Sunday, 7 October 2012

The US, The Issues, And How They Affect The Rest Of Us

I've gotten into a lot of fights on Google Plus over politics and that was time well spent. I'm trying to persuade Americans to vote for a less destructive option for governing their country while pushing for proportional representation to break up their bottlenecked two party system. This is why.

There are many ways in which the USA exerts influence over the rest of us as it seeks to dominate the globe.  Since the end of the Cold war, it's got a lot stronger and the ties bind us tighter. Now, when Republicans rule, we get war and more war. Europe and the UK get sucked into whatever they're doing, you see. When Democrats are in, it hurts less. They're still pretty right-wing, which has pulled the rest of the country with them. The six ways they affect us most are

  • trade

  • foreign policy

  • environment

  • culture

  • domestic policies

  • internet


Much of my activism this year has been to fight off international trade agreements including ACTA, TPP, CETA, and the EU-India one. America dominates the way international trade agreements are written and agreed upon, and this hinges on its domination of the UN and international trade bodies, along with the fact that the dollar is an internationally-used currency. Rick Falkvinge has a lot to say about the impact of the dollar's dominance in his blog, but the basic idea is that commodities such as oil are traded in dollars and any attempt to change that can result in war so America can stay on top. America's Free Trade Agreements include ACTA and TPP, which it uses to impose its intellectual property laws on everyone else regardless of the public interest. This is why I've been fighting them; had ACTA got through, the IPR provisions would have forced my ISP to police my internet use to prevent infringement. Our government here in the UK is trying to use other legislation to get those provisions enacted and I'm fighting those off too.

Foreign policy

As a NATO partner and ally, the UK is tied to American foreign policy and therefore gets pulled into its wars, particularly those where oil-producing countries is involved. While many of us are concerned about a possible strike on Iran ostensibly to shut down its nuclear weapons capability, we have mostly believed it was about the oil based on the history of American aggression towards Iran. Actually, it's not about the oil itself, but how it's paid for, as Falkvinge helpfully points out. Short version: pay for oil in USD or game over. Here's the problem: when war or military action is declared, war profiteers move in and everyone wants a slice of the cake. Britain usually ends up with a massive military commitment but gets too small a share of the spoils to make it worthwhile. We're Jeeves to America's Wooster, if you will, except that Uncle Sam usually gets the upper hand. Meanwhile, if we need help with anything, e.g. the Falkland Islands, we're on our own.


The USA has refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This is hardly surprising since the USA is also the world's biggest polluter. This has resulted in wacky weather and the USA is still in the grip of a drought it's been suffering since the spring of this year. While the USA has had droughts before, and this is part of a natural weather cycle, global warming and GMO corn aren't helping. The trouble with GM corn is it's designed to resist the rootworms that ruin the crops. Unfortunately, natural selection being what it is, we now have a sort of evolutionary arms race between rootworms and corn and the rootworms are winning. Meanwhile, the UN Food Agency is predicting a food crisis for the next few years because Russia, the other great cereal producer, has also suffered drought. Food prices here are going to rocket because Britain had a wet summer so we'll have to import cereals. What is happening in the USA? Well it's got global warming skeptics on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee and the Republicans want to increase fossil fuel production. Oh, and they have some stupid conspiracy theories against the United Nations so I doubt they'll take anything that comes out of there seriously.


That's actually the biggest influence on us. UK TV is full of American imports at the moment. Check any TV listings guide to see what we've got. This has gone on for years: I grew up with Sesame Street and The Muppet Show. I'm as familiar as any American with the characters and stories. I know all the jokes. I know who shot J.R. and used to run to the living room to watch Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and T.J. Hooker. I'm a massive fan of Star Trek and Babylon 5. Most of the cop shows I love are American. We've got American food in our shops: Oreos are relatively new but we changed the names of our Marathon bars to Snickers and Oil of Ulay to Oil of Olay because that's what Americans call it. Even Jif is now Cif for branding reasons. There's a McDonald's or twenty in every city and KFC or equivalent thereof. They actually outnumber chip shops. There's a McDonald's directly across the road from where I live. Political culture has crossed the Atlantic, too. Neoliberal economics is wrecking our economy. We're in the grip of a double-dip recession because austerity doesn't flippin' work. Meanwhile our government has been swept up in FUD over the Four Horsemen of the Infocalypse and are in the process of trying to pass a mass surveillance bill.

Domestic policies

We've had a go at Zero Tolerance policing — with mixed results. I've already mentioned the mass surveillance. They're also getting so involved with intellectual property rights laws copied and pasted from the USA that it's causing problems with attempts to implement the Digital Economy Act. Supply-side economics and Austerity are the watch-words of the day. Neither of them work when you're in the middle of wars and allow the outsourcing of jobs to other nations. The whole point is to live within our means, but what they're actually doing is spending on the wrong things and blaming the public for it. Recently, there's been controversy about the extradition of UK citizens to America over non-terrorist offences. This inevitably makes us wonder who is actually running the country.


I live on Google Plus and most of my friends there are American. I'm an administrator of a fantasy forum and most of my friends there are American. I'm on Twitter and most of my friends are American. Same with Linked In and Facebook. My websites are hosted on iPage, which is American. America pretty much owns the internet and my internet experience. My favourite websites are American. Needless to say, when the furore with SOPA came out in January, you'd better believe I was part of the fight against that. I've been agitating for internet freedom and digital rights ever since and because of the impact America has on my internet experience, plus the possibility of my own website being "accidentally" taken offline for spurious reasons (see Techdirt for details of dodgy takedowns) because I link to items to avoid falling foul of copyright laws, can you blame me for getting involved with American politics? I haven't got much of a choice, whatever other people have to say about it.


I believe we can agree that I've made a good case for my involvement in US politics, where I've been advocating against Mitt Romney, whose Republican administration would make things worse for me. While the Democrats aren't that much better, they're easier to reason with and would probably agree to implement proportional representation to break up the two party system. Since President Obama is likely to win a second term, that's what the next battle is. Getting that through would lead, I hope, to net neutrality and a digital bill of rights that would include intellectual property rights law reform. A girl can dream.

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