Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The Politics of Brexit and the NHS

Does Theresa May know what it means to be a Conservative? Is she sure she's in the right party? The whole farrago surrounding extra money for the NHS including the ridiculous £350 million we are supposedly going to get as a Brexit dividend is not fooling anyone. Labour were criticised at the last election for shaking the magic money tree and are now able to level the same charge at the Tories, albeit not especially credibly.

Does the NHS need more money? Of course it does. But then it always does. The NHS is a bottomless pit that is inefficient, often abused, taken for granted and trying to do too much. It is facing the pressures of a rising ageing population, ever more expensive drugs and treatments, a population that expects to be able to live as it pleases and have others pick up the consequences without cost to them. We are a nation that dispenses rights without expecting responsibility and that is feeding through to the NHS, which is picking up the pieces all too often.

The Government is telling us that this will be paid for by that illusory dividend - we are having to pay the EU £40 billion we don't owe in return for them behaving like a Russian oligarch's spurned wife and so there is no dividend for the foreseeable future - and with tax rises. The public are keen to inform politicians that they are happy to pay extra for the NHS. This is unlikely to be true. The public have an affection for the NHS, but why not ask them to pay for it more directly with higher prescription charges or charges for food in hospitals etc? Why? Because people would be furious. The same is true of taxes whatever anyone says to pollsters.

Many are saying that this money, welcome though it is, must not go without reform. But the NHS is unreformable for the same reason that we can't charge for it. It is badly designed and the product of utopian but wholly unrealistic dreams of post war politicians. No other advanced country in the world has followed our model for running health services. That is why it is so poor when compared to others. Yet we are stuck with it precisely because it has become a political football with the public blaming politicians for its failings instead of the service itself. It's not about money, or at least not to the extent that is assumed.

Theresa May's attempt to seize the political initiative on this will fail because she will not be given any credit for it. This is not the kind of visionary politics she thinks it is. It is a gesture. This money will be banked and the NHS will be back demanding more in a few years. Possibly even this winter.

Actually if May were the brave and Conservative leader she thinks she is she would use this opportunity as a stick to beat the EU with. There was a story yesterday that the EU Commission has banned regulators from negotiating a backstop position with the UK to keep the planes flying in the event of no deal. And they are supposedly not intent upon punishing us. The Prime Minister ought to be making angry speeches, not only aimed at the EU but at the wreckers in her own party who are so beholden to the idea of the EU - and it is a theory quite out of sync with the reality we keep seeing in practice - that they are prepared to keep pushing for a the so called meaningful vote that is a means of ensuring that we get what the EU dictates with no room for manoeuvre on our side.

The PM ought to be saying now that the EU is simply making meaningful negotiation impossible and so a meaningful vote on it is actually meaningless. And thus, she should say, the money they thought they had banked is now off the table. We prefer to spend it on ourselves, on our NHS instead, on paying for preparations for no deal, on paying for the new GPS system we will need now that the EU is trying to shut us out of the one we have been involved in creating. They still expect us to help defend them, to share vital intelligence against terrorists and Russia among others, but keep treating us like sinners, they keep behaving like the Catholic Church when we wouldn't do as we were told.

Theresa May is no doubt using this money, our money, as a way of bribing her Brexiteer Cabinet colleagues to look the other way as she prepares to concede yet again to her Remainer rebel alliance, a rebellion in alliance with the EU enemy. It is they who keep behaving like our enemy. They are trying to prevent us from leaving the EU, presumably want us to hand over our money to them and accept their laws in perpetuity, to leave in name only or possibly never to leave at all. If Theresa May doesn't stop playing nice with these quislings then the other rebels on the Brexit side need to force the issue. We need a Prime Minister who will lead. Spending money we haven't yet got on the NHS is not leading.

Yes We Kane!

I apologise for the tabloidesque headline above but football does that to even the best of us. Even my Mum watched the game. Why do we do it? Well, as ever, it's the hope that kills. And then they went and won. Bastards!

