Article 43

 

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Bad Moon Rising Part 67 - Minerva

Pentagon preparing for mass civil breakdown
Social science is being militarised to develop ‘operational tools’ to target peaceful activists and protest movements

By Dr. Nafeez Ahmed
The Guardian
June 14, 2013

A US Department of Defense (DoD) research programme is funding universities to model the dynamics, risks and tipping points for large-scale civil unrest across the world, under the supervision of various US military agencies. The multi-million dollar programme is designed to develop immediate and long-term “warfighter-relevant insights” for senior officials and decision makers in “the defense policy community,” and to inform policy implemented by “combatant commands.”

Launched in 2008 the year of the global banking crisis - the DoD ‘Minerva Research Initiative’ partners with universities “to improve DoD’s basic understanding of the social, cultural, behavioral, and political forces that shape regions of the world of strategic importance to the US.”

Among the projects awarded for the period 2014-2017 is a Cornell University-led study managed by the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research which aims to develop an empirical model “of the dynamics of social movement mobilisation and contagions.” The project will determine “the critical mass (tipping point)” of social contagians by studying their “digital traces” in the cases of “the 2011 Egyptian revolution, the 2011 Russian Duma elections, the 2012 Nigerian fuel subsidy crisis and the 2013 Gazi park protests in Turkey.”

Twitter posts and conversations will be examined “to identify individuals mobilised in a social contagion and when they become mobilised.”

Another project awarded this year to the University of Washington “seeks to uncover the conditions under which political movements aimed at large-scale political and economic change originate,” along with their “characteristics and consequences.” The project, managed by the US Army Research Office, focuses on “large-scale movements involving more than 1,000 participants in enduring activity,” and will cover 58 countries in total.

Last year, the DoD’s Minerva Initiative funded a project to determine WHO DOES NOT BECOME A TERRORIST AND WHY?‘ which, however, conflates peaceful activists with “supporters of political violence” who are different from terrorists only in that they do not embark on “armed militancy” themselves. The project explicitly sets out to study non-violent activists:

“In every context we find many individuals who share the demographic, family, cultural, and/or socioeconomic background of those who decided to engage in terrorism, and yet refrained themselves from taking up armed militancy, even though they were sympathetic to the end goals of armed groups. The field of terrorism studies has not, until recently, attempted to look at this control group. This project is not about terrorists, but about supporters of political violence.”

The project’s 14 case studies each “involve extensive interviews with ten or more activists and militants in parties and NGOs who, though sympathetic to radical causes, have chosen a path of non-violence.”

I contacted the project’s principal investigator, Prof Maria Rasmussen of the US Naval Postgraduate School, asking why non-violent activists working for NGOs should be equated to supporters of political violence and which “parties and NGOs” were being investigated - but received no response.

Similarly, Minerva programme staff refused to answer a series of similar questions I put to them, including asking how “radical causes” promoted by peaceful NGOs constituted a potential national security threat of interest to the DoD.

Among my questions, I asked:

“Does the US Department of Defense see protest movements and social activism in different parts of the world as a threat to US national security? If so, why? Does the US Department of Defense consider political movements aiming for large scale political and economic change as a national security matter? If so, why? Activism, protest, ‘political movements’ and of course NGOs are a vital element of a healthy civil society and democracy - why is it that the DoD is funding research to investigate such issues?”

Minerva’s programme director Dr Erin Fitzgerald said “I appreciate your concerns and am glad that you reached out to give us the opportunity to clarify” before promising a more detailed response. Instead, I received the following bland statement from the DoD’s press office:

“The Department of Defense takes seriously its role in the security of the United States, its citizens, and US allies and partners. While every security challenge does not cause conflict, and every conflict does not involve the US military, Minerva helps fund basic social science research that helps increase the Department of Defense’s understanding of what causes instability and insecurity around the world. By better understanding these conflicts and their causes beforehand, the Department of Defense can better prepare for the dynamic future security environment.”

In 2013, Minerva funded a University of Maryland project in collaboration with the US Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to gauge the risk of civil unrest due to climate change. The three-year $1.9 million project is developing models to anticipate what could happen to societies under a range of potential climate change scenarios.

