Archive for June, 2009
25 Jun 2009

Sarychev Peak, Kuril Islands

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Just by good luck, the International Space Station happened to be passing over Sarychev Peak on Matua Island in the Kuril Islands on June 12th at the perfect time to allow astronauts to photograph its volcanic eruption.

NASA Earth Observatory

Hat tip to Karen L. Myers.

25 Jun 2009

June 24th: Mullahs Crackdown on Protests

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Iranian woman describes regime brutality in Baharestan Square, Teheran CNN 4:04 video

Snipers firing on protesters 0:59 video

Irish reporter abducted, forced to leave Iran.

70 professors arrested for meeting with Moussavi.

24 Jun 2009

Obama Angry at the Press, Answering Planted Question from HuffPo

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Walter Shapiro finds that Barack Obama’s customarily deft public performance deteriorates markedly when he encounters negative questioning.

(I)n response to the next question – about the potential consequences if Iran continued to suppress demonstrations – Obama said with a sharp edge in his voice, “We don’t know yet how this thing is going to play out. I know everybody here is on a 24-hour news cycle. I’m not. Okay?”

Now I am not going to claim that the First Amendment requires presidents always to wear smiley faces when taking questions from reporters. Nor am I going to deny that occasionally – very occasionally – the short-term mindset of the press pack can be irritating for presidents with a more transcendent view of global events.

Instead, I am bringing this up because I want to tentatively advance a larger theory about the president’s public moods. Obama tends to drop his cool veneer and sound exasperated when he knows that he is in the wrong.
When it comes to Iran, Obama has at times spoken in particularly mealy mouthed fashion because he is fearful (as he has repeatedly explained) that his words could be hijacked by the Iranian theocrats. Even during Tuesday’s press conference, Obama ducked condemning the Iranian election as totally fraudulent by carefully saying, “We didn’t have international observers on the ground. We can’t say definitely what happened at polling places throughout the country.” Obama – who more than most leaders understands the power of inspirational rhetoric – has been forced to keep his most potent weapon (his moral outrage) sheathed through most of the Iranian crisis.

But it was on a far smaller matter (and not one that often comes up during his morning national security briefings) that Obama really put his ire on the fire. What set the president off was a question trying to link Obama’s own smoking history with new legislation giving the FDA the power to regulate nicotine. In response, Obama claimed that the reporter just thought that it was “neat to ask me about my smoking, as opposed to it being relevant to my new law. But that’s fine. I understand. It’s a interesting human — it’s a interesting human-interest story.” (Words alone cannot convey Obama’s mocking tone and his obvious disdain for this “human-interest story.”)

Smoking, of course, is the secret vice that humanizes Obama. He cannot be that perfect – that in control of himself – if he cannot kick his yen to inhale carcinogenic smoke. Obama, in fact, likened himself (maybe a bit melodramatically) to “folks who go to AA.” Small wonder Obama becomes annoyed when he is asked for a monthly update on his cigarette consumption.
The truth is that the Obama White House certainly does not resist human-interest stories when they portray the president in a favorable glow. Obama’s grumpiness about the smoking question was not about an intrusive boxers-or-briefs press corps, but about the president’s own frailties.

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Which probably explains why the President preferred, with respect to the sensitive topic of Iran, to answer a previously-arranged softball question from an editor of the Huffington Post.

In what appeared to be a coordinated exchange, President Obama called on the Huffington Post’s Nico Pitney near the start of his press conference and requested a question directly about Iran.

“Nico, I know you and all across the Internet, we’ve been seeing a lot of reports coming out of Iran,” Obama said, addressing Pitney. “I know there may actually be questions from people in Iran who are communicating through the Internet. Do you have a question?”

Pitney, as if ignoring what Obama had just said, said: “I wanted to use this opportunity to ask you a question directly from an Iranian.”

He then noted that the site had solicited questions from people in the country “who were still courageous enough to be communicating online.”

“Under which conditions would you accept the election of Ahmadinejad, and if you do accept it without any significant changes in the conditions there, isn’t that a betrayal of the — of what the demonstrators there are working towards?”

Reporters typically don’t coordinate their questions for the president before press conferences, so it seemed odd that Obama might have an idea what the question would be. Also, it was a departure from White House protocol by calling on The Huffington Post second, in between the AP and Reuter. …

The Huffington Post reporter was brought out of lower press by deputy press secretary Josh Earnest and placed just inside the barricade for reporters a few minutes before the start of the press conference.

