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How Can the New York Times Endorse an Agreement the Public Can't Read? (eff.org)
302 points by sinak on Nov 7, 2013 | hide | past | web | favorite | 125 comments

What stunning misdirection in this thread by anigbrowl. In a way it reflects the NY Times opinion piece, which tries to simply characterise the TPP as a 'trade deal'.

Any reasonable, honest observer would halt the discussion immediately at the point they realise the TPP is being negotiated in secret (with the public and even political representatives kept in the dark over TPP contents over the many years it has been negotiated).

That corporate interests have unfettered access to the text and negotiations and democratic citizens do not is evidence enough of exactly whose interests are being negotiated.

That the text and all associated material must remain secret for four years after the negotiations have ended (whether successful or not) shows the level of trust negotiators have in engaging with an informed democracy.

It gets to the heart of the sickness of secrecy that has infected whole swaths of our democratic institutions. Trying to guide discussion towards whether people are 'pro or anti trade' is risable misdirection or wilful ignorance at best.

The TPP is a full-frontal assault on democracy and national sovereignty from what we have learnt through leaked draft texts, and its contents are highly likely to represent a backdoor check-mate across internet censorship, DRM, copyright, and many other issues this community cares about.

That the text and all associated material must remain secret for four years after the negotiations have ended (whether successful or not) shows the level of trust negotiators have in engaging with an informed democracy.

^ not actually true. The final text would most certainly be public; you're probably referring to an agreement to keep negotiating documents secret for a 4 year period as described here (by an organization opposed to that approach): http://www.citizen.org/documents/us-transparency-letter-2011...

I'm actually in favor of this approach. WTO negotiations involves full transparency, as mentioned in the letter above; it's also true that the WTO has been unable to reach agreement on what's known as the 'Doha round' for almost 13 years now. There are multiple reasons why that might or might not have happened, but the upshot is that trade liberalization has been stalled for over a decade. If negotiations out of the spotlight increase the parties' willingness to conclude a more limited and offer that for ratification, I'm willing to put up with it. Most of you here seem to be assuming that this is the result of corporate secrecy; it seems as likely, if not more, so, to be at the request of the various countries involved in the negotiations.

Trying to guide discussion towards whether people are 'pro or anti trade' is risable misdirection or wilful ignorance at best.

It's interesting that you complain about this when I made no effort whatsoever to guide discussion in that direction. I called out the EFF article for being factually incorrect on its face and I stand by that. I mentioned elsewhere that I was personally pro-trade but uncertain about the TPP pending futher details.

> not actually true. The final text would most certainly be public; you're probably referring to...

Yes, the final text, if it becomes law, will be public. The leaked texts show how dedicated the negotiators are to weakening sovereignty and empowering vested interests.

This is the issue. Lobbying groups have worked out how to hack sovereignty (with those pesky democratic processes and a desire to consider the public interest) by negotiating 'trade agreements' which are a bulk insert of desired laws around patent, copyright, and DRM into the legislative frameworks of multiple countries at the same time, without consultation or input by the citizens of each negotiating country.

These efforts are serious attacks on fundamental ideas we hold around self-determination, consent of the governed, transparent democratic processes.

So when you continue to try to focus the discussion on trade agreements, historical negotiations, 'trade liberalisation' you're plainly engaging in continued artful misdirection.

That's your take on the issue. I see IP as just another market with a variety of interested parties, not of all whose interests coincide. From my perspective, a lot of people want to build consumer services without having to pay for content, just as many content holders are engaged in rent-seeking. I don't like the copyright lobby, but nor do I subscribe to the proposition that because the marginal cost of production in some industries is terribly low, no ownership interest should entail. And in case you're wondering, I do not lobby for or even own shares in any media or IP portfolio companies.

So when you continue to try to focus the discussion on trade agreements, historical negotiations, 'trade liberalisation' you're plainly engaging in continued artful misdirection.

Sorry, those happen to be my actual opinions. copyright, patent, and DRM issues are not the whole story of economics. I'm also interested in things like environmental and labor standards, public health policy, food security and poverty reduction, and I'm not going to apologize for having an interest in broader economic issues or willingness to compromise; it's my firm opinion that half a loaf is better than no bread, especially so in matters of economics.

That's why I'm broadly in support of a TPP and ardently in support of TTIP, not withstanding the numerous likely imperfections.

You do realize that many of the people who object to IP laws don't object because they want to build consumer services without having to pay for content, but because they want to produce hardware and software without having to cripple them, right?

This is not "just another market with a a wide variety of interested parties." This is people telling me what I am legally allowed to do in my own home. This is passing laws saying that you can't produce an innovative new device because someone, somewhere may use it to subvert someone else's IP interests.

And the issue with the treaty process is that a treaty can be used to bypass the democratic process within a country. A proposal that would be shot down due to public outcry can instead be done in a secret treaty, only revealed once it's fait accompli, with everyone involved being able to disclaim that "I didn't want that, but that's what we had to do to get the treaty passed" and thus dodge the political ramifications.

I've been hearing this since the late 80s and the sky still hasn't fallen. If you don't like it by all means call your senator, donate to opponents of the trade deal, fight against it/ I'm not trying to get you to support the TPP (not least because I don't know what's in it either, so far); my reason for jumping into this thread is to point out that the EFF is making flat-out false arguments, which strikes me as an absolutely stupid way to gin up opposition about it.