From the outset, the Minerva programme was slated to provide over $75 million over five years for social and behavioural science research. This year alone it has been allocated a total budget of $17.8 million by US Congress.

An internal Minerva staff email communication referenced in a 2012 Masters dissertation reveals that the programme is geared toward producing quick results that are directly applicable to field operations. The dissertation was part of a Minerva-funded project on “counter-radical Muslim discourse” at Arizona State University.

The internal email from Prof Steve Corman, a principal investigator for the project, describes a meeting hosted by the DoD’s Human Social Cultural and Behavioural Modeling (HSCB) programme in which senior Pentagon officials said their priority was “to develop capabilities that are deliverable quickly” in the form of “models and tools that can be integrated with operations.”

Although Office of Naval Research supervisor Dr Harold Hawkins had assured the university researchers at the outset that the project was merely “a basic research effort, so we shouldn’t be concerned about doing applied stuff”, the meeting in fact showed that DoD is looking to “feed results” into “applications,” Corman said in the email. He advised his researchers to “think about shaping results, reports, etc., so they [DoD] can clearly see their application for tools that can be taken to the field.”

Many independent scholars are critical of what they see as the US government’s efforts to militarise social science in the service of war. In May 2008, the American Anthropological Association (AAA) wrote to the US government noting that the Pentagon lacks “the kind of infrastructure for evaluating anthropological [and other social science] research” in a way that involves “rigorous, balanced and objective peer review”, calling for such research to be managed instead by civilian agencies like the National Science Foundation (NSF).

The following month, the DoD signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the NSF to cooperate on the management of Minerva. In response, the AAA cautioned that although research proposals would now be evaluated by NSF’s merit-review panels. “Pentagon officials will have decision-making power in deciding who sits on the panels”:

“ there remain concerns within the discipline that research will only be funded when it supports the Pentagon’s agenda. Other critics of the programme, including the Network of Concerned Anthropologists, have raised concerns that the programme would discourage research in other important areas and undermine the role of the university as a place for independent discussion and critique of the military.”

According to Prof David Price, a cultural anthropologist at St Martin’s University in Washington DC and author of Weaponizing Anthropology: Social Science in Service of the Militarized State, “when you looked at the individual bits of many of these projects they sort of looked like normal social science, textual analysis, historical research, and so on, but when you added these bits up they all shared themes of legibility with all the distortions of over-simplification. Minerva is farming out the piece-work of empire in ways that can allow individuals to disassociate their individual contributions from the larger project.”

Prof Price has previously exposed how the Pentagon’s Human Terrain Systems (HTS) programme - designed to embed social scientists in military field operations - routinely conducted training scenarios set in regions “within the United States.”

Citing a summary critique of the programme sent to HTS directors by a former employee, Price reported that the HTS training scenarios “adapted COIN [counterinsurgency] for Afghanistan/Iraq” to domestic situations “in the USA where the local population was seen from the military perspective as threatening the established balance of power and influence, and challenging law and order.”

One war-game, said Price, involved environmental activists protesting pollution from a coal-fired plant near Missouri, some of whom were members of the well-known environmental NGO Sierra Club. Participants were tasked to “identify those who were ‘problem-solvers’ and those who were ‘problem-causers,’ and the rest of the population whom would be the target of the information operations to move their Center of Gravity toward that set of viewpoints and values which was the ‘desired end-state’ of the military’s strategy.”

Such war-games are consistent with a raft of Pentagon planning documents which suggest that National Security Agency (NSA) mass surveillance is partially motivated to prepare for the destabilising impact of coming environmental, energy and economic shocks.

James Petras, Bartle Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University in New York, concurs with Price’s concerns. Minerva-funded social scientists tied to Pentagon counterinsurgency operations are involved in the “study of emotions in stoking or quelling ideologically driven movements,” he said, including how “to counteract grassroots movements.”

