Episode 169 - #KillTheTPP
Published May 12, 2015
The worst treaty you've never heard of is set to have an incredibly broad and deep impact on how you conduct your life going forward. If the mainstream media mention it at all, it's to assert that this is a done deal and only weirdoes and activists care about it. But this is amazingly wrong-headed. You should care... and in this episode we dig further into why and how this secretive backroom deal has the potential to break the Internet and our future. Kill the TPP, no to Fast Track. Recorded 5/10/2015.
Mike & Matt's Recommended Reading:
Wikipedia's entry on the TPP
EFF's page on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement
Extreme secrecy eroding support for Obama's trade pact, by Edward-Isaac Dovere (Politico, 5/4/2015)
4 Senate Dems could help hand Obama fast track, by Doug Palmer (Politico, 5/2/2015)
Elizabeth Warren: Trade bill could “tear down” Wall Street oversight, by Zachary Warmbrodt (Politico, 5/5/2015)
Sessions to Obama: Make Trade Deal Details Public Now, by Michael Warren (The Weekly Standard, 5/6/2016)
5 things to know about trade as Senate debate begins, by Charles Babington (AP via AOL, 5/11/2015)
Trade bill fate in doubt as debate kicks off, by Lauren French, Burgess Everett and John Bresnahan (Politico, 5/11/2015)
Episode 134 - Peak 2015!!, one of our previous mentions of the TPP
Episode 119 - Neutral Net, another of our previous discussions that included the TPP
Episode 54 - TPP'ing The Internet, our first discussion of the TPP
Alpha: Welcome to another episode of Robot Overlordz, episode #169. On the show we take a look at how society is changing, everything from pop culture reviews to political commentary, technology trends to social norms, all in about thirty minutes or less, every Tuesday and Thursday.
Mike Johnston: Greetings cyborgs, robots, and natural humans. I’m Mike Johnston.
Matt Bolton: And I’m Matt Bolton. And today we wanted to talk about the TPP. More specifically, we’ve talked in the past about the TPP—and if you don’t know, the TPP is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is a trade deal that’s being pushed by President Obama and some Republicans in Congress. If you think that’s odd, it gets even odder, some of the strange bedfellows that are actually pushing this thing. The TPP has a copyright and internet-strangling provision in it that a lot of people on the internet have been talking about. But there are also other bad parts to the TPP, so we kind of wanted to talk about those as well, and just some of the weird things going on with this whole law. So, that’s where this episode is headed today.
MJ: Yeah, I think one of the biggest things about it is that it’s being done completely in secret. What gets me is that this is one of the things—I’ll admit, I voted for him—that I absolutely hate about him, Barack Obama, with the, “Oh, there’s nothing secret about this.” That is such a load of bullshit, I can’t even begin to express how much that makes me see red about this. For someone that claimed that he wanted transparency, this is just… The problem I have with it is that it’s extremely secret; everything that’s been leaked about it looks like it’s all the worst things about SOPA and PIPA snuck into this thing. It’s all being driven by lobbyists and corporations. You mentioned the Republicans that have supported this, and obviously there are some Democrats too, the biggest one being Obama himself. The thing that bothers me about this is that these people are trying to slip this in as if it’s no big deal, and they’ve even said that in a lot of the little bit of mainstream news coverage that I’ve seen it get. They’re like, “Oh, this is business as usual,” that first off, the treaty itself, and second, to give it the fast track authority, which is that all Congress can do is yes/no on it, they’re not allowed to debate it.
