Sunday, 16 September 2012

Ignorance is Strength

Nearly thirty years ago, I naively went to a rally staged by Avanzada Nacional in the Caupolicán amphitheatre in Santiago. I knew AN to be a right-wing entity, but I didn’t realize exactly what kind of right-wing: it was essentially the political arm of Gen. Augusto Pinochet’s secret police. I sat placidly in an upper tier taking notes by myself with my journalist credentials hanging around my neck waiting for the big guy to appear. When Pinochet finally took the stage, dozens of burly guys sitting around me leaped to their feet and, to my innocent surprise, gave him the Nazi salute. Fairly soon after that, I lost my notebook to a couple of them and finally figured out that it was highly imprudent of me to be there at all.

Some months later, I was doing a story on the small Jewish population of Chile and tracked down the head of the local branch of B’nai B’rith to see what Jewish community leaders had to say about the dictatorship. It turned out that Jews in Chile weren’t bothered by military rule any more than other middle-class Chileans, many of whom had had big problems with the Allende government in the 1970s and welcomed Pinochet’s coup. People uninvolved in political or union matters might be vaguely troubled by the rumors of killings or disappearances, but Jews as such were not targeted—unlike the openly anti-Semitic dictatorships ruling neighboring Argentina and Uruguay.

But when I related what I had witnessed at the AN rally, the comfortable and unconcerned Jewish leader across the desk merely shook his head and assured me that no, I had not seen the Nazi salute. I was mistaken. To this day, I recall that conversation with amazement: Pinochet was not an anti-Semite; ergo, I had not seen what I had seen. It did not occur.

Just yesterday, I took to a framing shop my signed portrait of the 1968 Olympic protest by athletes Tommie Smith and John Carlos who gave a black-gloved, black power salute from the winner’s podium. The gesture rocked the country in the months just after Martin Luther King’s assassination and linked them symbolically with the militant movements of the era. Smith spoke last weekend at a screening of a documentary on the incident—which is where I got the signed poster—and related how he had been followed around by the FBI for decades afterward.

When I mentioned that history as related by Smith, the owner of the frame shop shook his head and denied that that had occurred. No, not for 30 years, he insisted. Just impossible. Like the Chilean Jew serenely certain of his world, the white Manhattanite store owner knew what actions his government’s agents do and do not perform. They don’t follow black athletes around and hound them out of jobs; they don’t snoop on them and read their mail for decades after a simple protest. That is not possible. It did not occur.

I recall this facile self-delusion when reading about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the Obama Administration’s better-kept secrets since the mainstream papers seem unconcerned about it. The TPP is a cornucopia of goodies and giveaways for the tobacco, oil, pharmaceutical and other 1% interests, and some 600 corporate lobbyists are all in on the draft provisions—but we’re not.

The TPP is being pitched as a ‘free-trade agreement’ (ho hum), but in fact it’s a wholesale delivery of our democratic controls, such as they remain, to the corporate goon squads. Its articles will undermine environmental protections, labor rights, and Internet freedom by placing the power to dictate those terms in a supra-national triumvirate of corporate lawyers, all in the name of preserving ‘free’ trade.

A few leaks have revealed the bad news, but even members of Congress with oversight over trade matters can’t get hold of the negotiated drafts. Once passed through fast-track congressional maneuvers that prevent ‘special interests’—like you and me—from having a say on the details, we’ll be stuck with a mega-NAFTA that will further hollow out what’s left of our industrial base and make us permanent peons to the international corporate lords.

I’ve read some about this and hope others do, too. A few groups are whipping up opposition, like Avaaz’s million-signature petition. But how many people eager to vote Democrat in two months to avoid the skeery horrors of a Romney-Ryan regime would believe that the TPP is really as bad as all that? After all, Joe Biden just praised American workers in a big convention center, and Barack Obama promised to preserve Social Security. TPP as the corporate death-star? Not a possibility. Is not happening. Will not occur.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I just now signed the petition. Interestingly, as the list of "recent signers" rolled by, mine was the only one from the United States that showed during the period while I looked. This could be an anomaly - or due to the fact that it is now evening in France and Spain. Let's hope it's the later, rather than one more indication that, as this blog suggests, too many of us are in denial about the economic cataclysm our leaders in both parties are blithely overseeing (and indeed orchestrating) for the 99%.