Archive for November, 2010

Open Thread – November 20th, 2010

By Razib Khan | November 20, 2010 9:44 am

A friend pointed me to Mapping the Measure of America. It allows for the creation of maps really quickly without any nerd-grease needed.

lifeexpTo the left is a a map of life expectancy at birth by Congressional District. West Virginia’s 13th Congressional District has the lowest life expectancy in the USA at birth at 73.93 years. Median income is $23,200. 13.8% have university degrees or higher. In contrast, New York’s 16th Congressional District has a life expectancy of 79.03 years, a median income of $17,800 dollars, and is 66.6% Latino (presumably mostly Puerto Rican since it is in the Bronx). Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, north of Atlanta, has a life expectancy of 79.06 years. Median income is $40,800. It is 72% white, 10% black, 10% Latino, and 7% Asian. Texas’s 15th Congressional District has a median income of $19,700, and a life expectancy of 80.72 years. It is 81% Latino. 15% have university degrees or higher.

Below is a map which shows the proportion lacking private health insurance by district:

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MORE ABOUT: Open Thread

Why H. L. Mencken is popular with nerds

By Razib Khan | November 19, 2010 4:49 pm

The 800-Pound Mama Grizzly Problem:

Ms. Palin, in fact, draws almost as much search traffic worldwide as the man she would face if she wins the Republican nomination: Barack Obama. And her name is searched for about 30 percent more often than the President’s among Google users in the United States.

Some members of Ms. Palin’s family also draw as much attention has the other Presidential contenders. Todd Palin, her husband, gets about as much search traffic as Mr. Pawlenty. Bristol Palin, her daughter (and a finalist on “Dancing With the Stars”), gets several times more than any of them (as does her former boyfriend, Levi Johnston).

I thought of this News IQ Quiz from Pew. I got 12 out of 12, which apparently places me in the top 1% of quiz takers? The only question I hesitated on was #11 for what it’s worth. Check out how different demographics do in the aggregate and by question:

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Asian Buddhists are not atheists

By Razib Khan | November 19, 2010 3:10 pm

In response to my two posts below on atheism statistics, people in the comments and around the web (e.g., Facebook) have pointed out that Buddhism is necessarily/can be atheistic, and that Buddhism, is not/not necessarily a religion, and therefore that explains the statistics. Some of these people are lazy/stupid judging by the way the argument is delivered, but they are clearly grounded in a reality which is expressed in books and documentaries which introduce people to Buddhism. There is a small issue which confounds this analysis of the atheism statistics: most East Asians do not identify as Buddhist. This is mostly because most citizens of the People’s Republic of China do not identify with Buddhism. That being said, Buddhism is clearly the dominant organized religion historically in many East Asian nations (though that has not been true in South Korea for the past generation). I reject the equivalence between the role of Catholicism in much of Europe and that of Buddhism in East Asia (the Church was a much more powerful, prestigious, and influential institution than the Buddhist sangha with only a few exceptional periods), but it can be argued that these are Buddhist cultures, just as they are Confucian societies.

But there’s a bigger issue with this objection: most Asians who identify as Buddhist are themselves theists. This is also the case for American Buddhists. Some people have objected that theism in a Buddhist context is not equivalent to theism in a Hindu, and especially Abrahamic sense. There is no creator god obviously. That is fine, but I think it is important to point out that no matter the theological details of their beliefs, most Buddhists do seem to accept the existence of supernatural entities which we would term “gods.” I was aware of this personally because I’ve encountered several people of Chinese origin who tell me that they’re Buddhist, they believe in god, when I tell them I’m an atheist (usually in response to the question about whether I am Muslim).