If they had written an article saying 'TPP negotiations should be public' I wouldn't object in the least - that's a perfectly reasonable view, even though I am not very exercised about it. Indeed, I linked to a letter from a group articulating exactly that position up thread. But saying 'NYT endorsed secret trade treaty' is simply a falsehood.

> If you don't like it by all means call your senator, donate to opponents of the trade deal, fight against it

Well, I would LIKE to do that. I would LIKE to contact my president and the administration officials who are negotiating the treaty and provide them with my feedback and comments on the proposed wording. I would even like to spend some of my hard-earned money paying world-renowned experts (such as those who work with the EFF) to review it and provide even more insightful feedback.

Unfortunately, the text of the treaty is secret so I cannot do these things. I complain that I am being prevented from participating in democracy and you write that if I don't like it I should participate in democracy. Perhaps you don't understand the complaint that is being raised.

You'll be able to read it when it's presented to the Senate for ratification. There seems to be some notion that the Senate is going to vote on it in secret, but I don't find any evidence of this being the case.

When it is presented to the Senate for ratification is too late to have any influence on the text -- at that point the agreement can only be accepted or rejected.

The issue is the TPP process. You largely continue to avoid this, addressing it upthread in an 'it will help speed things up, I'm okay with it' way. An unsatisfactory, superficial response to some very deep issues.

The commendable 'issues resume' you present at the end of your response, up hard against your ringing endorsement of TPP is very incongruous. Seeing as the TPP works against all of those noble causes.

Oh mysterious duplicity!

As I explained earlier, I haven't decided whether I support the TPP yet because I don't know what's in it, so I don't know where you're getting the idea of a'ringing endorsement.' What I'm defending is the idea that it can get negotiated and then offered for an up or down vote. I actually think this is a better approach for judging the proposal as a whole. Yes, it's less democratic, which is not an altogether bad thing in my view; it's faster; it forces an assessment of priorities, and makes it easier for multiple countries with different cultures and political systems to negotiate.

Oh mysterious duplicity!

I have a different and probably more cynical worldview than you do. Apparently you find this so impossible to imagine that you think I must be lying about something. I don't really care whether you find my views unsatisfactory or not, any more than you care for my approval.

The problem with waiting until the text is final is that the final text, which might be thousands of pages, is presented on Monday morning and voted on Monday afternoon. It may have taken them 4 years to negotiate the details, because of extreme complexity, but you can bet they won't allow the public to mull it over and give feedback for an equal amount of time.

The new "democratic" process in the US is for corporations to write law and Congress to rubber stamp it. They don't even read the shit they pass.

Lobbying groups have worked out how to hack sovereignty (with those pesky democratic processes and a desire to consider the public interest)

We just saw this with the repeal of glass stegal. Could not be fixed because why? Idiots put it in the WTO via the FSA. Now we are stuck with it. Of course nobody ever mentions this until some working paper is leaked by people trying to spike the nomination of larry summers for the Fed Chair. [Regardless of your position of summers or derivatives regulation, its the <technique> that is cringeworthy]


“As we enter the end-game of the WTO financial services negotiations, I believe it would be a good idea for you to touch base with the CEOs…”


...Until the bankers’ re-draft of the FSA, each nation controlled and chartered the banks within their own borders. The new rules of the game would force every nation to open their markets to ... {too big to fail universal banks}.


It's simple. the NYT is and has been for some time, a mouthpiece for the sitting administration in Washington. They were under Bush, they are under Obama. The administrations trade 'towing the line' for access. Don't toe the line, no access. I hate to say it but there are few if any large news organizations which do the kind of Journalism we're taught about in school.

They have been more statist than partisan in the recent past. The NYT editorial board is most consistent in its advocacy for additional powers being granted to the federal government.

You might say it is a mouthpiece for the government, but not the political administration; NYT tends to favor the administrative bureaucracy.

This is a natural consequence of the type of journalism they practice.

I recently listened to an interesting interview on the BBC with the late french spy novel author Gérard de Villiers. One of the things he mentions is that journalists need sources, and to get sources you need to do favors. It's a game of you-say-something-nice-about-me-and-my-gov't-program and I'll give you a scoop. That's why they come off as slobbering the shaft of gov't officals. You don't go interview some department boss and then bad mouth him, b/c you won't get invited next time.

This is more a consequence of PR being cheap (nicely packaged chunks of the article at no cost) and journalism expensive. If the NYTimes stopped playing by various players' be-nice rules, they would still have access (they have enough relevance that blacklisting them would hurt), but it would be more expensive to produce.

I also take issue with this Editorial and agree with the EFF, but this...

   a mouthpiece for the sitting administration in Washington. They were under Bush, they are under Obama
That kind of characterization borders on absurdity.

I'm sorry of the NYT doesn't bow to your personal politics but to say its a "mouthpiece" - especially for Bush is more than a stretch of reality.

The NY Times stopped using the word torture to describe what the US was doing because of the Bush Admin. The New York times supported the Iraq War and was the leading the charge for a war with Iran during Bush's second term.

