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Monday, June 28, 2010

On summits and riots and taxpayers dollars

Well, the G8 and G20 summits are over.

Like many, I wasn't too impressed with the amount of money budgeted for the summits.  $930 million is a lot of money (though it should be pointed out that 1) $179 million of that was set aside in a previous budget and 2) budgeted amount and actual amounts don't usually end up the same).

My problem is that every time I come up with a reason against how the summits were done, I can also come of with a reason why it wasn't done differently.

Take the total amount budgeted - the "billion dollars."  First off, while there were certainly summits hosted in other cities that cost less, it's actually not an unusual amount.  I've read it pointed out that some cost more.

What did the money go?  Well, aside from accommodations for world leaders and their entourages (I would be glad to know how many hangers on were along of the ride, and how necessary they were) and $57,000 "fake lakes," most of the money was set aside to pay the RCMP and other police forces providing security, including overtime.  I really can't complain about the police getting paid to do what they were hired to do, nor can I complain that they will be paid overtime.

Holding the summits in downtown Toronto doesn't seem like a good idea, either.  Why not somewhere more isolated?  More easily secured? Some suggestions I've seen bandied about include Inuvik, Baffin Island, a cruise ship, or having the military build a special encampment in an isolated - preferably far north - location.  Such locations would be easier to secure and cost less (even building facilities, though they certainly shouldn't be the most comfortable!).  As an added "bonus," world leaders probably wouldn't be bringing along as many people - they might have difficulty finding many willing to come along at all! - and the isolated locations would mean the only protesters and media that show up as well would be the ones that are truly dedicated.  The anarchy types tend to be lazy and cowardly, and aren't likely to go someplace that would require more effort to get to, nor would it be as easy for them to hide after doing their deeds, then doffing their snot rags bandannas or black clothes.  Sure, the ones that are more organized and better funded might show up, but with the likelihood of getting caught being that much higher, many wouldn't bother.

Another type of protester that is less likely to show up are the ones that are just along for the ride - they're not there for any cause, or just latch on to whatever cause is popular in their social circles.  It was rather disheartening to read interviews quoting "protesters" that talked about how they weren't really doing anything wrong, they were just there to see what was going on, or some weird rambling diatribe about how they were just trying to stick it to The Man, so they shouldn't have been arrested, or should be allowed to do whatever they heck they want.  Listening to some of these "protesters," I find myself wondering; if I shone a light into one ear, would the light come through the other side? 

Another benefit I see is that there would be a lower "media" turn out - particularly those wannabe journalists who think that using their cell phones to record "police brutality" somehow makes them immune to the repercussions of their actions.  Like the anarchists, these types tend to be lazy, too.  With less of them, there would be less of the types of "protesters" trying to get their faces on youtube, in the papers, on tv or on youtube.  The mere presence of a camera seems to bring out the idiot in a lot of people.

I'm also convinced that if these summits were held in the dead of winter in a country that gets a lot of cold and snow, there's be a lot less violent protesting.  Though some might turn to burning cars just to keep warm.

The problem with using an isolated location is that... well... they're isolated.  Transportation of the world leaders themselves would be only a small part of the challenge.  There would need to be accommodations not only for the leaders and their staff, but all the hundreds of other people that work behind the scenes organizing things and ensuring everything runs smoothly.  From the cooks to the housekeepers, electricians and sound techs, to the paper pushers keeping track of it all.  While the need to hire all these people might mean a sudden hiring and economic boom for said isolated location, a lot of people would still need to be brought in from outside.  Keeping everyone with a roof over their heads, a place to sleep, food to eat, and transportation to get where they need to go would all be more difficult in the middle of nowhere.

The one exception to this seems to be the cruise ship idea.  Some of these ships are already floating cities, with plenty of accommodations and infrastructure not only for the summit attendees, but all the support staff needed.  Even security would be easier, as the ship could be surrounded with boats, ships, submersibles, helicopters, or whatever else was needed.  Plus, the entire ship can just move away from potential problems.  No one would be able to get anywhere near the ship without being seen.  Of course, it would pretty much eliminate all protest, legitimate or otherwise.