The previous question as to whether someone was a “Religious person,” “Not a religious person,” or a “Convinced atheist,” can be broken down by religion. I did so. Below are the data for Buddhists alone. I also provided the sample size for Buddhists. The overall N’s were on the order of 1,000-2,000. So you can see that only a small minority (5% actually) of Chinese in the People’s Republic identify as Buddhists. The other values are obviously percentages.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Data Analysis, Religion

Friday Fluff – November 19th, 2010

By Razib Khan | November 19, 2010 11:58 am


1. First, a post from the past: From each according to their nature, to each according to their nature.

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Sex differences in global atheism, part N

By Razib Khan | November 18, 2010 2:55 pm

Whenever I blog religion and atheism I brace for a bunch of uninformed comments. Everyone has an opinion, but few seem genuinely interested in digging for data, or reading about the history of religion, and the empirical realities of the phenomenon. If you are an exception to this trend, you’re awesome, and more power to you. Seeing the responses around the blogosphere to some of my posts it is immediately obvious that people don’t make recourse to the GSS, WVS, or The Religious Landscape Survey, let alone read books like In Gods We Trust or The Reformation. I could go on, but there are so many data sources, and proportionally so little interest in relation to the broader enthusiasm for opining on the topic.

As an aside, in my previous post I alluded to the fact that atheism is not a white thing. I didn’t lay it out explicitly, but far too much of commentary on power dynamics and human affairs is locked into the age of white supremacy. There are Chinese mining towns all over Africa, and we’re still fixated on the legacies of the mustachioed men of yore. Some new thought is needful.

In any case, whenever I post on atheism or religion the data comes calling to me, and begs me to revisit it. Questions, questions. I’m always curious if I can find something new, a twist, a novel inference. So I decided to look for patterns in the WVS wave 5 in regards to the well known phenomenon of male excess in the area of atheism. The data are country-by-country. Below are some plots. The asked was if one was a religious person, and I’m looking at those who asserted they were “convinced atheists.”

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Culture, Data Analysis, Religion
MORE ABOUT: Atheism, Sex Difference, WVS

Most atheists are not white & other non-fairy tales

By Razib Khan | November 18, 2010 2:46 am


Over at Comment is Free Belief (where I am an occasional contributor) there is an interesting post up, The accidental exclusion of non-white atheists. Actually, I disagree with the thrust of the post pretty strongly. But here’s the important section:

Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, PZ Myers, James Randi … if you’re a regular Cif belief reader, you’ll already have spotted the pattern – these are the names of arguably the most prominent, outspoken atheists and “sceptics” in the world. There’s something else you should notice – they are all white men. The atheist and sceptic movements are dominated by white men and I think this is a problem.

I was involved in an atheist organization in my younger years. The president was a Eurasian woman, and I was the vice president. The treasurer had a Muslim Arab father, so I suppose we didn’t fit this profile. But I think the generalization holds. But I don’t think it’s a problem really for the Richard Dawkins of the world. In fact, there isn’t even that big of a deficit when it comes to non-whites if you look at it from a world wide perspective. The World Values Survey asks people if they fall into the categories “Religious Person”, “Not a Religious Person”, or “Convinced Atheist.” Below are some bar plots from the 5th and 4th waves, take in the mid-2000s and around 2000 respectively.

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MORE ABOUT: Atheism, Religion

15 ancestral components to bind them all

By Razib Khan | November 17, 2010 11:01 am

Dienekes Pontikos keeps chugging along, and has cranked out a new bar plot from the ADMIXTURE program with 15 putative ancestral components. He has “69 populations, and 1,189 individuals in total.” Most of these were assembled from public data, but some of them are particular to the Dodecad Ancestry Project. He contends:

In comparison to the K=10 analysis, the increased resolution allows us to:

- South Asians belonged primarily to the South Asian and West Asian components; this South Asian component spilt over to Iran and Central Asia. Now, a new Central-South Asian component, corresponding to the Ancestral North Indian of a recent study is inferred, and a corresponding South Indian component.