Supporting certain action of the administration and being a mouthpiece for the administration is a very different thing. Do you think any media org that supports, for example, the killing of Bin Laden, which is commonly attributed to Obama administration, is an Obama mouthpiece?

There were many people that supported Iraq War, from many political persuasions. Some regretted it, some didn't. It doesn't mean they all were Bush's mouthpieces, there is place for genuine agreement even in today's politics.

How do you characterize changing the language reporters are allowed to use in the paper to appease the Bush admin?

Israel just released 26 terrorists from jail about a week ago to appease Palestinian government. Does it mean the government of Israel is now an agent and mouthpiece of Hamas and PLO?

The notion that Israel does anything to appease Palestinian is kinda funny.

I don't see anything funny in it, but maybe your sense of humor is different. In any case, it is a fact - a quick Google search would produce ample confirmation that it did really happen if you doubt my words. In any case by changing the topic I assume you concede the initial point.

I asked you a straight forward question and you side stepped it with some ridicules notion that Israel is appeasing Palestine.

1. The word "ridicules" is a verb. You meant "ridiculous".

2. It is not the notion, it is a fact. Widely confirmed by independent sources which you can find by simple Google search or on any "current events" page in any major media outlet.

3. I brought it as an example that appeasing somebody and identifying with somebody is not the same. If you don't like this example, take example of Chamberlain appeasing Germans. I didn't use that because that has a high chance of taking discussion offtopic, but you managed to take it offtopic anyway.

4. The original point was that appeasing and being a mouthpiece is far from being the same. You still did not manage to bring any argument to the contrary. NYT published a lot of things harmful to Bush. It also published a lot of things useful to Bush. Thinking that the same newspaper that published the story of Stellar Wind was parroting Bush doesn't make any sense.

your lack of understanding of the world around you is frightening

Doing their patriotic duty.


Funny, in some of these Letters to the Editor, readers talk (and complain) about how the NYTimes takes "high moral ground" in decrying "torture".

"The Finding: U.S. Engaged in Torture"


which refers to the Front Page story on April 16th that had headline:

"U.S. Practiced Torture After 9/11, Nonpartisan Review Concludes,"


Keller, the executive editor during some of the Bush years, spoke as to why and when "torture" was and wasn't used.


This is more informed then your shouts of "mouthpiece" and I hope it helps:

"The word was freely deployed in editorials and Op-Ed opinions, but in the news pages we described the techniques as “brutal” – upgraded from “harsh.” When the word “torture” appeared, it was qualified by attribution (“according to…” or “widely denounced as…”). Hoyt, as the reader’s ombudsman, heard complaints from “some who think ‘brutal’ is just a timid euphemism for torture” and from readers on the other side “who think ‘brutal’ is too loaded.” The editors (I was one at the time) argued that what constituted torture was still a matter of debate, that this issue was not just linguistic but legal and had not yet been resolved by a court, and that the word was commonly applied to such a range of practices as to be imprecise. We contended that the best approach was to describe the techniques as fully as possible and let readers draw their own conclusions."


See also:

"The Guantánamo Stain" (2013)


"It became the embodiment of his dangerous expansion of executive power and the lawless detentions, secret prisons and torture that went along with them. It is now also a reminder of Mr. Obama’s failure to close the prison as he promised when he took office, and of the malicious interference by Congress in any effort to justly try and punish the Guantánamo inmates."


"Sweeping Torture Under the Rug"


"Meanwhile, in Washington, officials still won’t acknowledge Mr. Masri’s kidnapping and torture, which was just one example of President George W. Bush’s “extraordinary rendition program.”"


"Detainee Was Tortured, a Bush Official Confirms"


"A senior Pentagon official in the Bush administration said that interrogators had tortured a Guantánamo detainee."


"'Moderate physical pressure' : The painful lesson Israel learned about torture"


"As the Abu Ghraib torture scandal keeps unfolding, ..."

>especially for Bush is more than a stretch of reality.

I don't necessarily agree with your parent's assertion, but do you not remember the NYT beating the drums of war as loud as anyone in the lead up to Iraq?

This was the reason I stopped reading it. You have to remember that "over here" in Europe it was very clear how weak the case for going to war was even before the attack had started. I wonder if Colin Powell knew that he was throwing away his reputation that day.

Lately, I have found the Guardian much more informative.

But the guy above you heard that they are a liberal media organization, and a conservative media organization said that, so it must be true that the NYT are a bunch of pinko liberal hippies.

Maybe. I used to think a lot of conclusions I had were absurd.

I think the NYT has come a long way from the paper storied of old.

Also, and I mean this in the most non ad hominem way possible. At what point would you disclose your former and ongoing relationship with the NYT in making a comment like that?

For Bush's first term, the characterization is only a bit inaccurate. For Bush's second term, it's obviously wildly off the mark.

For Obama's time in office, both terms, the NYT has indeed functioned as a de facto press room of the administration.

Their support of the Iraq War was pretty unfortunate, and possibly leads to this characterization.

How can a newspaper support anything?

Isn't it a number of different journalists, all with different opinions?

> Isn't a newspaper a number of different journalists, all with different opinions?

Not really, no. It's the editor who sets the agenda; often at the bidding of the owners.


