Friday, September 25, 2009

Pittsburgh G20: THE PEOPLE'S MARCH

Grand Marshal - The Daily Show's John Oliver:

Keeping it real:

Now who is this, causing trouble?

And finally, who would have expected this?

Just So Long as you Keep Your Own Nose Clean...

I'm calling it. G-20, people.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

G-20 Question #1: Talkey-Talk or Doey-Do?

There are issues, believe it or not. Floated mostly: outside and surely within. The U.S. has its own agenda, but the regulation of private financial institutions AKA banks is getting the lion's share of global media attention -- along with a variety of other items.

This is in no small part because there is a movement within the G-20 to get serious and active. The public mood left over from the global economic recession encourages this feeling. The fact that the Summit is being held in Pittsburgh, a blue-collar town with a legendary work ethic embedded into its concrete, suggests that it may be time for the Group of 20 to pull up its socks and execute some of the things on our great global to-do list.

The payoff from this Summit will be a written Communique -- which at once can be dismissed as necessarily non-binding text, yet at the same time is eagerly anticipated by many due to its potential to informally bind member nations to real commitments by dint of loss of face for not carrying them out. Again, dependent upon the language.

Whether or not we understand very expertly the subject matter in a certain part of the Communique -- be it bank executives' compensation structures, IMF empowerment as a global oversight body, trade agreements or anything else -- we should all be able to tell via sheer sentence structure and common sense whether anything significant was determined, or cans were kicked down the road.

Hey, I'm from Pittsburgh. I'm biased. I want the world to have actually improved at this G-20 Summit. And so do a curious number of G-20 member nations.

Pittsburgh G-20: Burmese, Ethiopians March Towards the Summit

Headed east on Liberty Avenue, from the Point:

Unlike most of us in a confusing, snarled Downtown, turns out they knew where they were going: a security perimeter near to the David L. Lawrence Convention Center.

Here is a portion of the Ethiopian demonstration:

And here is a clip from that of the Burmese:

And here, Pennsylvania state troopers march toward them en mass, stay for a bit, then turn around and walk away:

The Comet's Prescription for Global Progress

Here is what we think we know:

1. The preferred agenda of the Group of 20 Summit in Pittsburgh is to liberalize world trade and disentangle government meddling from markets.

1a. To the extent that that is indeed useful, U.S. farm subsidies are an embarrassment -- as damaging to U.S. long-term strategic interests as Abu Ghraib. Everybody in a position to know this already knows this, except most Congresspersons.

2. Financial sector regulations, debt relief and economic justice, climate change and carbon emissions will seize portions of the G-20's energy and initiative only if member participants are engaged politically, in the present tense -- with one another and with their constituencies and audiences.

3. The best lever "the protesters" have at their disposal presently is President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, pictured here. He has been making veiled threats to "walk out" of the Summit if issues somewhat similar or related to many protester issues are not addressed.

4. Just guessing here: it might be best to appeal to Sarkozy's ego.

5. If France walks out on its own, it will be a total clown and the G-20 will move on without it. That's why France definitely, definitely won't come close to walking out on its own.

6. Germany and Canada are likely to team up with France on several of these matters. So may as-yet-unidentified countries without huge banking sectors, or with axes to grind generally.

7. How far are Germany, Canada and their as-yet unidentified allies (Japan would be nice!) willing to go down Sarkozy's rhetorical route? What if five or six countries start making noises about leaving if "nothing urgent is being discussed" -- not beyond heartwarming bromides?

8. If the G-20 Summit actually were to break down, that would be seen as a dreadful failure of American leadership, obvious to everyone.

9. How awesome would President Obama come across as if by "handling" Sarkozy in the intelligent manner, he is seen at once to have allowed the more vain politician his moment in the sunlight, while avoiding a headache? Obama could save face from altering a few positions by "at last unleashing the creative potential of the Franco-American alliance", making history you could say -- simply by inserting something flashier than imagined about bankers' bonuses into the language of the post-summit Communique.

10. Meanwhile, I do not think the U.S. notion to urge certain G-20 countries to consume more imports in order to balance trade makes any sense yet. And I'm not sure the International Monetary Fund, with its 51%+ stake held by the U.S. alone, is the most appropriate or even most fertile institution to begin vesting with powers.

In summation, today I prescribe healthy doses of "Go Sarkozy, Go!" banners as the best way to disrupt, and to hopefully reorient, the G-20 Summit around more overtly humanitarian priorities. Stay tuned.

And by the way, the success point for the happiness economic indicator is not "making it into the Communique" (unlikely) but rather getting funded and professionally utilized by some halfway credible international institution (looking better). The success point for climate change is a U.S. Presidential commitment to attend Copenhagen in December. The success point for debt relief and economic justice has yet to be apprehended.



Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Pittsburgh G-20 Summit: What's the Dealyo?

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and PNC Financial Services put on a show last night at the new August Wilson Center in Downtown Pittsburgh. What's going to happen at the Pittsburgh Summit?

Susan Schawb is a former U.S. trade representative. She pointed out that at the University of Maryland, of which she is very proud, half of the public policy students take part within the walls of these economics summits and other half of take part outside in protest-type arrangements.

She personally spoke out against "beggar-thy-neighbor" trade policies among the major countries -- an argument against import tariffs (taxes on imports for whatever reason) and export subsidies, especially "self-defeating tit-for-tat" ones that "exacerbate" problems. Free trade, free trade. And "everyone is sinning" on this score -- she says it "negatively impacts the trade of 120 countries" -- but it is incumbent on the U.S. to "step up to a position of leadership." Congress in particular needs to step up, but advanced developing countries also need to determine "what is the contribution they should make?"

Schwalb finished her opening by "guaranteeing" the leaders would call this round of the G-20 "a success", to some chuckling.

James Dobbins, director of the RAND International Security and Defense Policy Center, echoed Ms. Schwab in stating that these meetings are "supposed to be about economics". Certain drama can distract from that, although that is usually the unexpected -- tension in the Balkans or similar. "For the organizers of these meetings, drama is a bad thing," so there generally is not any.

As to extraneous drama that distracts form trade, "the recession is over" was the mantra of the day. "Some degree of self-congratulation is due", Dobbins said, but his prediction for the results of the Summit was only that" they'll hold another meeting" to more chuckles.

On that note, moderator David Schribman quipped, "So it's a job program for public officials" to real laughter.

Former Canadian chief finance minister Barbara McDougall volunteered that some of the G-20 countries are emerging, and some of them aren't exactly. The G-7 / G-8 expanded to twenty when "it was no longer appropriate as an informal world governing body", which she underscored that is what these G's actually is: an informal world governing body.

McDougall said China would be the "elephant in the room" at these fora, owing to their capacity to -- and she settled on this for lack of better words -- "make trouble". Also she said bluntly that "the U.S. and France don't like each other" and part of that was manifesting in that President Sarkozy is insisting on getting bankers' bonuses under control. She predicted he won't storm out, but there will be "language" in the outcome communique -- which "they are already writing as we speak", only with brackets for revisions.

She did mention that "financial institution reform" is important, and that it might be wise to take a look at "Islamic banks", who have some peculiar practices. Later on she said somewhat pointedly in the direction of former U.S. minister Schwab that the U.S. and Canada, as one another's #1 trading partner, should take a look at bankers' compensation together.

P-G Associate Editor Dan Simpson was the wet blanket in the room. He proffered all these crucial benchmarks for success of the G-20 Summit that had little to do with free trade and with what the rest of the panel would call "economics"; he wants the leaders to demonstrate that they're sure we won't slide back into recession, and wants "a model to get us away from debt". Also, Copenhagen (a December climate conference) needs to be taken seriously.

He did allow that as far as protectionism and tariffs go, it grates on the "raw nerves" of everyone involved. Schwab, again the U.S. trade rep, frequently returned to how although aid is being given, you get an immensely bigger bang for you buck out of trade.

Free trade free trade free trade. Free trade. Eliminate tariffs and subsudies. So healthful! So enriching and rewarding and stimulating in itself! Zarkozy is being dramatic and at least somewhat typically French with his stances on "issues", but he won't walk out, he'll just make noise and get some language written somewhere about something. Except Canada will probably be down for a lot of those antics, along with Germany and other countries without huge banking sectors and less to lose by fiddling with compensation structures to engineer wiser decision making.

I have many more notes and will probably spill them out later. If I have one criticism of the panel discussion it's that strangely that there were too many questions -- I would like to have seen the panelists go back and forth on some of them leisurely, instead of parceling one at a time out for one specific panelist at a time and then it's gone.

Wednesday, the Hump Day: Assorted Items

This is more fantastic news for Pittsburgh out of nowhere! Check out the facility's "special features". (Trib, Mike Cronin; P-G, David Templeton)


Mayor Ravenstahl's 2010 budget relies on $15 million mostly from yet-to-be-specified fees on non-profits, targeted somewhat narrowly at the health care and higher education sectors.