- HGDP Bedouins and Behar et al. (2010) Saudis take up their own component which I labeled Arabian. This appears to be a subset of the Southwest Asian component of the K=10 analysis

- There are several components in Siberian and Central Asian populations, alread discovered in my regional analysis. These are Central Siberian, Nganasan, Koryak, Chukchi, and Altaic which replace the K=10 Northeast Asian component

Not only has he generated a bar plot, but there is a PCA showing the relationship between the 15 ancestral groups, as well as a hierarchical tree. Since he references to the ANI and ASI of Reich et al., I thought I would note that the South Indian element from Dienekes’ K = 15 is still found in appreciable portions in the Turkic groups which earlier exhibited the South Asian component. And, on the PCA and phylogenetic tree it still clusters with West Eurasians more than East Eurasians, which is not the case with ASI (or the various Indian mtDNA lineages which coalesce back to a more recent common ancestor with East Eurasians).

The bar plot is below. Of interest are the most “pure” European groups, the Sardinians and Lithuanians. Also, compare Scandinavians and Finns.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, History

Icelanders descended from Native Americans?

By Razib Khan | November 17, 2010 10:17 am

ResearchBlogging.orgThat is the question, and tentatively answered in the affirmative according to a new paper in The American Journal of Physical Anthropology. A new subclade of mtDNA haplogroup C1 found in icelanders: Evidence of pre-columbian contact?:

Although most mtDNA lineages observed in contemporary Icelanders can be traced to neighboring populations in the British Isles and Scandinavia, one may have a more distant origin. This lineage belongs to haplogroup C1, one of a handful that was involved in the settlement of the Americas around 14,000 years ago. Contrary to an initial assumption that this lineage was a recent arrival, preliminary genealogical analyses revealed that the C1 lineage was present in the Icelandic mtDNA pool at least 300 years ago. This raised the intriguing possibility that the Icelandic C1 lineage could be traced to Viking voyages to the Americas that commenced in the 10th century. In an attempt to shed further light on the entry date of the C1 lineage into the Icelandic mtDNA pool and its geographical origin, we used the deCODE Genetics genealogical database to identify additional matrilineal ancestors that carry the C1 lineage and then sequenced the complete mtDNA genome of 11 contemporary C1 carriers from four different matrilines. Our results indicate a latest possible arrival date in Iceland of just prior to 1700 and a likely arrival date centuries earlier. Most surprisingly, we demonstrate that the Icelandic C1 lineage does not belong to any of the four known Native American (C1b, C1c, and C1d) or Asian (C1a) subclades of haplogroup C1. Rather, it is presently the only known member of a new subclade, C1e. While a Native American origin seems most likely for C1e, an Asian or European origin cannot be ruled out.

The core of the article treads the confusing gray zone between rock-hard precise science and the more vague and intuitive truths of history. One the rock-hard part, there is a huge literature on maternal genetic lineages, the mtDNA. Because this genetic material is copious it was some of the first to be analyzed using molecular clock models. A molecular clock is a feasible with mtDNA because it is haploid; it is only inherited through females and so is not subject to recombination which might break apart associations of distinctive genetic markers. Instead of being a reticulated mesh the genealogy of mtDNA is a clean and inverted elegant tree leading back to a common ancestress. You are finding the line of your mother’s mother’s mother’s mother’s….

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, History

I am the email generation!

By Razib Khan | November 17, 2010 3:19 am

David Kirkpatrick, author of The Facebook Effect, has a breathless take on the rise of Facebook and its impending assault on Google in The Daily Beast. There’s a lot of hyperbole and Facebook-cheering throughout the piece, but this bold but unsupported assertion caught my attention:

Email is, as we all know, a horribly broken system. It is what almost all of us lean on the most heavily to get our work done. Yet we all know it is inefficient and unwieldy. Now Facebook’s innovations aim to use its so-called “social graph,” the set of relationships you have with another user, to remake daily electronic communication.

