Tag: twitter

Trolling Me Softly

While the Russia probe is expanding to include naïve 36-year old Harvard graduates, pundits all over the world have been worried about elections in other countries. The massive WikiLeaks dump (pun intended) on Emmanuel Macron’s campaign in France did not work, so the next troublesome case seems to be Germany (the UK is fine, they are already leaving the EU).

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Blogging the Gap

Yesterday, I had the chance to participate in the Bridging the Gap workshop led by Bruce Jentleson.  It is an effort every summer to help younger scholars figure out how to engage the policy world in a variety of ways, including figuring out how to write and publish op-eds, how to get into government for short periods of time (like the Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs Fellowship that changed my career/life), how to engage think tanks and more.

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Friday Nerd Blogging: Twitter Much?

As a very frequent tweeter, I could only watch this SNL sketch/dance number (didn’t make it to the show, just to dress rehearsal) with just a hint of shame:

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Tweets of the Week #3

Twitter HQ: Logo artwork

It’s the weekend, so it’s time for the third edition of “Tweets of the Week.” My twitter feed was again filled with some interesting micro-blogging.

By the way, I apologize for the way last week’s home page post looked. Obviously, I’m doing something wrong with the images, though it seems to be fine once the reader clicks the link to Continue Reading. I hope readers can see the image at the top of this page. Continue reading

Tweets of the Week

Though I’ve been blogging at the Duck of Minerva for more than 9 years, I haven’t posted much content for several years. My last post here was in mid-February. You can find maybe half a dozen posts in 2013 and 2014. It’s a terrible record. Embarrassingly, I had to look up my username just to log in.

There are multiple explanations for my silence: the U.S. withdrew from Iraq, which was my original blogging muse. I became department chair. My hair is turning very gray. Blah, blah, blah.

However, in my own defense, I should note that I am a much more frequent contributor to the Tweets sidebar here at the Duck. In fact, I can only conclude that I’m now a “microblogger,” at least primarily. Is that worthwhile?

With that question in mind, I’m going to try to post a regular “Tweets of the week” piece. This will mostly be retweets from my Twitter feed, though I may slip in one or two of my own original tweets. I’ll try to highlight major issues of the week.

Re: Ebola

Re: Upcoming Scottish Independence Vote (which captured my attention while traveling there in August)

Re: ISIS (this is a parking ticket issued by ISIL):

https://twitter.com/acoyne/status/508642960851079168

Re: AU department chair:

Plagiarism 2.0

The internet has exploded this afternoon with the revelation that Fareed Zakaria (a Harvard Government PhD 1993) apparently plagiarized significant elements of his Time magazine op-ed this week. As many in the media have noted, including Politico, several paragraphs in his piece about gun control are “remarkably similar” to paragraphs originally published by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker on April 22, 2012. Zakaria almost immediately owned up to the deed:

“Media reporters have pointed out that paragraphs in my Time column this week bear close similarities to paragraphs in Jill Lepore’s essay in the April 22nd issue of The New Yorker. They are right,” Zakaria said in a statement to The Atlantic Wire. “I made a terrible mistake. It is a serious lapse and one that is entirely my fault. I apologize unreservedly to her, to my editors at Time, and to my readers.”

As a result, Zakaria has been suspended by Time for one month, pending further review. CNN has also suspended Zakaria from his Sunday television program.

On Twitter, a number of people have speculated that a careless intern, research assistant, or even a ghostwriter might be the guilty party at the root of the plagiarism. For example, journalist Chantal McLaughlin just tweeted:

The buck stops with Fareed Zakaria yet I can’t help but think that an #intern may be involved #DontOutsource

Earlier, neocon writer John Podhoretz tweeted,

“The irony: Fareed could never admit that he had an intern write the column….worse than plagiarism perhaps…”

The potential carelessness of a third party does not make Zakaria less responsible for the words published in his name, but it certainly adds an interesting twist to the incident. Indeed, the entire affair has reminded me about an odd exchange during an interview I watched on “The Daily Show” back on July 23. Host Jon Stewart asked Zakaria if he wrote the latest edition of his own book. Check out this video at about the 1 minute mark:

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Fareed Zakaria
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full Episodes Political Humor & Satire Blog The Daily Show on Facebook