And it was all rather, what's the word, encouraging. Sure there were some dispiriting moments, not least delivered by a truly terrible limp refereeing performance and a supremely cynical Tunisian one. But this was an England team that started brightly, played some rather good football in the first quarter of the game and then kept plugging away, ploughing gamely on despite being up against a team that managed, thanks to an ultra generous referee, to draw level, and then barely ventured into the England half for the last 45 minutes. They at times also seemed to be engaged in a wrestling match rather than a football game, with their defenders hauling Harry Kane to the ground twice and yet somehow not conceding a game. As Rio Ferdinand said, it was a wonder they didn't hold him down for three seconds too. If the foul that Kyle Walker conceded for their penalty was harsh, then that makes indefensible the non decision not to give England two penalties.

And so it was simply natural justice that Kane popped up and poached that last gasp winner. England deserved to win. How refreshing to write those words.

Here's the thing, boys, nobody expects you to win the whole tournament, although you never know and nobody has looked too impressive thus far. But with a resilient performance like that we can all get behind you, enjoy the performance, moan at refereeing injustice and shrug if we simply get beaten by better footballers in the end. Or the Germans in a penalty shoot out. Just getting to the knockout stages now represents progress. So a low bar. Make us proud.

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Monday, 18 June 2018

Trump's Borderline Obsession Disorder

We have our issues with immigration in this country and the recent Windrush scandal, utterly indefensible as it was, was proof of that. Except of course, once the depths of that scandal were revealed, nobody defended it. They sought for a time to shift the blame on to officials admittedly and a minister had to resign for that. Since then the Government, not without some continued difficulties, has got a grip on the matter, apologised and urgently sought to address it. The scandal came about as unforeseen corollary of the policy to be tough on illegal immigration. It caught up people who were not here illegally but who could not prove it. It was a classic case of what you might call bureaucratic blindness.

Contrast that with what is currently happening in America right now when, as a matter of policy, one that the Attorney General has even sought to justify with quotes from scripture, children are being separated from their parents and put into child camps. These are families who are applying for asylum in America being forcibly separated as a kind of zero tolerance approach so that Donald Trump can look tough on the issue that so galvanises his base. Now though, as the optics of this have proven to be so disastrous, Trump has gone into his default mode and sought to lie about it and blame the Democrats and a law they supposedly passed.

To be clear: no such law exists. Trump has reversed the policy of his administration and enacted a new system for dealing with asylum seeking families at the border. He has done this to exert maximum pressure on the immigrants themselves and as a bargaining chip with Democrats in Congress as he tries to get funding for his asinine border wall and to get other immigration measures passed. This is a policy brought in this year, in just the last few weeks and so this is a measure of which Trump and the Republicans who control Congress and the administration, have full ownership. Trump has the right to do what he has done under existing laws. But he and only he has chosen to administer immigration in this way, this zero tolerance way. No other president of either party in the last 20 years has taken this approach. This is a Trump policy. Typically he cannot even be honest about his own signature policy, claiming that he hates it. Yet during the campaign and subsequently he boasted about how tough he was going to be on borders and immigration and this change was no doubt brought in with the November midterm elections in mind. Now he is pretending it has nothing to do with him because of the disgust or at least concern it has engendered across the political spectrum.

Over a six week period since Trump brought this measure in, 2000 children have been forcibly removed from their parents. It has been a disastrous policy that is typical of Trump's tin-eared, tunnel vision approach to all politics.

Now to be completely fair to Trump this is a response to a crisis that is happening on US borders. It is a crisis akin to that we have seen in Europe, in Italy, Greece, across the Mediterranean and even on a lesser scale in Calais. People traffickers try to make money out of human misery and create huge administrative problems for those areas on the border - countries in Europe or southern States in the United States. Trump and his Attorney General decided as a matter of policy to address this by sending out an uncompromising message of zero tolerance. His administration is prosecuting immigrants and treating them as criminals for crossing the US border, a infringement that was previously, under other administrations, both Democrat and Republican, treated as a misdemeanour. The corollary of that is that children must be separated from their parents since those parents are in prison.

The problem with such policies, as we found out here in the UK just a few weeks ago, is that they often have unfortunate consequences. Separating children from their families is actually an administrative measure put in place to address these issues and issues that have arisen as children cannot be held in custody while their asylum applications are considered and their parents face prosecution. But only under Trump has it been enacted in such a way as to forcibly remove children, some as young as two, from their families. That is a disaster on so many levels. That is not being tough, it is being wantonly cruel and irresponsible.

