29 August 2014

Tunapanda brings digital literacy to Africa

. @TunapandaOrg. @OpenSourceWay. #edtech. #onlinelearning.

In 2013, our non-profit organization called Tunapanda (a Swahili word that means "we are growing" or "we are planting") launched a project to create and share "an education on a hard drive."

The ultimate goal was to bring low-income communities to technological literacy in the most rapid and cost-efficient way possible. Initially, we loaded the hard drive with tons of educational content and FOSS software, intending to allow anyone anywhere to duplicate the contents and set up a learning center. Using these tools, we've launched computer learning centers ("hubs") in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda—in both rural and urban settings.

Because of what we've learned since last year, and the positive feedback we've received from partners and students, we've significantly expanded our scope to focus on cutting-edge technologies and to emphasize self-expression, creativity, and story-telling. We use almost exclusively open source software and try to maintain an open source organizational mindset.

What we learned

Unsurprisingly, we found that dumping content onto a server isn't the most effective way to encourage fast learning. And although Tunapanda just opened its own facility in Nairobi to train teachers, we still need another method of guiding students through different learning paths and incentivizing them to complete their educational goals. One of our ongoing projects aims to structure learning paths around a game-like environment so students can earn points and badges, and so they can follow their progress. This allows learners to progress at their own speed in a non-linear curriculum, allowing interests and passions (rather than standards set by a teacher) to influence the next learning module. The platform will be completely open source and customizable, allowing anyone to adapt it to the needs of themselves or their school.
Although neither of the co-founders are software experts, we work with a team of talented volunteers that help us improve our system. Tunapanda already has a customized version of Edubuntu that includes extra programs conducive to its overall goals, and are developing a way to measure and evaluate the most effective processes.

Creativity and self-expression

Most computer training in Kenya revolves around the teaching of software-specific "packages," in which students finish the course having earned a certificate that will show their proficiency in, for example, Microsoft Office. Tunapanda focuses instead on a more holistic method of training in which learners can eventually gain enough experience to sit down in front of any software and be comfortable enough to learn through experimentation.

Furthermore, we believe the development of creative talents is essential for learners. Many traditional education systems are designed to allow students to pass tests, and don't emphasize teamwork, creativity, critical thinking or problem solving. Tunapanda incorporates self-expression as a key facet of the learners' curriculum, aiming to increase creativity and push students to actually create knowledge and strive for innovation.

Locally created content

A plethora of great video learning content is available online, but even if learners are able to afford data costs associated with accessing this content, most of it caters to a Western audience. While video learning technologies such as MOOCS and the Khan Academy are great, they aren't always ideal for the region. Language barriers and cultural differences mean that the best way to spread content is with locally created content. As Tunapanda students are learning how to create and edit videos, they will also be working with local partners to create Creative Commons licensed educational videos that can be put on DVDs or downloaded from the Internet, as well as stored on local servers at our hubs across the region. Eventually these servers can act as digital libraries, making free educational content available to passers-by. They can even spread further through decentralized mesh networks.

3D printing

One of our partners, the Human Needs Project, won a Gigabot large-format 3D printer, and we are currently developing a 3D printing educational curriculum. We're also brainstorming ideas for how to use the printer for social impact. Current ideas include custom water piping (likely still prohibitively expensive) and repairing broken parts of medical equipment. By allowing the wider community to see this cutting edge technology in action and propose design ideas, the 3D printer can also excite people about new technologies, inspiring them to learn computer skills and change our world for the better.

Why open source?

One practical reason for open source software is that it allows Tunapanda's model to spread in low-income areas without forcing people in those areas to become "criminals" by buying illegal software. More importantly, open source software and freely-licensed content are vital to instilling a widespread culture of collaboration and the sharing of ideas. The people all over this planet are a huge pool of untapped potential. We can accomplish great things when open source software and content become the norm rather than the exception.

How to help

In the long-term, Tunapanda Institute can be financially self-sustaining through revenue sharing with our partners, who charge small fees for delivering courses. But operations are currently crowd-funded from generous people all over the world. A contribution as small as $25 can put you forever on Tunapanda's Angel List page. The gift helps pay stipends for hard-working students who are learning to become content creators and masters of technology.

Anyone wishing to volunteer and contribute to our software or curriculum needs is invited to follow our GitHub page, browse our website, or contact the author to be kept more closely in the loop.

By Mick Larson - More articles by Mick Larson

Originally published at Opensource.com on 22 August 2014

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Open Source SynBio?

.@HJBentham. @HPlusMagazine. @OpenSourceWay. #synbio.

If the controversy over genetically modified organisms (GMOs) tells us something indisputable, it is this: GMO food products from corporations like Monsanto are suspected to endanger health. On the other hand, an individual’s right to genetically modify and even synthesize entire organisms as part of his dietary or medical regimen could someday be a human right.

The suspicion that agri-giant companies do harm by designing crops is legitimate, even if evidence of harmful GMOs is scant to absent. Based on their own priorities and actions, we should have no doubt that self-interested corporations disregard the rights and wellbeing of local producers and consumers. This makes agri-giants producing GMOs harmful and untrustworthy, regardless of whether individual GMO products are actually harmful.

Corporate interference in government of the sort opposed by the Occupy Movement is also connected with the GMO controversy, as the US government is accused of going to great lengths to protect “stakeholders” like Monsanto via the law. This makes the GMO controversy more of a business and political issue rather than a scientific one, as I argued in an essay published at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies (IEET). Attacks on science and scientists themselves over the GMO controversy are not justified, as the problem lies solely with a tiny handful of businessmen and corrupt politicians.

An emerging area that threatens to become as controversial as GMOs, if the American corporate stranglehold on innovation is allowed to shape its future, is synthetic biology. In his 2014 book, Life at the Speed of Light: From the Double Helix to the Dawn of Digital Life, top synthetic biologist J. Craig Venter offers powerful words supporting a future shaped by ubiquitous synthetic biology in our lives:
“I can imagine designing simple animal forms that provide novel sources of nutrients and pharmaceuticals, customizing human stem cells to regenerate a damaged, old, or sick body. There will also be new ways to enhance the human body as well, such as boosting intelligence, adapting it to new environments such as radiation levels encountered in space, rejuvenating worn-out muscles, and so on”
In his own words, Venter’s vision is no less than “a new phase of evolution” for humanity. It offers what Venter calls the “real prize”: a family of designer bacteria “tailored to deal with pollution or to absorb excess carbon dioxide or even meet future fuel needs”. Greater than this, the existing tools of synthetic biology are transhumanist in nature because they create limitless means for humans to enhance themselves to deal with harsher environments and extend their lifespans.