How the US is Slowly Cultivating the Conditions for a Renewed International Order

Professor Anne-Marie Slaughter’s talk in Parliament in London this week offered useful insights into how the Obama administration and foreign policy analysts around it are thinking about shaping international order. As Director of Policy Planning in that administration from 2009-11 she spoke from experience about the mechanisms being used to implement international change. While she touched on Syria, drone strikes and other newsworthy issues, her wide-ranging discussion was more important for the glimpses it gave of the theoretical assumptions underlying how US policymakers understand change. There is a tremendously ambitious agenda at work. We must scrutinise the theory driving that agenda if we’re to understand US foreign policy.

Slaughter began by saying that structures are being put in place whose effects won’t be visible for some years. The structures the US is building are informed by the assumption that the biggest development in international relations is not the rise of the BRICs but the rise of society – “the people” – both within individual countries and across countries. The US must build structures that harness societies as agents in the international system. Slaughter returned to Putnam’s (1988) two-level game, the proposition that it is in the interaction of international and domestic politics that governments can play constituencies off against one another to find solutions to diplomatic and policy dilemmas. Slaughter took up this framework: the US administration must see a country as comprised of both its government and its society, work with both, and enable US society to engage other countries’ governments and societies. The latter involves the US acting not as “do-er” but as “convenor”, using social media and organising face-to-face platforms for citizens, civil society groups and companies to form intra- and international networks.

Critically, these two levels are flat. This took me by surprise. At the society level, citizens, civil society groups and companies are connected horizontally. No particular group or individual is afforded a priori centrality. Why is this a surprise? Public diplomacy experts have spent the last few years trying to target ‘influencers’ in societies. Influencers are political, religious or cultural figures who are listened to by others. This idea is informed by network analysis, marketing, and the idea that State Department messages are more credible in different parts of the world when mediated and delivered by a local influential figure than by Hillary Clinton on TV. Slaughter was not convinced by reliance on influencers, empirically or normatively. She argued that all the millions marketers have spent still hasn’t generated any clear knowledge about how influencers can be identified and utilised. Not only that, but it is surely preferable to try to engage whole societies and treat all individuals equally. That would flourish a greater democratic ethos than appealing to amenable clerics, companies, journalists and intellectuals in the hope they might spread the word downwards.

The long term goal of this foreign policy agenda is to create overseas publics who are receptive to the US in a low-level way, such that in a decade or two when the US might need to rely on these publics, it will at least be listened to. Slaughter quoted former Secretary of State George P. Shultz (1997). He suggested diplomacy is like gardening: “You get the weeds out when they are small. You also build confidence and understanding. Then, when a crisis arises, you have a solid base from which to work”. Slaughter praised the US Ambassador to New Zealand, David Huebner, who spends 20 percent of his working week on Twitter and his blog. Huebner writes about rugby and other issues of local interest rather than about US foreign policy. As a result, Slaughter said, he has a higher readership than New Zealand’s largest newspaper. The significance of this isn’t so much in quantitative metrics such as reach, but that he has built an audience by constructing a different quality of engagement. He is forming Schultz’s solid base.

An incremental, everyday-focused approach to engaging foreign publics might not strike up much publicity, but some US policy practitioners have been trying it for a few years now. In War and Media (Hoskins and O’Loughlin, 2010) we discussed how since 2005 Capt. Frank Pascual and Capt. Eric Clark of the Media Engagement Team of CENTCOM, Dubai (the US Central Command base for the Middle East) had tried to engage Arabic-speaking audiences by becoming a regular presence on TV in the region, ’24 hours a day’:

Pascal: … We’ve had people come out from the Pentagon and look at this and say ‘wow’, really that’s been the word used because they realise how far forward we’re leading. There are times when, we basically have toothpaste and a toothbrush and not a lot more because things happen so quickly … I can’t allow Al-Jazeera or any other of the news media to get the high ground if we can seize it. Even if all I have is a piece of the information, or even if I don’t have anything to be able to say: ‘we’re investigating’, ‘we’re looking into that’ and at least give them something to go with, you know […] we will hold our people accountable for it and you can rely on that […] the American comedian Woody Allen said: ‘80 percent of life is showing up’, and that really is the word presence for us: being out there.

