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August 13, 2011




Sad to say, Beth, but America is rapidly changing, with a widening of distance and influence between its upper class and the middle class (the middle class loses ground each year). Many of the middle class have actually slid down the ladder to join the lower class, only to watch one of our political parties hell-bent on cutting off social programs meant to give people a safety net and a fighting chance. We watch in horror as we hear that the GOP has every intention of dismantling environmental protections, cutting education, and health programs. They have actually convinced the average conservative that teachers, police, and other union workers have wrecked havoc with state budgets, and that the money used by cutting state employee benefits and contracts must go straight to the wealthy (because they are the job creators). The states, of course, remain in debt and must cut more jobs, putting more people on unemployment. Point out that the wealthiest individuals and corporations are not paying any taxes (thanks to tax loop-holes) and it gets shouted down by a group that refuses to ever undo tax breaks, even those given when the country couldn't afford it.

The people on Wall Street that destroyed our financial system? There has been no legal action. Restrictions passed by the Democrats has been unfunded and sidetracked by the GOP so that the bankers are right back to the same risky practices. I never thought to see a political system so intent on making the rich richer and letting the middle and lower classes cover the cost.

Here in America we see some of the worst attacks on the helpless coming from the very people who shout the loudest about religious values and morality. I wonder sometimes if they truly believe everyone has the same chance to move upward; there is such a blindness to the social capital and opportunities required to move up the social-economic ladder.

The greater the distance between the upper class and the rest of the country, the more tensions. We are holding our breaths as the next election approaches. Most Americans want fair play. They want the wealthy to pay their fair share. But money pays both the political system and the media spin, and neither are immune from the flow of wealth. Can average citizens be shown enough carefully worded ads to convince them to vote against their own best interest? Or will people quit worrying about defending their own little space of personal ground and look toward the common good?

A couple of points:

1. I do not think that 'class' is such an issue in Britain today. And many of our most successful people also achieved that success through education and hard work.
However, I do admit that the worst youth riots have occurred in France and Britain and I can't imagine young people in Denmark, for instance, exploding into such anger.

2. A great many of the looters were people who are comfortably off and certainly not deprived in any way.

3. I do agree with the attack on our politicians. The recent 'expenses scandal' lost them our respect. In addition our so-called special relationship with the USA has led us into illegal wars that have taken the lives of thousands and cost our economy billions. We still believe that Bush and Blair should stand trial for war crimes.

4. The bankers? Do not let me rant about the bankers. That we, tax payers, were forced to step in to pay off their gambling debts only to see them pat themselves on the back and award themselves more obscene bonuses is outrageous. Do not tell me that there are not decent, honest and smart people out there who would happily step in to take their jobs for a good salary and modest bonus, do not tell me we have to pay their greedy demands because no-one else could do what they do. Since when did banks become casinos?

5. Parenting. I'm sorry but parenting does play a part in the recent riots. If you do not know where your 12 year-old child is, if your child does not respect you, if you do not communicate with your child, then you are not parenting your child.

6. The recent royal wedding was a modest affair, as royal weddings go. Deliberately so I think to be in tune with our current economic situation. I am not a great fan of inherited privilege however the royal family is greatly loved by many people here, many of whom are from 'the lowest class', that this was Diana's boy marrying his love touched a great many people here.

7. More than 80% of newly-created jobs last year were taken by non-British people. The influx of immigrants from the newest EU countries has stretched our health, education and housing systems to the limit. In a small, over-crowded country I have to ask if we should have allowed free entry to them or should we have imposed a limit on their numbers as did every other EU country with the exception of Sweden.

8. Many people here believe that we are losing our British culture. Laws are passed which promote other cultures at the expense, it seems, of our own. This leads to resentment and frustration. I have heard people say that the British are treated as of lesser importance in their own country.

I agree with most of Mouse's points, but especially with 5, 7 and 8, and I try hard not to feel strongly about 7 and 8. But I do.
Lack of parenting is a major issue, probably THE major issue in this sorry saga.
How can responsible adults not know where a young teenager is at night, and how can they not react to a bedroom full of loot? It is too easy to blame a combination of other factors, political, social, economic.
Parenting is tough and unremitting. Failure to do it has huge side-effects.