While there should be little public harm in the eventual ubiquity of the technologies and information required to construct synthetic life, the problems of corporate oligopoly and political lobbying are threatening synthetic biology’s future as much as they threaten other facets of human progress. The best chance for an outcome that will be maximally beneficial for the world relies on synthetic biology taking a radically different direction to GM. That alternative direction, of course, is an open source future for synthetic biology, as called for by Canadian futurist Andrew Hessel and others.

Calling himself a “catalyst for open-source synthetic biology”, Hessel is one of the growing number of experts who reject biotechnology’s excessive use of patents. Nature notes that his Pink Army Cooperative venture relies instead on “freely available software and biological parts that could be combined in innovative ways to create individualized cancer treatments — without the need for massive upfront investments or a thicket of protective patents”.

While offering some support to the necessity of patents, J. Craig Venter more importantly praises the annual International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition in his book as a means of encouraging innovation. He specifically names the Registry of Standard Biological Parts, an open source library from which to obtain BioBricks, and describes this as instrumental for synthetic biology innovation. Likened to bricks of Lego that can be snapped together with ease by the builder, BioBricks are prepared standard pieces of genetic code, with which living cells can be newly equipped and operated as microscopic chemical factories. This has enabled students and small companies to reprogram life itself, taking part in new discoveries and innovations that would have otherwise been impossible without the direct supervision of the world’s best-trained teams of biologists.

There is a similar movement towards popular synthetic biology by the name of biohacking, promoted by such experts as Ellen Jorgensen. This compellingly matches the calls for greater autonomy for individuals and small companies in medicine and human enhancement. Unfortunately, despite their potential to greatly empower consumers and farmers, such developments have not yet found resonance with anti-GMO campaigners, whose outright rejection of biotechnology has been described as anti-science and “bio-luddite” by techno-progressives. It is for this reason that emphasizing the excellent potential of biotechnology for feeding and fuelling a world plagued by dwindling resources is important, and a focus on the ills of big business rather than imagined spectres emerging from science itself is vital.

The concerns of anti-GMO activists would be addressed better by offering support to an alternative in the form of “do-it-yourself” biotechnology, rather than rejecting sciences and industries that are already destined to be a fundamental part of humanity’s future. What needs to be made is a case for popular technology, in hope that we can reject the portrayal of all advanced technology as an ally of powerful states and corporations and instead unlock its future as a means of liberation from global exploitation and scarcity.

While there are strong arguments that current leading biotechnology companies feel more secure and perform better when they retain rigidly enforced intellectual property rights, Andrew Hessel rightly points out that the open source future is less about economic facts and figures than about culture. The truth is that there is a massive cultural transition taking place. We can see a growing hostility to patents, and an increasing popular enthusiasm for open source innovation, most promisingly among today’s internet-borne youth.

In describing a cultural transition, Hessel is acknowledging the importance of the emerging body of transnational youth whose only ideology is the claim that information wants to be free, and we find the same culture reflected in the values of organizations like WikiLeaks. Affecting every facet of science and technology, the elite of today’s youth are crying out for a more open, democratic, transparent and consumer-led future at every level.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published at h+ Magazine on 21 August 2014

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26 August 2014

A Revolution is Needed

. @PaddyVipond. @C4SSDotOrg. #Ferguson. #Antistatism.

It is easy to criticise a government. Apologists and supporters defend it by claiming that they are doing the best they can, and they point to small token victories as evidence of progress. “Look at what this government has done for you”, they say, but my response is always, “is that it?” The ease of criticism is supported by the necessity with which it needs to be made. Without speaking out against your government, you are giving silent approval to the actions they conduct.

This criticism is made all the more easier when you are not present within the nation that is being governed. An outsider’s perspective, where only the bad news makes headlines, and only the tragedies live long in the memory. This is the position I find myself in currently with more news reaching us in the UK of the atrocious manner in which Obama and his administration continues to conduct business.

The hope that Obama was a bright new future for the American people faded almost as soon as he was inaugurated. His policies at home and abroad, no matter what he may say and feel personally, prove that he is only a continuation of a long line of puppets. Away from the bright lights of the oval office sit the real masters, and they have Obama dance a similar tune to that of the previous President.

The importance of this show cannot be overstated. The US is the world’s only superpower, as much as Russia would hate to admit it. With its position within the world, the US lays at the centre of a tangled web of international geo-politics and decisions. Phonecalls cannot be made in Germany without the US listening in, papers cannot be signed in the UK without its nod of approval, and rockets cannot be fired in Israel without the supply arriving from North America.

The US appears to be at the centre of most things. The doctrine of “follow the money” inevitably leads you back to those in and around the White House. It is because of the US’s global position, and because of its impact, that if real change is to be made in this world, it needs to begin within the United States.
The war crimes committed by Israel recently are simply another offence to add to the rap sheet of that criminal state. UN resolutions have been continuously broken, economic blockades have been put in place, human rights have been violated, and illegal settlements are springing up at an alarming rate.

Palestinian resistance to this is often no more than throwing rocks at tanks and bulldozers as they roll through their towns and villages. The futility of that action is not just evident by the fact the rock causes no damage to the tank, but also that the tank is the wrong target.

Israeli action in Palestine is a direct result of decisions made above the White House. They say that the White House is the “highest office in the land”, but I can assure you there are many who look down upon on Obama. The real enemy of the Palestinian people is not the Israeli oppressor, but is in fact the people who support, fund and defend Israeli action. Attacking Israel is attacking the effect, and it is vital that you get to the cause.

With Gazan Twitter users sending advice to those Americans in Ferguson, it is this realisation that struck me. Though one is based in Palestine, fighting an Israeli oppressor, they both face the same enemy. Palestine’s struggle against Israel will never end in victory unless the people of the United States partake in a similar struggle against their own oppressors, the US government.

