How Living in Another Country Changed My Political Point-of-View

Living overseas has really changed my perceptions of politics back in my home country.

I was raised in a family of staunch Republicans and went to work as a stock broker (now called investment banker) in my 20s.  Coming from a semi-privileged background (not needing to take on any student loans to get through college), and although I did work extremely hard and hold down up to three jobs at the same time, at that time I subscribed to the Republican world view of Social Darwinism.  At that time, I was a fiscal conservative and a social moderate.

Then I married a foreigner and moved overseas to North Africa in my late 30s.

Living and working in North Africa for two decades, as well as raising my family here in a class-based society, and coming in contact with many Europeans from class-based societies such as Britain, has enabled me, after many years, to see the world from a different point-of-view.  While my own country back home (the United States) has became ever more divided, and the Republican party became ever more extreme, I became increasingly distressed watching these changes.

For many years overseas, considering myself a “moderate” (I’m sure I’m one of those famous “swing” voters) I found I seemed to upset my staunch Republican family back home any time I “dared” disagree with their extreme points-of-view.  I found I also upset Democratic Americans who I came in contact with overseas, as well as some Europeans by daring to disagree with some of their points-of-view.  So I stopped discussing any sort of politics with most people.  I discovered that most people are not interested in having a discussion debating the merits of alternative points-of-view; whether Democrat or Republican, most people only want to forward inflammatory emails (often not true if one checks Snopes) that support their own extreme point-of-view.

About four or five years ago, I finally threw up my hands in disgust at the health care situation in America (one of the reasons my foreign husband and I moved back to his home country–insurance is private here, too, but at least medical care is affordable if you have a job, and inexpensive insurance covers medical prescriptions at 80%); at the Republican points-of-view on the Iraq War and their misunderstandings of the whole mentality in the Middle East; and at the Republican view of Social Darwinism which I no longer agreed with after living in class-based North Africa.  My viewpoint had transformed into believing that while sometimes people are responsible for their own lack-of-progress, that other times, many circumstances are beyond their control.

My mother always emphasized to us that it was important to never register as an Independent (which is where I feel I probably belong), but to instead always declare a party so that one may vote in the Primary elections).   So, I changed my party registration to Democrat.  When I did it, I almost had trouble signing the paper, knowing that in spite of what my mother said, that if any of my family members saw me registering as a Democrat, that I would be forever disowned as the “black sheep of the family.”  For about a year afterward, I felt really weird about it.  Then I happened to have a particular conversation with a woman on the internet who insisted on discussing politics.  I relented.  She turned out to be a rabid Republican unwilling to have anyone even question her extreme points-of-view.  That conversation was useful for me, because it really confirmed for me that I had done the right thing to leave the Republican party.

I’d like to know from other readers living outside of their home country, or for those who have ever lived for a time outside of their own home country, did the experience change your perception of your home-country politics?  If so, how?

–Lynne Diligent

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23 Responses to “How Living in Another Country Changed My Political Point-of-View”

  1. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From Facebook: Katherine J. Kaye I believe – as someone who still has some dyscalculus! – that tracking is a reaction – and a bad one at that – to truly awful numeracy teaching in K-to-5. A child who has Cuisenaire rods from the age of, say, 3 or 4, with plenty of real-world applied and rational maths in the early years, will be able to handle increasingly abstract mental work in later years.

    Tracking is not a silver bullet. [end rant HERE]!

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  2. passionateobserver Says:

    I have never understood the tribal nature of American politics. While my political views have remained consistent throughout my adult life, they have been expressed in a number of different parties, and I consider myself a comfortable floater who decides which of the offerings available each time around comes closest to my own persuasions on the issues.

    During the two years we lived Stateside, one of the very first questions I was asked was “Democrat or Republican?” (it was a tie with “when are you taking out citizenship?”) — it was apparently inconceivable to my colleagues that I would be comfortable in my own skin being neither.

    I remain what I am — a Red Tory — which in itself reflects something not found in the American political scene: a political philosophy formed around community over individualism that eschews change for change’s sake (conservative in the traditional, not modern, sense) but believes we do things together and forge our society.

    Paradoxically, during the last 2 UK elections I have taken an online test to help you “understand where you fit”, and it’s come out Liberal Democrat every time (this might explain why Clegg took them into coalition with Cameron). In the last 3 Canadian elections I’ve voted New Democrat (social democratic party) twice and Green once, yet am happier with our Conservative government than I was with the Liberal ones before it.

    http://jumpleftstepright.wordpress.com/2012/03/29/competing-philosophies-of-government/ (Competing Philosophies of Government) and http://jumpleftstepright.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/being-conservative-doesnt-make-you-a-conservative-and-being-liberal-doesnt-make-you-a-liberal/ (Being conservative doesn’t make you a “Conservative” and being liberal doesn’t make you a “Liberal”) may help other readers make more sense of what I’ve said here.