MB: Right, yeah, the law has already been written, and from everything that we’ve heard and read about the law, is the law was basically written by large corporations and that’s it. It would basically be like if somebody presented you with two candidates for president, but they told you literally nothing about them other than “This is Candidate A and this is Candidate B. Go ahead and pick.” That’s literally all Congress knows. There’s a great article on POLITICO by a game named Edward-Isaac Dovere, and he goes into detail about what members of Congress have to do to even see portions of the TPP. I’m just going to read real quick just a little portion of it: “If you’re a member of Congress who wants to read the text, you’ve got to go to a room in the basement of the Capitol Visitor Center and be handed it one section at a time, and watched over as you read, and forced to hand over any notes you make before leaving. You’re not allowed to bring your staff, your cellphone, or anything else in the room with you. And once you’ve done it, you’re not allowed to discuss anything that you’ve read once you leave the room.” Do we really want something this major—I mean, this law is going to affect A LOT of things, huge things, and we’re just going to have members of Congress who’ve not even read the thing just vote on it? It sounds like, from listening to the president, he’s the only one who even knows what the hell is in the thing and he’s just saying, “Meh, you’ve got to trust me on this because…”
MJ: I don’t even buy he knows what’s in it, to be honest. The way he talks about it… I mean, a lot of what we know about it is because of leaks in other countries, because a lot of the other countries that have signed this, they don’t have the kind of extreme secrecy that we’ve got in the US. And that’s what gets me, is that this is such bullshit for us to be supposedly a free country and yet this kind of stuff be kept from us. And the only reason I can think of for that, the only reason that makes sense, if you look at the way the president has positioned it and some of the other supporters, is they’re trying to downplay its significance as if it’s business as usual, no big deal, only people that are against free trade are against this thing. They’re trying to sneak a lot of things in the backdoor and then they can say later, “Oh, well, our hands are tied. We can’t do anything about that.” I mean, they’re trying to have their cake and eat it too, and it just really makes me see red. This is one of those big things about Obama that I absolutely am disgusted by, and it makes me see red when I see the mainstream media covering it because a lot of the mainstream media is owned by the corporations that have written this garbage. So they don’t cover it, or they downplay the people that are against it as “Oh, just those weird internet activists.” I’ve, a couple of times, sounded off on this and I get that from my parents, from my friends, a bunch that “Oh, you’re just being an extremist weirdo,” as if you’re against this thing. If you knew what was in this stuff… And again, the only reason we do is because it’s leaked in other countries. It just seems like, to me, this is the antithesis of the American political process.
MB: Absolutely. There’s no reason for all this secrecy if the law was something that the people would want. To me, it makes no sense in that regard. When SOPA and PIPA came out, Hollywood and a lot of the big media corporations, they just assumed that it would sail right through. Because if you remember at the time, Congress didn’t even want to have any debates or anything about it. They were just going to vote on it and shove it through, and that was going to be the end of it. And then people started getting all up in arms about how this thing was going to kill the internet and it was going to be way worse than anybody had anticipated. People actually called their congresspeople, they got the thing killed almost immediately. I think that has a lot to do with why the TPP is in such secrecy, is because the worst parts of those bills are lodged into this thing, and they know that if any of that information leaks out, people will be up in arms and they’ll kill it almost immediately. So, I think that’s the main reason for all the secrecy. There are other parts of the bill that are just as bad that have nothing to do with the internet—there are ways that corporations can sue local government if they don’t like the laws that are passed, and we’re talking foreign corporations, not American corporations.
MJ: Well, some of that is being drawn, it seems like, by the American corporations. They’re the companies that are so big now that really they’re almost more international corporations than they are American. And what got me is this last week, how Obama—so, it’s the first week of May, where Obama went to Nike’s headquarters and made his public speech/pitch for how this is “about creating jobs and saving the economy.” I mean, they can never quantify this stuff when they talk about “Well, how can you be against this? You’re obviously against jobs.” It’s not that personally I’m against jobs—I’m all for jobs. But I don’t want to sell my soul and any possible hope of good things in the future in order to get a temporary job. It seems like, exactly like you said: if this was a good law, they could make the case for it very easily, out in the open, with no secrecy. Really, it seems like they’re being misleading with what they say about it, especially compared to the stuff that has leaked. Part of the problem with discussing this is that all we know about it is the stuff that’s leaked. Obviously you have to take that with a grain of salt, but I think all of the stuff that has leaked is imminently believable when you read about the process around how this thing has been written—that it’s been written by lobbyists, that really it’s the entertainment industry’s lobbyists or corporations like Nike, who those are the people who have unfettered access, their staffs are totally involved, and actual congresspeople are not allowed to bring their staff, they’re not allowed to take notes or anything like that. It seems so unbalanced. To me, this is what’s wrong with our political process.