Another suggestion I've seen is the use of video conferencing.  I kinda like that idea, too.  It would surely be cheaper than flying everyone to one place. 

The problem with using technology for something like that is that it's notoriously unreliable.  Computer glitches, power surges, hardware failure, etc. are notorious problems for any technological event.  There's also the time zone issue - when would such a conference be held?  Who gets to tell one leader they have to be on at 2 am, or another at 8pm?

One other thing a technical conference fails at is the personal, human touch.  There's something to be said for talking face to face, and being able to take someone aside and say, "hey, I didn't quite understand what you said earlier.  Can you clarify it for me?"  Or even just to develop a friendly relationship in an informal setting, outside the summit meetings themselves.

So while I may not like the idea of hosting the summits in the heart of a large city, I can't think of any viable alternative that will also allow the general public to have legitimate protest.

Which brings me to my next point.  The protesters themselves.

In reading the news and seeing various clips (no, I didn't watch any of it on tv.  That would require actually watching the thing), I am singularly unimpressed with the quality of these so-called protesters.  I don't recall another time I've seen a more whiny, self-absorbed, air headed bunch of people.  A lot of these people seemed to have no idea what they were there for, spouting off vague sound bites and talking points.  It's one thing to say you're there to protest globalization, but it would help if you could actually come up with a reason you're against it, other than 'corporations and governments are evil'.  Please, people - if you're passionate enough about something to show up at a demonstration or protest, be passionate enough to do some actual research so you don't come across as a fool while being interviewed by international journalists!

A lot of people were ranting about how the police overreacted, and how these were just "peaceful protesters," with some going so far as to claim that the presence of security actually promoted violence, as if not having the police there would result in a bunch of calm, peace loving groups sitting around singing kumbaya and passing out flowers.

There's a slight problem with that.

Violent protests follow these summits.  Violent protesters follow these summits.  As much as I would have liked to see nothing but a bunch of people shouting and waving placards while the police stand around sweating in their riot gear, anyone who believed there would be no violence has to be naive.  (There were non-violent protests, of course - they weren't the ones you would hear about, though.  Peaceful protest doesn't sell papers.)  As it is, the violence in Toronto was really quite mild compared to other summits.  No serious injuries.  No deaths.

There were a lot of arrests, however, and a whole lot of whining from those arrested.  They were all, of course, completely innocent of wrong doing, minding their own business, until the police swooped down and arrested them without cause.

Yeah, right.

There are those that acknowledge that some people are there just to incite violence (like the Black Bloc).  There's a problem with that, too.  For starters, there were people scouting the area and leaving caches of rocks, bottles and other potential weapons well before the actual summit dates.  Many of these self-professed "peaceful protesters" encouraged the violent behaviour (and when one man tried to stop a vandal, the other protesters turned on him, instead!).  One of the reasons the Black Bloc gets away with their actions is because they dive into the crowds of protesters, shed their black clothing, then walk away with the others, looking like any other protester.  This can only work with the support of the other protesters, which means that they are actively aiding and abetting a criminal in their midst.  They can say they didn't do anything violent themselves all they want, but by doing this, they are every bit as criminal as the vandal they are protecting.

It's a shame that this sort of thing is happening. I may not agree with the causes of various protesters - I don't even know what most of them are - but I fully support their right to protest.  I don't support people who get up in the face of some police officer in riot gear, trying to goad him or her into responding with force, just so they can turn around and scream "police brutality."  I don't support the idiots who turn to violence. 

Thanks to those few who do, and the complicity of other protesters around them, organizers of these summits know that there will be violence, and need to be prepared for it.

Just imagine what the reaction would have been if there weren't so many police officers, and the rioters that revel in these events were allowed to run amok?

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