Since the Bush administration, successive US Trade Representatives have favored secret treaties, made outside of the UN, without any public scrutiny or accountability. Treaties like ACTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership introduce brutal regimes of surveillance, censorship, criminalization, and control in the name of preventing copyright infringement. Only one problem: even if the USTR signs up to the agreement, Congress still has to approve it.
But not for long. A clutch of rogue Congresscritters have introduced legislation that would let the president unilaterally sign the US up to trade agreements that would require changes to US law, without any oversight or debate from America's lawmakers. The Electronic Frontier Foundation's Maira Sutton has named-and-shamed the lawmakers who're rushing to abandon their duty and hand unchecked power over to the administrative branch. They're heavily funded by the entertainment industry, and publicly committed to undermining democratic, transparent process in favor of back-room deals brokered in the service of multinational corporations. Read on to learn their names, then visit EFF's action center to find out how you can fight the undemocratic "Trade Promotion Authority."
So who are the proponents of this unconstitutional procedure? Unsurprisingly, the most ardent supporter is the new US Trade Rep himself, Michael Froman. On multiple occasions, he has called fast track authority a “critical tool” for passing secretive trade agreements. Really that’s just a cute, misleading euphemism for a procedure that directly undermines checks and balances in government. What Froman is saying is that he could do his job more easily if only he didn’t have to deal with those pesky lawmakers who have the power to question his office’s trade priorities. Fortunately for us, that’s just not how democratic lawmaking works. It's just not possible that his office could represent the broad interests of the public [PDF] while giving a few entrenched corporate interests preferential access to negotiations.
More strangely, some of the biggest proponents for fast track authority are Congress members themselves: Notably, Senators Orrin Hatch of Utah and Max Baucus of Montana. They’ve called on the U.S. Trade Rep to “aggressively protect” intellectual property through its trade agenda, and ahead of Froman’s confirmation for US Trade Rep, Sen. Hatch made a dramatic speech that again reiterated the idea that fast track is a “tool” necessary for trade negotiators do their job. Hatch has had a long-standing relationship with the entertainment industry and also attempted to pass a bill to create a new “Chief Intellectual Property Negotiator” for the US Trade Rep’s office in an effort to entrench copyright and patent issues as a policy matter in secret trade negotiations.
Hatch and Baucus are only a few of many Congress members who support or who have supported fast track (you can see how lawmakers have voted on this in the past here and here). Thankfully, there are some lawmakers who are taking a stand against this unbalanced trade process. Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts took a stand against Froman’s confirmation as the U.S. Trade Rep due to lack of assurances from him during his nomination hearings that he would improve transparency in the negotiating process. The Senate went ahead and confirmed Froman, but immediately following the vote, 36 Democratic freshmen in the House wrote a letter to the top Democrat on the trade panel to declare their opposition to giving fast track authority to the Obama administration. Then just last week, a bipartisan coalition of Congressional members called for the US Trade Rep to uphold digital, economic interests in trade agreements and to publicly release “detailed information” about copyright provisions in the TPP.
I write books. My latest is a YA science fiction novel called Homeland (it's the sequel to Little Brother). More books: Rapture of the Nerds (a novel, with Charlie Stross); With a Little Help (short stories); and The Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow (novella and nonfic). I speak all over the place and I tweet and tumble, too.