The Real Crime Scene Was Inside the G20 Summit
As thousands protested in the streets of Toronto, inside the G20 summit world leaders agreed to a controversial goal of cutting government deficits in half by 2013. We speak with journalist Naomi Klein. "What actually happened at the summit is that the global elites just stuck the bill for their drunken binge with the world’s poor, with the people that are most vulnerable," Klein says.
AMY GOODMAN: As thousands protested in the streets of Toronto, inside the G20 summit world leaders agreed to a controversial goal of cutting government deficits in half by 2013. Economists say such a move could usher in sizable tax increases and massive cuts in government programs, including benefit programs such as Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile, world leaders at the G8/G20 failed to come to an agreement on setting new global rules for big banks or imposing a new across-the-board global bank tax.
Journalist Naomi Klein joins us now from her home in Toronto. Her most recent book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. She has an op-ed in the Toronto Globe and Mail today called "Sticking the Public with the Bill for the Bankers’ Crisis."
Naomi, welcome to Democracy Now! You were out on the streets throughout the weekend. Describe what Toronto looks like and what the G20 decisions—their significance are.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, Toronto has pretty much returned to normal. They cleaned up the broken glass, and the leaders have gone home. And I was near the Convention Center last night and saw some sweeping up. And, you know, all weekend the media here has been in hysterics over the broken glass and the burning police cars and saying, you know, nothing like this has ever happened before in Canada, which, first of all, is just not true. We have some pretty intense hockey riots, where in one case sixteen police cars were burned. So it isn’t true that we’ve never seen property destruction like this.
But my feeling, when I went by the Convention Center after all the leaders had gone home, was that this was the real crime scene, not those shattered storefronts, but what actually happened at the summit on Sunday night, when the world leaders issued their final communiqué. And what that communiqué said was that there wouldn’t even be a measly tax on banks to help pay for the global crisis that they created and also prevent future crises. There wouldn’t be a financial transaction tax, which could create a fund for social programs and for action on climate change. There wouldn’t be a real action to eliminate subsidies for fossil fuel companies that have also created so many social and environmental costs around the world, as we see with the BP disaster.
But what there would be was very decisive action on deficit reductions. These leaders announced that they would halve their deficits by 2013, which is shocking and brutal cut. You know, I don’t believe—maybe some of the leaders intend on keeping—making good on this promise, but, on the other hand, they can hide behind this promise as the excuse to do what a lot of them want to do anyway, and say, you know, "We have no choice; we made this commitment." But so, just to put this in perspective, if the US were to cut its deficit, its projected 2010 deficit, in half by 2013, that would be a cut of $780 billion, you know, if there were no tax increases in that period. So, you know, that’s why I wrote the piece that came out this morning in Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail, that what actually happened at the summit is that the global elites just stuck the bill for their drunken binge with the world’s poor, with the people who are most vulnerable, because that is really who’s going to pay, when they balance their budgets on the backs of healthcare programs, pension programs, unemployment programs. And also, the other thing that they did at this G8 summit, that preceded the G20 summit, is admit that they were not meeting their commitments to doubling aid to Africa, once again, because of the debt that was created by saving the banks.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, in your piece in The Globe and Mail, you talk about the history of G20, how it was formed.
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, you know, the G20 is a little bit of a mysterious institution. Amy, you and I were both at an event in Toronto on Friday night, both speaking at an event organized by the Council of Canadians. It was a terrific event. And Vandana Shiva was one of the other speakers, and she had a great line. She said, "Ah, the G20, so young and yet so old," referring to the fact that the ideas of the G20 are so old, so predictable. But it is a young institution. It was conceived in 1999 as a summit of finance ministers. It only became a sort of an extension of the G8 as a leaders’ summit in the past two years, and that we saw in London, and we saw it in Pittsburgh, and we have now seen it in Toronto. So this incarnation of the G20 as a leaders’ summit is very young indeed.
