able to compete on the global market and be driven out of business were it not for their massive subsidies. In other words, on this issue the consensus among Democrats and Republicans is that the United States should not have to conform to the strictures of the Washington Consensus. Mark Tapscott reported last month at The Washington Examiner:

Remember Scotty Pippen, the former NBA star? He was also a farmer. That's right, a real hayseed, who was so good at it that the federal government paid him $130,000 over a five-year period not to grow crops. I was able to report that fact back in 2002 because of the work of the Environmental Working Group (EWG) in posting on its web site a massive database of federal farm subsidy recipients maintained by the U.S. Department of Agriculture . . .

you can forget about updating that story any time soon because USDA is no longer updating the database. Seems that the Democratic Congress in 2008 changed the law that previously required the department to maintain the database to say that doing so was merely optional. The federal farm bureaucrats naturally opted out of disclosing how much they were paying people like former ABC News White House correspondent Sam Donaldson and multi-millionaire David Rockefeller not to grow crops. No doubt the decision was made to "save tax dollars."

As you can see from my 2002 column, the action in 2008 by Congress culminated efforts that stretched back at least to the days in 2001 and 2002 when the Democrats controlled the Senate under then-Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-SD. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-IA, was chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Now, the Center for Public Integrity reports that USDA paid nearly $16 billion in such subsidies in 2009, but finding out who got those billions will be all but impossible in the future, thanks to the decision against updating the database. What was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's promise in 2006 about the most honest and transparent Congress ever? [Emphases added.]
This action on the part of the Democratic congress was not enough to spare Republicans the embarrassment of revelations that they and their districts are among the most prominent beneficiaries of agricultural socialism. Late last year it was reported that outspoken Republican Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann's family had received a quarter of a million dollars in government handouts, and that the four districts receiving the largest payouts were all represented by supposedly conservative Republicans. From Politico:

Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) — so fond of accusing the Obama administration of foisting socialism on an unwilling America — has apparently been the recipient of about a quarter of million bucks in government handouts.

Liberal site Truthdig links to an Environmental Working Group analysis of federal agricultural subsidies and found that the Bachmann family farm, managed by her father-in-law until his recent death, received $251,000 in farm payments between 1995 and 2006.

Bachmann’s financial disclosure forms indicate her stake in the Wisconsin farm is worth up to $250,000. Her income from the farm has grown from $2,000 a year a few years back to as much as $50,000 for 2008 . . .

EWG found that the top four districts receiving the largest AG payments are represented by conservative Republicans: [emphasis added] • 1.) 3rd district of Nebraska (Rep. Adrian Smith - Republican) - $1,736,923,011 in subsidies go to 51,702 recipients. • 2.) 1st district of Kansas (Rep. Jerry Moran - Republican) - $1,315,979,151 in subsidies go to 75,802 recipients. •3.) 4th district of Iowa (Rep. Tom Latham - Republican) - $1,288,622,912 in subsidies go to 35,696 recipients. • 4.) 9th district of Texas (Rep. Randy Neugebauer - Republican) - $1,227,192,312 in subsidies go to 21,290 recipients.

This issue continues to dog supposedly conservative, free-market Republicans seeking office this November. As David Weigel reported in April:

Last week, Amy Gardner reported on the Tea Party flak faced by Tennessee congressional candidate Stephen Fincher over the roughly $200,000 per year he receives in federal farm subsidies. The size of Fincher's subsidies put him in a class of his own, but he's not alone in receiving such subsidies. According to USDA records downloaded by the Environmental Working Group, Indiana State Sen. Marlin Stutzman, who is running for the state's open U.S. Senate seat, received a total of $156,907.54 in subsidies from 1997 to 2006.

Confronted with the contradiction between favoring the free market while receiving massive government subsidies, Stutzman parroted the "level playing field" talking point while asserting that he wanted to "phase out" the program:

When asked about the subsides, Stutzman said that he hadn't taken too much heat -- "most people in Indiana respect the farmer" and confirmed that he'd promised Tea Partiers that he wanted to phase out the program.

"I do believe we should get out of the subsidy business," said Stutzman. "We should let free markets work. A permanent subsidy creates a permanent distortion of the market and right now farmers have to work within this system."

If elected, Stutzman said he would take a hard look at farm bills -- he pointed out that his Republican rivals, both congressional veterans, used to support them flat-out. [Emphasis added.]

"I make more off of crop insurance in a bad year that subsidy will ever pay. But we have to keep a level playing field globally," he said.

Does that mean radical left-wing groups at the G8 are in fact libertarian or conservative? Or does it make this conservative Republican a radical leftist?


Ross Levin said...

I think you know the answer, d.eris. The political spectrum is completely meaningless - it's a simplification of reality that only serves to strengthen the idea that there are two options: liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican.

Also, it's pretty funny (in a sad sort of way) that Toronto's security state forced the green economy event to be cancelled, just as the trillions the world (mostly the US) spends on "defense" each year prevents us from putting that money toward greening the economy.

Sofia said...

My friend talked about this. He works at a firm that offers payday loan. Utah based money lending firm employees and heads have been talking about this, too. They said that this summit should have focused on loosening the IMF loans and address the priorities of the third-world countries. Compared to getting an IMF loan, getting cash advances, payday loans, and some other loans are easier because the rules aren't that heavy. I know that the IMF is an international thing, but they have to loosen it up a bit.