NYT protected Bush by sitting on their knowledge of AT&T-facilitated domestic wiretapping. Pretty big story they could have broke. The NYT's usefulness is due to their pretence of being proponents of transparency and democracy.

How many more times do they have to write another "anonymous government official said this outrageous thing [1]" article for you to start doubting?

1: that happens to be exactly the government line

No, the characterization borders on reality. Reality is absurd; I'll give you that.

Google "Judy Miller."

I've found ProPublica to be great. I also really like Frontline, and often appreciate NPR though they could have handled a few situations better. I really do miss having Neal Conan doing his show.

I think it would be more accurate to simply state that the NYT is an apologist for the state.

I'm going to contact Margaret Sullivan, the Times' Public Editor, and ask her to write about why the paper is endorsing something they haven't seen. If enough folks join me, she might weigh in. http://topics.nytimes.com/top/opinion/thepubliceditor/


I'm going to contact Margaret Sullivan, the Times' Public Editor...

^^^This should be top post

This is complete and total bullshit. The NYT did not endorse anything. The editorial in question is here (following the link from the EFF page, lest I be accused of misdirecting people): http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/06/opinion/a-pacific-trade-de...

It discusses the fact of the ongoing negotiations, mentions a variety of potential difficulties, and concludes by defining what it (the NYT board) considers to be the elements of a good agreement.

I'm generally a fan of the EFF but this article is ludicrous scaremongering. How the EFF spun this into an uncritical endorsement and thought it was appropriate to throw around insinuations of 'extraordinary cowardice' absent any evidence whatsoever. Essentially, the EFF is attacking the idea that there even could be such a thing as a good trade deal, equating the NYT's effort to articulate what that would be with an uncritical endorsement. It's fundamentally dishonest and has seriously lowered my opinion of the EFF.

A great deal of intent is telegraphed by how you say things and the words you choose to use. Starting out with something like "[the agreement] could help all of our economies and strengthen relations between the United States and several important Asian allies" definitely is putting a positive spin on something which I find a bit odd given the text of the agreement isn't even public .

Thank you. They waited until the 2nd-to-last paragraph to mention criticisms of the agreement, and never mention the secrecy involved. Clearly a positive analysis, even if they didn't explicitly write "approve this trade agreement."

A positive analysis !== "NYT endorses".

This is semantics, but I wouldn't describe what the NYT did here as "endorsing the current TPP proposal".


Sure sounds like an endorsement. See for example:

en·dorse·ment enˈdôrsmənt / noun noun: endorsement; plural noun: endorsements; noun: indorsement; plural noun: indorsements

    1. an act of giving one's public approval or support to someone or something.
[In any event, the critique seems to be that regardless of the position of the paper, EFF wants the NYT to leak the contents for analysis by 3rd parties.]

1. Context and common usage often flavours words in a way that isn't captured by the definition. I'd argue that a certain amount of positive attitude has to be expressed before it's considered an endorsement. It can't be just any non-zero positivity.

2. The article speaks of this type of agreement in general, and not the specific agreement that is being worked on. I could say that I like the idea of Toronto having a mayor without liking Rob Ford.

3. "NYT EDITORIAL BOARD ISSUES POSITIVE ANALYSIS" is nowhere to be found in the article. I'd rather rate the article text itself for endorsement, not synopses (even my own).

I don't think the NYT Editorial Board has actually seen the contents.

It's not odd at all, because what they are coming out in favor of is having a good Pacific trade agreement. They are neither endorsing nor disapproving of whatever is actually in this particular agreement.

Analogy: suppose Monsanto has a new pesticide that increases crop yields, but causes some serious environmental damage.

I write an editorial coming out in favor of increasing crop yields.

If the EFF were reading my editorial the way they are reading the Times, they would claim that I have endorsed Monsanto's new pesticide.

No, this is more like Monsanto announcing that they have a secret new pesticide that will provide amazing benefits.

Many people criticize it due to Monsanto's track record of causing environmental damage, and due to certain leaks of information that suggest it may be quite bad.

Then you write an article saying that you are all in favor of Monsanto coming out with a new pesticide that strikes a good balance between the interests of the farmer's increased crop yields and the damage to the environment around them.

Do you see what they did there? They not only blew off the concerns of people worried about intellectual property overreach ("balance the interests of consumers and creators of intellectual property" implies that there are two distinct groups of people and that there is some kind of balance between them, which vastly oversimplifies concerns about intellectual property), but by stating their endorsement for this agreement that they haven't seen (even in the abstract, of "we support a good deal that does the right things") they are basically implying that they think the general direction of the deal is positive. Even though they hedge their bets, they are using pretty strongly positive language here.

But they are talking about it as if this was it. They may not be very obvious about it but:

1) They are talking about a "good trade agreement"

2) They're talking about TPP-only in this article (since there are no alternatives anyway, nor do we know about the specific issues in the TPP, since they're keeping it secret).

My guess is most people will make the cognitive connection there and assume that the "good trade agreement" is the TPP.

Either way, I really don't care what NYT thinks about it, or doesn't. What I care about is for TPP to become public, way before they even try to pass it in certain countries.

You forgot the step where Monsanto shows up for an editorial board meeting and provides background information that makes an editorial on crop yields timely and relevant to current events. An NYT editorial on a treaty negotiations does not appear for no reason.