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Homozygosity runs in the family (or not)

By Razib Khan | November 17, 2010 2:50 am

800px-IMGP2147The number 1 gets a lot more press than -1, and the concept of heterozygosity gets more attention than homozygosity. Concretely the difference between the latter two is rather straightforward. In diploid organisms the genes come in duplicates. If the alleles are the same, then they’re homozygous. If they’re different, then they’re heterozygous. Sex chromosomes can be an exception to this because in the heterogametic sex you generally have only one copy of gene as one of the chromosomes is sharply truncated. This is why in human males are subject to X-linked recessive traits at such a great frequency in comparison to females; recessive expression is irrelevant when you don’t have a compensatory X chromosome to mask the malfunction of one allele.

Of course recessive traits are not simply a function of sex-linked traits. Consider microcephaly, an autosomal recessive disease. To manifest the trait you need two malfunctioning copies of the gene, one from each parent. In other words, you exhibit a homozygous genotype with two mutant copies. I suspect that this particularly common context of homozygosity, recessive autosomal diseases, is one reason why it is less commonly discussed outside of specialist circles: there are whole cluster of medical and social factors which lead to homozygosity which are already the focus of attention. The genetic architecture of the trait is of less note than the etiology of the disease and the possible reasons in the family’s background which might have increased the risk probability, especially inbreeding. In contrast heterozygosity is generally not so disastrous. Even if functionality is not 100%, it is close enough for “government work.” The deleterious consequences of a malfunctioning allele are masked by the “wild type” good copy. The exceptions are in areas such as breeding for hybrid vigor, when heterozygote advantage may be coming to the fore. The details of complementation of two alleles matter a great deal to the bottom line, and the concept of hybrid vigor has percolated out to the general public, with the more informed being cognizant of heterozygosity.

ResearchBlogging.orgBut homozygosity is of interest beyond the unfortunate instances when it is connected to a recessive disease. Like heterozygosity, homozygosity exists in spades across our genome. My 23andMe sample comes up as 67.6% homozygous on my SNPs (which are biased toward ~500,000 base pairs which tend to have population wide variation), while Dr. Daniel MacArthur’s results show him to be 68.1% homozygous across his SNPs. This is not atypical for outbred individuals. In contrast someone whose parents were first cousins can come up as ~72% homozygous. This is important: zygosity is not telling you simply about the state of two alleles, in this case base pairs, it may also be telling you about the descent of two alleles. Obviously this is not always clear on the base pair level; mutations happen frequently enough that even if you carry two minor alleles it is not necessarily evidence that they’re identical by descent (IBD), or autozygous (just a term which denotes ancestry of the alleles from the same original copy). What you need to look for are genome-wide patterns of homozygosity, in particular “runs of homozygosity” (ROH). These are long sequences biased toward homozygous genotypes.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, Genomics

The technology or the company?

By Razib Khan | November 15, 2010 10:52 am

TechCrunch is reporting on Facebook’s new “modern messaging system”. The first few comments immediately telegraphed my first impression: is this Facebook’s Google Wave? Interesting then to see if Facebook can make this work. If it can’t, then score one for the proposition that people don’t want a seamless integration of various tools which emerged in the 1990s and have distinctive roles today in the information ecology (IM, email, message boards, etc.). If Facebook succeeds perhaps it goes to show the importance of timing, execution and marketing. On the other hand, Mashable makes MMS sound just like a souped-up version of SMS texting, and so far less ambitious in scope than Wave ever was. Email is more formal, which is why it can be very useful in some situations. Facebook is more convenient for getting in touch with your college roommate.

MORE ABOUT: Facebook, Technology

Privacy as a bourgeois privilege

By Razib Khan | November 15, 2010 1:40 am

Ruchira Paul has her own reaction to Zadie Smith’s pretentious review of The Social Network. One of the aspects of Smith’s review which Ruchira focuses upon is her concern about the extinction of the “private person.” I have mooted this issue before, but I think it might be worthwhile to resurrect an old hobby-horse of mine: is privacy as we understand it in the “modern age” simply a function of the transient gap between information technology and mass society? In other words, for most of human history we lived in small bands or in modest villages. These were worlds where everyone was in everyone else’s business. There was very little privacy because the information technology was well suited to the scale of such societies. That “technology” being our own innate psychology and verbal capacities. With the rise of stratified cultures elites could withdraw into their own castles, manses and courtyards, veiled away from the unwashed masses. A shift toward urbanization, and greater anonymity made possible by the rise of the mega-city within the last few centuries, has allowed the common citizen to also become more of a stranger to their neighbors. It is far easier to shed “baggage” by simply moving to a place where everyone doesn’t know your name.