As disgusting as the events of Ferguson are, the real disgust should come in the knowledge that this is not an isolated incident. These scenes and these actions are relatively common on US soil, and each one further reinforces the fact that the US government views its own people as enemies.

Robert David Steele, a former marine and member of the CIA, recently presented a paper which was based on the findings from his latest book. He told the gathered audience “that all the major preconditions for revolution… were now present in the United States”. With everything in place, there needs only to be a spark to ignite the flames of revolution. A revolution which is long overdue, and much needed.

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Book: Jacque Fresco's Designing the Future

. @TheVenusProject. @JacqueFresco .#futurology.

Jacque Fresco’s futurist book, Designing the Future which serves as something of an introduction the revolutionary Venus Project, is a manifesto for redesigning civilization itself.

Jacque makes a call for a renewed modernism: “The application of scientific principles, for better or worse, accounts for every single advance that has improved people’s lives.” However, the real aim of the Venus Project is the abolition of money, which is described by Jacque as nothing but a source of debt, servitude and other injustice.

The book elaborates an anti-war and one-world vision that is very difficult to oppose. Indeed, its statements reflect some of the most enlightened views in the world today, with its staunch opposition to nationalism. Conflict, Fresco states, “is now totally unacceptable and dangerous because of war’s extreme human and environmental costs.” Even more appealing is Fresco’s encouragement that we treat the world as an “interrelated system with all its people as one family.” This amounts to an open-borders and anti-militarist position that I think reflects the aspirations of some of the most desperate and mistreated people on Earth and could lead to a profound reduction of hostility for all (p. 4-5).

Jacque writes that we need “new outlooks and approaches” and we should “direct the future”. This is a call for everyone to get involved – not just the elite. He challenges us to think how we might organize the world, if it were up to us. Personally, I do not feel qualified to organize the world, although I do think we can all say what we don’t think should happen. The solution, Jacque writes, must be “free of bias and nationalism”, which translates to an acknowledgment that Nineteenth Century nation-states are well beyond their best-before date.

In recognizing that nation-states are obsolete, Jacque warns we should still avoid generating “bad feelings” (p. 6-7). Jacque forewarns that what he is advocating is a “difficult project requiring input from many disciplines”. This recognition of the academic side of what he is advocating makes me bring in another respected theorist, Immanuel Wallerstein, whose work has focused on “reconceptualizing” the world to understand things like nation-states and vast global inequalities as production relations.

In a way, I am fully onboard with what Jacque is advocating already. If we could reconceptualize global society at a more popular level, rather than purely at an academic level, our task would be somewhat similar to the popularization of science attempted by such people as Carl Sagan. Nations, within the global social system, are only fleeting entities. If we could get people to accept that interpretation of society, we would accomplish what Jacque Fresco is talking about, but it is hard. I consider my own anti-statist essays as a contribution in that direction, and I would encourage other commentators to do their part, using whatever rhetoric or teaching methods they think best.

Jacque puts forward the idea that the scientific method should be rigorously applied to avert some of the biggest killers in modern life, e.g. car crashes (p. 15-17). This is a fairly convincing case, and one that I think has not been advocated yet by any other theorist, so Jacque deserves a lot of credit for it. The way to achieve it would probably involve integrating the local authorities with scientific advisory boards and ethics committees. This would have the added benefit of creating nice jobs for a lot of the students who tend to be thrown into positions that do not let them fulfil their true potential. One could argue that there are already plenty of science committees influencing governments, but it is not unreasonable to advocate there should be more, and at more local levels.

Matching what many intellectuals have pointed out, Jacque says “technology is moving forward but our societies are still based on concepts and methods devised centuries ago”, calling out the “obsolete values” that still shape many countries (the US not least of all) (p. 9). Another grievance mentioned is the corporate takeover of government, as protested against by the #Occupy movements. There are, today, “common threats that transcend national boundaries”, e.g. hunger, natural disasters of the kind that UN agencies are already attempting to combat (p. 10).

One of Jacque’s ideas resembles extropy, as articulated by Kevin Kelly. He states, “The history of civilization is the story of change from the simple to the more complex” (p. 13-14). Change is the “only constant”, the biggest enemy of which is the people in power who have trade advantages over others and strong reasons to maintain the status quo.

The best side of Jacque’s book is found in the compelling images of future architecture and design solutions that would reflect an economy geared towards human needs rather than profit. At least some of these principles will almost certainly become a reality in the future (p. 29-44, 48-52). However, Jacque’s ideas can be attacked from many angles, and these make it hard to accept the abolition of money that is really the core of his thesis:
“A much higher standard of living for everyone all over the world can be achieved when the entire Earth’s resources are connected, organized, monitored, and used efficiently for everyone’s benefit as a total global system – not just for a relatively small number of people.”
The problem with the above is that it is advocating globalization as it already exists, but neglecting a very fundamental element of that globalization: financial globalization. It is harder to believe that we can connect the entire world together solely in terms of resources than that we can connect it together financially. It is likely that going back to resource-based disparity rather than money disparity would lead to a more localized and therefore tribal existence with states becoming more possessive over natural resources. This would not be consistent with globalization as we have seen it thus far.

Jacque expresses the view that rather than laws and ethical people (as envisaged since as far back as Aristotle), we only need “a way of intelligently managing the Earth’s resources for everyone’s wellbeing” (p. 18-21). He is of the school of thought that “when we look at things scientifically, there is more than enough food and material goods on Earth to take care of all people’s needs – if managed correctly” (p. 19). This is also a view articulated by Ramez Naam in The Infinite Resource (2013), and that I have responded to in the past. The only problem is, it isn’t true. There are almost no distinguished scientists and scientific bodies who have stated that there are enough resources as we currently understand them to support the expanding population. There are even some prominent scientific bodies like the Club of Rome and various committees warning about our dwindling resources, constantly stating the exact opposite of what Jacque and Ramez have stated.

As much as I agree with what Jacque is trying to accomplish, it is patently false to say that looking “at things scientifically” is the same as using the scientific method, or that the scientific methods leads to redistributing resources to support everyone. Most scientists would disagree with what Jacque is saying.  However, I am not arguing that they are right. I am arguing that we need to learn to tolerate how radical the idea of supporting everyone on the planet through the intelligent application of emerging technologies is, and how hazardous it could actually be. If we take the leap, we must wholeheartedly take any burdens and possible hazards into account as we do so. Humanity must know the risks, and not be persuaded to walk blithely towards something that still has so many unknowns.