It is typical of Trump however that, instead of retreating graciously and admitting a mistake, he doubles down and blames it on someone else. Instead of looking again at the issue or simply reversing the policy under pressure he lies and makes insinuations about the intent of others. There is nothing wrong with wanting to cut immigration provided that it is done in a fair and transparent way.

Such has been the outcry over this that there probably will be a quiet reversal of the policy, or at least a softening of it. Trump likes to talk loudly about issues before retreating without acknowledging that that is what he is doing. Politicians in general see admitting being wrong or mistaken as a sign of weakness, when most of us see making mistakes as a fact of life. Trump lacks the maturity for such an outlook. Worse he lacks the ability to think things through in advance, to plan strategically and to have a clear policy on anything. This is just an issue of immigration and so he sees it in simplistic terms. This after all is the man who says it could all be solved by building a wall.

Immigration policy is a difficult issue, possibly an intractable one. But it is made worse by posturing politicians who think in terms of headlines and looking tough rather than by trying to find ways to genuinely address problems that cannot be magicked away. Just as on every other issue that crosses his desk, Trump cannot be bothered to do the work to understand and instinctively lies whenever the consequences of his own bovine policies blow up in his face.

Now on the one hand this may be something of concern but only tangential concern for those of us who are not being directly affected by Trump as our head of state and government. His serial inability to fully appreciate the nuances of policy and to create strategies to manage issues he has rightly identified are at best problematic and potentially dangerous for the whole world. This applies not only to the more obvious examples of his bone-headedness such as his trade war against the wrong enemies, his reality television international summit, his bromance with Putin that may or may not be so stunningly corrupt that even Republicans might condemn it. This president with the reverse Midas touch is turning to base metal or worse everything he touches, fatally undermining American standing in the world and may even begin the dismantlement of Nato. The man who so wants a Nobel Peace Prize will end up making the world more unstable and dangerous than at any time since the 1950s or 60s, but if the prize committee had by then awarded him the bauble he craves it's not clear that he would care anymore.

And this applies to America too. Trump has taken his approach to ethics, the law, media relations and basic decency and applied them to American public life. In so doing he has sullied the nation and divided and polarised it to the point that it may soon cease to be a properly functioning democratic state. Imagine what would happen if the process of impeachment were to begin. Imagine what would happen if the gun worshipping red necks who worship the man and who genuinely believe that there is a fake news conspiracy against their hero were to see the man they elected removed from power. A country that awash in guns would not be a pretty place if a new civil war were to break out.

A world in which America went awol would become a lawless place, a dangerous place. Even if this picture is a little too bleak, Trump's trade war and war on the international framework of the last 70 years that has kept the peace and made the western world he leads rich and powerful would break down and impoverish us all. Putin's clear ambition is to play divide and rule as is China's. North Korea has spotted in the orange half wit an idea opportunity to reset the game to year zero once again to gain itself some sanctions relief, maybe some aid or investment, to smile nicely for a while and cheat at the same time. It is a game plan that has always worked nicely for them in the past and is one the Russians and Chinese follow too, not to mention various other unpleasant regimes around the world who cannot believe their luck that mighty America has sunk so low as to have elected and now to support a craven ignoramus as its leader and a leader that the checks and balances of the mighty American constitution are not checking or balancing.

The children being taken into custody by the Trumpian state are a symptom of something terrible coming if we stand by and allow it to happen. The egregious lies of Trump and his enablers have gone unchallenged too long now. Last week was a terrible week in US politics. There are many more still to come unless people stand up and are counted and say no more.

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Sunday, 17 June 2018

The Bible: A Very Grim Fairytale: Deuteronomy: Chapter 27: Blessings and Curses Part 1

God has a fondness for mountains. He has all of his big set piece occasions on mountains and this was to be one of the biggest. This was the day that the chosen people were officially anointed as such in a ceremony which they all attended. Perhaps that's why it was done on a mountain. After all, how else were the ones at the back supposed to see what was going on?

