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April 30 2011

Johann Hari: The British Royal Wedding Frenzy Should Embarrass Us All (Democracy Now!) Part 1 of 2 - Up to two billion people around the world tuned in to watch the British royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, a story which has dominated TV news for weeks. The wedding buzz, however, provides an interesting time to look at the monarchy, Britain's domestic policy, and how its colonial legacy around the word affects foreign affairs today. While all eyes were on the wedding procession and the first kiss, Democracy Now! talked instead with Johann Hari, a columnist at The Independent of London, who says that royal wedding frenzy should be an embarrassment to us all. Watch Part 2: For the video/audio podcast, transcript, to sign up for the daily news digest, and for our complete news archive, visit Read Johann Hari's article in The Independent of London FOLLOW US: Facebook: Twitter: @democracynow Please consider supporting independent media by making a donation to Democracy Now! today, visit
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Johann Hari: The British Royal Wedding Frenzy Should Embarrass Us All (Democracy Now!) Part 2 of 2 - Up to two billion people around the world tuned in to watch the British royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, a story which has dominated TV news for weeks. The wedding buzz, however, provides an interesting time to look at the monarchy, Britain's domestic policy, and how its colonial legacy around the word affects foreign affairs today. While all eyes were on the wedding procession and the first kiss, Democracy Now! talked instead with Johann Hari, a columnist at The Independent of London, who says that royal wedding frenzy should be an embarrassment to us all. Watch Part 1: For the video/audio podcast, transcript, to sign up for the daily news digest, and for our complete news archive, visit Read Johann Hari's article in The Independent of London FOLLOW US: Facebook: Twitter: @democracynow Please consider supporting independent media by making a donation to Democracy Now! today, visit
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Reposted fromVideosDemocracy VideosDemocracy
It’s no coincidence that as genuine social mobility in broken Britain is eroded, so commoners turn to the National Lottery, The X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent. Winning them represents the only chance real people have to change their circumstances significantly. It could be you. And, like some giant illuminated penis flying over the rooftops of suburban homes and frothing at random passing women, William has pointed himself at Kate Middleton, the Susan Boyle of social mobility. In declaring her his princess, he brings hope of real change to millions of people denied a decent education and the means to better themselves, to millions of tiny babies denied even books, that one day they too could be randomly rewarded with untold wealth and privilege.
Stewart Lee
Reposted fromjhnbrssndn jhnbrssndn

April 28 2011

It is a theoretical possibility, but in my opinion an extreme improbability, that Britain would be rid of its monarchy short of a social convulsion on a par with, or close to, revolution. The British capitalist state has been defined by its successes as an imperialist state. It was the world’s first capitalist empire, and it is as an imperialist state that it has most tightly embraced the monarchical principle - in victory against republican France, for example, and in its colonial conquests, from the Opium Wars, to the Raj, to the Mandates. It was as Empress of India that Victoria re-invented a previously ramshackle and endangered monarchy in the face of a rising mass democracy. It was flush with the wealth of the colonies that the British royal family, itself always a very successful family of capitalist entrepreneurs and not just rentiers, regained its lost exuberance and vitality. Even if our biscuit tin monarchy (as Will Self has called it) is no longer riding a wave of colonial success, it remains at the apex of an imperial matrix whose ‘role in world affairs’ (as our professional euphemisers would have it) relies heavily on the accumulated cultural capital embodied in the Commonwealth. Windsor has also entrenched itself as a domestic power. It has assiduously courted a popular base, which perforce requires it to act as a silent partner in the class struggle - a source of legitimacy for the bourgeoisie, by dint of its apparent (only apparent) disentanglement from the daily grind of capital accumulation. And British capitalism has not run out of uses for these sojourners from the German low-lands. That this is so can be easily checked: no significant pro-capitalist political force in the UK is interested in republicanism. The bourgeois modernisers of Blair’s court, for all their initial constitutional radicalism, never had any desire to challenge monarchical power, least of all its residues in parliament which guaranteed Number Ten such strong executive powers. Blair, who went weak at the knees in the presence of the rich, is said to have been genuine in his sentimental, star-struck adoration of the royals. The monarchy still functions as the guarantor of a caste within the ruling class, which any good bourgeois wants admittance to - give an old chief executive an OBE, and he will consider himself to have truly lived. It still bestows social distinction - more than that, it upholds and perpetuates the superstitious belief in distinction, in meritorious ‘honour’ as well as ‘honour’ by birthright. Its systems of ranking still structure hierarchies within the state, notably the police, the navy, the air force, and the army. It is still the major patron of ‘Britishness’, the myth of a temporally continuous and organically whole national culture, which every legislator in search of an authoritarian mandate invokes. It is the sponsor of martial discourse, inviting us to believe that the British ruling class and its stately authorities, notably its armed forces, cleave to ‘values’ other than those of egoistic calculation. Its festivals of supremacy still mediate our experience of capitalism, suggesting that beneath the daily experience of conflict and confrontation, there is a more essential, eternal unity in the British polity. They still summon deference, in an era of political secularism. Windsor is susceptible to secular decline in that respect but this decline is, if I may say so, taking an awfully long time. Longer than is reasonable.
LENIN’S TOMB: Note on a wedding
Reposted fromjhnbrssndn jhnbrssndn