Minerva is a prime example of the deeply narrow-minded and self-defeating nature of military ideology. Worse still, the unwillingness of DoD officials to answer the most basic questions is symptomatic of a simple fact - in their unswerving mission to defend an increasingly unpopular global system serving the interests of a tiny minority, security agencies have no qualms about painting the rest of us as potential terrorists.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 06/14/14 •
Section Bad Moon Rising
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Saturday, June 07, 2014

Summertime Blues 2014

nojob.jpg

Unemployment numbers are not giving a true representation of the job market, according to career experts. “When you receive your UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS you are counted as being unemployed,” he said. When you no longer receive your unemployment benefits you are no longer counted. That doesn’t mean you got a job.”
- WGHP Piedmont, NC, June 12, 2014

...simply recovering to the earlier employment peak says little about THE HEALTH of the U.S. labor market, given population and potential labor-force growth in the more than six intervening years. In this time, the U.S. civilian population increased by nearly 14.5 million people, although the labor force grew by just 1.7 million new jobs, according to BLS data.
Market Watch, June 6, 2014

Another Great Recession level fades as U.S. passes employment peak

By Steve Goldstein
Marketwatch
June 6, 2014

After six years, the U.S. economy has finally recaptured the total number of jobs lost due to the Great Recession.

There are now 138.46 million people working outside the farm sector, according to the Labor Department.

But the recovery to the pre-recession level has been the longest since World War II, according to Minneapolis Fed data. The 1980 recession took 44 months from the peak to recover; this one took 77 months.

Of course, the population is now bigger than it was before the recession, so the state of the jobs market isn’t as healthy as it was before the recession. That’s most obviously captured in the unemployment rate 6.3% now vs. just 5% in December 2007. Plus, there are the people who have given up looking for work altogether or are just periodically doing so.

SOURCE

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We’ve Recovered All The Lost Jobs! Too Bad It Doesn’t Matter

By Mark Gongloff
Huffington Post
June 6, 2014

We have finally recovered all the jobs lost in the Great Recession. That’s good, but not nearly good enough. In fact, we might still be missing 7 million jobs.

The U.S. economy added 217,000 jobs in May, the Bureau of Labor Statistics REPORTED on Friday. There are now nearly 138.5 million people on non-farm payrolls—a high that finally tops the previous record of nearly 138.4 million set in January 2008. We’ve finally gotten back all the jobs we lost in the recession—five years after the recession OFFICIALLY ENDED.

We can now retire this chart from CALCULATED RISK BLOGGER Bill McBride, which Business Insider has long called “The Scariest Chart Ever.” It shows how miserably long it has taken us to recover all of the recession’s job losses, and how historically awful the recovery has been:

percent-job-losses-2014-sm.jpg

Unfortunately, we have a ready replacement for the Scariest Chart Ever, which shows the job market is still in a deep, deep hole. It’s from the Economic Policy Institute, a think tank focused on labor issues. The EPI estimates that, in order to keep up with population growth, we should really have 7 million more people working today than we do:

jobs-shortfall-2014-sm.jpg

“We are far, far from healthy labor market conditions,” EPI economist Heidi Shierholz WROTE on the EPI’s Working Economics blog on Thursday.

In other words, the economy and job market have been growing for the past five years, but not nearly fast enough to give everybody a job that needs one. Discouraged after years of not being able to find work, people have slinked off to the sidelines and given up trying to find a job, resulting in millions of people not being counted in the official unemployment numbers. If these people came back, the unemployment rate would be 9.7 percent instead of 6.3 percent:

You could possibly quibble with the EPI’s methodology. In figuring out how many workers are missing from the labor force purely because of discouragement about the economy, the EPI tries to strip out the effect of Baby Boomer retirements. To do this, EPI economists use a 2007 BLS forecast of future retirements, which might no longer be relevant—it’s possible the recession caused a shift in these numbers.

In other words, it’s possible that more people than the EPI realizes have left the labor force, never to return. The Fed has been thinking about this possibility for quite a while.

Still, there is no doubt that at least some of the millions of people missing from the labor force are waiting for new jobs to come along. The job market still has a long way to go to get those people off the sidelines.

SOURCE

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Real Unemployment Rate - May 2014

By Rick Sloan
Union Of Unemployed
June 6, 2014

Our Summary of U.S. Real Unemployment makes the adjustments necessary to determine: first, the number of Real Unemployed Persons and, second, the Real Unemployment Rate. In May 2014:

The number of Real Unemployed Persons decreased by 181,000 to 19.2 million

The Real Unemployment Rate decreased by 0.1% to 12.2%.

