Honestly, it's somewhat difficult to believe that someone
who works in the USTR didn't recognize that it was a bad idea to have their new boss, Michael Froman, who was once called one of the most "egregious examples"
of the "revolving door" between companies and government, head out to visit two of the largest Hollywood studios just days after the IP chapter of the secretive TPP agreement was leaked, showing that it was basically Hollywood's wishlist of copyright crap. It's even more difficult to believe, given all that and given that Froman decided to go hang out with some friendly folks in Hollywood anyway, that someone at the USTR didn't think maybe, just maybe, Froman should avoid giving an interview in which he'd be asked about the leaked chapter.
But, it happened. Of course, the interview was with Variety, so maybe they figured that only Hollywood people would read it, and that the rest of the world would never catch on to the fact that Froman is either totally clueless
or a blatant liar
about the TPP. However, he did give an interview
, while "touring Paramount's backlot" in which he said a bunch of nutty things. Here's my favorite:
He also called the talks over the trade pact “the most transparent trade negotiation in history,” noting that they have held more than 1,000 briefings on Capitol Hill, have enlisted 600 advisers for input from various groups and have invited stakeholders to address negotiators from all 12 countries, among other efforts.
Let's just say, this is pure bullshit. Extreme bullshit. Honestly, even Variety (which, as you might imagine, tends to toe the Hollywood line) seems to suggest that this claim isn't actually true. And, of course, considering that the USTR is infamously secretive, being "the most transparent in history" doesn't mean you were actually transparent at all. And, in this case, the fact that he's claiming it's "the most transparent in history" days after a chapter that no one in the public has seen during nearly four years of negotiations had to be leaked
should highlight the level of bullshit that Froman is spewing.
He seems to have pulled this "most transparent" bullshit from his predecessor, Ron Kirk, who used to claim the same thing. Both are fundamentally trying to mislead. We've said it before, and we'll say it again, listening
to lots of people, while not revealing what you're doing
, is not transparency
. It's listening. Listening may be better than not listening, but it's completely different than "transparency." Let me make this even clearer:
- Listening: People ---- information -----> USTR
- Transparency: USTR --- information ----> The Public
What Froman described above is about listening. They get "advice" from various stakeholders. That's not transparency. That's listening. So long as no one gets to see what crap they're negotiating "on our behalf," there's no transparency. At all. The only time this negotiation had any transparency was when Wikileaks finally released the IP chapter which the USTR should have and could have done years ago.
The other bit of bullshit in the interview was his misleading response to the claim by some that TPP is like SOPA. Now, I should be clear that we've avoided making that comparison, because there is a different set of issues here. And Froman used those differences to try to discredit all criticism of TPP:
“For example, as I understand it, I wasn’t around for it, (the Stop Online Piracy Act) was about blocking rogue Internet sites from accessing the Internet from the United States. There is nothing in the Trans Pacific Partnership, zero, that has anything to do with that,” he said.
But "blocking rogue websites" isn't what's making people make the comparison between TPP and SOPA. It's two things: (1) a backroom deal negotiated in secret with no input from the public which (2) includes basically a wishlist from Hollywood. The fact that the two wishlists are not identical is not really the point, but it's the point Froman chose to focus on, because he's trying to mislead the public.
Froman continues to demonstrate that he has no business in the role he's in:
“Our goal through these trade negotiations is to make sure we are raising the standard of protection around the world, for artists and the people who support them,” he said.
Except that's not supposed to be the goal at all, and the fact that he thinks it is makes him clearly unqualified for his job. Remember that the TPP is supposed to be about free trade
, yet here he is admitting that his actual agenda is increasing protectionism
. Second, as anyone who knows anything about intellectual property knows, "raising the standard of protection" has been shown repeatedly to be rather harmful
to creators and the public. And, again, the entire purpose of copyright law is supposed to be about promoting progress for the public
. It would appear that Froman doesn't know this. And yet he's in charge of negotiating this thing? Really?
This is the reason why transparency matters. Because when you take someone who doesn't understand intellectual property at all, such as Froman, and tell him to negotiate a trade agreement in which the only
people he shares the negotiating text with are maximalists, all he hears is how they have to "raise" standards, even as most of the world has realized that the "standards" are already way too high and tremendously damaging to the economy and innovation.
Either way, this whole situation is incredible. You have the USTR, just days after the secret treaty that was written with the help of Hollywood's lobbyists is leaked out, declaring that it's the most transparent in history despite the fact that, if he had his way, none of the public would have seen it, and saying so while touring Hollywood studios
. The USTR is either extremely confident that no one cares about trade agreements, or a large segment of the staff there is profoundly clueless. Or maybe it's both.
SOPA was taken down because it was a backroom deal and a Hollywood wishlist, without respect for the public. ACTA went down for the same reason. If Froman doesn't want the same thing to happen to TPP, he might want to learn a thing or two about intellectual property and what transparency means. Because as of right now, he appears to be setting himself up to be roadkill for another internet uprising.