MB: Absolutely. It boggles the mind that we live in a free country—supposedly a free country, although it’s starting to less and less—but the fact that we live in this free country and they’re going to try and pass a law that the people of the country know nothing about and most members of Congress haven’t read or know anything about, and we’re just supposed to take one or two people’s word for it? You have basically John Boehner and Barack Obama saying, “Look, you’ve got to trust us. We know what’s best for you. We’re going to pass it.” And then it’s kind of almost like the fancy Nancy Pelosi thing: “Let’s pass it and then we’ll find out what’s in it.” That’s not how the government is supposed to work. The government is supposed to present us with “Here’s what we think is a good idea. Here’s what we think is a good law.” I mean, for all I know, we could be completely wrong. The TPP could be a whole thing about having everybody gets a pet unicorn and a rainbow with a pot of gold in their backyard. But nobody knows, because obviously, like you said, the parts that have leaked out have been horrible and we know that much about it. But there’s nothing there that anybody can wrap their hands around and go, “Okay, this is a good deal.” If you listen to Obama or any of these other people talking about it, all they keep saying is, “Oh, it’s a good deal. It’s a good deal.” Well, tell me WHY it’s a good deal. Why should I support it? Why should anybody support it? Why should the members of Congress support it? That’s not how the country is supposed to work, that’s not how our government is supposed to work. And then people wonder why nobody trusts Congress, nobody trusts the political system—it’s because of stupid crap like this.
MJ: Well, and nobody trusts corporations, either. I mean, irrespective of what we know about what’s in it, we do know a bit about how it’s been written and what groups have been involved in coming up with it, and it’s a laundry list of all the people that have been trying to undo the internet really since, like, 1998-1999. I remember, the whole way I got into the copyright debate—I know I’ve referred to this before and I don’t want to go too much off on a copyright tangent—but I got involved in that issue because I bought the first mp3 player and the recording industry immediately sued to get that taken off the market. And there’s all kinds of legal uses for mp3s. At the time, there weren’t a lot of them, but you could put podcasts on it, for example. There were legal mp3s. You could rip stuff yourself. Despite the recording industry having no support, or basically saying, “You’re stealing by ripping things yourself or recording things yourself,” if you bought the CD, no rational person that doesn’t work for the recording industry thinks that should be illegal. It is in a lot of countries. One of the things about these trade deals that bothers me is that they always go to the most restrictive. The stuff that we do know about the copyright sections, they’re trying to drive us down to the lowest common denominator for fair use, which in the United States, has always been well-respected. That would drag us down to the level of some of these other countries, where they don’t respect fair use, where you don’t have things like, for example, the first-sale doctrine, where if you buy a book, you can do what you want with it. I mean, you can’t print your own copies of it and sell those, but you could wipe your butt with it, you could write in it, you could sell it to your neighbor, you could loan it out to friends. The people that own the copyright for that book have nothing they can say about that.
MB: Well, the other problem is a lot of these laws are written so vaguely as to basically have a net around—they’ve written them so that they can apply the law to literally anything. So, basically no matter what you do on the internet, it’s probably going to be illegal, and it’s just a matter of whether or not they’re going to prosecute or they feel that you’ve violated the law enough to prosecute.