Here is my opinion on that: he's only asking for $15 million? What a sleimo! He should clearly be asking for at least $30 million. The Pittsburgh Promise is noble but cannot balance gaping healthcare-sized, healthcare-shaped holes in municipal and even school district budgets. (Trib, Adam Brandolph; P-G, Rich Lord)


And then there is Allegheny County:

Onorato on Tuesday once again proposed no tax increase in his budget address to County Council. But his plan also includes an attempt to stabilize the budget long-term starting in 2011. To do it he's relying in part on increases in casino money and sales taxes, and new income from gas drilling and nonprofit contributions. (Trib, Tim Puko)

Emphasis mine. Further down:

Onorato said he plans to cut $5 million more from county operations by 2011, though he has yet to decide how. (ibid)

Hm. A work in progress, eh?


Meanwhile a new State of Pennsylvania tax on museums, theaters, and zoos is occurring. You know, "cultural venues". But not sporting events. We like sports and we don't care who knows. (Trib, Pierce and Stiles)


Pittsburgh City Council votes preliminarily in favor of Councilman Dowd's G-20 fact-finding committee idea, but:

Amendments made today removed references to council's ability to subpoena people and documents, but "didn't really change it dramatically," said Councilman Patrick Dowd, author of the resolution. (P-G, Rich Lord)

I assume that HRC § 312 would still technically be triggered and in effect, though, correct? Well then, jolly good show! Much like local Congressman Tim Murphy (R-South Hills), who voted constantly to support all sorts of Kucinichian and Waxmanian investigations into President George Bush (R-Sesame Street), I believe that insistent curiosity and due diligence are healthful for the populace. It has less to do with a hunger to see Mayor Steelershizzle be given an Atomic wedgie in Market Square at this time, but rather establishing the principle and practices surrounding Councilmatic investigations. The experience will be a boon for future civics. Three cheers for the 2009 City Council, or for the great bulk of it anyway!


The Post-Gazette has nailed it of course, but this comment #30 by e$ is interesting regardless. It at least makes clear that the dance event was not, strictly speaking, a flash mob according to the Wikipedians, and they would know about exactly these kinds of things. (P-G Edit Board)


Remember I mentioned the Stigletz / Sarkozy economic indicator? Well, I forgot to mention one notable rationale for it: GDP only values capital-producing labor, whereas much of the work necessary to build a stable, thriving civilization goes into child- and family-rearing. From a feminist perspective such metrics as quote-unquote "leisure time" are productive toward more accurately assessing the capacity of women's value to national strength given their historic "double burden" of family-nurturing as well as bacon home-bringing.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hey G-20: Don't Hate Us Because We're Beautiful

Just caught this photo on the popular, eclectic local message board, Never Tell Me The Odds (h/t Jennie Roth of 37 Roses). Is this really real? I almost feel like somebody doctored the image. I get the creative, in-your-face environmentalism, but at the same time whaaat?

(Pictured: Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato)

"Pittsburgh Green: We Feel Your Envy."

A Sampling of Yeterday's G-20 Protests

When I arrived at Women's Tent City, economics Prof. Jennifer C. Olmsted of Drew University was delivering a lecture on the present situation in Palestine.

Without railing exactly against Israel, she was explaining how the enforced isolation of Palestinians from the global economy is making it difficult to thrive there, and strengthening the hand of Hamas as the only organization that ever seems to be standing up for them.

"What does this have to do with the G-20?" I asked her.

That stymied her a little. She was invited to speak at the event by friends and friends-of-friends at Code Pink, to educate about her areas of expertise: poverty and womens' issues in the developing world.

When I asked "What would you have me ask of G-20 leaders?", she recalled news of French President Nicholas Sarkozy developing a new economic indicator based on the work of Joseph Stiglitz which takes into account more than simple Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and urging other G-20 nations to adopt the same. She was curious whether the United States would care to adopt and start calculating and comparing economies on that basis.

However, when it came to issues that the G-20 deals with, she was more concerned with what the G-20 overlooks.


At the New Hazlet Theater on the North Side, Privilege Hang'andu of the Jesuit Center for Theological Reflection in Zambia delivered a more impassioned talk about the challenges facing the continent of Africa, most of which relate to the immense debt its nations owe to Western nations and institutions -- some of which date back to the colonial period.

The statistics for hunger deaths and malnutrition, and AIDS deaths, were startling. Sub-Saharan Africa comprises 60% of the world's HIV/AIDS cases, while containing just 10% of the world's population. Yet pharmaceutical companies resist the development and even distribution of existent generic medicines. Poor nations are instructed to open their markets to compete "fairly" with the rest of the world, without subsidizing their own industries -- while the United States continues to subsidize its own farmers to up to 50% of their costs.

In light of this, Hang'andu notes that only one African country is a member of the G-20 -- South Africa -- a nation which he testifies that not only do most Africans not consider truly part of "Africa", but whose own citizens tend to look down on the rest of the continent as "Africans".

Time and again, he made a similar point: if the G-20 does not address poverty in Africa, if it does not address the debt burden keeping Africa suffused in poverty, it will be a failure. If its development agenda does not include the poor, it will be a failed, non-development agenda.