Note: In addition to the 19.2 million Real Unemployed Persons at May 31, there were another 4.9 million persons who, while also saying they want jobs, have not looked for work in the past twelve months. Simply because they havent looked, these persons are not included among marginally attached workers; if included, then May’s Real Unemployment Rate of 12.2% increases to 14.8%, a figure still more than twice the official BLS rate of unemployment.

SOURCE

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Where have all the missing American workers gone?

By Tom Raum
Associated Press
June 9, 2014

The unemployment rate has been on a slow downward trajectory since the recession ended nearly five years ago. While the overall jobless level has dropped to non-recession levels, the number of the working-age people with jobs is barely over 6 in 10, hovering at a level reminiscent of the late 1970s.

In May, the U.S. workforce-participation rate the combination of those with jobs and unemployed workers actively seeking them ח was just 62.8 percent, the same as the month before. Job markets have been essentially flat since October.

Where have all the missing workers gone?

A key factor, nearly all agree, is the growing exodus from the job market of Baby Boomers. Born roughly in the post-World War II period from 1946 to 1964, these workers are now at or fast approaching retirement age.

Another reason is that some employment-intensive industries that suffered the most during the Great Recession, especially in manufacturing and construction, have yet to fully rebound.

But perhaps the most significant factor is unemployed workers “who just drop out of the job market after one, two or three years of looking for work and not being successful,” said Carl Van Horn, a professor of public policy at Rutgers University who studies workplace dynamics and employment trends.

Recent surveys suggest more and more long-time unemployed workers are abandoning the search for another job and leaving the nation’s workforce.

“And they are disproportionately older workers,” Van Horn said. “We have a large number of older (unemployed) workers who are not old enough to retire, yet they are facing discrimination in the workplace and have found it nearly impossible to get another job.”

There’s a flip side to that, though, Van Horn suggests: “As the economy gets stronger, as it continues to grow, eventually some of those discouraged workers will come back into the labor market, and we’ll have a higher labor-participation rate.”

But that hasn’t happened yet.

“We know that the reason unemployment is so high right now is pretty simple: employers haven’t seen demand for their stuff pick up in a way that would require them to bring on more workers, put that factory back on line, get more people to work,” said Heidi Shierholz, chief economist for the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-oriented Washington think-tank.

“It’s going to be this way for a while. We’re in a long slog,” Shierholz said, noting that the recession of 2007-2009 was the harshest downturn since the 1930s Great Depression.

“We really are in a recovery. Things are getting better,” Shierholz added. “It is agonizingly slow. But we are going in the right direction.”

It may be quite a while before the jobless rate falls back to 5 percent and below, long the informal standard pegged by economists as a typical employment level for non-recession times.

But 5 percent may no longer be the norm.

In February 2011, economists at the San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank suggested that around 6 percent might be a more appropriate unemployment rate as the “new normal.” But some analysts suggested even that target may be unrealistically low.

“Our economy is leaving our unemployed folks further and further behind,” said Robert A. Funk, CEO and Chairman of Express Employment Professional, an Oklahoma City-based service which tries to line people up with jobs and help client companies find suitable employees.

“But if people quit looking for work at a rate like this, it makes our job much, much more difficult,” said Funk, a former chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank in Kansas City.

And while economists note high levels of unemployment among older working-age people, joblessness is disproportionately high among younger workers as well.

Generation Opportunity, a U.S. nonpartisan youth advocacy organization which keeps close track of job levels for younger adults, reported even higher effective unemployment rates for those under 30.

“School is out for summer, and more than four out of five recent grads don’t have jobs. My generation deserves better than an economy in which a 15.4 percent effective unemployment rate for 18-29 year olds is considered a good month,” said Patrice Lee, director of outreach for the organization.

Even though the overall unemployment rate has been essentially flat since last October and is holding at high levels with 3.4 million Americans counted among the ranks of long-term unemployed, it’s been five months since federal emergency unemployment benefits expired, leaving the burden up to the individual states.

The unemployment rate is now back to where it was before the Great Recession. It was 6.3 percent in May, same as the month before.

