First Rule of the Internet: Don’t Feed The (Administration) Trolls (plus coffee makers!)

One of the hallmarks of the George W. Bush administration was his almost perverse insistence on selecting the absolute worst candidate you could imagine as appointees. He delighted in trolling his critics, as evidenced by the appointment of John Bolton as the U.S. ambassador to the United Nation. You want to make people scream, nominate someone who doesn’t believe in the U.N. to be your ambassador and then just laugh and laugh and laugh. His whole cabinet was filled with the most odious form of industry insiders from the industries they were supposed to regulate.

So…., I was all set to write a nice post about an underrated city, but then this nonsense pops up: President Obama has nominated former SOPA lobbyist Robert Holleyman to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiating team. You all remember SOPA, don’t you? It was the law that was so bad that it made a substantial portion of the country give a shit about copyright law for a few minutes. That, my friends, is no mean feat. SOPA went down in humiliating defeat, we all heaved a sigh of relief, but we suspected that The Powers That Be would try to sneak it into law again.

Of course, the Powers That Be learned a thing or two from that first go round. They learned that it’s much easier to pass unpopular legislation if no one knows about it. They learned this lesson very well indeed. They learned it so well that they decided to put all of their unpopular intellectual property protections into a trade agreement that would be negotiated in secret and label the contents of this secret treaty “state security secrets.” That may sound illegal, and who knows? It may be, but that’s the beauty of state secrets: You don’t even get to debate their legality. Even if it’s not illegal, it damned well should be. The idea that anything “secret” would have the force of law seems anathema to functional democracy.

They’re also betting that folks are too tired from fighting against SOPA to rally for another fight and they may have a point. It’s tough to demonstrate how relatively arcane treaties and laws, written to protect some of the most powerful interests on the planet, will have any impact on most people’s daily lives. Fortunately, we have the fine folks who make the Keurig coffee makers stepping up and making themselves heard!

You probably know that Keurig coffee makers have become remarkably popular remarkably quickly. Their machines make thoroughly mediocre coffee in environmentally-awful packets. Unfortunately (for them), those packets are fairly easy to make, so there are several competitors who make their little coffee-filled plastic doohickeys. This isn’t exactly what the Keurig folks had in mind, so they’re doing what any red-blooded capitalist corporation would do: They’re redesigning their cup design and citing DRM law to ensure that it remains proprietary.

Now, any properly-functioning market would kick DRM-crippled products to the curb. The whole concept of making your product less-convenient and more expensive for your customers in a vain attempt to protect your market share is not something of which Adam Smith would approve (although he saw this sort of thing coming*).  That’s where the TPP comes in: The TPP compels nations to enforce the U.S. version of intellectual property law. It’s a vision of law as a means to stifle innovation and enforce the existing order. It is, in short, a complete piece of crap. Knowing that, it’s pretty obvious why this whole boondoggle is being negotiated in secret.

I don’t think Obama’s the worst president ever, or even the worst of the last forty years. There have been some triumphs during his two terms, although most of them have been a result of his failure to block them (equal rights) rather than take the lead on the issue. He is, however, a tremendous disappointment. He was elected on a platform of radical change, and instead, we got a caretaker who has spent most of his political capital expanding on the excesses of his predecessors. His leadership in trying to get the TPP signed into law without ever making its contents public is the most egregious example. Nominating a SOPA lobbyist to the negotiating team is just his way of saying “fuck you” to everyone who thought he might be different.

* “People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.” Adam Smith, The Wealth of Nations (1776)

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