Unlike the ‘monks’ in their embassies, Pascal and Clark felt they were beginning to generate trust, initially with journalists but eventually with audiences. They acknowledged this was a slow process. Their temporal horizons for success appeared long term:

Pascal: There are a lot of people in our own government both on the military side and on the diplomatic side who would tell you: ‘what are you guys doing, you’re wasting your time with them’. It’s not wasted, the fact of the matter is that at least we got to say something on the air, live, and in fairness to them again it was not just 30 seconds, it was about five minutes of conversation, so it’s a real engagement, the ball gets moved very slowly sometimes and sometimes agonisingly slowly and I would argue that that’s the case here, but it’s moving.

This statecraft-as-gardening approach faces problems, Slaughter acknowledged. First, convening platforms for societies to communicate to each other and to foreign governments depends on a liberal faith that if you give people opportunities they will do more good than harm, and a quasi-Habermasian public sphere where everyone can and should have equal say. Slaughter conceded that the very technologies that allow publics to come together are the same technologies that allow states (and some non-state actors with particularistic agendas) to monitor and manipulate public debate, censor, and arrest dissenters. This was part of a “back and forth” struggle, Slaughter said, between people challenging their government using communications technologies that government can also use to restrict freedom – a struggle that long predates the Internet. So, there will be risks with this technology-led strategy and the open, free “townhall” model won’t emerge overnight.

Indeed, this approach assumes information is neutral and communication is a fundamental right. It is an approach that can easily slip into presenting a particular vision as natural and apolitical. Slaughter’s is a world where information should flow freely; it only gets political when people restrict it. If the US embassy in China tweets alternative air quality information to the Chinese government’s (LeVrine, 2010), “we were just tweeting information”, Slaughter said. No: information is being used to challenge Chinese state authority and make its expertise seem provisional and weak.

The second problem is that other major powers are trying to shape the international system at the same time. They may not share Slaughter’s theoretical premise that the fundamental relationships in international politics now involve the mutual interpenetration of numerous governments and societies. The EU and the BRICs have alternative ways of looking at the world, different levels of analysis, and their understandings of the individual, society and state can diverge fundamentally. It will take a lot of patience between foreign policymakers among these powers to identify conceptual and practical overlaps if the US approach is to be finessed with others.

Rival powers might also ask whether Slaughter’s approach is simply a new form of instrumentalism. Creating platforms for citizens and civil society groups to work together may seem attractive, but this is a means to the ends of US security. As Schultz said, the aim is to have a solid base of support overseas when crisis hits. And given that global pandemics, food and water shortages, terrorism and other security challenges depend on the responses of societies, “empowering” societies to address these issues may be a route to preventing crises and securing stability in the first place. Consequently, the classic tension in US foreign policy between pragmatism and idealism, documented again in Global Policy this week (Lilli, 2012), remains there to see.

It was generous of Slaughter to articulate so many of the assumptions and concepts underpinning US foreign policy and to provide detail on how those are being translated into policies and structures. US policymakers are aware of the problems identified here and it will be a long, patient process on their part to ensure those problems do not fatally undermine US efforts to empower citizens and cultivate support for the US around the world. Students of international affairs can expect to watch this renewed two-level game play out well beyond the current administration.

Cross-posted from the LSE journal Global Policy: http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/

References:

Hoskins, A. and O’Loughlin, B. (2010) War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War, Cambridge: Polity.

LeVrine, S. (2011) ‘China’s microblog furor over bad air days’, Foreign Policy, 10 November. Available at: http://oilandglory.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2011/11/10/chinas_microblog_furor_over_bad_air_days

Lilli, E. (2012) ‘Review: Bending History: Barack Obama’s Foreign Policy by Martin S. Indyk et al’, Global Policy, 30 May. Available at: http://www.globalpolicyjournal.com/blog/30/05/2012/review-bending-history-barack-obama%E2%80%99s-foreign-policy-martin-s-indyk-et-al

Putnam, R.D. (1988) ‘Diplomacy and Domestic Politics: The Logic of Two-Level Games’, International Organization, 42 (3), 427-460.

Schultz, G.P. (1997) ‘Diplomacy in the Information Age’. Paper presented at the Conference on Virtual Diplomacy, U.S. Institute of Peace, Washington, D.C., April 1.