Jacque lays out his case for abolishing all money. He gives 14 succinct grievances against the monetary economy that has been the norm for quite a few centuries. Most of these 14 points reiterate the same basic grievance that money enables people to be super-rich and others laden with debt, because… the rich people control it. However, in repeating these grievances against money and giving each of them more credit than they deserve, Jacque neglects the good points about money. It is still the only thing a lot of poor people have, and is the only way they can get their next meal.

It is not the unfair distribution of money, but the unfair distribution of resources, which keeps people and states poor or powerless. The rich are not rich because they have more money in their pockets, but because they physically control the resources that make money. They own keys to the factories and stockpiles. Rich states physically possess and control the world’s mineral wealth, and the labs where high-tech products are designed and tested. They use money merely as a way of throwing scraps to poor people where it would have been too inconvenient to give shares of their resources. So, if anything, money exists as a tool of remuneration to poor people, and would actually be a necessary component in any scheme to create more equality.

I, unlike Jacque, am what most people would call poor. If my money became worthless tomorrow, I would not be grateful. In fact, I would have few means of survival, and would wander the world begging for actual food and other resources from people and providers who are fortunate to possess a stockpile of resources. These providers in turn would wander the world begging for supplies, and other essentials they require to stay active. Therefore, the vacuum left by abolishing money would be more oppressive than any amount of debt, and it would also consume a lot more time and energy for everyone.

Not only would the abolition advocated by Jacque make life a lot more difficult for most poor people and businesses, but it would lead to the loss of a very basic source of dignity for the poor – the only medium with which they could actually buy and share resources. No matter how detrimental monetary greed can be, a poor man or business will always be grateful he can carry a wad of money around. He can’t pick up and carry a resource. One would hope that Jacque would at least try to overcome this terrible paradox of what is going to take the place of that money in a poor person’s hand, but he doesn’t. What is advocated instead is idealistic at best, and leaves one feeling hungry for the pizza that is probably never going to be delivered to your door by a drone if we really do get rid of money.

In fact, the form of remuneration posited by Jacque relies on “distribution centers” from which anyone can order an unlimited quantity of anything to their very door due to the unlimited capacity of the technology of the future (p. 76-78). If such a thing is inevitable from existing engineering trends, then we should be in awe of that technology, and not the Venus Project.

Something similar to the above occurs when Jacque states “Machines of the future are capable of self-replication and improvement, and can repair themselves and update their own circuitry.” Once again, this makes me ask, why then advocate Resource-Based Economy, if in the end we are always going to stand in awe of the machines and get unlimited free pizzas delivered to our doors anyway?

In a Resource-Based Economy, it is established there is no money, no credits, no debt, and no servitude. Here, “all of the world’s resources are held as the common heritage of all of Earth’s people” (p. 21). Unfortunately, the thing getting in the way of declaring our resources as a common heritage isn’t money, but the resources themselves. Just look how some states and firms have better resources than others, be it in the form of more high-tech facilities or more qualified personnel. One can’t just declare these people and things to be equally owned by all, or change their status in any significant way, by abolishing money, because they are still physically located in certain more advanced states (usually the US).

When it comes to how the RBE would manifest in practice, Jacque argues that all wealth and wellbeing should be based on immediate resources, such as water and fertile land. Unfortunately, this means areas with more resources would be better-off than those without, which takes us back to the problem already highlighted above.

Jacque says that increasing automation and peak oil are signs of “collapse” (p. 22), and that this collapse will provoke people to “lose confidence” in monetary economics. People will then turn to a global Resource-Based Economy as the solution. Unfortunately, this is not what usually happens in a collapse. In a collapse, people do not actually grasp at the most ideal solutions, never mind solutions prematurely based on future technologies. Just look at Iraq and Syria, where the failures of the state did not lead to a utopia but to a vacuum filled by pseudo-religious terrorist authorities.

The prediction that removing capitalistic competition by getting rid of money would result in the hippie-like outcome of peace and harmony (p. 69-76) is not convincing. If Christianity got one thing right, it is that humans are prone to sin. Even in a system with unlimited resources, there would be factionalism, security concerns, hoarding, vanity, greed, jealousy, power-mania, sex offenses, plain insanity and a plethora of other reasons for people to do evil. In sum, law enforcement and compliance would still be necessary.

Rethinking society is important, but the catalyst should be technology itself and the results spontaneous, rather than someone’s grand design. People should be in awe of the amazing things being made possible by nanotechnology and biotechnology, but they should be advocating that people invest in these technologies. Abundance is almost certainly going to rely on biotechnology, but there are many grievances against this field and promoting it might involve tolerating the directions taken by some large and rather controversial corporations.

Transhumanism differs from social design in that transhumanism is advocating the redesign of the human individual; a departure from our biological limits themselves as a way of escaping scarcity. Transhumanism is about maximizing the available choices and chances of survival of every human individual. We could go even further, and biologically re-engineer the world to access more resources, as I argued in my outlandish “terra-enhancement” article.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published at h+ Magazine on 19 August 2014

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22 August 2014

Problem is not technological unemployment

.@KevinCarson1. @C4SSdotOrg. #Stateless. #Unemployed.

Capitalism, Not Technological Unemployment, is the Problem

At Slate, Will Oremus raises the question “What if technological innovation is a job-killer after all?” (“The New Luddites,” August 6). Rather than being “the cure for economic doldrums,” he writes, automation “may destroy more jobs than it creates”:

Tomorrow’s software will diagnose your diseases, write your news stories, and even drive your car. When even high-skill “knowledge workers” are at risk of being replaced by machines, what human jobs will be left? Politics, perhaps—and, of course, entrepreneurship and management. The rich will get richer, in other words, and the rest of us will be left behind.

It’s a common scenario, and one that’s utterly wrong headed. Although Oremus appeals to Keynes’ prediction of technological unemployment, the irony is that Keynes thought that was a good thing. Keynes predicted an economy of increasing abundance and leisure in his grandchildren’s time, in which the average work week was fifteen hours.