But yeah, ten years ago, Paul Martin, who was then Canada’s finance minister, later Canada’s prime minister, was at a meeting with Larry Summers. This is 1999, so Summers at that time was Bill Clinton’s nominee for Treasury secretary. And the two men were discussing this idea to expand the G7 into a larger grouping to respond to the fact that developing country economies like China and India were growing very quickly, and they wanted to include them into this club, and they were under pressure to do so. So, what Martin and Summers did—and this history we only learned last week. This really wasn’t a history that had been told. So this story came out in The Globe and Mail. And it turns out that the two men didn’t have a piece of paper. They wanted to—I don’t know how this would possibly be the case, but their story is that they wanted to make a list of the countries that they would invite into this club, and they couldn’t find a piece of paper, so they found a manilla envelope and wrote on the back of the manilla envelope a list of countries. And by Paul Martin’s admission, those countries were not simply the twenty top economies of the world, the biggest GDPs. They were also the countries that were most strategic to the United States. So Larry Summers would make a decision that obviously Iran wouldn’t be in, but Saudi Arabia would be. And so, Saudi Arabia is in. Thailand, it made sense to include Thailand, because it had actually been the Thai economy, which, two years earlier, had set off the Asian economic crisis, but Thailand wasn’t as important to the US strategically as Indonesia, so Indonesia was in and not Thailand. So what you see from this story is that the creation of the G20 was an absolutely top-down decision, two powerful men deciding together to do this, making, you know, an invitation-only list.
And what you really see is that this is an attempt to get around the United Nations, where every country in the world has a vote, and to create this expanded G7 or G8, where they invite some developing countries, but not so many that they can overpower or outvote the Western—the traditional Western powers. So, as this happened, we have also seen a weakening and an undermining of the United Nations. And I think that that’s the context in which the G20 needs to be understood. And that’s why a lot of the activists in Toronto this week were arguing that the G20 is an illegitimate institution and the price tag is—that we, as Canadian taxpayers, have had to take on for hosting this summit, you know, $1.2 billion, is particularly unacceptable, given that we have the United Nations, where these countries can meet in a much more democratic, much more legitimate forum, as opposed to this ad hoc invitation-only club from the back of an envelope in Larry Summers’s office.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to the issue of war. There were a number of feeder marches into the main one on Saturday. The peace groups started in front of the US consulate in Toronto. And there, in a rare moment, a mother of a young Canadian who had just been deployed to Afghanistan, to Kandahar, spoke out against war.
JOSIE FORCADILLA: I’m Josie. I’m employed by the United Church of Canada in the Justice, Global and Ecumenical Relations Unit. My son was deployed in Afghanistan in May this year and is currently working in the Kandahar Airfield, where the Canadian forces is located. And he is under the Royal Regiment, the regiment—the battle group, I mean, that is currently deployed in Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: And why are you here in front of the US consulate on this rainy day?
JOSIE FORCADILLA: I’m here—I’m here, even though it’s raining, as you can see, that I just want to convey my message to the members of the G20 and G8, that relatives, a mother like me, doesn’t want to extend this mission in Afghanistan.
AMY GOODMAN: Why?
JOSIE FORCADILLA: Why? Because lots of lives has been lost, not only from this side of the NATO forces or the ISAF, but as well as the Afghan civilian population. We don’t know what’s happening with the civilians. We don’t know how much people have died—how many people have died in this conflict. So, as a mother, I’m very concerned about that.
AMY GOODMAN: There have just been reports that have come out about torture at the Kandahar air base. Have you heard about this?
JOSIE FORCADILLA: I’ve heard about that, and I’ve read about that. And I think it’s—this government, the Harper government, should come clean with this issue. There should be an impartial investigation, as far as torture is concerned in Kandahar Airfield.
AMY GOODMAN: Josie Forcadilla is the mother of a Canadian soldier currently serving in Kandahar. A hundred fifty Canadian soldiers have died in Afghanistan. Four civilians have died, two since I actually spoke to her.