There is a reason others on this thread make the connection to the NYT's support for the war. This is another "slam dunk."

You can certainly gauge the potential benefits of a trade agreements by considering them in the context of historic trade agreements. The idea that lowering tariffs tends to promote trade and leads to net economic growth is hardly controversial in economics.

Opening paragraph: "Officials from the United States and 11 other countries bordering the Pacific are trying to complete a trade agreement by the end of the year that could help all of our economies and strengthen relations between the United States and several important Asian allies."

Sounds pretty positive and makes it look like only a totally irrational person would oppose it...

Last paragraph: "A good agreement would lower duties and trade barriers on most products and services, strengthen labor and environmental protections, limit the ability of governments to tilt the playing field in favor of state-owned firms and balance the interests of consumers and creators of intellectual property. Such a deal will not only help individual countries but set an example for global trade talks."

Again, super positive, up-beat, "let's do it!" sort of thing...

Second to last paragraph, closing: "Others are worried about provisions on intellectual property that could restrict the availability of generic medicines and grant longer copyright protections to big media companies."

Huh? Doesn't sound good at all, but if I am to believe the rest of this rosy article, these must be uneducated and paranoid people... right?

This is exactly why I personally view this as an endorsement. None of the issues raised by the EFF are addressed or even named in a meaningful name. What does it actually mean to "balance the interests of consumers and creators of intellectual property"? Are they so worried about creators or end owners?

Now let's examine what EFF is raising: Need for open debate, need for a check on the executive branch by the legislative branch, need for full disclosure of potential conflicts of interests... Sounds very reasonable to me. In fact, why wouldn't you want an open and fair debate on this? What are we to lose?

The idea that an international treaty cannot supercede the law of the land and the proper legislative processes of the land set US apart in the historic terms. Before this notion, the head of the state usually had unilateral ability to sign a treaty. Wikipedia has a solid write up on the treaty clause and I encourage everyone to read it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_Clause

I invite you to apply the same sort of forensic analysis to the EFF article and then tell me with a straight face that it isn't awash in FUD.

Their article is written with a clear purpose of inciting an outsized reaction and waking people from just accepting the status quo. That's what they do and that is exactly why people donate to them - to kickstart debate on issues such as this.

I fail to see why you would want to compare a statement from a well known activist foundation with a supposed journalistic editorial from a major newspaper. The two organizations have completely different purposes and missions.

When I think journalism, and NY Times specifically, I always hope to see integrity and a check on those in power. Unfortunately, in this case it looks like a mouthpiece for special interests...

Wow, impressive double standard you have going on there.

journalistic editorial

Filed under 'unclear on the concept.'

The EFF is an advocacy organization. They advocate.

The NY Times is a journalist organization. Although they express their opinions in the OpEd page, I still expect a different style from them than I do from the EFF.

That being said, I also hold the EFF to a high standard, not because they are an advocacy organization, but because they are my FAVORITE advocacy organization. I wish that they would not characterize the NY Times editorial as "endorsing" the treaty when it merely "speaks well of it".

It opens with what reads like an endorsement - "Officials from the United States and 11 other countries bordering the Pacific are trying to complete a trade agreement by the end of the year that could help all of our economies and strengthen relations between the United States and several important Asian allies."

That's not an endorsement, just a statement of fact. Trade deals often boost economic growth and lead to closer bi- or multilateral cooperation between nations.

An endorsement would be something like 'the agreement may not be perfect, but it would be in America's interests. President Obama should sign it and the Senate should ratify it.' I might also note that the NYT has quite recently featured op-eds highly critical of the TPP, a curious strategy for a newspaper that is supposed to be endorsing it, eg http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/03/opinion/obamas-covert-trad...

I'm pro-trade in general but haven't formed an opinion on the TPP so far because its outlines are unclear. The best summary that I've read on the subject suggests that negotiations are strongly motivated by strategic considerations: http://www.economist.com/news/asia/21583995-negotiations-sec...

How do they know that it is a statement of fact and not completely misleading if they are not allowed to read the agreement though?

They present it positively, but it might be severely damaging and without reading the text they really don't know.

Obviously trade agreements in general can be good, but this article is about this trade agreement in particular, not the general concept of them, so for them to to start with a positive feel-good spin on something they are banned from reading, does seem somewhat off.

Because it's a statement about the potential of a trade deal. Historically, some trade deals have yielded such benefits, and the size of the economic territory involved means that the potential upside here is significant.

But they don't know the potential of this trade deal because they do not have the text of it so cannot draw a comparison with historic trade deals. To present something as positive based on history when the thing is secret is nonsense. Is like someone hovering around a shell game who only talks about the previous winners.

It's easy to assess the potential of the trade deal, by the simple expedient of counting up the various deadweight losses attributable to tariffs. It's not like we don't know what existing tariffs are or what costs they impose on trade flows, that information is public. For a very rough estimate of the potential gains, you can look at the size of the market for a given trade area and multiply that by the measured increase in economic growth from previous free trade agreements, such as NAFTA, the EU and others.

If you want to learn more about it I suggest this CRS primer: http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/row/R40502.pdf

"I haven't formed an opinion on TPP yet because its outlines are unclear."