24 Jun 2009

Great Game: Point, US

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The Washington Post reports that a cool $180 million in US cash succeeded in changing the mind of the government of Kyrgyzstan, and the US will be allowed to retain use of a airbase vital for supplying military efforts in Afghanistan, Russia’s most recent $2 billion aid bribe to close US bases notwithstanding.

Russia was tricked by Kyrgyzstan over a deal with the United States to keep open a key air base in Central Asia, a Russian diplomat was quoted as saying by local media on Wednesday.

The United States has agreed to pay $180 million to Kyrgyzstan to keep open the last remaining U.S. air base in Central Asia which is used to supply troops fighting Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan.

Washington had been haggling to keep the base open since February, when the former Soviet republic announced its closure after securing pledges of $2 billion in aid and credit from Russia.

Moscow has made no secret of seeking to check U.S. interests in the former Soviet Union which it regards as its sphere of

The Kommersant newspaper quoted an unidentified Russian diplomat as saying Moscow viewed the U.S. move as a trick and that Russia would soon make an “adequate response” to the deal.

“The news about keeping the base was a very unpleasant surprise for us — we did not expect such a trick,” the diplomat said.

Russia’s move: February 5th posting.

23 Jun 2009

Family of Victim Charged $3000 For Bullets

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Haaretz.com:

The family of an Iranian man killed in a demonstration against the country’s contested presidential election has been ordered to pay the equivalent of $3,000 for the bullets that took his life. …

Kaveh Alipour, 19, was shot in the head in downtown Tehran on Saturday during one of the most violent clashes between protesters and security forces since the riots began last week.

Iranian authorities later told the family they would not turn over the slain man’s body for burial until they received compensation for the bullets security forces used to shoot him.

Officials finally surrendered the request after the family argued it did not have that much money in possession, but said that the man could not be buried within the city limits.

23 Jun 2009

Three Rules of Obama

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Michael Barone has been studying the Divine One’s leadership and has identified a few distinctive characteristics of governance Obama-style.

(L)et me offer my Three Rules of Obama.

First, Obama likes to execute long-range strategies but suffers from cognitive dissonance when new facts render them inappropriate. His 2008 campaign was a largely flawless execution of a smart strategy, but he was flummoxed momentarily when the Russians invaded Georgia and when John McCain picked Sarah Palin as his running mate. On domestic policy, he has been executing his long-range strategy of vastly expanding government, but may be encountering problems as voters show unease at huge increases on spending.

His long-range strategy of propitiating America’s enemies has been undercut by North Korea’s missile launches and demonstrations in Iran against the mullah regime’s apparent election fraud. His assumption that friendly words could melt the hearts of Kim Jong Il and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have been refuted by events. He limits himself to expressing “deep concern” about the election in the almost surely vain hope of persuading the mullahs to abandon their drive for nuclear weapons, while he misses his chance to encourage the one result — regime change — that could protect us and our allies from Iranian attack.

Second, he does not seem to care much about the details of policy. He subcontracted the stimulus package to congressional appropriators, the cap-and-trade legislation to Henry Waxman and Edward Markey, and his health care program to Max Baucus. The result is incoherent public policy: indefensible pork barrel projects, a carbon emissions bill that doesn’t limit carbon emissions from politically connected industries, and a health care program priced by the Congressional Budget Office at a fiscally unfeasible $1,600,000,000,000.

He quickly announced the closing of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and now finds his administration begging the likes of Palau and Bermuda to take a few detainees off its hands. His acceptance of Arabist insistence that all problems in the Middle East can be solved by getting an Israeli-Palestinian settlement has put us in the absurd position of pressuring Israel not to expand settlements by a single square meter but pledging not to “meddle” in Iran.

Third, he does business Chicago-style. His first political ambition was to be mayor of Chicago, the boss of all he surveyed; he has had to settle for the broader but less complete hegemony of the presidency. From Chicago he brings the assumption that there will always be a bounteous private sector that can be plundered endlessly on behalf of political favorites. Hence the government takeover of General Motors and Chrysler to bail out the United Auto Workers, the proposal for channeling money from the private nonprofits to the government by limiting the charitable deduction for high earners, the plan for expanding government (and public employee union rolls) by instituting universal pre-kindergarten.

Chicago-style, he has kept the Republicans out of serious policy negotiations but has allowed left-wing Democrats to veto a measure upholding his own decision not to release interrogation photos. While promising a politics of mutual respect, he peppers both his speeches and impromptu responses with jabs at his predecessor. Basking in the adulation of nearly the entire press corps, he whines about his coverage on Fox News. Those who stand in the way, like the Chrysler secured creditors, are told that their reputations will be destroyed; those who expose wrongdoing by political allies, like the AmeriCorps inspector general, are fired.