MJ: Yeah. The only people that ever win in these things are the lawyers. They’re the lawyers that write them, they’re the lawyers that are on staff for the people in the government, and that are on staff for the people in corporations. The only people that benefit from these things are lawyers. Frankly, this is something about the political process in the US—I think we have too many lawyers. I know if I look back at the people that I know that had ambitions around politics or something like that, they all went to law school. And you know what, these are guys that I wouldn’t loan my car keys to. I mean, come on. This is what’s wrong with the US, is that we don’t have ordinary people, or people that are engineers or scientists involved in politics. We have friggin’ lawyers. And they think that if you write a law, you could basically reverse the color of the sun or the way that time flows and things like that. This is not how ideas work. And yet they have that whole concept of intellectual property… I don’t know where I’m going with that, exactly. It’s just exceedingly frustrating to me that, as you kind of alluded to, they repeat these things over, and over, and over again as if it’s truth. “Oh, this trade deal is no big deal. This is business as usual,” as if we’ll then believe it if they repeat it enough, when, in fact, it’s a major deal. The secrecy is what’s disturbing because, again, if it were a good law, it could stand the scrutiny.
MB: Well the other thing, too, is corporations are a little bit like government in that they start counting all this money… I guarantee that all these studios, record companies, and what not, they’re already counting all this money that they think is going to come flowing into their coffers as soon as this law is passed, because they think, “Oh, if we pass this, all of a sudden all of the piracy on the internet is going to go away, and all these people are going to start going into a Walmart and paying $15 for a DVD.” It never works that way. All it does is it drives people deeper and deeper into basically getting around all the roadblocks that they have set up. First it was Napster, and Napster came out and everybody went to it and started downloading music. And then they sued and closed Napster. Then it was Kazaa. Then it was The Pirate Bay. And then they closed The Pirate Bay. They spent years trying to close The Pirate Bay. The Pirate Bay gets shut down, what happens? There was an article when they shut down The Pirate Bay—within 24 hours, all of the traffic that had been going to The Pirate Bay just shifted to a different site. It wasn’t The Pirate Bay, it was Kickass Torrents or one of those places. Even if this thing passes, it’s just going to make the internet a lot less useful, it’s going to put up a lot of roadblocks, but they’re not going to stop any piracy. They’re just going to make it a lot more inconvenient for everybody else.
MJ: Yeah. Well, and that’s the only defense they have, is that they keep trying to make it more and more inconvenient. You know what? The easiest way to compete with this stuff is to stop being inconvenient. The biggest thing they’ve succeeded in doing is making their legal version way more inconvenient. I mean, we talked about that when we were talking about the future of TV in episode #167. The way that you can’t forward things on blu-ray discs—that is so obnoxious. The thing that bothers me about this whole thing is that it’s people who have power, they’re basically trying to craft this stuff to ensure that their power remains, and it’s a very backwards-looking way of doing it. It’s exactly like you said with how they are counting all this money before it even comes in—they do this with software all the time. The Business Software Alliance has these numbers of “Oh, we’re losing X billions to piracy software.” But I’m not going to pay, as a user, $600 for Photoshop.
MB: Right, exactly. [Laughs]
MJ: Confession: I pirated Photoshop when I was first out of college because I didn’t have the money to buy it. I got them to buy it at work one time and then I made myself a copy. When that copy stopped working and it’s $600 for the software, it’s not worth $600 to me. You know what I’ve done? I’ve gone to something else, which I get for $60 on the Mac app store now. And that’s worth it to me. I’ll happily pay $60. I actually considered using Photoshop Express—the thing that keeps me away from Adobe now is the fact that their security sucks, and if you give them your credit card, the odds are that it’s going to be stolen.
MB: [Laughs] Yeah, there are always those studies, too, about movies. “Oh, there were a million downloads of Freddy Got Fingered or whatever.” Well, you know what? Honestly, it may have been curiosity or whatever, but I guarantee that whatever movie you’re talking about, they take it and they go “Well, there were a million downloads, and if every one of those people went to the theater and spent $10, that’s $10 million that we’re out.” But those one million people who downloaded it: probably 90% of them wouldn’t have bothered to go to the theater anyhow. Now, if you put the movie online at the same time for $2 or $3, then you’re going to have that money.
MJ: Some. Some.