I don't want to excuse inexcusable actions or to generalise about 'people' most of whom I'll never meet, but I'm a bit shocked by the views expressed by the two previous commenters (and by a lot of posts and comments elsewhere from British bloggers with whom I'm usually very much in sympathy). I don't share these 'us and them' views towards immigrants and migrant workers - I never did anythihg at all to deserve a privileged status in this country; nationality is an accident of birth. And I don't believe that the parents of most of the rioters ever had a chance of being responsible parents - the damage goes back much more than one generation. Bleeding hearts don't fix anything, I know. Big problems need tough solutions, but I still believe - increasingly against the spirit of our age, I know - in tough love rather than tough punishment and exclusion, in many cases if not (realistically) in all.

I appreciate all the views expressed here, your insights into different societies, and your willingness to be honest as we all search for reasons -- thank you. In a subsequent post I want to open up a discussion about parenting -- what's happened, and why. But please don't stop commenting, if others have things to say on this thread please do so!

I have been reading "The Hemlock Cup, Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life" by Bettany Hughes. The comparison between then and now is a wonder to behold.
To quote: In the 5th century BC, "Athens simply had no great men to lead it, and the bellies of the people were growing big with hunger. But the appetite for war was undiminished and Athens, it seems, still had the stomach to fight."
Please, replace Athens with the United States, England, Italy, etc. etc. Ever so close to today.
To also quote a letter from John Adams April 15, 1814, "Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts and murders itself. There is never a democracy that did not commit suicide.
One quick comment on parenting. Does anyone think you can raise a child properly if you warehouse it (day care) almost on the way home from the hospital. Not blaming mothers in the US workers have not received a raise in income for over 20. COL taken into account.

Hal, couldn't agree with you more about the Athens analogy. I recently read another book on Athens and their navy (symbol of their warring power) and how spending for it caused their decline, you might like it: "Lords of the Sea: Athenian Naval Power in the 5th century" by John Hales. I should read the one you just finished too. It's amazing how we remember (with glowing tributes and comparisons) the positive aspects and totally forget the negatives, and of course don't learn from them! I wonder if civilizations a thousand years from now will do the same about us! (if, of course, civilizations still exist.)

In response to Jean... My family has, for as many years as we can trace back, worked to build this country. The most recent generations have fought in two world wars, worked as coal miners, civil servants, doctors, nurses, teachers and career soldiers. We have paid our taxes and NI contributions unstintingly and not one of us have ever taken unemployment or income support or housing benefits from the state. Even in times of financial need. So yes, I do consider that we have earned the right to live in the country of our birth and that our British culture will be respected and cherished. Not because of an 'accident of birth' but because we have worked for it for hundreds of years.

In an ideal world there would be no borders and people would move freely between states but this is not an ideal world and countries do impose restrictions on the numbers of people wishing to enter. If I wished to live in Australia my request would be declined because of my age and financial status. If I wished to move to the USA I doubt that I would be granted permanent entry. I suspect that this would be the case with most other non-EU countries.

Britain is a small, over-crowded island with a severe housing shortage, over-stretched schools and hospitals and high unemployment. It is not unreasonable to wish to limit the numbers of people wishing to come here mostly for financial gain, especially if those people have no interest in integration and assimilation.

Also to Jean........I have never met Mouse, but our backgrounds sound very similar. I can trace my family back through the generations and know that they made substantial contribution to the development of this country, including giving employment and very generous support to many others.
In retirement I continue to work hard as a volunteer to earn my place in society, and there is no way in which I could feel myself to be here as 'an accident of birth'. My roots here are very deep and it took a lot of time and effort throughout the generations to make them so.

What is the evidence for 'the parents of most of the rioters never had a chance of being responsible parents'?
Tough love is just what I was suggesting.

Gosh. I’m sure we agree about many things, Mouse and RR, coming, as I also do, from what is probably a similar generation and background. So it’s painful to feel this, but I think we are very far apart here. Perhaps it’s more useful to think about what responses to the riots we might all be able to support. I’m impressed by what I know of ‘restorative justice’: http://www.restorativejustice.org.uk/what_is_restorative_justice/

Actually, I've worked as a volunteer in that, too!

What are the young supposed to do? Accept that they have no future? Live under constant hostile surveillance? Watch the rich at play? Be told that they must admire boring upper class twits and their stupid pastimes? See their neighborhoods swept away to make room for the Olympics? Endure incredible congestion as the rich cram more and more stuff into the cities, huge buildings, traffic jams, etc. etc. I think it is bad for everyone there now, and the young people are simply the ones who feel it most and who are acting out as a result.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.