Read the whole thing.

23 Jun 2009

Nationalizing American Health Care

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Doug Ross sounds the alarm as democrats begin efforts to take control of your health care.

(N)ow the Statist Democrats are launching the most massive attack on the American people in the history of government.

They promise health care for everyone, but they will not — and they can’t possibly — deliver it.

While our health care system is certainly imperfect — because all humans are imperfect, including doctors, nurses, hospitals and insurance companies — they are more perfect, more competent, more informed, more capable than all of the bureaucrats to whom they’ll be forced to report: a bureaucracy that will make all decisions about your health care.

And it is easy to confirm the havoc that socialized medicine will wreak on American society. All you need to do is to look at how Democrats are trying to ram home socialized medicine: they’re doing it as fast as possible with as little debate as possible. For the indigent and the poor, we already have programs like Medicaid and SCHIP and dozens of state programs. Yet we’re told tens of millions of us must give up our private insurance and pay for a government-run program.

Democrats claim it will be more cost-effective and efficient. … The man who’s had the least experience at running anything is going to unleash the most massive federal leviathan in history, nationalizing nearly 20% of the economy.

This has been the dream of the Statist Democrats since FDR: to force each and every one of you, whether you like it or not, into a strait-jacket form of health care. It controls you; the actual being, the person.

Nameless, faceless bureaucrats substituting their decisions for those of your doctor.

Deciding whether you will have an operation or not. Whether you will have an MRI or not. Whether you will receive a life-saving, life-extending drug or not.

And we know this, because this is what occurs in Canada and Britain and other centralized bureaucracies, where you simply can not have access to advanced health care, period.

Where will their new drugs come from, since we produce half of them? Who will invent the new medical technologies for them, since we invent roughly three-fourths of them?

Who will run the hospitals and what will they look like when the government unions run them? …

They’ve been lying about the number of people without health care. They’ve been lying about whether the public is satisfied with health care. They’ve been lying about every aspect of health care.

They unleashed the slip-and-fall lawyers on the medical system, causing untold higher costs for medical practitioners. They’ve attacked the health care system relentlessly, driving up costs just like they’ve attacked the energy industry and the automakers.

And even when they have complete monopolistic control of a system, like the educational system in America, they want more control. It’s never enough. They want more money, more regulations. More. They need to “invest”. They need to raise taxes. They need to repress. They need to compel.

Read the whole thing.

Hat tip to the News Junkie.

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David B. Rivkin Jr and Lee A. Casey
, in the Wall Street Journal, argue that, if the 14th Amendment protects a “central right of privacy” entitling freedom of choice on abortion, wouldn’t the same right protect freedom of choice in health care generally, precluding government confiscation, redistribution, and subsequent rationing of individual health care resources?

The Supreme Court created the right to privacy in the 1960s and used it to strike down a series of state and federal regulations of personal (mostly sexual) conduct. This line of cases began with Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 (involving marital birth control), and includes the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

The court’s underlying rationale was not abortion-specific. Rather, the justices posited a constitutionally mandated zone of personal privacy that must remain free of government regulation, except in the most exceptional circumstances. As the court explained in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992), “these matters, involving the most intimate and personal choices a person may make in a lifetime, choices central to personal dignity and autonomy, are central to the liberty protected by the Fourteenth Amendment. At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and the mystery of human life.”

It is, of course, difficult to imagine choices more “central to personal dignity and autonomy” than measures to be taken for the prevention and treatment of disease — measures that may be essential to preserve or extend life itself. Indeed, when the overwhelming moral issues that surround the abortion question are stripped away, what is left is a medical procedure determined to be “necessary” by an expectant mother and her physician.

If the government cannot proscribe — or even “unduly burden,” to use another of the Supreme Court’s analytical frameworks — access to abortion, how can it proscribe access to other medical procedures, including transplants, corrective or restorative surgeries, chemotherapy treatments, or a myriad of other health services that individuals may need or desire?

Read the whole thing.

22 Jun 2009

Holden Caulfield in Worse Trouble Than Ever

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The Times reports that the Holden Caulfield alienation franchise is currently under attack by brand infringement.

(Last Wednesday,) a federal judge granted a temporary restraining order forbidding publication in the United States of “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye,” a takeoff on — J. D. Salinger’s lawyers say rip-off of — “The Catcher in the Rye,” written by a young Swedish writer styling himself J. D. California.

Until the judge makes her final ruling, Mr. Salinger’s fans will be spared the prospect of encountering Holden Caulfield, the ultimate alienated teenager, as a lonely old codger who escapes from a retirement home and his beloved younger sister, Phoebe, as a drug addict sinking into dementia.