September 22 2010

Für die Zukunft nicht gewappnet: Wie ist es um die soziale Mobilität in Deutschland heute bestellt?

22. September 2010

Ergebnisse der empirischen Studie «Kaum Bewegung, viel Ungleichheit», erstellt im Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung (WZB) im Auftrag der Heinrich-Böll Stiftung

Seit langem gibt es in Deutschland weniger soziale Mobilität als in anderen industrialisierten Ländern, weniger soziale Aufstiege und weniger Abstiege. Betrachten wir die langfristige Entwicklung genauer.
Die im Krieg oder unmittelbar danach in Deutschland Ost und West geborenen Generationen waren vergleichsweise mobil. Von den 1940 – 49 geborenen Männern konnten in Westdeutschland ca. 40 Prozent eine höhere Klassenposition erreichen als ihre Väter, während etwas weniger als 15 Prozent im Vergleich zu ihren Vätern abstiegen. In Ostdeutschland stiegen ebenfalls gut 40 Prozent auf, etwa 16 Prozent stiegen ab. Deutlich anders war die Situation von Frauen. In den alten Bundesländern konnten weniger als 30 Prozent der Frauen aufsteigen, fast genauso viele verschlechterten sich. Im Osten gelang ca. 40 Prozent der Frauen des Jahrgangs 1940 – 49 ein Aufstieg, ungefähr 25 Prozent stiegen ab.

Schauen wir uns nun die Situation 20 bis 30 Jahre später an, stellen wir fest, dass es im Westen eine deutliche Annäherung zwischen Männern und Frauen gegeben hat. Beide Geschlechter verzeichnen zu etwa 35 Prozent Statusgewinne im Vergleich zu ihren Eltern, die Abstiege liegen für Männer wie Frauen um jeweils 20 Prozent. Anders in den neuen Bundesländern: Hier finden sich mehr Aufstiege für Frauen als für Männer. So stiegen 28 Prozent der zwischen 1970 und 1978 geborenen Frauen in den neuen Bundesländern auf, bei den Männern sind es knapp 18 Prozent. Gleichzeitig stieg etwas weniger als ein Drittel der ostdeutschen Männer und Frauen sozial ab. All das zeigt, dass sich die soziale Mobilität für Männer und Frauen in Ost- und Westdeutschland unterschiedlich entwickelt hat.


Warum bestimmt die Herkunft der Eltern so stark die Lebensperspektive der Kinder?

Die wesentliche Ursache ist die Bildung. Kinder aus bildungsnahen Schichten haben wesentlich bessere Möglichkeiten, selbst eine hohe Bildung zu erreichen als Kinder aus bildungsfernen Schichten. Dies gilt für Noten, Bildungsabschlüsse (Zertifikate) und kognitive Kompetenzen. Auch die Übertragung des sozialen Habitus von Eltern auf Kinder darf nicht unterschätzt werden. Die Gründe dafür sind vielfältig. Wir setzen im internationalen Vergleich viel zu spät an, Kinder aus bildungsfernen Elternhäusern an Bildung heranzuführen. Nur 15 Prozent der Kinder zwischen drei und fünf Jahren können in Westdeutschland Kindertagesstätten besuchen. Unsere Halbtagsschulen trennen Kinder meist im Alter von 10 Jahren. Wir verzichten auf sozialpädagogisch geschultes Personal und lehren noch immer im Klassenkontext, ohne die individuellen Bedürfnisse der Kinder ernst zu nehmen.

Die meisten anderen Länder zeigen uns, dass es auch anders geht. Die Bildungsarmut liegt dort deutlich niedriger, und die Vererbung von Bildung ist weitaus weniger ausgeprägt.


Was ist dran an den Ängsten der Mittelschichten vor dem gesellschaftlichen Abstieg?