None of us can construct an informed opinion because the content is being deliberately kept secret until it is too late for anyone but the privileged few to have a say.

I'm quite content to wait until it comes up for ratification. As I mentioned above, a deal you can vote on is far preferable to no deal at all, which is what we have with the WTO for over a decade now.

It sounds like a statement of the deal's goal to me. Definitely not an endorsement.

That's a pretty weak endorsement... "could help" doesn't mean "would help". It just looks like the author didn't choose their words carefully enough.

I agree with you that the editorial falls short of an endorsement -- at most, it's an endorsement of the effort, not the result, which hasn't even emerged yet.

But I don't agree that the EFF response is "ludicrous scaremongering". I think the EFF is right that there is a substantial danger here of serious problems, which the editorial mentions (even linking to a page on the subject) but doesn't, to my mind, give a sufficiently stern warning about. Furthermore, the word "secret" does not appear in the editorial. I agree with others who find it shallow and naïvely uncritical.

At the same time, there are definitely benefits to be had from trade agreements.

Reading the actual article, the most striking thing is that NYT actually didn't say anything about the agreement, even though causal user might conclude they did and they are in support of it.

But in fact, that didn't happen. They described what Obama administration would like to do (which doesn't even mean they really want to do it, since the administration lies all the time, let alone that they would actually be able to do it). They described how hard it to reach an agreement in general. They described that there are people that are worried about the agreement. They described how an imaginary cool agreement would look like. What they actually didn't is to describe what the actual agreement is or what it actually does. For all we know, they could be selling their souls to the Devil or joining the Galactic Empire and the article would look exactly the same.

So NYT editorial board just wasted time of their readership to say "it would be nice if the agreement were nice, and Obama administration wants it to be nice". Without providing a shred of actual information on the actual agreement.

The NYT is saying what its standards of a good agreement would be and what the priorities of its editorial board are, which provides a clue to the administration about the probability of getting an endorsement from the paper. They didn't say 'it would be nice if the agreement were nice,' but rather spelled what they would consider 'nice.'

How can they call it good, if they don't know what else is in there? Did they mention this point?

They're not doing that. They're describing their ideal of a good agreement, ie signalling what they would like to see.

It doesn't sound like this. At least they could explicitly point out the problem of heavy secrecy and lack of transparency in TPP as a sign of a bad agreement which they don't like to see.

Editorials are meant as an expression of opinion, not a comprehensive description. I don't find the secrecy an automatic negative; very often it's a prerequisite for brokering deals, especially at the international level.

Too many participants and too much scrutiny can lead to paralysis. I thought this was one f the major weaknesses of the Occupy Wall Street movement; for some reason they decided their general assemblies should run without any procedure for terminating discussion, and that no resolution could be passed without 90% agreement. Predictably they never managed to settle on a list of demands before the momentum evaporated.

I appreciate that you may find my realpolitik approach somewhat lizard-like.

In this case secrecy is a clear negative, since we know who is involved - the crooked minded DRM lobby who created DMCA 1201 and tries to spread this sickness with each and every opportunity.

I very much doubt that the secrecy is at the behest of the DRM lobby unless the treaty turns out to be about IP issues and nothing else, in which case I'll gladly eat my words. This belief seems to be a rather mypoic view and I think IT activists are in danger of making it into a bogeyman and thus sidelining themselves.

Why? Because IP and DRM are ultimately a small part of the trade puzzle, dwarfed by issues like agricultural trade barriers (eg Japan's 777.7% tariff on imported rice, in a country of ~120m, most of whom eat rice daily, which amounts to billions a year in deadweight loss on a single commodity - see http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/12/business/global/12yen.html... for background).

Personally I think the secrecy has a lot to do with preventing interference by China, which is conspicuously not part of the treaty negotiations. You may recall the administration is trying to effect a 'strategic pivot' towards Asia to counter China's expanding foreign policy influence. Thanks to the oil & natural gas boom, the US is well on the road to energy independence and thus the Middle East is no longer the nation's major strategic focus.

Whether its dwarfed or not, isn't the point. The point is, that DRM lobby sneaked that junk into the agreement. Since there is no way to remove the junk without tanking it all, let's tank it. It should send them a message - don't accept junk in the future agreements if you want them to succeed. If they are fools not to learn from the ACTA lesson, then they need another one.

It seems to me the NYT editorial doesn't specifically endorse anything... it just says what elements would make up an acceptable treaty:

> A good agreement would lower duties and trade barriers on most products and services, strengthen labor and environmental protections, limit the ability of governments to tilt the playing field in favor of state-owned firms and balance the interests of consumers and creators of intellectual property. Such a deal will not only help individual countries but set an example for global trade talks.

What part of the editorial is endorsing a specific secret text or giving blanket approval to any deal?

THE EDITORIAL BOARD (there's a link that tells who might have approved this) claim sources within the administration and put out their position, but didn't manage any reporting on the object of these negotiations (a draft treaty) and lack the critical skills to even mention that this document has stayed private. I see it as similar to their support of the WMD story: quite possibly fiction but critical thinking didn't enter the picture.

They can endorse it the same way they endorsed the hysteria of Iraq's "weapons of mass destruction" and helped pound the drumbeat to war. It's the New York Times. EFF is being rhetorical, of course. May they continue to push this into the light.

