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One of the better students I've dealt with over the past few years, blues_4215, posted Sunday with his analysis of the Associated Press list of top news stories of 2011. It's worth stopping by and reading.

Such lists tend to get us looking backward, reminding us of how fast time passes. For the past several weeks, though, I've been looking forward, and I already have a feeling what the top story of 2012 is going to be:

title or description
Liverpool, August 2011


The parallels between our country and what Britain was like leading up to this summer's riots are remarkable—scary remarkable. In the November edition of Harper's Magazine, the parallels were laid out convincingly by Ed Vulliamy, senior correspondent for the Observer and the Guardian (newspapers) of London. I wish I could provide a link to the full text, but in the Harper's archives, the story is for subscribers only. So I'll have to settle for providing excerpts:

The deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, however, had predicted the riots more than a year earlier. [ ... ] He warned that if a Conservative government came to power in Britain and were to, as he put it, "slash and burn public services on a thin mandate," "a lot of people [would] react badly to that. Asked whether the anticipated reaction could include "rioting in the streets," Clegg replied, "I think there is a very serious risk."

A few days after the riots had ended, it was revealed that one in five Britons between the ages of sixteen and twenty-four are unemployed [...] Exactly how and why Britain has decomposed into a more rotten country than it was two or three decades ago is hard to gauge, but some answers can, I think, be found in the destruction of an industrial society and the loss of the cohesion and community afforded by the manufacturing base.

The country that packages itself as "Cool Brittania" has become greedy, obsessed with commercialism at the expense of any other value or norm, xenophobic, belligerent, and hubristic.

Modern Britain is defined by, more than anything, the City of London, its money and values, both in terms of the prostitution of politics to the interest of high finance (the assumption that the taxpayers' money will be levied to bail out banks, and the fact that it is almost de rigueur for cabinet members leaving office to take lucrative consultancies with these same banks) and the reforging of society in the banks' image of greed.

The country's seduction of, and dependence on, global finance was suppoed to generate a "trickle down effect." Instead, tens of billions of taxpayer money have gone into bailing out, propping up, and lavishingly rewarding the very institutions that have looted our economy.


And all that in just the first third of the story. Vulliamy doesn't just focus on how the government picks our pockets to prop up the 1 percent, although these economic-related excerpts demand inclusion of a quotation from one of (former Prime Minster) Tony Blair's closest advisers, Peter Mandelson, who "said he felt 'incredibly relaxed about people getting filthy rich.'" Vulliamy also rings in on foreign ownership of once-proud British industries, the hubris of London (New York, in our case), Margaret Thatcher's insistence that "there is no such thing as society" and the subsequent selling of social systems to what Vulliamy calls "a newly empowered oligarchy of individual shareholders" and what happens when "these basic services are subjugated to the smog of outsourcing and profit."

Perhaps the most disturbing thing about the article is Vulliamy's claim that England's citizens are being watched by nearly 1.9 million surveillance cameras—one camera for every 32 citizens. It's a short leap from this "Big Brother" reality to what is becoming an increasingly militarized police force in this country, a police force that is increasingly overstepping its bounds, as illustrated perhaps most vividly by University of California, Davis, police pepper-spraying seated protesters in November, or police dressed in riot gear dispersing "Occupy" protesters with varying degrees of force last month, all while keeping the media safely out of sight so abuses could not be documented.

All of this and more, much more, led me to consider posting this response to blues_4215: "I can't shake this feeling that the summer of 2012 will be your chance to see firsthand what the long, hot summer of 1967 was like. I think people without money, without work, and without any standing in society, regardless of race or age, are going to tune out the incessant empty promises of the presidential campaign and instead becoming increasingly angry about the difference between what politicians say they'll do for us and what they actually do to us—which is to screw us over to benefit the very richest and most privileged. Government 'for the people' and 'by the people' is dead in America—but still very much malodorously alive is government 'of the people.' We will not tolerate this for much longer. The 'Occupy' movement is just the start. It will grow more organized, more politicized, more angry until it is no longer 'Occupy' but instead a large force that defies names and inevitably will take out its frustrations in a visible, violent way."

If that seems an overly pessimistic view of society, let's go back to England and see what's headed for America, given the unsettling parallels of what's going on there and what's happening here. Vulliamy writes:

When covering the anniversary of the [Liverpool riots of 1981] earlier this year, I met a man I'll call Steven who had been fighting the police on the streets back then. He told me: "First there was deindustrialization, now there's recession, and you hear people worried about losing their jobs or will now in all probability have to work longer for their pensions. It makes some of us quite jealous, because at least you had jobs consistently enough to enable you to build a pension in the first place. I look at these people now and think to myself: 'Welcome to our world. Welcome to 1981.'" Weeks after this conversation, Toxeth [a Liverpool mixed-race neighborhood] was literally back to 1981, the streets ablaze, the wheel come full circle. While watching his neighborhood burn again, Steven emailed me to say: "I guess it's a case of the youths having to bide their time until this has died down and those austerity measures have kicked in, along with an ever-increasing rise in inflation, and it starts to strip the savings from the middle classes. Only then will those sheep maybe sit up and take notice of what these youths have been saying" instead of voting for those responsible like "turkeys voting for Mmas."

A story in Sunday's Guardian quotes Enver Solomon, policy director at the Children's Society charity, as saying "that a perceived sense of 'material deprivation' could not be overlooked as a factor behind the riots. 'This research shows that [ ... ] most people believe that the riots were caused by a whole range of factors – and poverty and material disadvantage are at the heart of it.'"

The story continues, "Analysis of more than 1,000 court records suggests 59% of the England rioters come from the most deprived 20% of areas in the UK. Analysis by the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice of young riot defendants found 64% came from the poorest fifth of areas and only 3% from the richest fifth."

There are fears that the riots in England could very well happen again. And, sad to say, our elite ruling class will learn nothing from the British experience until the flames are blazing here.

Yeats had it right nearly 100 years ago:

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.


The long, hot summer of 2012. It's coming to a city near you.

Comments

( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
blues_4215
Dec. 21st, 2011 12:34 am (UTC)
I'm thinking this quote is becoming more and more applicable...

"If we can't sit at the table, let's knock the fucking legs off."
-James Forman, former SNCC executive secretary

The table's getting full, and the people not sitting are getting hungry too. That being said, I hope we don't need another streak of violence to get some positive change.

patrick_vecchio
Dec. 21st, 2011 12:49 am (UTC)
Here's your newest daily read:

http://www.esquire.com/blogs/politics/
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )

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