Alle Indikatoren weisen in die gleiche Richtung: Der Abstand zwischen oben und unten ist größer geworden, der Armutssockel wird breiter. Noch lässt sich Deutschland insgesamt als eine «nivellierte Mittelstandsgesellschaft» beschreiben. Karl-Martin Bolte fasste dies in den 1970ern in das Bild einer Zwiebel: ganz unten und ganz oben wenige Menschen, in der Mitte sehr viele. Diese Zwiebel ist vor allem das Ergebnis von Einkommensdaten der amtlichen Statistik. Um den Zustand einer Gesellschaft besser zu beschreiben, bedarf es aber zusätzlicher Anhaltspunkte: Wie sehen die Deutschen die Verteilung von Arm und Reich insgesamt? [...] Die Mehrheit der Befragten positioniert sich nämlich selbst im mittleren Feld, fühlt sich also der Mittelschicht zugehörig. So ergibt sich insgesamt wieder das Bild der Mittelstandszwiebel – inmitten der Pyramide. Wie aber ist der Unterschied zwischen der Gesamtsicht und der Einordnung der eigenen Person zu erklären? Es kommt entscheidend darauf an, mit wem sich der Einzelne vergleicht.

Die Sozialpsychologen Leon Festinger (1954) sowie Henri Tajfel und John C. Turner (1979) formulierten, dass der Mensch versuche, bei sozialen Vergleichen immer positive soziale Identitäten oder eine «positive Distinktheit» herzustellen, nach dem Überlebensmotto: Es geht mir schlecht, aber vielen anderen geht es noch schlechter. Der Schutzmechanismus mittlerer Selbsteinordnung könnte ein Faktor sein, der die Unzufriedenheit dämpft. Ein anderer Selbstschutz deutet sich an, wenn man prüft, wo die Befragten eine Linie ziehen, unterhalb derer aus ihrer Sicht Armut beginnt. 70 Prozent der Hartz-IV-Bezieher zeichnen ihre subjektive Armutslinie oberhalb der eigenen Position. Sie betrachten also wesentlich mehr Menschen als arm, als es die Erwerbstätigen und die, die noch nicht lange arbeitslos sind, tun. Diese zuletzt genannten Gruppen ziehen die Linie tiefer, für sie gibt es in der Gesellschaft weniger Arme. Entscheidend ist dabei, dass es gruppenspezifische Armutslinien gibt. Das heißt nicht nur, dass diese Wahrnehmungen der sozialen Realität an den sozialstatistisch festgelegten Armutsdefinitionen vorbeigehen, sie lassen auch ahnen, wie uneinheitlich die soziale Wirklichkeit gesehen wird.

Die «tiefgreifenden soziologischen Differenzen», wie sie Georg Simmel in seiner Soziologie der Armut 1908 umriss, können auch als Schutzmechanismus gesehen werden: Jeder fügt sich sein eigenes Bild von Gesellschaft zusammen, und so entstehen keine einheitlich empfundenen Abgrenzungen, kein Ziel für alle, kein Gegner, von dem sich die große Mehrheit absetzen oder den sie entmachten will. So formt sich keine revolutionäre Masse. [....]  Umso wichtiger ist es, die Menschen zu befähigen, Armut auch subjektiv zu überwinden, ihnen Fähigkeiten (capabilities) zu übertragen, wie es die Rechtsphilosophin Martha Nussbaum und der Ökonom Amartya Sen ausdrücken. Hier sprechen wir dann insbesondere von Bildung, Ausbildung und Weiterbildung, den klassischen Antriebskräften sozialer Mobilität. Das formt das Protestpotenzial in ein Innovationspotenzial und dann in Innovation um, es macht aus einer eher starren und ruhigen Gesellschaft, eine beweglichere, für die Zukunft offenere – und besser gewappnete.

Hinweis: Die Studie «Kaum Bewegung, viel Ungleichheit. Eine Studie zum sozialen Auf- und Abstieg in Deutschland», verfasst von Reinhard Pollak (DIW), erscheint im Herbst 2010 in der Schriftenreihe der Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung.

Für die Zukunft nicht gewappnet: Wie ist es um die soziale Mobilität in Deutschland heute bestellt? - Soziales - Heinrich Böll Stiftung

May 05 2010

Tories discover poverty at last, but is it all in the family?

In the latest in our series in which Guardian writers address an issue they feel passionately about, Amelia Gentleman finds a mixed response to the Tory focus on family breakdown in their 'aspiration' to tackle child poverty

The Conservatives argue that the best way to tackle child poverty is not redistribution, but to look at the roots of poverty and address matters such as family breakdown, addiction and worklessness. Nikki Hewson, a divorced mother of five, is not sure she agrees.