It would appear that such an international agreement would comprise a "treaty" under the Constitution, requiring Senate approval.

In general, the Senate doesn't like being bypassed.

Is there an end-run here I don't know about?

No, the agreement will need to go for Senate review, which will be a very long and public process.

I like the EFF in general, but they have an unfortunate tendency toward being shrill and incomplete in their public statements. The NY Times here is clearly not endorsing any specific language, but the concept of a well-formed trade agreement. In fact they directly acknowledge the challenge of getting the IP provisions right-- which is the main concern of the EFF.

Hi snowwrestler, I'm one of the shrill and incomplete activists at EFF.

You're correct in the abstract that such an agreement would need Senate review, but as noted in the piece and as we described in a letter to the Senate signed by Amnesty International, FSF, Free Press, and a bunch of others, the USTR is currently seeking "fast track authority" to bypass that process.

Read the editorial: the NY Times is endorsing an agreement that the public can't read. If they wanted it to be conditional, they could have written it that way. But instead, they acknowledged concerns and then dismissed them without a good explanation. And the public can't explain it themselves because we can't read the text.

To me the NYT seemed like they were endorsing the idea of such an agreement, not any current one.

It's too bad that the linked EFF article is so overblown, because I think that transparency is badly needed, and that media outlets should cover any TPP dealings better. By sensationalizing things, you've discredited the positive message of the post.

Hi, thanks for commenting. I just think you guys would be more effective if you communicated more honestly.

I'm sympathetic to your concerns around IP enforcement in TPP. But instead of discussing those, I find myself having to educate people about the basics of legislative procedure, like whether a treaty will be reviewed by the Senate. Even under TPA, the answer is yes.

I don't understand why you guys write this way. It creates massive distraction from your central points (see: most of this discussion), and it turns off folks who have the best understanding of the issues--the folks who theoretically should be most helpful to your cause.

>>I'm sympathetic to your concerns around IP enforcement in TPP. But instead of discussing those, I find myself having to educate people about the basics of legislative procedure, like whether a treaty will be reviewed by the Senate. Even under TPA, the answer is yes.

I'm not quite sure I understand how an up or down vote in the senate that is certain to pass counts as 'review.' The time to mount any public criticism will be very small and there will be enormous pressure to approve the agreement as amendments will not be possible.

Because the Senate gets to set its own rules for how it operates.

It's not like the effect of TPA would be a surprise to the Senate. Senators understand very well what it would mean for their ability to amend trade agreements. If they want the chance to review and amend the TPP, they won't pass TPA.

This is in itself a huge problem: Public debate in the legislature is not just for the legislature, but for the public. A fast-track enables back-room dealing between the executive and legislature that effectively cuts off the opportunity of the public to review and lobby against passage of an agreement, and substantially insulates them against public criticism of parts of agreements by giving them an excuse ("I could only vote yes or no") and keeping it out of the news cycle as much as possible.

In other words: Everyone, not just Americans, should worry even more about the contents of such an agreement if the US Senate chooses to allow such an agreement to be fast-tracked, because you can be virtually certain the reason will be because the Senate power brokers are worried the content would not withstand a longer public debate.

Read the editorial: the NY Times is endorsing an agreement that the public can't read.

I did. It isn't.

the USTR is currently seeking "fast track authority" to bypass that process.

So when are we gonna get to read it? After the Fact? Who is supposed to "analyze" this? WTF

When it's offered to the Senate for ratification, which is entirely in line with Article II of the Constitution as far as I can see. The President is empowered to make treaties, and the EFF is being rather disingenuous in seeking to imply that Congress's role is being usurped in any way.

The fast track negotiating authority (also called trade promotion authority or TPA, since 2002) for trade agreements is the authority of the President of the United States to negotiate international agreements that the Congress can approve or disapprove but cannot amend or filibuster.

Are you taking issue with the premise of fast-track (ie, that it will go regular track)? Because based on the structure, it comes up for a vote in Y/N only. So debate is essentially pointless (unless the whole thing is rejected) as its take-it-or-leave-it. So all of the non-pointless debate needs to occur beforehand. Which is certainly inconsistent with complete secrecy. Or is everybody missing something?


I'm absolutely fine with the debate being about whether to accept or reject it. There's so much bikeshedding and logrolling in Congress these days that I think they're more effective when confronted with the necessity of an up or down vote. YMMV of course.

Also, that's how the Senate votes on judicial and other nominees (Y/N, rather than having any control over a shortlist or setting criteria), and Article II says that treaty votes come before the Senate the same way. I have the impression that you and several other posters would prefer a more parliamentary system of government where the executive was a member of the legislature and directly subject to its authority* but that's not our constitutional scheme.

* A key difference in a parliamentary system being that a vote of no confidence in the executive can force a general election.

My issue with this is selective discolure. The idea that you only disclose XYZ treaty to PQR special interest and then not show it to the public is BS. I understand the logic of the fast track, and I also understand to concept of too many cooks in the kitchen. But strategic, manipulative, selective disclosure is another ball of wax.


Fast track expired in 2007, so yes, if the TPP were introduced today it would come up in Congress under regular order.