Instead, as Nathan Schneider points out (“Who Stole the Four-Hour Workday?” Vice, Aug. 5), US government policy since FDR’s time has been to promote “full employment” at a standard 40-hr week. Both major parties, in their public rhetoric, are all about “jobs, jobs, jobs!”

This fixation on creating more work is what Bastiat, in the 19th century, called “Sisyphism” (after the lucky man in Hell who was fully employed rolling a giant rock up a hill for all eternity). We see the same ideological assumptions, as Mike Masnick argues in the same article where I got the Bastiat reference (“New Report Challenges The Whole ‘IP Intensive Industries Are Doing Well Because Of Strong IP’ Myth,” Techdirt, Aug. 8), displayed in arguments that strong “intellectual property” law is necessary for creating “jobs” and guaranteeing income for creators.

The idea is that we either impose artificial inefficiencies on technologies of abundance in order to increase the amount of labor (“jobs!”) required to produce a given standard of living, or we enclose those technologies to make their output artificially expensive so that everyone has to work longer hours to pay for them, so the increased price can go to paying wages for all those people running on conveyor belts and rat wheels. Make sense?

Either way, it amounts to hobbling the efficiency of new technology so that everyone has to work longer and harder than necessary in order to meet their needs. This approach is both Schumpeterian and Hamiltonian. Schumpeter saw the large corporation as “progressive” even when large size wasn’t technically necessary for efficient production because, with its monopoly power, it could afford to fund expensive R&D and pass the cost on to consumers via cost-plus markup and administered pricing (basically like a regulated monopoly or Pentagon contractor). Mid-20th century liberalism, essentially a managerialist ideology that lionized large, hierarchical, bureaucratic organizations, extended this approach: the giant corporation could afford to pay high wages and maintain an employer-based welfare state, and still collect a guaranteed profit, because of its monopoly power.

Modern Hamiltonianism seeks to prevent price implosion from radical technological improvements in efficiency, and instead to guarantee inflated demands for both capital and labor — by imposing artificial inefficiency when necessary — so that returns on venture capital and full-time employment both remain stable.

The most egregious example is Jaron Lanier’s argument that every bit of content anyone produces on the Web should be under strong copyright, so everyone can get paid for everything. But why stop there? Why not monetize the entire economy and force it into the cash nexus? Turn every single thing anybody does into a “job,” so that members of a household get paid wages for mowing the lawn, washing the dishes, or vacuuming the living room. We could increase the nominal work week to 100 hours and per capita income to $100,000. That way, nobody would be able to obtain anything outside the cash nexus. They’d have to have a source of paid income to get the money to pay for anything they consumed — even a beer out of the fridge.

Ironically, that’s the strategy European colonial powers used in Africa and the rest of the Third World to force native populations into the wage labor market and make it impossible to subsist comfortably without wage employment. They imposed a head tax that could only be paid in money, which meant that people who had been previously feeding, clothing and sheltering themselves in the customary economy were forced to go to work for wages (working for European colonial overseers who had appropriated their land, of course) in order to pay the tax.

It’s utterly stupid. The whole point of the economy is not “jobs,” but consumption. The point of human effort itself is consumption. The less effort required to produce a unit of consumption, the better. When a self-employed subsistence farmer figures out a way to produce the food she consumes with half as many hours of labor as before, she doesn’t lament having “less work.” That’s because she internalizes all the benefits of her increased productivity. And when people are free to internalize both all the costs and all the benefits of increased productivity, so that improvements in efficiency are translated directly into lower prices or shorter working hours, they have an incentive to be more productive and work less.

The problem arises, not from the increased efficiency, but from the larger structure of power relations in which the increase in efficiency takes place. When artificial land titles, monopolies, cartels and “intellectual property” are used by corporations to enclose increased productivity as a source of rents, instead of letting them be socialized by free competition and diffusion of technique, we no longer internalize the fruits of technological advance in the form of lower prices and leisure. We get technological unemployment.

But technological unemployment and the rich getting richer are symptoms, not of the progress itself, but of the capitalistic framework of state-enforced artificial property rights and privilege within which it takes place. The economic ruling classes act through their state to intervene in the economy, to erect toll-gates and impede free market competition, so we have to work harder and longer than necessary in order to feed them in addition to ourselves. So let’s not get rid of the technology. Let’s get rid of the capitalists and their state that rob us of its full fruits.

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US hegemony ends: Newer World Order (2)

. @HJBentham. #hegemony. #geopolitics.

<< Continued from Part 1

Lesson 4: You cannot govern through fear

The trend towards vilifying external adversaries as a means of consolidating political power and credibility is very dangerous, and only signifies failure. It is a common trend throughout history that wars and adversarial relations are declared during times of domestic crisis, but they are only effective to the extent that some form of cultural homogeneity exists in a state. As a result of the transnationalism of the English language, being spoken so widely throughout the world, it is increasingly harder for educated Westerners to live in ignorance of the rest of the world and all the information out there.

If the US regime thinks that it is going to regain its status as the world’s only superpower by vilifying other countries like Russia, China or even foreign terrorists like al-Qaeda, it is wrong. Educated people are just not that gullible anymore, and nothing makes this clearer than the tremendous popular uproar over America’s global unilateral spying on our lives. Americans have nothing to fear from Vladimir Putin. They need to be afraid of the National Security Agency (NSA), and the incomprehensibly ugly regime in Washington that has directed it to constantly violate our civil rights. We are afraid of the corporate stranglehold on our government and press.

Tactic 1 for dismantling the “nation”: disbelief

We live in an info-centric world. Media and information are where everything starts. Therefore, the attack on the idols of the false nation begins in the form of media. Anti-statists must each seek powerful platforms to mount their assault on the nation. Whether it is through social media or major news outlets, we need people to challenge the myth of the nation, debunk claims by jingoistic commentators, and shoot down this crazy idea that the US could be entitled to anything that other states are not entitled to.

Media sources that believe in the existence of a nation, and assert that a nation might be on the right side of history, should be debunked. Nations cannot be on the right side of history, because nations do not exist and and cannot stand for anything modern, transparent or democratic at a time when the people are awakening to develop their own means of democracy with the fruits of technology. 