Naomi Klein, talk about war in the context of the G20 summit, and Canada’s decision to pull out troops, their 4,500 troops, in a year.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well, we’ll see whether that happens. But I do think that the anger that we saw displayed on the streets of Toronto this weekend did surprise a lot of people. You know, people think of Canada as a very polite country, and there was a lot of anger and a lot of very angry young people. And this has to do with a real transformation that’s taken place in our country. And, you know, I say that without romanticizing the pre-Harper Canada, because it had many, many flaws, and Canada is a colonial country with a very violent history. But having said that, something has changed under this government, and it began under the preceding government, where the country has become much more militaristic. And the tradition that Canadians identify with, which is the tradition of peacekeeping, not these overt combat missions, as we’re engaged with in Afghanistan, is really disappearing. And, you know, one of the things that you really notice as a Canadian traveling internationally is that people are constantly asking—certainly they’re constantly asking you, you know, "What is going on with Canada? You know, Canada used to be such a sort of friendly player on the world stage and, you know, pro-human rights and so on. And now Canada is a really belligerent force." And, you know, Amy, you saw this in Copenhagen around climate change. Canada has the worst record on climate change because of the tar sands.
But, for me, the turning point of realizing just how bad things had gotten was when Jeremy Scahill reported on a speech that Erik Prince, the CEO of Blackwater, the founder of Blackwater, gave in—I believe it was Michigan a couple of months ago. And, you know, Erik Prince didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about too many people, but he was positively effusive about the role that Canada was playing in Afghanistan. He said if you ever see a Canadian, stop them and thank them for the role they’re playing in Afghanistan. So, to me, this was a real sort of turning point in terms of really understanding just how bad things have gotten. And we’ve lost a lot of friends in the world, and the new friends we’re making are people like Erik Prince, not the kind of friends we want to have. So, yeah, there have been a lot of ongoing torture scandals, with Canadian officials having knowledge of torture when they transfer prisoners in Afghanistan, allowing it to happen. So, you know, there’s a real identity crisis going on in this country, where a lot of our cherished beliefs about who we are in the world are just being challenged by the facts. And I think that what we saw on the streets this weekend and this expression of anger in the streets needs to be seen in that context.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to turn to a young journalist who was beaten and arrested. Among the hundreds of people arrested at the G20 protests in Toronto was Jesse Rosenfeld. He is a freelance reporter who was on assignment for The Guardian newspaper of London. He’s also a journalist with the Alternative Media Center. He was arrested and detained by Canadian police on Saturday evening covering a protest in front of the Novotel Hotel. We reached him just before this broadcast this morning. He was over at the CBC. And he described what happened to him.
JESSE ROSENFELD: They started sending in snatch squads and declared a mass arrest. At that point, I went up to them, and I was with some other media and said, "What about the media?" Their first reaction was, "Well, media is also under arrest." And then the officer came up actually [inaudible], said, "If you had an official lanyard from the G8/G20 summit, then you’re actually going to be OK and you can go through."
Now, it’s interesting, because I filed for my G8/G20 media accreditation on June 11th, back at the deadline, submitted both—you know, all my documentation, including a letter from The Guardian. And then, what happened was, while the summit kept saying, oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m approved, they’re just waiting for the final approval of the RCMP background check before they can send me my lanyard or my official media photo ID, that it basically said it had to declare a background check. And that was basically used to prevent me from getting the media pass. So I only had an Alternative Media Center pass on me, which was the passes that the AMC, the Alternative Media Center, not the government, set up. Alternative Media Center had issued to all the independent journalists that were working with it.
The police told me, "Oh, we don’t recognize these credentials." I explained to them that I was a journalist also with The Guardian, that I was writing for "Comment Is Free." I told them about my editors. I told them about my stories. And they said, "Well, we’ll check your credentials, and then, if it’s fine, we’ll let you go."
At that point, I was sort of taken to the side, after a bunch of media had gotten through the police line, and an officer walked up to me, looked at my ID and said—my Alternative Media Center press pass, that is—and said, "This isn’t legitimate. You’re under arrest," at which point I was immediately jumped by two police officers. I had my notepads in my hands. Grabbed my arms, they yanked back. My notepad went flying. I was hit in the stomach by one officer as I was held by two others. As I was going over, I was then hit in the back and went down. After I went down and as I went down, I smacked my leg. I had officers jump on top of me. I was being hit in the back. My face was being pushed to the concrete. All the time I’m saying, "I’m not resisting arrest. I’m a journalist. Why are you beating me?" My leg was lifted up, and my ankle was twisted, from while I was on the ground not resisting. And at that point, after I started saying these things, the police then started saying, "Stop resisting arrest," as if to try and provide cover for themselves.