Still, the share of Americans who are employed is stalled below 59 percent, well below the 63.3 percent peak in March 2007 and 64.7 percent of April 2000, said William Spriggs, chief economist for the AFL-CIO. “That difference represents the multi-million job gap needed,” Spriggs said.

SOURCE

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The Terrible News Economists Are Trying to Hide About American Jobs
Official job market numbers obfuscate an important reality.

By Jim Hightower
Alternet
June 18, 2014

Have you noticed “the powers that be” employ an entirely different standard for measuring the health of America’s job market than they use for the stock market?

They’re currently telling us that, “The job market is improving.” What do they mean? Simply that the economy is generating an increase in the number of jobs available for workers. But when they say, “The stock market is improving,” they don’t mean that the number of stocks available to investors is on the rise. Instead, they’re measuring the price, the value of the stocks. And isn’t value what really counts in both cases? Quality over quantity.

Employment rose by 217,000 jobs in the month of May, according to the latest jobs report—and that brought us up to 8.7 million. That is how many new jobs the American economy has generated since the “Great Recession” officially ended in 2009—and it also happens to be the number of jobs that were lost because of that recession. You can break out the champagne, for the American economy is back, baby—all of the lost jobs have been recovered!

You say you don’t feel “recovered”? Well, it’s true that the U.S. population has kept growing since the crash, so about 15 million more working-age people have entered the job market, meaning America still has millions more people looking for work than it has jobs. And it’s true that long-term unemployment is a growing crisis, especially for middle-aged job seekers who’ve gone one, two or more years without even getting an interview, much less an offer—so they’ve dropped out of the market and are not counted as unemployed. Also, there are millions of young people who are squeezed out of this so-called recovery—the effective unemployment rate for 18- to 29-year-olds is above 15 percent, more than double the national rate of 6.3 percent.

But take heart, people, for economists are telling us that full employment may be right around the corner. Is that because Congress is finally going to pass a national jobs program to get America working again? Or could it be that corporate chieftains are going to bring home some of the trillions of dollars they’ve stashed in offshore tax havens to invest in new products and other job-creating initiatives here in the USA?

No, no—don’t be silly. Economists are upbeat because they’ve decided to redefine “full” employment by—hocus pocus!—simply declaring that having 6 percent of our people out of work is acceptable as the new normal. And you thought American ingenuity was dead.

Now, let’s move on to the value of those jobs that have economists doing a happy dance. As a worker, you don’t merely want to know that 217,000 new jobs are on the market; you want to know what they’re worth—do they pay living wages, do they come with benefits, are they just part-time and temporary, do they include union rights, what are the working conditions, etc.? In other words, are these jobs ... or scams?

So, it’s interesting that the recent news of job market “improvement” doesn’t mention that of the 10 occupation categories projecting the greatest growth in the next eight years, only one pays a middle-class wage. Four pay barely above poverty level and five pay beneath it, including fast-food workers, retail sales staff, health aids and janitors. The job expected to have the highest number of openings is “personal care aide”—taking care of aging baby boomers in their houses or in nursing homes. The median salary of an aid is under $20,000. They enjoy no benefits, and about 40 percent of them must rely on food stamps and Medicaid to make ends meet, plus many are in the “shadow economy,” vulnerable to being cheated on the already miserly wages.

To measure the job market by quantity—with no regard for quality—is to devalue workers themselves. Creating 217,000 new jobs is not a sign of economic health if each worker needs two or three of those jobs to patch together a barebones living—and millions more are left with no work at all.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, writer, public speaker, and author of the new book, “Swim Against the Current: Even a Dead Fish Can Go With the Flow.” (Wiley, March 2008) He publishes the monthly “Hightower Lowdown,” co-edited by Phillip Frazer.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 06/07/14 •
Section Dying America
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Monday, June 02, 2014

Class Warfare 3

class-warfare.jpg

Piketty paranoia: Why conservatives are suddenly terrified of revolution
The signs are there. As wealth becomes more concentrated, American society is growing increasingly antagonistic

By Lynn Stuart Parramore
AlterNet
June 2, 2014

On the JUNE COVER of the conservative magazine American Spectator, a vision arises from the collective unconscious of the rich. Angry citizens look on as a monocled fatcat is led to a blood-soaked guillotine, calling up the memory of the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution, when tens of thousands were executed, many by what came to be known as the “National Razor.” The caption reads, The New Class Warfare: Thomas Piketty’s intellectual cover for confiscation. One member of the mob can be seen holding up a bloody copy of the French economist’s recent book, Capital in the 21st Century.