Tactic 2 for dismantling the “nation”: desecration

How do you destroy a nation in the physical sense, without harming anyone? You attack its idols and insult its name. American flags should be taken down and crushed in public protest, just to provoke a response. Historic documents, statues and monuments to the nation should be physically destroyed. If they cannot be destroyed, they should sprayed, damaged and defaced. Every icon and every sacrosanct image of the regime that can be found should be desecrated and burned. Every conceivable insult and injury to this “nation”, every conceivable blow against its deadly pride and idolization, should be promoted. Let us pray that every refugee of every American war will flock to this regime, if only to ransack and destroy its idols.

What resolution would the “patriots” find for such insults, if indeed they take their myths and idols to be real? Will they lay the blame on their own government, and so destabilize it and delegitimize it in their rage? That outcome would be progressive, for it would result in mass hostility to the regime. Will they see the folly of their patriotism, and so choose to aid in the dismantlement of the fake “nation”, so they might embrace humanity instead? That too is progressive, because their movements will bring down the regime and the myths upon which it stands. Will the regime lash out, imprisoning, torturing and murdering the opponents who have insulted its fabricated authority? Then they have made their own pyre by closing their doors to the rest of humanity, and the mission against the world's most deplorable nation is accomplished.

Each of the aforementioned torments is not wasted, but necessary to bring out the worst of the “patriots”, and force the world to judge them appropriately. Consider how humanity would surely benefit from such desecration of their idols. It would be immensely beneficial for progress.

Tactic 3 for dismantling the “nation”: disintegration

Centrifugal anti-statist political movements are proliferating at a rate that has alarmed many states. These are politically liberating, by definition. Even taking place under ostensibly “micro-nationalist” narratives themselves, they are not inimical to the dismantlement of the larger lie of the nation that has been addressed here. The lie that must be discredited and smashed is the view that government authority figures and oppressive regimes can proclaim the existence of nations, rather than nations serving as transitory "avatars" for liberation causes (as in the case of the ANC or the PLO).

Members of extant communities and regions expressing their solidarity and rejecting the central regime of the nation-state should be exempt from the shame of the patriots who have loyalty to government authority figures. These extant communities within the so-called nations are not false, as they are voluntary associations based on real social relations. For this reason, they cannot be deconstructed in the way that nation-states which apply force to forge themselves into existence from larger bodies of humanity can be deconstructed.

Examples of an extant marginalized community within a larger nation-state entity are Catalonia in Spain, and Scotland in the United Kingdom. There are compelling reasons for them to govern themselves, at least temporarily, if they so wish, and this should be legitimized through referenda and other expressions of the liberation struggle. In the United States, similar centrifugal movements for the dismantlement of the “nation” take the form of campaigns for state secession and groups seeking self-determination for Native Americans and African Americans who refuse to identify with the regime.

While the tactic of national disintegration is less progressive than the other two tactics, and has the unfortunate potential to stabilize new national myths rather than lead to a true voluntary society, in many states it represents an opportunity. Separatism should not be idealized, but should be a target of opportunity for anti-statists or other anti-systemic people, and they should not shy away from it on grounds that they feel a lack of belief in whatever micro-national myth is being promoted.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

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19 August 2014

US hegemony ends: Newer World Order (1)

. @HJBentham. #hegemony. #geopolitics.

Attempts to establish a unipolar world order after the end of the Cold War have proven futile. As the US is controverted by powers it had dismissed, such as Russia, China, and even Germany, the mad dream of an American-led world dies.

The ability to “keep the Germans down” (true friendship?) had been a significant badge of honor for the postwar US regime after it rose to superpower status in 1945. In 2014, the badge finally fell off, as top historiographer Immanuel Wallerstein notes, in the unprecedented breach triggered by US stupidity and ignorance towards European “allies” over the implications of US unilateral spying and other excesses of US hegemony.

Desperate to look strong, the US appears to be anemically drawing on Cold War imagery and fears to reassure itself. This is a pathetic gesture, hiding the regime’s humiliating decline behind the fevered idea of a “new” Cold War, pointing nostalgically towards the Russian specter when the real issue is its own internal crisis and the severe degradation of ties with its own allies. One could say more accurately that the old Cold War is back, because the US has lost its crown.

It is tempting for many jingoists to present America’s senescence as a temporary injury, but it is not. America is dying as a superpower, dragged to its grave by the momentum of history, and it will never heal. The unique circumstances that brought the US to leadership over the world are gone, and a steady demise is all that awaits the US.

As the view that an “exceptional” nation-state is going to “lead” our civilization to the stars loses credibility, we must think about alternatives to such an order. From what is happening to this regime, we can infer key lessons to determine how we might go about shaping the alternative order in succession to what we have already seen in history.

All nation-states will ultimately be retired to the dustbin of history. America, being the most powerful of such entities and an eminent global influence, deserves to be undone before all others.

Lesson 1: Nations don’t exist, including the American nation

Illusions of a new Cold War arising from the 2014 crisis in Ukraine and other inconsequential contests with Russia, China etc. are not tests for US global leadership, but clear signs that the megalomaniacal concept of global leadership under one state’s aegis is over. The United States is beginning to realize it is a single country, no more entitled to govern or monitor the world than Lichtenstein.

Why should any country have more rights than another? Why should US nationalist ambitions be allowed to hijack the machinery of European allied states, who have moved beyond nationalism? There is a fundamental ideological disconnect between a state that views itself as a special “nation”, and more sophisticated states that devalue the concept of the nation, instead seeing their future in the European/Eurasian integration projects and other facets of transnationalism.

The ultimate failure of the lunatics in Washington to bring their regime to a position from which it can rule the world is helping the American people to realize, like other aggressor nations, that they are not special. Let us hope that this compels US leaders to withdraw their obscene claims of “exceptionalism”, i.e. superiority over other states.

Without the runaway powers of the US regime interfering in our lives under the doctrine of exceptionalism, the world will be a safer place. In Europe, the view is that we survive despite America, rather than because of it, so this regime’s demise and military withdrawal from the world stage will be universally recognized here as a blessing when it happens.

In sum, let us call for the Americans to question their country’s doctrine of exceptionalism, and the existence of any kind of “American nation”. Perhaps without this delusion – this inane flag-waving contest – US people will wake up and become as enlightened as the average European today. From there, the US can realize how far behind it is on the cultural ladder, and can start to catch up with remainder of the West as we remove the final vestiges of warlike nationalism and vanity.