Something interesting about when I was jumped, as well, is, just a minute or so after, two other officers had passed by, and they identified me as someone who is, quote-unquote, "a mouthy kid." Basically, I had run into them at demonstrations previously in the week and basically been asking tough questions on the front of the riot line as they were either clashing with media, which they did quite violently through the week, or beating protesters. And so, they had identified me as someone who was challenging them publicly and on the record. And it was at that point that I was jumped by the other officers, you know, and beaten and arrested.
We were then hauled off to jail. I spent—I guess I was arrested at around 10:00, 11:30 in the evening, and I didn’t get out of jail 'til 5:00 or 6:00 the next afternoon. And that was basically on—we weren't charged. We were held on the—we were detained on the grounds of, quote-unquote, "breach of peace," which is not a criminal offense. And the conditions in jail—I mean, I’ve been working from the Middle East as a journalist for the past three years or so, since 2007, and the jails actually remind me a lot more of the ones I’ve seen that Israelis hold for Palestinians or the Palestinian Authority holds. We were in handcuffs, or at least I was in handcuffs 'til nearly 5:00 in the morning, while being processed in different cells and waiting to be processed and in cells of over—overcrowded cells with over twenty people, with a porta-potty, very limited access to water. Then, after I was processed, I was moved to a five-foot-by-eight-foot cell, where there were five other people with me. And there was benches, no washroom, only a concrete floor. And the room was absolutely freezing, not even enough space for us to lie down and sleep all at the same time. It was incredibly difficult to sleep because it was so cold. A lot of the people I was in jail with had been beaten, and beaten quite badly—black eyes, bloody noses, and been hit all over. And also, a lot of the people from—there were several people from the Alternative Media Center who had been taken in for just doing their job, which was reporting from the front lines.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Jesse Rosenfeld, freelance reporter on assignment with The Guardian newspaper in London. He was also a journalist with the Alternative Media Center, arrested and detained by the Canadian police on Saturday evening.
Naomi Klein, the level of force that was used, the money that has been put into this, and then I want to end with the Gulf of Mexico, from the G20 to the Gulf of Mexico, and there are connections. I think you make them when you speak and when you write, when we're talking about the power of corporations.
NAOMI KLEIN: Well. we’ll see if we make it to the Gulf of Mexico, Amy. But, yeah, I want to talk a little bit about, you know, that horrifying story from Jesse. And there are many others like it. And, you know, the police rioted after what happened on Saturday. As you mentioned at the top of the show, more than 600 people have been arrested, brutally arrested in many cases, these nighttime raids. There are stories of people waking up with guns pointed in their faces.
And the context for this is really frightening, because the police are feeling really cornered and feeling like they have to justify something which is completely unjustifiable. And that is the price tag that they put on what it would cost to provide security for the G8 and G20 summit. Security for this summit cost, as you mentioned, an estimated $1 billion. Just to put that in perspective, it’s more than security has ever cost for any summit ever in the world. And, you know, Canada is not a country which has a history of terrorist attacks. So, it isn’t at all clear why they felt they needed to spend such a huge amount of money. As a point of comparison, at Pittsburgh G20 summit, the price tag for security was $100 million. So you went in less than a year from a $100 million price tag to $1 billion price tag for security, with no explanation. And as Canadians started to learn about this, they became rightfully very, very angry. And the police were under a lot of pressure to explain why they were treating this summit that Canada was hosting essentially as a cash grab. Basically what happened is they were able to buy all kinds of new toys, water cannons, sound cannons, you know, all kinds of high-tech stuff. But the real cash grab was overtime pay for the police. I mean, they were absolutely extravagant in their overtime demands, unyielding. They said, "If you want security, this is what it costs." So, before the summit started, there was a public opinion poll that was conducted that found that 78 percent of Canadians believed that the cost was unjustified.
So, what happened on Saturday, when you saw those burning cop cars and windows breaking, was what I can only describe as a cop strike. Essentially, they were just letting it happen. And people were watching this, not understanding why, for hours, the same police car was just allowed to burn. I mean, these guys had just bought themselves a brand new water cannon, and yet they couldn’t seem to find themselves a fire extinguisher.