Confiscation, of course, can only mean one thing. Off with their heads! In reality, the “most revolutionary” thing Professor Piketty calls for in his best-sellling tome is a wealth tax, but our rich are very sensitive.

In his article, however, James Pierson warns that a revolution is afoot, and that the 99 percent is going to try to punish the rich. The ungrateful horde is angry, he says, when they really should be celebrating their marvelous good fortune and thanking their betters:

“From one point of view, the contemporary era has been a GILDED AGE of regression and reaction due to RISING INEQUALITY and increasing concentrations of wealth. But from another it can be seen as a “golden age of capitalism” marked by fabulous innovations, globalizing markets, the absence of major wars, rising living standards, low inflation and interest rates, and a thirty-year bull market in stocks, bonds, and real estate.

Yes, things do indeed look very different to the haves and the have-nots. But some of the haves are willing to say whats actually going down - and its a war of their own making. Warren Buffett made this very clear in his declaration: “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, thats making war, and we’re winning.”

Warren is quite correct: It is the rich who have made war against the 99 percent, not the other way around. They have dumped the tax burden onto the rest of us. THEY have SHREDDED our social safety net and attacked our retirements. In their insatiable greed, they refuse even to consider raising the minimum wage for people who toil all day and can’t earn enough to feed their children. And they do everything in their power to block as many people from the polls as possible who might protest these conditions, while crushing the unions and any other countervailing forces that could fight to improve them.

The goal of this vicious war is to control all of the wealth and the government not just in the U.S., but the rest of the world, too, and to make sure the people are kept in a state of fear.

But the greedy rich are experts in cloaking their aggression. Like steel tycoon Andrew Carnegie, who successfully transitioned from robber baron to philanthropist, David H. Koch and his conservative colleagues put on the mask of philanthropy to hide their war dance. Or they project their aggression onto ordinary people who are simply trying to feed their families, pay the bills, and keep the roof over their heads. Many of the wealthy liberals play a less crass version of the game: they talk about inequality only to alleviate their conscience while secretly or not so secretly - protecting their turf (witness: NY Governor Andrew Cuomo and his mission to reduce taxes on his wealthy benefactors).

It is rich Americans, in particular, financial capitalists, who have made the war-like values of self interest and ruthlessness their code of ethics through their championing of an unregulated market. When we hear the term, It’s just business, we know what it means. Somebody has legally gouged us.

People in America are under attack daily. The greedy rich know it, because they are the ones doing the attacking. They know that they have made collateral damage out of hungry children, hard-working parents, grandmother and grandfathers. And somewhere behind the gates of their private communities and the roped-off areas - their private schools, private hospitals, private modes of transport - they fear that the aggression may one day be turned back. They wonder how far they can erode our quality of life before something might just snap.

The growing concentration of wealth is creating an increasingly antagonistic society, which is why we have seen the buildup of the police state and the rise of unregulated markets appear in tandem. This is why the prisons are bursting at the seams with the poor.

The oligarchs hope that Americans will be so tired, so pumped full of Xanax, so terrified, that they will remain in their places. They hope that we will watch the rich cavorting on reality shows and set ourselves to climbing the economic ladder instead of seeing that the rungs have been kicked away.

Of course, there is a very easy way for the rich to remain rich and alleviate their nightmares of the guillotine. That is simply to allow their unearned wealth to be taxed at a reasonable rate. Voila!No more fear of angry mobs.

Or they can wait for some less pleasant alternative, like a revolution. This theme, which once timidly hid behind the scenes, has lately burst onto cultural center stage. The cover of the current issue of Lapham’s Quarterly, dedicated to the topic, REVOLUTION features five crossed swords. Its contents outline various periods in history when ordinary folks had had enough, such as The People’s Patience is Not Endless, a pamphlet issued by the Command of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress, in December 1961.

Very interesting reading for the 1 percent.

SOURCE

Posted by Elvis on 06/02/14 •
Section Dying America
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