That's when it hit me. It's not that the G-20 sits around scheming evil designs and making decisions which do harm to the world. It's that they aren't scheming nearly enough.

Here it is, at last, an historical meeting, the leaders of the twenty most prosperous nations in the world, all in one room, all this trouble to get together, all this expense -- and it is not seen to concern itself with anything of urgency. It's not what the G-20 is doing, but what it's not doing. If you're going to bother putting Barack Obama and Nicholas Sarkozy and Hu Jintao on a semi-annual traveling ensemble roadshow, and their finance ministers on a quarterly promotional undercard, why not spend the energy on things that "really matter" -- hunger, disease, poverty, war and peace? Why piddle around with economic stimulus and bank regulations?

Even when the "global" economy was churning like a machine, it was hardly affecting these problems in any serious way. It had huge blind spots, and surprise, some of those led to big headaches.

It was suggested even that the "$10 million the G-20 spent on security in the past two days" would be better spent on bread and penicillin. I think that's a better and more accurate way to conceive of opposition to the G-20 than "replacing capitalism" or whatever it is that the fringe groups who've managed to hijack the dialogue are making it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Joe Hoeffel Leaps into Governor's Race

So breaketh, and so confirmeth to the Comet one of his campaign consultants.

The latter shared with me a "polling memo" from the internal poll which supposedly convinced the former Congressman, 2004 contender against then-Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, and current Montgomery County Commissioner to take the plunge:

A recent statewide survey of likely Democratic Primary voters finds former Congressman Joe Hoeffel leading a field of candidates in the race for Governor of Pennsylvania. This finding is all the more impressive considering that Hoeffel has not yet announced his candidacy. Despite a field of several announced candidates, Democratic Primary voters are clearly looking for a strong progressive leader to lead the state; Hoeffel is poised to consolidate the sizable progressive bloc of the primary electorate, as well as the all-important swing Philadelphia suburbs.

Of 800 respondents, 15% plunked for Hoeffel, as compared to 12% each for dueling Pittsburghers Dan Onorato and Jack Wagner and 50% undecided. According to the internal poll, the data gets better for Hoeffel around Philadelphia, and even better around the vote-rich Philadelphia suburbs.

While Hoeffel’s voters are solidly in his camp, the same cannot be said for Wagner, Onorato, and Knox – all of whom are sitting on relatively weak, contested bases of support. Fully 68% of Hoeffel’s voters would move to “undecided” if he were not in the race – significantly more than is the case for Onorato’s, Wagner’s, and Knox’s voters; no other candidate would pick up more than 11% of Hoeffel’s initial vote. In contrast, if Knox were to exit the race, Hoeffel would stand to pick up 31% of his vote. Wagner and Onorato supporters are also poised to switch should their first choice exit the field. Fully 37% of Onorato voters would vote for Wagner if Onorato were not running. And more than one in five Wagner voters (22%) would vote for Onorato if Wagner were not running.

Unsurprising for an internal poll, but this all sounds favorable.

Voters who know Joe Hoeffel like him, and he is more popular than most of the candidates, including Onorato.

It's clear which candidate has a target on his back!

The Democratic Primary electorate is looking for a progressive leader – which is good news for Hoeffel, the only candidate with a strong record of accomplishments on progressive issues, and bad news for the rest of the field, to whom few would apply the progressive label. Fully half of Democratic Primary voters (50%) describe themselves as liberal, compared to 29% who describe themselves as moderate and 17% who describe themselves as conservative. This figure is nearly identical to the 2008 Presidential Democratic primary exit poll in Pennsylvania, which showed 49% of Democratic Primary voters describing themselves as liberal.

NEXT UP: Just what the hell is a progressive anyway according to Team Hoeffel, and what makes Joe one exactly aside from several dozen reporters picking up that meme.

Since both the math and the narrative of the primary have just been shaken up, it will be interesting to see if Onorato veers left and insists that he's also a solid progressive, or whether he'll point out that his conservatism and his non-progressively acquired campaign money would make him the electable nominee in the general election. He'll probably find a way to do both at the same time.

Here are what look to me like the strengths and weakness of Candidate Hoeffel all at once, from his fledgling campaign site placeholder:

We also recognize that only government can end discrimination in public life—discrimination against the sick and uninsured in health care, discrimination against poor women and young women in restrictions on reproductive freedoms, discrimination against poor children in underfunded public schools and against poor communities in environmental policies, discrimination against people in love from freely marrying regardless of their gender.

We are all children of God, and we are all equal in Her eyes. Our job is to make sure that our laws reflect and protect that equality.

How do you walk back a female deity? This is Pennsylvania. You know the conventional wisdom.