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  3. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: Sarah Steegar • “Hi Lynne, Interesting post. I’ve always been a consistently left-leaning Independent. And I believe in being an Independent because, you’re right, people don’t want to discuss the issues. They want to stick to their party, and will contort their beliefs/arguments based on what that party is currently saying. (Not that I’m immune, but I try really hard to test my beliefs on an issue by, e.g., swapping out who-said-what in my head, to see if I still feel the same about an issue or stance someone has taken.) Anyhow, I’m always interested in the stories of people’s political development, especially having married a hard-Rightie (by European standards, though he was long a staunch admirer of Republicans. They have finally started to unnerve him though.) It was hard at first, because he was obsessed with politics, and he believes very opposite to what I do regarding party politics: I’m an Indie because “a party has to work for my vote, every time. I don’t work for them, they work for me”. He is completely opposite and will stick to whatever they say because – I have realized – they’ve won the “branding war” with him (and so many others). He sticks to his party no matter what because he trusts them. It’s that simple. And that’s how it seems to work these days. Clearly these underpinning beliefs about the place of the Party trickles down to all sorts of things we disagree on. But, most interestingly, when I can manage a conversation about an *issue*, and refrain from revealing which party said what (which is often not too hard since we now live abroad and he follows US politics less), we agree on many many issues. It’s only the Parties that pull us apart.

    I’m running off with the conversation now, but I find all of this fascinating and appreciate you sharing. I look forward to hearing what others have to say.”

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  4. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: Dr. SMG •” Very interesting blog Lynne. It reflects my own development. My family isn’t staunch anything, but I have to say that my view of how things are going in the US has definitely changed. I too have to be careful of what I say in terms of politics whenever I am in the US. I find it particularly interesting that for a country which emphases freedom of speech, there is really no freedom to speak. My observation is that many Americans have a terrible time with opposing opinions which makes discussion and reflection impossible. If you say you feel differently the standard response is: I’m allowed to have an opinion, which means: back-off! I never said this person wasn’t allowed to!! I listened to that person’s point of view and mine is different – but listening doesn’t mean accepting. So where is this pressure coming from?
    BTW, I have lived in Germany for 31 years – longer than I lived in the US, no it is natural that my attitudes will change with my age and experience.”

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  5. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Reply to Dr. SMG: What you say is very interesting regarding the people who say, “I’m allowed to have an opinion!” I have noticed the same thing. No one said they weren’t allowed to speak up. Perhaps they are actually reacting, in saying that, to other people in the past who have tried to censor them speaking up or expressing any opinion differing from those around them. What ever happened to debating both sides of an issue? I feel as if Americans are reverting to Cold War days the way Communism and Communists were viewed, in terms of shunning anyone who questions the majority viewpoints. It’s very strange.

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  6. Judy Says:

    I would say that living overseas has changed my view of politics generally, not just of my home country. In general it has moved me more to the left of centre as, like you, I’ve witnessed how “stuck” some people are with their lot in life. It’s emphasized to me how privileged I am, thanks to an accident of birth. My eyes have also been opened to how people other countries view the world and that different ways of doing things are not necessarily “wrong,” they’re just different. During our first overseas assignment in the former soviet republic of Azerbaijan I had long discussions with a woman my age about our lives as children and all the things we were told about life in the other’s country. It was a revelation to me to discover how much propaganda I had been exposed to in a so-called free and democratic society.

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  7. futureexpat Says:

    I’ve not been abroad long enough to know whether it will impact my political views or not (been here for 3 whole weeks now!). However, I was pretty disillusioned with US politics before my move, and I’m quite distressed to meet numbers of Americans here who still staunchly watch the biased entertainment that they accept as “news” on TV and believe everything that channel tells them. I had hoped to find more open minds among overseas expats.

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  8. futureexpat Says:

    I’ve not lived abroad long enough to have changed my opinions much (only 3 weeks). I was pretty disillusioned with the divisiveness of US politics, and I’m been distressed to see how many US expats here still staunchly watch the biased entertainment that passes as “news” on US TV and believe everything it tells them. I had expected expats to be more open minded.

    I don’t know about the rest of the world, but people in the US seem to have completely lost their critical thinking skills.

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  9. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: F.W.A.• “Great article. I can’t answer your question. But I do know that the extreme right wing and its influence is finding a way to widen the racial chasm.”