At the end of the last chapter Moses finally reached the end of his revision class of God's laws. Now the people had to write them all down on big stones that would be erected on mountain tops as a kind of contract with God. Now you might imagine that this would happen on mountains in the Promised Land. But no. This was all happening before they got there.

So Moses gathered everyone together and addressed them all, quite a feat this since there was supposed to be 2 million of them. Maybe he borrowed one of those big screens they use at rock concerts.

Essentially this was all another big ceremony for the glory of their vain and needy God. He was to have altars built in his honour on these mountains and there were to be sacrifices. You know, the usual schtick.

The tribes were split up and some sent to Mount Ebal and the others to Mount Gerizim. And there to were to be blessings and curses divided amongst these tribes and written on these stones. I know, God has some strange ideas. I suppose you might call it mixed blessings.

We'll start with the curses. God's like that:

Cursed be the man who made graven or molten images. All the people had to say Amen to that.

Cursed be those who dishonour their father or their mother. More Amens.

Cursed be those who moved their neighbour's boundary line or mark. Lots of Amens to that and some disappointment among surveyors.

Cursed be those who lead the blind astray on the road. These are not quite the same as the other commandments.

Cursed is anyone who withholds justice to the foreigner, orphans or widows, but tell that to the people they were about to slaughter at God's command making lots of orphans and widows.

Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his father's wife, but it's quite alright to marry your dead brother's wife.

Cursed is anyone who engages in bestiality.

Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his sister or his half sister. Cousins? No problem, indeed it's encouraged. God didn't know about genetics.

Cursed is anyone who sleeps with his mother in law thus denying a whole generation of British stand up comedian most of their jokes.

Cursed is anyone who kills their neighbour secretly.

Cursed is anyone who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person.

Cursed is anyone who does not uphold these laws.

It's quite a list isn't it. And in the next chapter we do the blessings.

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Friday, 15 June 2018

Schrodinger's Brexit

It is a rule of this blog, one that I set myself some years ago, that I post something every day, be it in the form of writing or video. By and large I stick to this rule and often exceed it when a number of subjects attract my ire. And so you may have noticed that I have not thus far opined about the farcical  Brexit imbroglio that the Government has embroiled itself in this week as it seeks to navigate its way through treacherous waters. It is not as if these waters contain unseen hazards of course. These are icebergs in plain sight. It's just that Admiral May has been holding her telescope not so much to her blind eye but has kept both eyes tightly shut. Hers is a steer-on-blindly-and-hope-for-the-best type policy.

Now I consider myself to be reasonably well informed about politics in general and Brexit in particular. I am one of those people who voted for Brexit advisedly having long been a Euro sceptic and did so with only moderate concerns about immigration. My concern was about lack of democratic legitimacy, the leaking of sovereignty to Brussels and the corrupt and corrupting influence of the European project on otherwise sentient adults, especially politicians whose idea of leadership is to follow the groupthink in front. 

Despite all of this however I confess myself to be confused about where we stand vis a vis the Withdrawal Bill navigated allegedly successfully this week. It is consoling however that such a state of mind is by no means unusual. Theresa May seems to have gone from kicking the can down the road to a kind of quantum mechanical Brexit: It exists in two different places at the same time and one only knows where and when it exists when one stops to measure it. It's Schrodinger's Brexit. 

It seems that Mrs May has been playing both sides off with this approach. Both have been briefing that they have won and both have convinced themselves that this is the case. In truth though nobody really knows. The meaningful vote crowd seemed to have prevailed but are now less sure. And so we will return to this once again next week when once again they seek to tie our negotiators hands behind their backs as they try to do a deal by ensuring that no deal cannot happen. It's like buying a house but telling the vendors beforehand that you love their house and are currently homeless. They like to make it sound as if those of us who advocate for no deal are keen and desperate for it, having apparently not noticed that the EU is playing a hardball game with us. Our only chance of getting a good deal is by threatening to walk away. That does not mean we want that. But saying we must on no account leave without a deal of any kind is surrender without a shot being fired. 

Rebels on both sides of the Conservative Party and indeed in Labour, whose policy is even more confused because it pretends to be otherwise, are kidding themselves if they think this Prime Minister can successfully navigate her way through this. She has shown zero leadership and no vision for where she wants to take us. She is like Schrodinger's Cat, except she is trying to convince us that she is both for and against the so called soft Brexit. Indeed this quantum mechanics approach is one of the few they haven't tried for the Northern Ireland border issue. Why not say it both exists and doesn't exist dependent upon who is looking and from which side?