But, matters are far worse than that: poor Holden’s 1950s vocabulary and teenage preoccupations have grown out-of-date, and nobody even feels sorry for him any more.

Holden may have bigger problems than the insults of irreverent parodists and other “phonies,” as Holden would put it. Even as Mr. Salinger, who is 90 and in ailing health, seeks to keep control of his most famous creation, there are signs that Holden may be losing his grip on the kids.

“The Catcher in the Rye,” published in 1951, is still a staple of the high school curriculum, beloved by many teachers who read and reread it in their own youth. The trouble is today’s teenagers. Teachers say young readers just don’t like Holden as much as they used to. What once seemed like courageous truth-telling now strikes many of them as “weird,” “whiny” and “immature.”

The alienated teenager has lost much of his novelty, said Ariel Levenson, an English teacher at the Dalton School on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Holden’s home turf. She added that even the students who liked the book tend to find the language — “phony,” “her hands were lousy with rocks,” the relentless “goddams” — grating and dated.

“Holden Caulfield is supposed to be this paradigmatic teenager we can all relate to, but we don’t really speak this way or talk about these things,” Ms. Levenson said, summarizing a typical response. At the public charter school where she used to teach, she said, “I had a lot of students comment, ‘I can’t really feel bad for this rich kid with a weekend free in New York City.’ ”

22 Jun 2009

Cigarette Control and Speech Control

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Steve Chapman, writing in Reason, notes that Congress just proved all over again that our elected representatives never believe in letting the Bill of Rights get in the way of saving Americans from themselves.

(T)he tobacco regulation bill recently passed by Congress indicates that the spirit of liberty is even scarcer than usual in the halls of government.

What motivates advocates of stricter tobacco regulation is the unassailable assurance that they are not only completely right but that their opponents are a) wrong and b) evil. This invigorating certitude makes it possible to justify almost anything that punishes cigarette companies, even if it does no actual good—or does actual harm.

One of the main purposes of the new law is to reduce the number of smokers in the name of improving “public health.” This is a skillful use of language to confuse rather than enlighten.

An individual decision to take up cigarettes is a private event, not a public one, and its health effects are almost entirely confined to the individual making the choice. …
Cigarette makers are forbidden to use color in ads in any publication whose readership is less than 85 percent adult. They are barred from using music in audio ads. They are not allowed to use pictures in video ads. They may not put product names on race cars, lighters, caps, or T-shirts. From all this, you almost forget the fleeting passage in the Constitution that says “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”

When it gets in a mood to regulate, Congress doesn’t like to trouble itself with nuisances like the First Amendment. In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled it was unconstitutional for Massachusetts to ban outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of any schools and playgrounds. So what does this law do? It bans outdoor ads within 1,000 feet of schools and playgrounds.

The Court said the Massachusetts law was intolerable because it choked off communication about a legal activity. “In some geographical areas,” complained Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, “these regulations would constitute nearly a complete ban on the communication of truthful information about smokeless tobacco and cigars to adult consumers.”

But to anti-smoking zealots, that effect is not a bug but a feature. The only problem they have with imposing “nearly a complete ban” is the “nearly” part.

Read the whole thing.

22 Jun 2009

Neda’s Death Becames Symbol of Iranian Rebellion

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The video of the young woman’s death was originally posted on Facebook, where it has been since deleted, by by an Iranian expatriate in Holland who said it was sent to him by a friend in Tehran, a doctor who tried to save the shooting victim’s life. It was captioned as follows:

0:53 video

At 19:05 June 20th

Place: Karekar Ave., at the corner crossing Khosravi St. and Salehi st.

A young woman who was standing aside with her father watching the protests was shot by a basij member hiding on the rooftop of a civilian house. He had clear shot at the girl and could not miss her. However, he aimed straight her heart. I am a doctor, so I rushed to try to save her. But the impact of the gunshot was so fierce that the bullet had blasted inside the victim’s chest, and she died in less than 2 minutes.

The protests were going on about 1 kilometers away in the main street and some of the protesting crowd were running from tear gass (sic) used among them, towards Salehi St. The film is shot by my friend who was standing beside me. Please let the world know.”

The video was republished repeatedly on YouTube, and quickly seen by countless viewers who learned of it on Tweeter.

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Mainstream media outlets, like Time and CNN have recognized the electrifying impact of the tragic images of her death and their potency as a symbol of of the brutality of the current dictatorship.

“RIP NEDA, The World cries seeing your last breath, you didn’t die in vain. We remember you.”

That Twitter post was from a man who said he is a guitarist from Nashville, Tennessee.