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  10. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: L.L. • “Lynne – I also appreciated your post.

    I don’t know if it was living abroad that altered my political philosophy or just an internal curiosity and a questioning nature. I was raised in a very conservative family as well, but I always questioned their pronouncements. And while in college I – as so many students do – explored the other end of the spectrum.

    I have moderated my views over time and now think that writers such a David Brooks & Nicholas Kristof (NYT) best capture my political perspective. Ultimately, I believe international experiences can, and frequently do, dislodge deep seated pre-conceived notions and unquestioned cultural assumptions, but travel is not enough. Experience needs to be accompanied by reflection.

    Thanks for initiating the conversation.”

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  11. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: F.L. • “A wise reflection, Lori…

    As a Brazilian who has lived in the US and now lives in The Netherlands, having lived most of my life in Brazil, I can say that my view of Brazilian politics has indeed changed. Plus, the more I understand about cultures, the more my perspective has changed about politics anywhere (in the US, in NL and elsewhere).

    I have many American friends who expressed a similar opinion (about not feeling free to speak their mind in their own country). It seems that some Americans feel threatened by debate… Not all Americans are like that, fortunately, but it does shock me to find that in a culture which is all about freedom, there are many who regard the expression of opinion as a personal threat… I tend to think that the ones who feel more threatened are actually those who have had less exposure to different cultures and different points of view. This phenomenon can be seen also in other countries, not only in the US.”

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  12. Lynne Diligent Says:

    Fernando, I found your comments about Brazil very interesting. I also found your comment about the United States very interesting, being a culture that is all about freedom now having so many people who are afraid to speak their minds in public. I guess I’m not the only person feeling this way, but it captures how I, too, feel when speaking with other Americans back home, or from back home.

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  13. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: J.C. • “Of course my politics have changed! A bit of background first. Like Lynn, I was raised in an upper middle class environment that was not only Republican, but also military, I considered myself fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I moved to Seattle in 1992′ which started my move left, and then abroad in 1998. My circle of friends was very international and the discussion of politics was like a sport. This, combined with real life experience and observation exposed me to different realities and stripped away much of the spin and propaganda that we are fed in the US. Then comes the Republican party’s hard shift to the right. Now, I embrace the label of Liberal. 20 years ago, my attitudes would have put me in the moderate camp, but unfortunately, the world has changed. Living abroad has taught me that just because something is different doesn’t mean that it is wrong. There are things that work in different societies that could be tweaked to improve America. Living abroad has also taught me to think critically about my home society, see its beauty as well as its warts. Seeing this allows me to make better choices. I am thankful for that.”

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  14. Selah Gitlin Says:

    Very interesting post, Lynn! I grew up in a strongly liberal, Democratic family in Michigan, where as a teen I witnessed the impact Japanese auto manufacturing had on the Detroit “Big Three” auto companies. After college (1989), I taught English as a Foreign Language in Finland, France, and England, and lived in Ireland for many years after that, where I owned my own business. I lived through plenty of strikes, and paid some pretty high tax and went through some tedious bureaucracy, but also benefitted from universal health care and other good things for being a legal, working taxpayer in these countries.

    I returned to America in 2003 and the country was almost unrecognizable in the ways it had changed politically. The rhetoric was shrill, fear-based and mean-spirited, and the worst excesses of the Patriot Act were playing out. I then bore the brunt of the real estate bubble and the subsequent burst, by buying a house in Nevada in 2004, which is now valued at 60% less than what I paid for it, and is unsellable. My husband was laid off and we both lost our medical benefits at work, among other perks.

    We moved to Israel just three months ago and I am so relieved to be in a place where we can have health insurance! When I met my husband in 2006, I kept telling him that the U.S. was great in many ways, but that other countries were much more humane towards its own citizens, and that I couldn’t wait to leave. It took us six years, but we did it and are not looking back. But since we still have to pay U.S. taxes, we also fill in our absentee ballot forms and will keep having a (tiny) say in the American democratic landscape.

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  15. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: G.S. • “When I first read your question, Lynne. My spontaneous reaction was, “Don’t get me started!” In fact, this is more of a reaction to my present state of political upset, rather than a response to how have my politics changed, or how do I see politics as a result of living abroad. So yesterday I sat down to a pastis at a sidewalk café in Cannes and reflected my political history into my tape recorder for about half an hour. Here are the headlines:

    Born into an immigrant family in northern Ohio in the USA, I grew up with the Democrat mother and a Republican father who always chided each other at election time with something like, “There’s no sense in us going to vote, because your vote will always cancel out mine.” They did go to vote however with a great sense of responsibility. My dad became a small business person, who was driven, as many immigrant children were, by the urge to be as American as possible, having suffered in his youth both religious and ethnic bias. This drift to the right I’ve noticed repeatedly as part of the assimilation process of second-generation immigrant families, the need to become “more American than the Americans” –part of the fulfillment of the “American dream”. My mother on the other hand, who entered the labor force at age thirteen, kept her lifelong political focus on the well-being of the working class.