What she should of course be saying is that soft Brexit is not Brexit at all and that Parliamentary wreckers are kidding themselves and the country with their present tactics. Parliament has the right to hold the Government to account on what is negotiated but it does not have the right to dictate how it goes about negotiating by prejudging how it is doing so and constraining it for fear of what might happen. The soft Brexit rebels tend to forget that if there were to be no deal the likelihood is that this would be the fault of Brussels and not Britain. Even if they were to gain the theoretical right to stop a no deal Brexit they do not have the right to force Europe to renegotiate. And so, under the Article 50 process that Parliament passed, we would leave next year, if necessary without a deal.  European intransigence makes that more likely. We have shown willingness to compromise from day one. They have been entirely unbending, an approach that has been facilitated by remainers who still cannot accept the result of the referendum whilst saying of course that they do. 

Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry, whatever they say, are manoeuvring for us to not leave at all. That is the only interpretation of their antics that makes any kind of sense if they truly respect the referendum result as they claim. Those pushing for this should, instead of calling for the so called meaningful vote on the deal, be honest and tell us that they are trying to prevent us leaving. That is their right and a perfectly legitimate position. It's just that the British people might not see it that way, which is why they don't spell it out. It kind of proves our point about Europe's unfortunate attitude towards democracy. They could countermand this by calling for it to be put to a democratic vote in the whole country in another referendum. That ultimately may be the only way to settle this. It's hard to see anything else working. It does of course hand the negotiating advantage to Brussels once again and shows that referendum results are only acceptable to the Europhile elite when they vote the way they think people should vote. 

I cannot see how else this is ever going to be resolved. Europe is emboldened to keep saying no to our every idea on how to make this work in the knowledge that that just puts added pressure on Theresa May. The Conservative Party should have dumped her long ago, perhaps in the wake of Grenfell when, by her own admission, she messed up and we all realised how hopelessly out of her depth she is. Her handing of Brexit has been similarly cack handed and tin eared so that we are now heading for another crisis. 

The solution? Well dump the Prime Minister for a start. Spend the summer holding a Conservative leadership election and this time put it to a vote of the whole party and don't have a coronation. Or else we may well end up having to have another general election. Labour will be spending the weekend trying to make it look as though their live festival of Marxist drudgery is not the embarrassment it plainly is. Tories under normal circumstances could laugh about it. It's just that our leader is making a mess of something rather more important. 

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Thursday, 14 June 2018

This Dirty World Cup

Yesterday FIFA awarded the 2026 World Cup to the USA, Canada and Mexico. This was a not unexpected and a welcome decision, although it ought to be noted that the US and Mexico will be hosting their second and third tournaments respectively. It does seem odd that the tiny nation of Qatar is hosting the 2022 World Cup alone with the aid of slave labour and having had the entire football calendar moved around them and yet this new era sees three countries with much larger economies and populations doing so collectively. Their decision to pool their resources of course was made long before Trump became president. Nowadays the President doesn't much like his neighbours. He would have preferred a joint bid with the hosts of this year's tournament, or maybe with his new pal Kim Jong-Un.

This year's tournament gets underway in Russia today. Russia probably won the right to host thanks to the usual chicanery we have come to expect from the Putin regime. Such big infrastructure projects are an excellent way for Putin to send cash in the direction of his favoured oligarchs. And they are also an excellent way for him to pose as a great world statesman. Expect Russia to bid for the Olympics any day soon. They had the Winter Olympics but everyone knows that that is a poor substitute for the main event. And fortunately Russia is quite happy to cheat and bully and otherwise coerce its way to such a prize, such as they did to win this World Cup, a bid that was deemed to be a poor one from the point of view of 'threat and risk' by FIFA's own report. Putin will probably have to become Prime Minister again for a term so that he can see the dream of the Olympics come to fruition thanks to constitutional term limits for the presidency, but he's done it before and he is almost certain to do it again. It's no wonder a lying crook like Donald Trump so admires him.

