In the Netflix show “House of Cards,” Kevin Spacey plays a powerful member of Congress who stacks the deck in order dispense favors and to help those who help him. The show may be fiction, but a real life, bigger version of the power play is happening out right before our eyes–The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).
The TPP is supposed to be a free trade deal that stimulates economically beneficial trade with the Asia-Pacific region. Few can exceed me in support of free trade. However, in reality, the TPP is not shaping up to be a free trade deal. Rather, it is a regulatory wish list for various special interests from food safety regulations and financial services regulations to internet freedom and medicine costs to skirt the legislative process.
The agreement is being negotiated in secret. Members of Congress don’t even know the precise details of this deal. Thanks to recent WikiLeaks disclosure of a partial draft of the deal, however, Congress and the rest of America are discovering the devilish details of this so called trade deal.
The deal could even resurrect SOPA, the Stop Online Privacy Act that Congress rejected after massive grass roots and online protest. This isn’t surprising because Hollywood and the recording industry appear to be particularly large beneficiaries of this deal. This isn’t surprising.
While Congress may not be privy to the details but some lobbyists are and are allowed to offer input. One of the lobbyists serving as an “advisor” to USTR with access to both view the details of the trade deal and shape its contents is Neil Turkewitz–Executive Vice President for the Recording Industry Artists of America (RIAA).
An outright goal of the content industry is to, as described by the movie industry’s former chief lobbyist, extend the terms of copyright to “forever minus one day.” The TPP takes that another step closer with an extension of copyright terms that would be binding on all countries that sign the treaty. The industry’s goal of censoring the internet is also apparently included with provisions that authorize the government to shut down websites alleged to have infringed a copyright without due process and apply criminal penalties.
While the industry’s power grab is egregious, there is no mystery as to how it happened.
Hollywood is one of President Obama’s biggest supporters. Celebrities and stars played a significant role in assisting his re-election effort. Some raised big bucks for the president. Others, like Katy Perry held concerts to promote the president. Others yet gave money and lent their names to ads designed to target certain swing voters who were undecided.
The USTR negotiating the treaty is an executive branch agency, answerable to the president. Inclusion of Hollywood’s wish list on such a grand scale is no accident that has simply escaped the president’s notice. In a perfect House of Cards plot line, the president is returning the favor with the TPP and stacking the deck for those who helped him. His call for Congress to confer fast track status on TPP would lock in the stacked deck by blocking any amendments when the agreement comes before Congress for final approval.
But this is not the first such payback to Hollywood. On numerous occasions the White House has endorsed a key RIAA priority, mandating radio stations pay artists performance royalties for songs played on the air. In August of 2013, the Department of Commerce released a green paper that reiterates the administration’s support for legislation “creating a public performance right for the broadcasting of sound recordings.”
The legislation to do just that was introduced by Rep. Mel Watt (D-NC) around the same time the green paper was released. The bill , now championed by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), known as the Free Market Royalty Act, is another grand give away to the recording industry. In addition to requiring radio stations to pay royalties, the bill also grants monopoly power to the industry to collude to set prices and functionally outlaws independent negotiations between individual labels or artists and broadcasters. The FMRA is as much free market as the TPP is free trade.
Wrapping these bills in the rhetoric of “free trade” and “free market” do little to obscure the reality that it is political payback and are little salve for the damage they ultimately inflict. There is a reason why America is changing from one where people can invent the next great thing in their parents’ garage to one where one ends up living in their parents’ garage. As my Breitbart colleague Peter Schweizer has documented in two recent books, the type of cronyism and patronage being displayed in TPP and FMRA is destroying America from within and must be rejected by Congress.