    The real influence in my formative years, however, was the anti-Communist propaganda of the McCarthy era. I did not connect this with the Right at the time, only later. In retrospect, it was my first experience of the importance of politics run by a discourse of fear, which is a mainstay of our political system to this very moment. For me it took going away to high school and college in other parts of the country to begin to frame a political stance and a critical perspective, a stand against exploitation of people, against war and “true believerism.” I became somewhat of an activist in my college years first in the civil rights movement, but also with some hints of what was to come in our engagement in Vietnam. I had two Vietnamese classmates, who, to a great degree in vain, attempted to share a different perspective on US involvement there.

    When my life took the turn of considerable travel and finally living abroad in several countries, I was already in my late 30s. Again, as in going away to school, it was interaction with the people around me that broadened my outlook on the implications of US politics for other parts of the world. Today what I find most significant living abroad is the availability media of all sorts of perspectives. My conviction is that US Americans are not dumb but all to many are kept in ignorance and fear with a great degree of political and marketing manipulation. This continues to try to globalize itself with the ongoing illusion that the American way is the best way. During the Bush era family and friends kept asking me, “Aren’t you afraid to live in France?! They hate Americans.” Almost every USian I knew living in France has been asked the same question. I didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry, so I did both and in fact now do both regularly as I observe the US political, economic and military scene–the prevailing discourse of perpetual war–in the run-up to next year’s elections. The stakes have never been greater, and the discourse is as pitiful as it is frightening.”

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    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      George, I found your last paragraph particularly insightful and interesting. I get asked exactly the same question living in North Africa, and I find many American’s attitudes back home just as you describe them.

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  16. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: T.S. • “I was quite young when I came to live in France – 26. I was and am a registered independent in the US. When I encountered French ideas regarding social benefits, they made sense to me. For example, I liked the idea that the wealthy paid higher taxes, but do not have to pay more for health coverage. If we earn more, we pay a higher percentage of taxes, but we shouldn’t have to pay more for health coverage, because wealthy people are not necessarily more sick. I took comfort in knowing that my basic needs are met here, even if that means paying higher taxes, which I definitely dislike, especially as a small business owner. However, the US Republican – and Libertarian arguments to have absolute minimal involvement in people’s lives, providing a minimum of guarantees and protection do not resonate with me at all (I do like the Libertarian ideas of decreasing defense budgets and social tolerance). People need to realize that lower taxes translates to less common/shared wealth. At the same time, I have remained very American to the core, in terms of the accountability of public officers and fiscal responsibility, which I do not sense are given the same importance in France. In fact, in the US, this has greatly decreased in the past 20 years. France was very partisan when I arrived – still is – and America has now entered into this black-and-white party politics.

    I think the greatest advantage in living a bicultural life – and in studying interculture – is to have a basis for comparison. The perspective of stepping outside one’s own culture allows us to better see the influences that are out there and that are being used to influence people. It gives us a broader perspective, allowing us more ideas and experiences to reflect upon and decide what fits best with who we are deep within.”

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    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      Terri, your experience is very interesting and I agree with you that lower taxes comes a greater disparity in wealth between the rich and the poor. I think it is divisive for society. I can see this question from both sides, but I think the French solution is more humane.

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  17. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: J.R. • “Living in another culture will always change your political ideas, unless you are completely insensitive to what is going on around you. I come from a pleasant middle-class south east England background, with a happy childhood under a Conservative (right of centre) government. I thought that what politicians said must be true, and that there was only one way of running a country – the British parliamentary democracy way. When the Labour party came back into power in the 1960s, I was at university, where I mixed with people from other backgrounds (from the nobility to sons of miners) and I discovered that there were plenty of politicians who were strangers to truth, and that there are plenty of ways to run a country. Even within my own national culture I was coming up against people and events that were changing my ideas: politics and political thought is one of the major drivers of what makes a culture, so I suppose I should not have been surprised.