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MORE ABOUT: Facebook, History, Sociology

Of interest around the web

By Razib Khan | November 15, 2010 1:06 am

I am not doing daily link round ups right now because I’m not reading the web as much, but I certainly have enough material to put up one link round-up/pointer per week.

David Burbridge of GNXP has completed five posts on the Price equation. One more to go (focusing on group selection). Highly recommended.

Vitamin D Deficit Doubles Risk of Stroke in Whites, but Not in Blacks, Study Finds. There has been other stuff about different healthy basal levels of micronutrients by population. This is an important one to keep an eye on, and should make us reflect on the importance of personalized medicine. A friend of mine who is a doctor observed that one reason that more well educated and higher socioeconomic status patients get better diagnoses and treatment is because they do so much leg-work and are so assertive as advocates for their own health.

Questionable Science Behind Academic Rankings. It’s long been known that academic rankings (like lists of all sorts) are 1) voodoo in terms of adding any real value beyond what you know, 2) crack in terms of profitability. US News & World Report wouldn’t even exist at this point if it wasn’t for their yearly rankings, and if the weekly folds I’m sure that their rankings could be spun-off as a profitable annual publication.

The Way the Future Blogs. Frederik Pohl’s memories. One of the things I really enjoyed about The Price of Altruism is that it gave me a wider lens on George Price the man, who I knew primarily through the recollections of W. D. Hamilton. Pohl does the same for the luminaries of the “Golden Age of Science Fiction.” I especially enjoy the stuff on Isaac Asimov.

Thoughtful Animal. A blog worth reading.

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MORE ABOUT: Daily Data Dump

American human geography in numbers

By Razib Khan | November 14, 2010 4:55 pm

One of the great things about Google Data Explorer is that it allows us to explore the quantitative magnitudes of qualitative differences which we have a general sense of intuitively. I’ve focused on the international data so far, but I thought I’d drill-down to the level of American states and metropolitan areas.

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MORE ABOUT: Data, Data Explorer

Open Thread – November 13th, 2010

By Razib Khan | November 13, 2010 2:28 am

Blogs worth checking out: Reaction Norm, A Replicated Typo, and Dodecad. Heather Mac Donald has some expectations for the Tea Party.

Take a look at the Wikio Science Top 20. Same old, same old. I’m always sniffing around for new science blogs, and am struck by how many of the top bloggers I’ve met personally. Eight of the top 20 on Wikio for example. Are there many unknown gems out there?

Josh Green reminisces about the rise of Talking Points Memo. Some people “have it”, some do not. Joshua Micah Marshall “has it.” He’s always had it. I started an abortive blog in the fall of 2001, but gave up after a week. Then I started blogging in April of 2002, and never looked back. For most of the 2000s I was a code monkey who blogged as a hobby on the side. I never managed to give it up, and it’s led me to some really awesome places.

Cultures differ. Check out the definition for ‘Islamophobia’. Now read this article, Palestinian held for Facebook criticism of Islam:

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MORE ABOUT: Open Thread

Bonus Katz – November 12th, 2010

By Razib Khan | November 12, 2010 1:42 pm

Been a while since I did some bonus kat photos, so here it goes….

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Friday Fluff – November 12th, 2010

By Razib Khan | November 12, 2010 10:04 am


1. First, a post from the past: Extremism in defense of precision is no vice.

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MORE ABOUT: Friday Fluff

Was the Pocahontas exception necessary?