Lesson 2: The American culture of aggression threatens the world

The United States is responsible reprehensible and inhumane crimes, and has surpassed all of the European states as the world’s primary source of aggression, with the 2003 Iraq War being the deadliest aggression of the new millennium. American aggression must end, for the United States to move forward.

American aggression is rooted not simply in the militant doctrine of US exceptionalism at the heart of the US establishment, but in a broader culture of “patriotism”, moronic flag-waving and slogans, and blind belief in the lies of fascist authority figures. Such a culture is alien to Europeans today, just as the idea of taking up arms and dying for one’s “nation” in the Nineteenth Century sense is regarded as extremism in Europe now. For the US to remain part of the global story, it must dispose of its archaic ideology by digesting the lessons of its own aggression in Iraq, if it is not capable of learning the lessons of aggression from other countries.

The origin of all conflict, the cancer that murders in the name of peace and security, is the nation. This fraudulent entity, used to delineate differences among mankind, has been the excuse for every mass atrocity known to man. Some blame religion for war, but no lie is as divisive and destructive as the lie that one can be part of a nation or that once can be patriotic.

Lesson 3: Americans must accept their regime’s inferiority

America believes it is superior to other countries. As of 2014, scandals have shown the US is not only morally inferior to its European allies, but is a disgrace to the entire international community.

The turn of events that has set in motion the downfall of the US regime started with the regime’s decision to augment its role in the world with its disproportionate technological strength, especially trampling on its “allies” in this regard. Led on by the narcissistic view that it is a paragon of democracy and freedom, the hypocritical regime applied the totalitarian doctrine of “total information awareness”. As the regime uses the resulting infrastructure of privacy-violation to nullify civil rights on a daily basis by spying on the personal communications of any individual it chooses in the entire world, a strategy has resulted that can only be called thuggish. The regime abuses its technological power not to save lives but to spy, victimizing its own allies and every innocent soul on the planet, including you.

Further hypocrisy exposing how the “democratic” US regime defies its moral and legal obligations are found in the regime’s record of torture, unprecedented prison populations, and political repression. This record portrays an unscrupulous entity that cannot be entrusted as any kind of authority over such international domains as democracy or human rights.

Now alienating its own Western allies by demonstrating the whole new lengths of pervasive greed and cruelty that it can be capable of, the American regime has lost the legitimacy to represent anything valued or regarded as democratic by the world. With such a loss of legitimacy, the regime is no longer able to take up its conceited role as a credible rallying point for the international community. Instead, the name of the United States shall be placed in the category of abominations including Nazi Germany, Apartheid South Africa and its own most loathed ally, the State of Israel.

The sheer hilarity that such a cockeyed and murderous regime might try to preach anything to Europeans or its other “allies” is now apparent for all to see. Why should anyone take lessons on global governance from a hypocrite? One might have a better fate voyaging aboard the Titanic than taking a seat with the lunatic regime, at the present juncture.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

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What is the Nation?

. @HJBentham. #FlyTheFlag. #YesScotland.

What is the nation? Should we be asking what, or perhaps who? Is it the land? The odd space shown within some contours drawn on a map by dead white men, centuries ago?

Are they the people born on a particular side of the border? A gender? A race? An ancient tribe? A conquering army in the Eleventh Century? A raging Parisian mob in the Eighteenth? The government and the local authorities? Is he the taxman? Is she the Queen?

Your president, or your prime minister, keeps telling you that you are special – that armies will protect and represent you because you are part of the nation – unless it is inconvenient at the time. We can be members of the nation while abroad, ungoverned by these authority figures, or we can be governed by them on their territory, yet not be members of the nation.

Being born on one side of the border supposedly makes you a “citizen”, belonging to a particular nation – but so does processing some forms when you apply for citizenship. Being a citizen makes your government send soldiers to save you when you are under threat – but that’s aggression and is contrary to international law. Being a citizen means you are protected under the law – until the law changes. Being a citizen means you have rights – until the government doesn’t want you to have those rights. Being part of a nation helps the authorities decide which prison you will carry out forced labor in, or who is entitled to kill you.

“The Nation”. Lots of people believe they are part of a nation, but what is it? Many governments talk about the nation, the national interest, national security. But what is the nation? Maybe the nation is just a word, used by pundits, politicians and demagogues, when they can’t determine who or what they are appealing to other than their own interests. Maybe the “national interest” is a way of talking about their own interests, without sounding too selfish in front of their audiences.

Who decides if you are part of a nation, and who decides if you are not? Can you really change your nationality at will? And if so, what connection does it have with birth, familiarity or the concept of loyalty? Can others change or revoke your nationality at will, without asking you? Can something so freely changed and nebulously defined really exist? So ill-defined, can such a thing really guarantee anything for you as a so-called “citizen”?

If I have no loyalty to the nation, and I call it a worthless and false idol, am I still part of that nation? If an American desecrates and burns the flag, is his allegiance to the flag still valid, and can he still be drafted and sent off to war? If people are no longer punished for the archaic crime of treason, like in the UK, doesn’t this mean the nation too is archaic and doesn’t really have any legitimacy?

Racist regimes like the Nazis and the Hutu Power government in Rwanda believed the nation was so important that entire groups should be exterminated to purify it. Were they right, or is the nation a whimsical notion undeserving of such fanaticism?

The United States of America believes it is the greatest “nation” in the world, and that it is so exceptional that everyone in the world should follow its commandments and rules. America must smite other nations as well as “domestic” enemies and “traitors”, if they threaten its interests.

We are told that anyone can migrate and become part of the great American nation – you, me, victims of America’s wars, dissidents, traitors to other countries, unbelievers in the American nation, and anyone else in need of a new home. But doesn’t this contradict the idea that America is exceptional, given that it is actually a self-labelled amalgam, filled with examples of humanity from all over the world, and no firm criteria with which to define itself?

How can something undefined be exceptional? How can an assortment of people and icons that already existed elsewhere, be exceptional? Isn’t the same stock still out there, in other countries? Telling us that America is exceptional, then, is like telling us that a scrapheap is exceptional while the world’s best car factory is unexceptional and unworthy of praise.

