Fast Track Payback

In his State of the Union address, President Barack Obama's call for fast-track authority means he is moving forward to close the deal on the Trans-Pacific Partnership treaty, a comprehensive, multinational pact that is part of paying back his friends in the recording industry.

It is not surprising that the mainstream media ignores the massive in-kind contributions to the president's campaign, such as the Will Ferrell get-out-the-vote-for-Obama video or multiple performances by James Taylor.

When in the last week of the 2012 campaign, Katy Perry performed in Milwaukee to 20,000 fans in the second most famous blue dress in American politics, her appearance was worth easily north of $100,000 -- if she was paid for the gig.

Throw in that Perry told GQ magazine that she is personally responsible for Obama winning Wisconsin --the home state of the Republican vice-presidential nominee Rep. Paul D. Ryan -- and it is very clear her rally concert was meant to support the campaign.

In Congress, the Democrats are supporting the "Free Market Royalty Act," H.R. 3219, a bill sponsored by Rep. Judy Chu (D.-Calif.) that will levy a performance tax on broadcast radio stations. The proceeds of the tax would flow directly the SoundExchange, a recording industry vehicle for dispensing 50 percent to the record companies, 45 percent to featured performers and 5 percent to non-featured performers, like the guy banging the cowbell.
In the TPP treaty, the recording industry hopes its goodies are lost in the sauce of a massive document on the fast track.

Fast track authority is a process established for trade agreements. Rather than the traditional two-thirds ratification by the Senate, the treaty would go to both chambers for a single up-or-down vote immune from filibuster or amendments.

Two years ago, Washington was wrapped up in the battle over federal control of the Internet. Both the Senate's Protect Intellectual Property Act and the House's Stop Online Piracy Act were defeated once defenders of a free and open Web got their act together. But supporters of PIPA and SOPA, instead of giving up, simply retreated and plotted their next gambit.

In its current draft, the TPP clearly authorized criminal procedures and penalties regardless of whether trademark infringements are willful or not, a critical distinction in the murky world of intellectual property law that wipes out notions of fair use.

In addition to cyber merchants, librarians, scholars, journalists, and other web users worry about losing their sources of information or being stripped of their platform if they used information covered under the act.

Instead of new Capitol Hill legislation, Obama's gambit is to include the PIPA/SOPA redux in the TPP, which also serves as to advance the administration's reweighting towards the Pacific and away from the Middle East and Europe. There is geo-political merit in using a treaty to further bind the bounds of partners. There is no merit is the use of a treaty as backdoor legislation, which is what TPP does.

Americans understand treaties that end wars and set up formal economic relationships between nations, but most Americans would be surprised to learn that once a treaty is signed by the president and ratified by the Senate, its provisions become senior to all federal laws. If a treaty, signed and ratified, outlaws the standard transmission, it is outlawed.

Using the fast-track treaty process as the vehicle for backdoor legislation is perfect for a weakened president in his second term. But there has to be a better way to thank Katy Perry for giving Obama Wisconsin.

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