By Razib Khan | November 12, 2010 12:11 am

Harry_F._ByrdIn Jonathan Spiro’s Defending the Master Race it is recounted that as American states were passing more robust anti-miscegenation laws and legally enshrining the concept of the one-drop-rule an exception was made in Virginia for those with 1/16th or less Native American ancestry. The reason for this was practical: many of the aristocratic “First Families of Virginia” claimed descent from Pocahontas. Included within this set was Senator Harry F. Byrd Sr. of Virginia, who was 1/16th Native American, being a great-great-grandson of Pocahontas. This sort of background was probably not exceptional among the “Founding Stock” of Anglo-Americans whose ancestors were resident within the boundaries of the American republic at independence. Only around 1700 did the white population of the American British colonies exceed the indigenous, so no doubt some amalgamation did occur.

But from what I’ve seen the extent of admixture with the indigenous substrate was very marginal, especially in comparison to white populations in Argentina or Brazil. Or so I thought. In conversation a friend recently claimed that over 50% of American whites were 5% or more non-European in ancestry. I expressed skepticism, and he dug up the citation. Genetic ancestry: A new look at racial disparities in head and neck cancer:

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MORE ABOUT: Ancestry, Genomics, Race

The layers and fault-lines of genes

By Razib Khan | November 11, 2010 4:04 pm


At Genomes Unzipped Luke Jostins elaborates on how the genetic facts he now has about his paternal lineage change how he views his own personal history:

… my father’s father is Latvian, and the N1 haplogroup is not rare in the Baltic regions. In fact, the subgroup, N1c1, is more common in parts of Eastern Europe than it is in Asia.

Initially, this seemed to play nicely into a part of our ancient family history. There is a folk history, relayed to me be my Dad and my uncle Johnny, that Jostins blood may contain traces of Mongolian. The justification for this is that in around 1260, just before the civil war caused the Mongol Empire to die back in Europe, the Empire extended all the way to the Baltic States. It was at this point, my fellow N1c1-bearers hypothesise, that Mongolian DNA entered the Jostins line.

Unfortunately on closer inspection this tale is not really supported by the DNA evidence. The famous Mongol Expansion haplogroup is actually C3, which is the modal haplogroup of Mongolians. In contrast, N1c1 has existed in Europe for thousands of years, and is far to old and too wide-spread to represent a recent expansion.

dnanlargergTo the left is a frequency map of the concentration of N1c1. Based on the current distribution, and the diversity being modal in the East Baltic, one has to be skeptical of a simple east-west model. Interestingly the frequency difference of this haplogroup between Finland and Sweden is very high. Also, branch of N1c1 seems to be found among the Rurikids of Russia. This was the ruling dynasty of the Rus, a people who originally seem to have been ethnic Scandinavians from Sweden. Eventually they ruled over a polyglot state of Finns, Slavs and Scandinavians, and submerged their own identity with that of the Slavic peasants. In this they followed the example of the Bulgars, who were ethnically distinctive from their Slavic subjects, but were totally absorbed excepting that their ethnonym persisted. There is some evidence that the Serbs are a similar case, an Iranian group which was eventually absorbed into the South Slav substrate.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Genetics, Genomics

Tariffs, not trade?

By Razib Khan | November 11, 2010 3:36 am

In the the 19th century the Democratic party, rooted in large part among Southern planters who were dependent on exports of commodities and imports of finished goods, was the party of free trade. The northern Whigs, and later the Republicans, were the party of tariffs. They were the faction which drew support from the industry of the North which benefited from protection against European competitors. The Republican support for tariffs and Democratic opposition persisted into the early 20th century. Only after World War II did this long standing division between the two parties diminish, so that by 1993 a much larger proportion of Republicans than Democrats supported the ratification of NAFTA.

Because of NAFTA’s prominence in my mind, as well as the tinge of economic nationalism on the labor Left and the maturing anti-globalization sentiment on the cultural Left, I had assumed that the Republicans tilted toward free trade more than Democrats. Not so. Pew came out with a survey a few days ago, and the results indicate that my preconception was wrong.

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CATEGORIZED UNDER: Economics, Politics
MORE ABOUT: Economics, Free Trade, trade

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