Amid the hundreds of images of Saturday’s crackdown on protesters in Iran that were distributed to the world over the Internet, it was the graphic video showing the dying moments of a young woman shot in the heart that touched a nerve for many people around the world.

Like most of the information coming out of Tehran, it is impossible to verify her name, Neda, or the circumstances of her apparent death, which was captured close-up on a bystander’s camera. …

It shows a woman in jeans and white sneakers collapsed on the street, as the person with the camera — most likely from a cell phone — runs toward her and focuses on her face.

One blogger posted that Neda was protesting with her father in Tehran when pro-government Basiji militia opened fire and shot her.

“The final moments of her tender young life leaked into the pavement of Karegeh Street today, captured by cell phone cameras,” the unnamed blogger posted on Newsvine.com. “And not long after, took on new life, flickering across computer screens around the world on YouTube, and even CNN.”

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Even one blogger at the normally cynical Gawker found himself haunted by the video.

I first saw the video of Neda’s death on Sunday afternoon at around 2PM. For the remainder of the day and up to this point, I’ve failed every effort, and there have been many, to get it out of my head. Even when I went to the gym late in the day, a place of solace where I’m usually able to blast music in my ears while exercising and just forget about everything going on in the outside world, I found myself unable to remove Neda from my mind.

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Wikipedia entry

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A candlelight vigil was held last night for Neda in front of the University in the Pasdaran district

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Regime cancels Neda’s funeral at prestigious mosque.

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mahmoudg blames a Hamas or Hezbollah sniper.

When you look at the video footage before Neda was shot, you can see that her death is the result of a sniper targeting the crowd from a secure location. Where the bullet entered her body (upper Torso) and the number of people around her is a sure signature of a professional soldier’s work. Now, there are only a few armies in the world that have trained soldiers for this type of work. America, Russia and China to name a few. None of these and others are likely suspects. The Iranian army does not need nor has been training for this type of surgical operations or clandestine needs. So who does that leave? The evidence points to the Hamas and/or Hezbollah Terrorist snipers who have been training for decades in the Bekaa Valley with the Iranian money. We have known for some time that Arabs have been imported into Iran from Palestine and Lebanon, trained to be markesmen to take out Israeli Soldiers. Today we saw that the time and money spend on these Arab murderors by their Arab bosses who are ruling Iran has paid off. They sniped the crowd and picked out this innocent girl to murder. The one thing they did not count on, was the world to take notice. The act would take a life of its own. Now the world knows that unless the Arabs are stopped, Iran and soon the world will start to burn.

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Alleged shooter of Neda Soltani, identified as Sattar Najafi.

Neda’s alleged shooter identified on Twitter. There is no confirmation, of course. Whoever it was had to be a coward and a villain to shoot to kill deliberately an unarmed and defenseless woman.

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Original posted link to 0:37 version of the video on 6/21.

21 Jun 2009

My Kind of Candidate: Nulo

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The New York Times has a report today indicating that Mexico has a lot more in common with the United States than is generally recognized.

With Mexico’s midterm elections two weeks away, the most spirited campaigning has been for a candidate with no name, no face and no particular policy positions. Call him Nulo.

Nulo — Spanish for null and void — is drawing support from disgruntled Mexicans who say the country’s politicians are focused more on their own power games than on the people they are supposed to serve. So, instead of urging voters to throw their weight behind any of the real candidates vying to be elected mayors, governors or members of Congress on July 5, Nulo’s backers are calling on Mexicans to nullify their ballots — and vote for no one at all.

“There have been campaigns like this in the past, but it’s never caught fire,” said Daniel Lund, president of the MUND Group, a Mexico City polling firm. “Now, it’s catching fire.”

Support for the Voto Nulo campaign has spread on the Internet, where supporters extol the virtues of sending Mexican political parties a stark message: Voting for nothing is better than backing the politicians currently running the country.

21 Jun 2009

Election Protesters Fired Upon in Tehran; Rafsanjani’s Daughter Arrested

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Official sources say 13 were killed yesterday in clashes between demonstrators and police.

AFP says “more than a hundred wounded.”

Basij headquarters blown up. 0:30 video

Iranian girl shot by basij 0:37 video

Latest street chants 1:49 video:

“Natarseen, Natarsee, Ma Hameh Baham Hasteem.”
“Don’t be afraid, don’t be afraid, We are all together.”

and

“Marg bar Dictator!”
“Down with the Dictator.”

Faezeh Hashemi, daughter of former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, arrested with four other relatives on Saturday.

Moussavi rumored under house arrest.

Iran security forces spreading disinformation via Twitter.

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