It's possible that Congress could choose to renew fast track, but that would not mean they are being bypassed--since they themselves would be putting the restrictions in place, and they obviously all know that the TPP is coming down the track.

Also--Congress could not even pass a budget to keep the federal government open. Personally I am not worried that they will move too fast on anything in the foreseeable future.


It's a plausibly deniable cheerleading article for the Obama administration with almost no real content other than the fact that negotations are in progress.

>>You're correct in the abstract that such an agreement would need Senate review

Even without fast track approval the agreement would be structured as a congressional-executive agreement that would not require a two thirds majority. With fast track approval congress would still have to approve the agreement although a filibuster would not be possible.

But surely after it goes to the senate it will be either a ratify or no-ratify on the agreement. Negotiations will have already finished between countries and everything agreed on, is there any scope for change or public input at that point?

The TPP is going to be terrible for some countries, including patent agreements that will multiply the cost of drugs, forced disconnection for copyright infringement and the ability for multi-nationals to sue governments who make laws that will hurt their future profits (eg safety, regulation, security, environmentalism, etc).

It's something the public should be actively involved in now, while negotiations are occurring rather than being placated by the New York Times for it to later roll through the senate.

It will need to go to the House, too: Trade agreements these days are typically implemented as congressional-executive agreements rather than as treaties[1].

The underlying legal theory is that modern trade agreements require extensive changes to domestic law and thus must involve the regular legislative process. And so long as the Congress passes a law that implements all of the U.S. obligations under the trade agreement, and the executive agrees to enforce those obligations, our trading partners don't care that there isn't a Constitutionally-defined "treaty".

Politically, in addition to avoiding the potentially damaging effects of bypassing the House, passing trade agreements this way give the executive a more credible (and thus powerful) negotiating position, since he doesn't need to be sure of pulling 67 Senators on board.

[1] http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/97-896.pdf

Yeah, tell that to Obama, who bypassed the Senate with ACTA, too.

Original NYT editorial


To summarize: a good trade pact would be good.

Too bad TPP isn't it, and they will try to pass it anyway.

Besides, that sort of thing should be made public, and not signed and agreed upon between countries in secret.

Sorry but there's no endorsement of something unread here by the New York Times. You can interpret the Times's positive spin on the potential agreement as a de facto endorsement, but it is not an endorsement. It's as if the Times said that it's good a new Avengers movie is coming out and the EFF said that the NYTimes gave the movie a positive review without seeing it. Disagree with what the New York Times said, but they don't claim to have seen the agreement.

I'm going to have to trust the government on this one. Clearly they have the people's best interests in mind. In fact why should they ever let us see anything in the future, it makes us angry and leads to silly arguments. Instead they can simply tell us when the business is complete - signed, a North Korean.

Sorry, but I must be missing something - what/where is the actual endorsement? Did they run an article about this?

There isn't one, but only a small percentage of the outraged readers will have bothered to click through and discover this for themselves.

A good agreement would lower duties and trade barriers on most products and services, strengthen labor and environmental protections, limit the ability of governments to tilt the playing field in favor of state-owned firms and balance the interests of consumers and creators of intellectual property. Such a deal will not only help individual countries but set an example for global trade talks.

from http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/06/opinion/a-pacific-trade-de...

That's the sort of agreement they would like to see. Whether or not that's the sort of agreement that emerges from the TPP negotiations remains to be seen. One assumes they would be unenthusiastic about an agreement that did not include such elements.

Just so ya'll know, the main crux of this deal for the US is that they're going to be a major natural gas supplier to the United States of Europe to cut off Russia from it. This is part of the reason Russia has probably been to supportive of Snowden, which would normally be a bad idea politically, because they're trying to mess up the US/EU relationship. Natural gas is going to unfortunately be the way forward for awhile in all the post-Fukushima paranoia/propaganda cycle.

This is TPP, not TTIP.

While this story might be sensational, does anybody know the rationale behind keeping treaties like this secret.

I could come up with all kinds of explanations like our leader being fearful of criticism, but I would like to know if there an actual practical reason.

Author of this blog post here.

They claim that they need to keep it secret to maintain a strategic advantage as each of the countries trade off different provisions that could benefit or harm their economies. US Trade Rep says that if they make the draft texts public, then it will somehow effect their "game plan" against other nations.

This justification has become ever more dubious (or at the very least, extremely hypocritical) given the fact that the NSA has been spying on trade delegates and shares that information with the US Trade Rep. (Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/world/no-morsel-too-minusc...)

Treaties start off with private negotiations for the same reason that any negotiation is private--so that the representatives can work on ideas and compromises in a free way. If they are able to arrive at a good deal, then they can present it together.

This is how corporate mergers are done, for example. Managers meet to work out the deal, then present it to shareholders.

It's also how all significant legislation gets started--Congressional staff meet to negotiate, then a bill gets introduced with cosponsors.

The main thing to understand is that this is the beginning of a process, not the entire process. There will be plenty of opportunity for public comment. The Korea FTA, for example, spent over 3 years in public comment after negotiations concluded.

Same as lots of other negotiations; the more people at the table, the longer it takes to get anything done.

Because the Obama administration told them to.

For political leverage

Just their way of saying, most everyone in the country is an idiot and we recognize that.

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