She did not plan to find herself a single parent looking after so many children, but two sets of twins and an unhappy relationship with the children's father has left her unexpectedly alone and struggling financially.

Neither the Conservatives' proposed changes to the tax system in favour of married couples nor their desire to increase provision of relationship counselling would have prevented the marriage from collapsing, she says, drinking tea in her kitchen, raising her voice to make herself heard as the four-year-old twins rollerskate around the room and their 13-year-old siblings storm in and out to collect their breakfast.

"I believed in marriage. We had a big white wedding when I was 22, but we were too young. By the end, the relationship was broken – there was nothing anyone outside could have done to mend it," she says. She had enjoyed working, first as a teaching assistant and later as a lunchtime supervisor, until a stroke made it difficult for her to continue. Money shortages were part of the problem, she adds, rather than the consequence of the marital breakdown.

Benefits she receives from the state put food on the table and clothes on her children's backs, but money is tight so she no longer goes out with friends or buys new things to wear. In the winter, all six of them sleep in one room to cut heating bills. Still, with careful budgeting she is able to give the children what they need. Today they are planning an outing, and will take a train into London to visit HMS Belfast. "I've bought less food this week, to put money aside for it," she says. "Instead of meat and potatoes, they've had beans or egg on toast."

The issue of child poverty in the UK has not been much discussed during the campaign, but it has a newly prominent place in Conservative party literature.

A word search of the parties' manifestos shows how far the theme has edged up the Conservative agenda. It is a crude way to measure commitment, but it is revealing to see that there are seven mentions of the word "inequality" in the Conservative manifesto, and not one in the Labour document; and while the word poverty is used 18 times by Labour and five times by the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative manifesto has 20 references.

Despite Labour's drive to eradicate the problem, there are 4 million children living in poverty in the UK, about 30% of all children, according to a definition that classifies children growing up in a household with less than 60% of the median income for the UK as beneath the poverty line. These children tend to do less well at school and are more likely to have health problems, five times less likely to go to university and less likely to find well-paid jobs.

For the first time all three major parties express a desire in their campaign literature to end child poverty by 2020. David Cameron has repeatedly spoken of his determination to address poverty, accusing Labour of letting inequality grow and poverty worsen.

He got a standing ovation during his conference speech last autumn when he demanded: "Excuse me? Who made the poorest poorer? Who left youth unemployment higher? Who made inequality greater? … No, not the wicked Tories. You, Labour: you're the ones that did this to our society. So don't you dare lecture us about poverty."

In the final leaders' debate, he said: "I believe the test of a good and strong society is how we look after the most vulnerable, the most frail and the poorest." This is a wounding line of attack on a party whose campaign to reduce levels of child poverty it inherited from the Conservatives has been overshadowed by failure to meet a self-imposed timetable to show progress. Gordon Brown, pointing to Labour's commitment to seeing the minimum wage rise with earnings, responded in the Guardian this week: "I know in my bones that Labour is the only party with a passion to eradicate poverty."

Campaign groups working on the eradication of child poverty should be feeling thrilled at the way this issue has moved towards the mainstream. Instead there is uncertainty about the Conservatives' approach and strength of their commitment while the Labour administration's achievements over the past 13 years elicits only guarded approval.

The main cause for unease is the fundamentally different vision for tackling child poverty proposed by the Conservatives. Cameron has dismissed Labour's solution as "more and more redistribution, means-tested benefits and tax credits", and says: "They haven't addressed what is keeping people poor – the family breakdown, the failing schools, the fact that people are stuck on welfare. It's those things that are keeping people trapped in poverty and making them poorer."

On education and employment, the two main parties are broadly in harmony, but the identification of family breakdown as a trigger sets them apart. The Conservative leader has been in touch with counselling organisation Relate to discuss how relationship and parenting education might be made more widely available, and some charities, such as Family Action, that work with struggling families are supportive of this shift in approach.

"I think he is absolutely right," says Helen Dent, chief executive of Family Action, a charity that offers support to women like Nikki Hewson. "There are some families who need a whole lot more practical and emotional support if they are to avoid family breakdown. Money is not the only factor."

Elsewhere there is more ambivalence. Fergus Drake, director of UK programmes with Save the Children, welcomes the Conservatives' focus on poverty: "We feel we are hearing the Conservatives speak about poverty in a way they haven't done for decades."