#Insurgency: Warring Over Somalia….On Twitter

Al-Shabaab, the Islamic insurgency wreaking havoc in Somali, appears to have joined Twitter. The @HSMPress (Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahideen press office) feed has a trickle of followers and posts today that offer some fighting words on the AU’s peacekeeping efforts and the Kenyan military intervention, and laud al-Shabaab’s cause and martyrs.

@HSMPress with the rising economic burden of operation Linda Nchi, the much-hyped #Kenyan invasion has faltered quite prematurely.

Reports are that Kenyan troops, who are retaliating for al-Shabaab’s cross-border incursions, have gained ground. But critics question the legitimacy of the intervention, are concerned about regional spillover, and warn that the foreign incursions of the both the AU and Kenya play into al-Shabaab’s propaganda. Kenya announced today that it will be integrating troops into the 9,000 strong AU forces in Mogadishu.

Not to be outdone, the Twitter propaganda machine has a Kenyan side.  A Kenyan military spokesman has a Twitter account under @MajorEChirChir and regularly tweets about impending and successful attacks on al-Shabaab under #OperationLindaNchi.

@MajorEChirChir #OperationLindaNchi KDF bombed 2 Al shabaab camps south of Afmadow town, killing several Al Shabaab & destroyed technical vehicles.

(There is also a Facebook page for the Operation, in case you feel inclined to “like” it).

Reports are that Kenyan troops, who are retaliating for al-Shabaab’s cross-border incursions, have gained ground. But critics question the legitimacy of the intervention, are concerned are regional spill-over, and warn that the foreign incursions of both the AU and Kenya play into al-Shabaab’s propaganda. Kenya announced today that it will integrating troops into the 9,000 strong AU forces in Mogadishu.

@MajorEChirChir and @HSMPress are not following each other…yet. As others have noted, to follow is not to endorse.

Do the ‘Securitweebs’ matter?: Between Facts and Snark

Brian C. Rathbun now has 64 twitter followers!

Co-authored by Stephanie Carvin and Ben O’Loughlin

This article is about the twitter community who post content about human security or security in a non–traditional context – not just tanks and strategy but natural disaster relief, post-conflict reconstruction, low level political violence, and all the law and politics surrounding these issues.

So far as we can tell, this community seems to share the following characteristics:

  • They are a mix of journalists, think tankers, academics, NGO staff, and students.
  • While they frequently link to articles on traditional media websites, they frequently produce their own content, whether that is academic research, op-eds, or ‘reputable’ blog posts.
  • Although anyone may have a twitter account, and it may be seen as an equalizer, these individuals seem to have ‘elite’ qualifications. They seem to have skills (languages), experiences (military, conflict zones, journalism) or qualifications (graduate education). They are engaged with research and researchers.
  • They follow each other on twitter and engage with each other, forming a dense network. They often re-tweet each other’s links.
  • The perspective is often US-centric but inflected with international experiences and views.
  • The politics tends towards the centre-left on US terms or centre in Europe, but recent disagreement over whether to intervene in Libya shows there is no soggy consensus.
  • The content combines expertise, news, and a high degree of snark.

Taken together, this is the community of Securitweebs.

Two things made us write this article. A few weeks ago Stephanie posted a request for information about NGOs and landmines in the 1980s and got back really useful information from several tweeters, including @theHALOTrust – who also put her into contact with other organizations. Meanwhile down the hall, Ben was putting together a talk about how to identify and map ‘influencers’ in social media in order to shape what narrative spreads about Afghanistan or Syria. Is it possible to influence the narrative spreading among the Securitweebs? And can the Securitweebs as a whole control the narrative spreading beyond? There are nodal players within the Securitweebs, but the Securitweebs are a node within international public affairs.

The Securitweebs are an epistemic community: a network of experts who produce what counts as the truth about an issue. Mainstream media will come to them when the issue becomes a breaking story. Policymakers may solicit their leading figures of the moment, who will channel the collective wisdom of the network (and Tweet back to the network while being consulted, in close to real time, possibly adding a snarky comment).