Loud-mouthed politicians and pundits tell us that something is good for our nation. But what is the nation? When pressed, they will begin to talk about themselves, their democratic right to vote, and their petty opinions. Are they the nation? Are society’s fattest, richest and oldest men, including the top media moguls and pedophile celebrities of the day, the “nation”? Why is that so? It is only because they heaped titles and a misplaced sense of importance on themselves? And why, then, should the rest of us care for this “nation”?

What is the nation? The nation is an archaic myth, kept alive by our ignorance and hatreds. It is a lie used to grab authority, to trick us into serving an arrogant regime that has earned nothing and deserves no loyalty. The nation is the worst manifestation of bigotry and parochialism. The nation is a rag with colors on it, waved by empty-headed demagogues and regressive ideologues, and deserves to be thrown on the pyre of history. The nation is whatever the hardliners, warmongers and chicken hawks tell you it is, so they can send you off to die in pointless battles anchored in myth and propaganda.

What is the nation? Nations do not exist.

By Harry J. Bentham - More articles by Harry J. Bentham

Originally published at Dissident Voice on 4 August 2014

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15 August 2014

Real debate possible with DemocracyOS

.@ScottWNesbitt. @OpenSourceWay. @DemocracyOS. @PiaMancini. #transparency. #democracy. #Occupy.

From Scott Nesbit at Opensource.com:

One of the biggest barriers to open government is the decline in citizen participation. Far too many voters believe that their ideas and opinions don’t matter to, or won’t reach the ears of, those in power.

It doesn’t help that many lawmakers are reluctant or outright resistant to changing the political status quo. As Pia Mancini, an Argentine political scientist and one of the founders of Democracia en Red, said in a 2013 TEDx talk:
It’s time to innovate where no one is innovating: the political system. Because our democracy is stalemated and is no longer able to answer the demands of a society that is becoming more and more complex and which is being transformed by new technologies.
Mancini and her colleagues at Democracia en Red, though, might just have the answer to that. It’s called DemocracyOS, and it’s an open source platform that enables citizens to debate proposals that their representatives are voting on. It's also a place for voters to present projects and ideas to their representatives for debate.

In part one of this a two-part interview, Pia Mancini talks with me about the origins of DemocracyOS and the technologies that run it.

Tell us a little bit about Democracia en Red.

We’re a group of 40+ enthusiasts aligned for one common purpose: to update democracy to the challenges of modern society. Democracia en Red believes in technology as a way of expanding democracy to its citizens, and it aims to build a new culture of political participation.

How did the idea for DemocracyOS come about, and what problem is it trying to solve?

We see a system that allows us to choose between binary options, but excludes us from participating in the design of those options. And this exclusion is the key to a huge crisis of representation that is global. Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, Greek Riots. These are just consequences of a system that no longer represents us, and is only able to produce agitation.

Before this, we wondered how could we go from that agitation to construction. And this is what we came up with: a new tool. A tool that will transform the noise we create during protests into a signal that has a clear, direct and strong impact on the political system.

DemocracyOS is designed to solve the crisis of representation by letting citizens speak for themselves.

How does DemocracyOS work?

DemocracyOS is a decision-making platform, so it is designed to address the fundamental components of the decision-making process. It allows citizens to get informed, debate and vote on topics, just how they want their representatives to vote.

Why did you make DemocracyOS open source?

The decision to make DemocracyOS open source had to do mainly with transparency and collaboration. Open source software can be used by anyone, so we can share what we’ve done with others and allow others to build on what we do instead of everyone having to reinvent the wheel as well while receiving help and ideas from those who want to collaborate with us, the end product of collaboration is always better.

We believe in this day and age, proprietary source code is not compatible with a project that has real political and social impact.

What technologies do you use to develop DemocracyOS?

Our codebase is 100% Javascript, and is based on the following libraries and frameworks:

Democracy OS is being used in several countries right now, including Mexico and Tunisia. Have governments and groups in any other countries expressed interest in adopting Democracy OS?

We’re now collaborating with an NGO from Brazil and the Spanish political party Podemos, as well as with Codeando Mexico (a Mexican civic innovation hub).

DemocracyOS is the first project from Democracia en Red. Is there anything else in the works that you can share? Will those projects also be open source?

Now we’re mostly heading to create new components to improve DemocracyOS. But if there would be any other projects in the near future they would definitely be open source because as we said before, it’s a decision we make with a philosophical stand.

You're about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for DemocracyOS. What are the goals of that campaign?

The goal is to get more people to know and help us improve this innovation for the political system that we’re trying to build. You can get a head’s up about the launch of our Kickstarter campaign at the DemocracyOS website.

How can people get involved with and contribute to DemocracyOS?

People can help by spreading the word, doing some press, or by giving feedback on our current beta.
You can keep track of the progress of the project, and help us spread the word, by:

    By Scott Nesbitt - More articles by Scott Nesbitt

    Originally published at Opensource.com on 7 August 2014

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    12 August 2014

    The Mont Order: ancient club revealed

    .@HJBentham. #MontOrder. #Lordre.

    The Mont Order, which is already the subject of a popular conspiracy theory, has revealed itself. It is described as a "club" which is presently extinct, but endorsed such ideas as world government, transhumanism and an end to national borders during its time.

    From the Lordre blog at Beliefnet:
    This should explain the facts as they presently exist on this apparently misused subject, as well as clarify my own intentions for all things that the Mont Order deserves to encompass in future, if any.  
    Read more at http://www.beliefnet.com/columnists/lordre/2014/08/we-are-all-of-the-mont-order.html#ixzz39vv38ofJ
    The post links to an exclusive essay on the Mont Order group, which maintains ambiguity on the question of who authored it, and states that it exists mainly to support people who have been invited to join the mysterious club.

    Tweeted from Harry J. Bentham, who claims to have inside knowledge of the Mont Order, in support of the Lordre post:

    There is even a satirical Mont Order Twitter account now open, calling itself an "ancient and secret society"!

    Amid continued serious-sounding conspiracy theories on the internet regarding the Mont Order, we can only suggest that conspiracy nuts just chill out and realize that this is really only a prank already.

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    High-ranking psychopaths are pushing for a nuclear war with Russia, seemingly intentionally

    If the US leaders wanted to wage a thermonuclear war that would destroy America and the world, we would not be here to talk about it. Presid...

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