The G-20 is coming! The G-20 is coming! (Uh … what’s the G-20?)

This article was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 30, 2009.

Sunday Forum: The G-20 is coming! The G-20 is coming! (Uh … what’s the G-20?)
From the local news coverage, especially on TV, you’d think this gathering of world leaders was all about Pittsburgh, observes media professor MIKE DILLON

Aug 30, 2009

Journalists, like playwrights and personal injury lawyers, love conflict. A house divided against itself may not stand, but it makes a really neat picture crashing down.

This is why the news media, particularly local TV, are covering the upcoming G-20 economic summit like an impending Super Bowl or, better, a post-Super Bowl riot in Oakland.

Based on the preponderance of accounts in the local news media over the past few months, it would appear the world’s leaders are coming to Pittsburgh primarily to snarl traffic, provide overtime to countless cops as the Christmas season approaches and furnish Pittsburgh with an opportunity to promote itself as a wonder city.

Protesters, meanwhile, loom. They don’t like these G-20 guys. They also have an irrational hatred of plate-glass windows. Every time local TV news mentions the protesters they show stock footage of the aforementioned cops (outfitted smartly in riot gear) standing by grimly as wild protesters toss projectiles through windows.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has now announced that the protesters may indeed protest — if, in the spirit of Tom Paine, Emma Goldman and Martin Luther King, they obtain a government-issued permit to do so. Oh, and as long as they stay out of view of the G-20 guys. Also, unlike the police, they may not wear masks. No biting, eye-gouging or tripping, either. Marquess of Queensbury rules and all that. Oddly, if the NRA decides to crash the party, its members can tote heat.


Test your G-20 IQ

Since school’s about to start, a pop quiz is appropriate:

1) What does the “G” in G-20 stand for?

2) How many countries are in the G-20?

3) What will be on their agenda when they come to Pittsburgh?

4) Other than traffic jams, how might their deliberations affect local people and other American citizens?

5) Name one resolution or policy produced by a previous G-20 summit.

6) Name two specific grievances of the protesters (excluding the ban on wearing masks while casting stones).

After a thorough review of the Internet archives of local news outlets, I’ve determined that it is highly unlikely you can answer any of these questions. A sampling of actual recent headlines:

Old County Jail Could Be Revived For Pittsburgh G-20 Protesters
Accessing City During G-20 Will Be A Challenge
Secure Funding: The Feds Need To Cover Pittsburgh’s G-20 Costs
G-20 Police Planning A Puzzle For Pittsburgh Chief
G-20 Legislation Includes Funding Plan, Face Mask Ban (extra points for rhyming)
Perimeter Poses Permit Problems For Pittsburgh Protests (and again for alliteration!)
G-20 Leaders Concerned About Roethlisberger’s Ankle (OK, I made that one up)

On the one hand, the coverage makes sense. Local people do want to know how the global circus coming to town will impact their daily lives. And it will. Businesses and schools will close. Traffic will come to a standstill. Glass indeed may shatter.

But wouldn’t it also make sense to explain to Pittsburghers why these things may come to pass?

It’s as if the media covered global warming by focusing on how the decades-long rise in temperatures might impact the fortunes of the Pirates (not for the better, apparently).


Here now the answers to our quiz:

1) “G” is short for “group,” as in: Group of Twenty Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors. The G-20 represents the world’s wealthiest economies and basically sets global fiscal and monetary policy.

2) Trick question. There are actually 19 countries and one coalition of countries (the European Union, which comprises 27 countries).

3) Even our civic leaders seem a little fuzzy on the details of the G-20’s agenda. Dan Onarato’s spokesperson tentatively declared to the Pittsburgh Business Journal in May that, “We were told that the goal of the summit is to talk about the new economy and the green economy, and Pittsburgh is a great poster child in becoming a leader in economic transformation.”

4) The economic impact on you? Hard to say. But G-20 policies and recommendations influence the economy at every level. Everything from the cost of your next car to the regulations you have to follow at work could be rooted in the machinations of the G-20 and you’d never know it.

5) At its last summit, the G-20 resolved to go after global tax cheats (among other things, of course). That’s why some Swiss banks are now being pressured to disclose financial information about secretive American depositors.

6) What benefits the world’s most prosperous nations does not always benefit the world’s poorest nations. Protesters see the G-20 as elitist and undemocratic, the vanguard of economic imperialism whose proposals and policies not only threaten poor nations and indigenous peoples, but pose grave threats to the environment.
The plate-glass factor

When the G-20 finally arrives next month, the best- case scenario is that the summit is a collegial affair at which delegates make wise decisions and protesters make their case with eloquence rather than projectiles (leaving bitter videographers in their wake).

If the worst comes to pass and mayhem rules, though, there will at least be a silver lining: Someone will have to replace all that glass.

Since our topic is economics, I’m touting PPG Industries (formerly Pittsburgh Plate Glass) as my “hot stock” this month.

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