    Living overseas, mainly in Asia, for a dozen years in the seventies and eighties, broadened my ideas on colonialism (Hong Kong and Singapore), on Communism (China) and on extreme right wing politics (South Korea at the time, and on the fringes in Japan). I would have been a very dull soul indeed if my views were not changed by what I was seeing and hearing on the television and reading in the local press day after day. My brother lived in South Africa in the 80s, when apartheid was the law, and his political views certainly changed radically during his first years there.

    What I have learnt is that there is no “right” way of doing things in politics. Democracy is not the only “good” way of running a country, and those who try to impose ideas that work in one culture on another culture are doomed to failure. I fear that the Americans -who have the most opportunity to fail – are the ones who fail most when it comes to preaching political colonialism.

    By the way, it is interesting to learn that President Obama has been learning to adapt his speech to appear more like the common man. For generations, British politicians tried to sound as though they were naturally members of the ruling class, speaking with a couple of kilos of plums in their mouths. Clement Attlee, Margaret Thatcher and Jim Callaghan all took care to hide their humble roots behind a smart accent. But these days, since the Blair years, politicians have all taken time to dumb down their pronunciation, to appear more in touch with the rest of us. The glottal stop now rules – even Eton-educated sons of earls talk of “vo’ers” and “the Cabin-e'” rather than ‘voters’ and ‘the Cabinet’.

    Image is everything in politics. That seems to be the only constant around the world.”

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  18. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: T.S.• “Thank you, Jonathan, for adding a non-US perspective to the conversation! I agree that there is no one way to do politics and more broadly speaking, there is always a flip side to a positive solution – and vice versa.

    I had meant to react to George’s post in mine regarding the war-mongering and fear-factoring present in American politics. I believe that this is a result of our beginnings and the belief we must be able to stand up against the (British, originally) establishment. We have an innate (although likely unjustifiable) fear of invasion by foreign forces (not foreigners, since most of us have been at one time). This is why the right to bear arms is so essential to the American mentality (don’t think I’d ever want to own a gun, personally). I had always felt this when people say ‘only the police should be armed’ and I couldn’t help but think – ‘why should we trust the police?’

    Before moving to France, I’d always considered the U.S. federal government as an entity to fear. In France, I was immediately struck by the impression that the French consider their government the “mère patrie” – a mothering institution who is there to protect and nourish. For Americans, the Feds are there just to take our money and make sure we walk the straight line. There is a real distrust. I began to think about what government should be.

    A final experience I wanted to share comes from a comparative government class I took as a journalism student in Boston. During an exam, we were supposed to analyze communism and compare it to capitalism. I was shocked when my professor seemed to actually take the side of communism (while in fact he was only presenting arguments that I had lacked to provide). Looking back, I am quite sure I had favored capitalism in my remarks because I was sure that’s what he would want to hear.

    Today part of my professional activity takes me into a university with a high-immigrant population near Paris. When we speak about the role of government, I often hear answers like “it’s for wealth redistribution” “to help the poor” and the like. Of course, their answers reflect their own experiences. In other neighborhoods, I would get different answers.”

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    • Lynne Diligent Says:

      –Terri, your comments about the French and their feelings toward their government are very revealing. I feel this goes a long way toward explaining why the French ask us questions such as, “Why wouldn’t you want the government running health care?” They are viewing the government as nurturing, and serving the people; whereas, you are right, in America, we distrust and fear government since colonial times. I never thought of it this way. Very enlightening.

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  19. Lynne Diligent Says:

    From LinkedIn: M.C. •” I was born in Argentina, moved to New York in 1991 and built my professional life there. Then I went back to Córdoba (Argentina) for 2 years, during which I matured my political views about my first home country and my current home country (USA).

    I grew up as a conservative moderate, a trend that continued in my second life in America. During my 2 years in Argentina, I started to remember why I had left: dysfunctional, nepotistic politics, unreported corruption, demagoguery and propaganda. At the time (mid 80s) I relied on the foreign press (mostly CNN) to get a more balanced view. Even before I moved to America, I was of the opinion that the Falkland Islands should be left alone by the Argentine government, and move on.

    You see, Argentine politics are all about living in the past, reminiscing about the fascist regimes that brought free houses to the poor but generated a rightwing military backlash (juntas militares). Now in America, my moderate conservatism moved slightly left and became more liberal and independent. Now I’m a registered Democrat, but I reserve the right to return to being an independent, given the current gridlock between the parties.”

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  20. Lynne Diligent Says:

    LinkedIn: from S.S. • “Having lived in Switzerland under a health insurance program very similar to the one recently passed here in the US, I find it incredible and sad that the American public (52% of independent voters, by the latest poll) has been manipulated into being against the new policy. It is not perfect, but it is such a step in the right direction that it deserves to be supported and appreciated.”

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