Epistemic communities have long existed. What difference does existence through Twitter make? It is too soon to tell, but we would present a few observations:

  • Posting a question and receiving useful Tweets back makes it easy to survey a field, find hard-to-locate information, or even find new possibilities for collaboration. This is expertise harnessing crowd wisdom.
  • In addition, the network effects mean the connectivity of the most followed make it possible for anyone to produce content that becomes widely disseminated very quickly.
  • However, there is the obvious danger of groupthink; there is a consistent style and perspective as well as a shared interest, and that style and perspective is likely to attract the like-minded.
  • It’s interesting to conceive of how “nodes” work in this network. While there are many with thousands of followers (@abumuqawama and @afpackchannel for example), there are others with only a few hundred – but are well connected enough that their tweets, when picked up by this dense network, may have a substantial impact. Does this mean the network is essentially a multiplier?

Does the Securitweeb network differ from other communities? Do Securitweebs engage in more self-promotion than, say, the experts Tweeting about climate science? Does the level of political literacy or historical awareness or systemic sexual promiscuity differ from levels in the development community? Does the Securitweeb have more influence over security policy than Economistweebs do over taxing and spending? How does this network differ from a network about cupcake enthusiasts?

So what do Duck Readers think about this interpretation of the discussion of security/human security in the twittersphere? +1 or #fail?

@Ben_OLoughlin @StephanieCarvin

Organizing the Revolution

When I taught for three years at the American University in Cairo, my partner, who was conducting her doctoral dissertation research on Islamist political parties, would often get text messages from the Muslim Brotherhood informing us of interesting programs we might want to watch on satellite that evening or educational events around town. While I found the messages from the “banned-but-tolerated” party amusing (and useful), I was always dimly aware that the state must also be monitoring such messages. In one of my political economy classes I remember my students talking about one of their colleagues whom they suspected was being paid by the state to take notes in another lecture class. (When I asked whether they thought anyone was spying on my classes, my students all said IPE is just not that important to the regime). I think back to those stories whenever I hear people talking about the groundbreaking role of new media in organizing protests in authoritarian regimes.

While the January 25th revolution was partially organized through Facebook, activists are certainly not restricted to these new social media networks…. and make no doubt about it, this was a well organized revolution.  The Atlantic has translated pamphlets distributed to protesters on how to organize and behave.

What one notes in this pamphlet is the advice not to use Twitter or Facebook because they are monitored by the state. These pamphlets were distributed the “old” fashioned way: photocopies given out by hand.

This is not to say that new social networking sites are irrelevant. What I mainly noticed in the days leading up to the start of the protests was that many of my friends in Egypt who are on Facebook began openly posting anti-government status updates. It was surprising to me because many of them are elites or at least members of upper middle class.  In essence, one might hypothesize that the role of new social media networks is to help rally or tap into anti-government sentiment which is often not voiced loudly in public, but the actual organization and dissemination of strategy and tactics still occurs off-line.

#Opensocietyfail

Glenn Greenwald reports on the case of Birgitta Jonsdottir, the Icelandic MP and former Wikileaks volunteer. The U.S. Department of Justice has subpoenaed Jonsdottir’s Twitter records, as well as the records from many other users of the service, from November 2009 onward on the grounds that the department believes that the records may be used in a criminal investigation.

What is newsworthy about this is not that the U.S. DoJ continues to investigate what the American government must, by definition, regard as a violation of its sovereign prerogative to release classified information. Rather, it is that Twitter requested the federal court order be unsealed to allow the affected users to object to the government’s investigation, which had hitherto been kept secret.

Twitter’s actions allow us to further refine Charli’s thoughts on the recent Foreign Affairs article by Clay Shirky. In particular, this should remind us that the U.S. can’t rely on the public sphere to always advance its state interests, and that there are real dangers to relying on a “civil society” that is principally constituted by private corporate actors in order to advance democratization.

As Shirky notes, the U.S. has partially embraced freedom, Net neutrality, and everything else cyberrific about the Web because of what it perceives as the instrumental value of those attributes. Famously, the State Department under Secretary Clinton has embraced Twitter as a tool of public diplomacy. During Iran’s summer protests in 2009, the State Department even apparently used Twitter as part of a soft-power exercise in attempted regime change. Alerted that the site was about to be taken offline for maintenance, Clinton aides worked to keep the site online during the protests. (The New York Times accounts suggests that a pair of twentysomethings did this on their own; one wonders, of course, if this isn’t a rewriting of history to account for the fact that the “Twitter revolution” was in almost every respect a giant fail whale.)