The only upside to Russia being the host of a major tournament such as this is that it obliges them to be on reasonably good behaviour in the run up to and during the great festival of preening and one-upmanship with a side dish of sport. Sure they poisoned a couple of people in Salisbury a few months ago and are still killing people for their pet dictator in Syria in addition to interfering in an election or two, but this constitutes them being relatively benign. We should all beware what they get up to once the last ball is kicked in the final next month. After that all bets are off. More invasions? Menacing the Baltic states. Maybe by then their captive President of the United States will have collapsed Nato giving them free rein.

The world is heading to Russia with no great enthusiasm but as ever they are not letting mere principles and good taste stand in the way. Even the kind of racism and bigotry we are sure to see won't stop any of the teams heading to this vast country with an economy only about the same size as Spain's. Russia is a country with an inflated sense of its own worth, power and importance entirely at odds with its standing in the world. Then again we should probably be happy that sport provides a forum for them to show off and fling further billions at their kleptocrats rather than anything worse. Any sane fan of football will stay well away from the tournament itself and watch it on TV. Not only is it safer that way you won't feel so dirty as you do so. Much the same will apply to Qatar in 4 years time of course. But we'll return to that another day.

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Wednesday, 13 June 2018

No Deal for the Dealmaker - Just Posturing and Platitudes

It's said that the entourage that the US President routinely takes with him (never her, thus far) is so large that when Trump comes to London next month the capital is the only viable venue. The hundreds of aides, hangers-on, security staff and other pointless presidential parasites like various family members mean that London is the only place in the UK that can accommodate them all.

I only mention all of this because Trump presumably took an even larger than usual retinue with him to Singapore for his meeting with the man he used to call little rocket man. Think of the expense of this summit, this last minute show designed to allow the two leaders to compete in a most ridiculous hairstyle meeting. Presumably that was what they talked about, because nothing else was achieved other than massive hotel bills.

The Fat Leader set his departure time for 7 hours after the big meeting with the orange buffoon was due to start. This, remember, was supposed to be the meeting of the century, the big deal done by the great dealmaker. In 7 hours? Accordingly Trump also moved forward his mooted departure time so as not to lose face. One might easily suspect that this was all show with nothing achieved or achievable.

We all knew that this was the case of course. You cannot simply undo decades of hostility, war and threats of war because a reality television president wants to be seen to be a great statesman. That is the only reason this summit happened and why so many cautioned against it. Trump was desperate for the optics without worrying too much about the detail. Or at all. In the short time that has elapsed since he hastily agreed to this summit there was really no time for detail. It was all probably resolved by officials last week. This could all have been accomplished over the phone. Or maybe by video link, always assuming that North Korean technology could stretch to it.

The deal they signed was essentially what we already knew about. Except Trump gave away those US and South Korea war games that so enrage the DPRK. So Trump gave them a stage to strut around and a concrete measure of stopping these rehearsals. Kim ended his testing of missiles and nukes, something he may well have had to stop anyway. The rest of it is just ambiguous phrases and lofty rhetoric designed to give the appearance of a new era perhaps so as to appeal to a certain committee in Norway.

We have been here before. The North is long on promises and short on action. We don't know why they suddenly changed approach but it could be because they saw in Trump someone they could manipulate into giving them what they needed. For now the sanctions stay in place and talks are vaguely promised. It amounts to little. It usually does.

What is needed is for Trump to actually do a deal. He could offer stage payments, something that even he should understand. If North Korea starts to verifiably dismantle its nuclear weapons and weapons facilities it could be given sanctions relief in return. If it opens itself up to inspections to ensure this happens then that is a deal worth having. In the meantime this is a reasonable first step but nothing unprecedented except for the circus surrounding it. The American entourage travelled thousands of miles to talk to a dictator and murderer and offered him words of praise, although Trump did slightly spoil this by making a fat joke. But this is in contrast to Trump's continuing rhetoric towards his allies and neighbours. Only he could appease the most vicious dictator since Saddam or Gadaffi and exchange barbs with Canada. There is little chance that peace is coming to the Korean peninsula. They will cheat. This might actually be the prelude to a war, after all this is Trump we're talking about.

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