But he adds that the charity would "be concerned" to see "a shift away from the financial aspects of child poverty to areas around family breakdown and drug and alcohol abuse".

"We would say poverty causes family breakdown," he says, rather than vice versa. "If you are worried about putting food on the table, or being able to turn on the heater so you can have a hot bath, the stress that causes to a relationship can make things really difficult."

Tim Nichols, of the Child Poverty Action Group, agrees that the party should be careful not to confuse causes and consequences. "We don't think that this is robust strategy," he says. "Tackling child poverty can't be done without more redistribution."

Stephen Timms, the minister responsible for developing the government's child poverty strategy, says he has a sense that Cameron is avoiding the issue when he talks about addressing poverty.

"The root cause of child poverty is a lack of income. I get the feeling that they are trying to change the subject to more nebulous things, things like family disadvantage, not income. But this is poverty we are talking about; it is about income."

Some charities are also wondering if there is a subtle change in language from the Conservatives in its attitude towards the goal, first set out by Tony Blair in 1999, and enacted in legislation earlier this year, of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020. Labour speaks of this as a "commitment", they point out, while Conservative politicians refer to it only as an "aspiration". Others note that the Conservatives' record on inequality and poverty in the 1980 and 1990s (when the number of children living in poverty rose from one in seven to one in three), does not inspire confidence.

Theresa May, shadow work and pensions secretary, dismisses these concerns. "We supported the Child Poverty Act when it was going through – I don't think there is any difference in how important we believe it to be. There is a difference in how we want to achieve it," she says. "Labour has a one-dimensional approach: it is about income and the tax credit system. We believe we won't be able to deal with it unless we tackle the root causes – family breakdown, debt, addiction, worklessness. Income has a role to play but we have a more holistic approach."

Child poverty is a peculiar proxy issue – a more palatable shorthand for addressing inequality and poverty more generally. Clearly, long-term success is linked to a mesh of social, education and employment policies and with how well the economy is performing.

In terms of Labour's record, this has been a hard area to squeeze campaigning points from because its successes have been mixed. While activists credit the Labour administration for putting the issue on the political agenda, there is also disappointment that early successes have stalled and ministers failed to meet their own interim target of halving child poverty by the end of this year.

According to the End Child Poverty campaign, between 1997 and 2007-8 half a million children had been lifted out of poverty – the result, among other things, of child tax credits, the minimum wage, and focus on helping lone parents back into work. The government predicts that by the end of the year that figure will have risen to 1.1 million, missing the 2010 target by 600,000.

Research from a US academic last month interpreted the figures more favourably, arguing that by one measure child poverty was cut in two by the Blair-Brown administration, outstripping attempts by the US and many European neighbours to address it.

But any celebration of this achievement is complicated by the parallel rise in inequality. The National Equality Panel report published this year concluded that Labour had failed to reverse the large gulf that opened between the rich and the poor in the 1980s, and found that the richest 10% of the population is now more than 100 times as wealthy as the poorest 10% of society.

On the doorsteps of council flats in the Regent's Park and Kensington North constituency there is no talk of poverty. The John Aird estate stands in the shadow of the white stucco mansions of St John's Wood, a juxtaposition that symbolizes the stark inequalities of modern Britain, but inequality is not a subject that comes up much either.

Labour's Karen Buck is fighting to retain her seat in one of the most socially polarised areas of Britain, a constituency that has some of the most expensive houses in the country alongside one of the highest levels of entitlement to free school meals, one of the highest numbers of households claiming incapacity benefit and one of the highest numbers of children being brought up by unemployed parents. "If they are talking about their own experiences, people will not use the word poverty. They might express it in terms of a struggle or in terms of injustice but they won't describe themselves as living in poverty," she says as she makes her way through the estate, snatching conversations on the staircases, accosting residents by the lift entrances.

"Instead they will talk about the situations that can lead them into poverty. People feel very strongly about the costs of childcare and housing being so high that they are unable to make work pay. Or they might talk about the non-financial aspects of poverty – overcrowded housing and poor housing conditions."

Buck, who was this month named MP of the year by the Child Poverty Action Group for the work she has done for low-income families, is despondent at her party's failure to do more. "I deeply regret that we have missed the 2010 targets, and that the very, very good progress we made until four years ago has tended to falter," she says.

But she has little faith in the Conservatives' approach. "It makes me so angry that smoke comes out of my ears," she says. "Only a minority of families are below the poverty line because of complex factors like family breakdown. The majority have dropped below the poverty line because work does not pay or is not available. People are poor because they don't have enough money." © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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