The irony that the same technologies have now become the enabling conditions for the dissemination of Wikileaks, a minor-league public diplomacy embarrassment that has also posed acute risks to specific individuals who may be named or falsely accused of espionage by unfriendly governments, is so obvious as to need no exposition. (Despite the observations from astute critics that Wikileaks, like all organizations, requires resources and access, as well as some measure of societal legitimacy, to proceed with its endeavors, we shouldn’t overestimate how high the barriers to entry are–especially for entrepreneurs who may be carrying less baggage than Assange.)

Shirky recognizes many of these arguments, and elaborates a more nuanced argument about why the United States should support an information infrastructure that will help democratize the world’s remaining and rather astoundingly resilient authoritarian states. His contention is that eventually repressive states will face a tradeoff between allowing open communications, which facilitate trade and economic growth, and choking off dissent, which requires the state to be able to throttle (both in terms of “moderate the speed of” and “strangling”) open communications.

Yet Shirky overstates this dilemma. He recognizes that samizdat and Xeroxes and fax machines and text messaging and Twitter–each generation, it seems, brings its own new revolutionary technology–have only sometimes contributed to democratizing outcomes. Yet he argues that in the long run, open communication leads to open societies. Consider the printing press and the postal service, he says. The former facilitated the Protestant Reformation and the latter the American Revolution. Quod erat demonstrandum.

Shirky’s optimistic technological determinism rests on questionable historical inferences. To paraphrase Zhou Enlai, it is too soon to tell what will be the consequences of the movable type printing press–and, a fortiori, of the Movable Type blogging software. After all, the most searching and expansive dictatorships in human history grew and matured in the twentieth century, and were every bit as enabled by twentieth-century technologies as were their democratic counterparts. (Imagine a Nazi Germany without the airplane or a Soviet Union without the telegraph, to say nothing of North Korea today without nuclear weapons.)

It is true that such regimes invest huge amounts of resources into censorship. Consider Internet censorship in Beijing. But it’s not at all clear that Beijing is trying to restrain the development of an ideal speech situation that will lead the Chinese people to rise up and demand Habermasian democracy. Rather, many accounts suggest that the CCP is more worried about the development of more nationalist and anti-corruption movements–neither of which, to say the least, is pro-democratic. Nor does the example of the USSR and of Eastern Europe offer much hope. Had Gorbachev never become General Secretary, the Soviet Union might well have been able to persist for generations longer as a decrepit, wasting regime that was nonetheless able to mobilize sufficient physical repressive power to sustain itself. In fact, it might well have turned out looking something rather like the government that Putin built, with fewer BMWs and more MiGs.

The relationship between the U.S. government and Twitter similarly demonstrates that the outcomes of the public sphere and the state’s interests are not always congruent. Twitter’s request to unseal the subpoena has led to some adverse publicity for the DoJ this weekend. And the State Department will of course have to spend some time soothing the hurt feelings of the Icelandic government, though in the long term all sides understand that the Melians Icelanders will have to give in.

The real damage to the Twitterites’ hopes for techno-democratization, however, lies in the fact that the Justice Department’s request is perfectly reasonable and justifiable by all legal standards. Twitter can’t refuse, so they protest by publicizing the request. Yet publicity in this case is simply precedent-setting, and it is a precedent that countries with Freedom House scores lower than America’s will happily cite. For repressive regimes, the benefit is clear.

A chilling effect will set in among the citizens of freer countries, as well. Just the rumor that the federal government would refuse to hire graduate students who read Wikileaks cable, as well as the more concrete instructions to federal employees and contractors not to read the material, has–in my direct, personal experience–led academics and grad students to shy away from discussing or reading such materials.

Just as important, we should remember that Google, Twitter, and Facebook are not communications technologies in the same sense that the printing press was. They are companies that require vast resources to operate and can function only with the permission of a host government. In an open society, they will promote openness. In a closed society, there is no guarantee they will do so. As always, economics and technology are important to determining political outcomes, but politics is primary.

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