On September 23, I traveled to Pittsburgh to join my son and his girlfriend in the Thursday and Friday protests against the G-20 summit. Here are a few thoughts on the G-20 events and what a real summit on globalization should address.
My son was shot in the back with about 10 "pepper" pellets on Friday evening (after the G-20 gang had departed) and was arrested for disturbing the peace and obstructing a road. As his girlfriend said the next day, if someone hits your car from behind, they're automatically at fault. My son was alone at the time and had turned around when they told him to (after he gave them the finger--a free speech issue). We're hoping this is worth a lawsuit on free speech and criminal police conduct.
Two important precedents were set in Pittsburgh. First, a new crowd control technique, the LARD "sound cannon," saw its first use in this country. (I understand it has been used in Iraq and other places.) We were subjected to this ear-splitting assault on Thursday's protest. But it helped to cover my ears, so if I do anything like this again, I'll be sure to wear ear plugs. We were also tear-gassed, but that's an old story.
The most disturbing precedent occurred hours before the Thursday march when Elliot Madison, a New York City social worker and activist, was arrested in his hotel room in Pittsburgh for Twittering (I kid you not). Then a week later, Madison's home was raided by FBI agents who conducted a 16-hour search and boxed up books, articles, and other things. According to Stolar, "Essentially, what Elliot is charged with is using the computer or the cell phone to put up an announcement that said that the police had issued an order to disperse." Madison pointed out that mainline news organizations such as AP and CNN were on his Twitter listserve. This action against Madison's Twittering portends a dangerous development and must be stopped.
The great irony: Twitter activists have been arrested and harassed before, but in countries like Iran where the U.S. State Department objected vigorously. Here in the U.S., police are implementing the same kind of strong-arm tactics in violation of the First Amendment.
Democracy Now on Tuesday's (6 October) had a very good interview with Madison and his lawyer, Martin Stolar. Here's a link to the transcript:
While not a precedent, police in Pittsburgh engaged in preventive action (reminiscent of Bush's preventive war against Iraq), a type of "prior restraint" in which they read (or imagined) the "bad thoughts" in demonstrators' minds and took action to stop them from acting violently before they did any such thing.
Finally, a few words on what the Pittsburgh G-20 achieved and what a really productive summit on globalization should address. The best mainstream account of G-20 actions I have seen was an AP report (excerpts below), which in summary says that there were lots of good intentions (e.g., to limit salaries and bonuses of top banking officials), but few specifics on how such intentions would be implemented. Here are my own thoughts on what happened at Pittsburgh G-20 and what it failed to address.
1. Obama had no business using the G-20 forum to rake Iran over the coals for its impending nuclear operations at its new site in Qom, which intelligence agencies have been aware of for months if not longer. His action was pure opportunism. Like it or not, Iran is adhering to its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty while Israel, already a substantial nuclear weapons state, has never acknowledged existence of its weapons and is not a signatory to the NPT. (Note: the NPT's safeguard agreement in force requires notification to the International Atomic Energy Agency only prior to completion of a new facility. The U.S.'s argument of non-compliance is is based on a non-ratified protocol (#3.1) that the IAEA should be notified before construction begins. The U.S. effectively "encouraged" the Iranians to drop compliance with the protocol when it threatened it with military action in 2007.)
2. The summit called on members to "reject protectionism in all its forms." There is not a successful country today that didn't protect its domestic producers from overseas competition earlier in its history. Generosity demands that the richest 20 countries give the developing world the same privilege, at least on a case-by-case, commodity-by-commodity basis.
3. The summit should address the needs of the developing world by:
(a) Establishing strict international laws, with explicit enforcement mechanisms, that prohibit bribes of foreign officials by transnational companies. (U.S. law prohibits bribes, but is rarely if ever enforced.)
(b) Establishing mechanisms that will:
(i) vigorously prosecute transnational companies and their officials who in any way use or benefit from the services of right-wing vigilante groups opposing union organizing and other struggles of working people for economic justice.
(ii) Vigorously prosecute transnational companies whose operations wreak environmental destruction on communities. Vigorously support, financially and legally, attempts by communities to oppose environmental destruction by transnational companies.