Now, while that was happening, media outlets were getting press statements. And I’ll just read you one. This is from the Toronto Police Department: "All you have to do is turn on the TV and see what’s happening now. Police cars are getting torched, buildings are being vandalized, people are getting beat up, and [so] the so-called 'intimidating' police presence is essential to restoring order." In other words, the police were playing public relations, overtly. They were saying, "OK, you’re telling us our price tag was too high. We’re getting in political trouble for our outrageous demands. So now we’re going to show you this huge threat that we’re up against." And so, we have a police commissioner named Julian Fantino, who’s now started to talk about activists as organized crime. He says it’s not enough to call them thugs, they’re organized criminals. So, what’s dangerous here is that in order to justify their own unjustifiable actions, they need to overinflate a threat.
And so, that has played itself out in two ways: one, by allowing what happened on Saturday to happen with almost no intervention; and then—that was stage one—and stage two was using that inaction as justification for scooping up hundreds of other activists, beating up journalists, just going on a rampage. Now, it they were serious about getting the people who had broken the windows, they would have done the arrests there at the time. But that’s not what they’d done. They went to other parts of the city. They waited hours. And that’s who they arrested. So, I feel very, very worried about my friends who are in jail right now, because—because I think there’s nothing more frightening than, you know, a police force that feels the need to justify itself in this way and using these young activists as their political cover. And, you know, I think it’s a very dangerous situation, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi, we just have a minute, but I would like you to touch on, since you were in the Gulf, and because the G20 is not as much about containing corporate power, but it seems to be augmenting and protecting it. What you see is the connection from the Gulf to Toronto?
NAOMI KLEIN: Yeah, well, Amy, I do have a long piece about the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. It’s the cover story in The Nation this week, if people want to read it. It’s called "A Hole in the World." And I won’t try to summarize it here.
But, you know, to me—and this is what I spoke about in Toronto—one of the most important messages that we really need to learn in this moment is if we are going to oppose the strategy that these G20 leaders have just put on the table for how to deal with the budget crisis that they created, if we’re going to say, "We don’t want to get stuck with the bill for your crisis," then we have to put other revenue sources on the table, and that means cutting military and police spending, like the outrageous police spending we just saw in Toronto, but much larger than that, the losing wars that we’re fighting—that’s a great cost saver—and also taxing the banks, financial transaction taxes, but also going after the fossil fuel companies, because the message that we need to learn from the BP disaster is just the incredible costs imposed on societies by this industry. It is not just BP.
And we’ve accepted the principle in the Gulf of Mexico, or most of us have, with the exception of some Republicans, that the polluters should pay. And I think what we need to do is extend that principle, so that [inaudible] paying around the world, so Shell is paying for the environmental devastation it has wrought in Ogoniland in Nigeria and the decimation of the Niger Delta, and Chevron is paying for what its predecessor, Texaco, did in the Amazon in what’s called the Amazonian Chernobyl, in a case, I know, that you’ve covered extensively on Democracy Now!, and on and on. [inaudible] that is the issue of what the whole fossil fuel industry has done, in terms of sticking us with the bill for climate change, the cost of adapting to climate change, but also the cost of shifting away from fossil fuels.
And, you know, one of the things that we just heard at the G20 summit is that they can’t—the leaders don’t believe that they can afford to take real action on climate change. Any action on climate change, according to the G20, has to ensure economic growth, which basically means they can’t take any action on climate change. So, I think we need to very forcefully put on the table, we do need to take action on climate change, and if our governments have a cash flow problem, then they should be going directly after the fossil fuel companies, and they should pay for it, because they created the crisis, they created the problem, and the polluters should pay.
AMY GOODMAN: Naomi Klein, I want to thank you very much for being with us, journalist and author, her latest book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, has the cover story of The Nation magazine, wrote an op-ed piece today in The Globe and Mail of Canada. Over 600 people have been arrested protesting the G8 and G20 summits, and the amount of money that went into so-called security in Toronto, more than a billion dollars, the most expensive event in Canada’s history.