MB: Some of it. But they don’t think that way. At all. Not to go off on too much of a rant here, but a few years ago, the city of Chicago passed this tax on bottled water. They were like, “We sell one million bottles of bottled water every day, and we’re going to put a 25-cent tax per bottle on every bottle of water.” They basically had already spent the money before the law was even passed. Well, then they passed the law and they found out they were actually getting less revenue from the bottled water because people were either not buying bottled water anymore, or they were driving to a town nearby and buying the bottled water there because it had gotten so expensive. Hollywood does the exact same thing. They get some idiot congressmen to pass these stupid laws and they think all this money is going to come flowing in and it just never happens.
MJ: Yeah. Well, I think they forget the biggest lesson about business—because they are big, that the mass media has captured our attention, and somewhat that has become this self-fulfilling thing, it has a certain amount of gravity. This morning, I was having breakfast with my parents and they had the political shows on, and they had Bernie Sanders on briefly. As soon as he was off, they must have easily—like 15 times—had somebody on say, “He’s not got a chance in hell.” Regardless of what you think of him or his chances, the thing that bothered me about this was that this is why we have a two-party system, is because the mass media continually pounds at us that we only have two choices. They continually present things a certain way. When you get someone who’s a little more off the beaten path, they immediately go in and “Oh, this person has no chance.” So for a lot of people, they just shut down and stop paying attention to that person. Because the mass media has our attention, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. I think the culture industry—the movie studios, the recording studios—they have that attitude, that they are dictating to us what’s popular. I think the problem there is that people do, over time, become immune to that. I think we have a ways to go in politics and the consumption of mass media. But the movie industry, and certainly the recording industry, is well along that path of not being able to dictate to us anymore, because either people will take what they want around the system—which doesn’t seem to work out so well politically, but in terms of culture and copyrighted content, it works pretty good—or they just tune it out and you get a lot of people that drop out, or that are just sick of the process. I think that’s a shame, really.
MB: I’ve noticed that if you turn on any of the news channel, and we kind of alluded to this earlier, you hear nothing about the TPP at all. Let’s say you’re a conservative and you listen to FOX news. Well, they own 20th century FOX. Or if you’re more liberal and you listen to MSNBC, they own Universal. These are all huge studios, they have these movie companies, and they want this thing to get passed. So, if you’ve noticed, they’re just basically ignoring the whole thing altogether. They’re not even trying to figure out what’s in it because they don’t want you to know.
MJ: Yeah. If they do cover it at all, they cover it very much in terms of “Well, there’s some people that are whining on the fringes, these ‘fringe people,’ these weirdo activists that are saying things that are untrue about this. They’re lying about it.” And yet, this is based on stuff that’s leaked from other countries about it. The mass media, if they talk about it at all—which they really don’t very often, but I have seen a little bit about it—if they do talk about it, they present it in terms of “This is already a done deal. Why would you bother to oppose this? If you do oppose it, you’re a wack-o. You’re a communist liberal weirdo,” or “You’re a tea party fanatic,” or however they choose to present it, depending on what particular channel you’re on…
MB: Oh, absolutely. And that’s where I think our news media fails us. If this was anything else that didn’t have to do with them, it would be on nonstop because you have a president who’s trying to pass a bill that nobody’s allowed to read or know what’s in it. That’s where I think our news media fails us. This should be all over the news, people should be outraged about this. But nobody seems to care because I don’t think a lot of people even know, because the news media is either hiding it or just, like you said, pushing it off to one side or the other and saying, “Ah, it’s just fringe people who are upset.”
MJ: That’s part of the problem, exactly like you said, of how these companies own entertainment companies. Anyway, I think most people owe it to themselves to get educated about it. Hopefully it will get denied. That’s on my 2015 wishlist for political things.
MB: Well, and like we said, if you want to learn more about it, we’re going to put some articles in the show notes. But you really have to go on the internet and look for information about it, because if you’re one of those people who watches the nightly news or one of the 24-hour news channels, you’re not going to hear anything about it.
MJ: Yeah. Definitely worth checking out.
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MJ: Thanks everyone for listening.