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Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy
REAL Democracy History Calendar – sign up!
Move To Amend Campaign:
We are pleased to announce the creation of a new resource: the REAL Democracy History Calendar.
You are invited to sign up to this new free weekly email resource – to be sent out beginning January 1, 2016. To sign up, click here.
Corporate entities and individuals of extreme wealth have to a major extent captured our government and economic institutions. Basic political, economic and human rights are in decline. The result is a lack of real democracy — defined as the ability of those who are affected by decisions having an authentic voice in the shaping of those decisions.
However, people have always strived for basic rights, resisted oppression, created alternative structures, and sought to control the power and influence of corporate entities and extreme wealth in society through education, advocacy and social movement organizing.
To sign up, click here.
The REAL Democracy History Calendar will provide 1-2 listings per day sent by email every Monday morning of activities, events, quotes from prominent individuals and/or other occurrences (both past and recent) on the themes of democracy, human rights, corporate power and rule, and wealth in society (especially in elections).
The Calendar is a joint production of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD) and Northeast Ohio American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). Much of its base comes from our research and writings on these themes over the last two decades.
Our goal is to inform, intrigue and inspire — and to illuminate the reality that creating real democracy will not happen by changing any one politician, passing/repealing any one law or regulation, or reversing any single Supreme Court decision. It requires, rather, changing our political, economic and social culture - one byproduct of which will be to democratize our legal structures through genuinely inclusive, multi-issue, nonviolent social movements.
To sign up, click here.
Below are a listing of postings over the next several weeks – to provide a flavor of the Calendar’s contents that would be sent by email each week beginning January 1.
If you feel this would be valuable information to you, please sign up here. And please spread the word to others!
Thank you for your consideration.
REAL Democracy History Calendar
1799 – Death of George Washington, first President of the United States of America – need for coercive power
“We probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us that men will not adopt and carry into execution measures the best calculated for their own good, without the intervention of a coercive power,” said George. According to historian Charles Beard in “An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States,” Washington was probably the richest man in the colonies at the time of the Revolution.
1896 – Covington & L. Turnpike Road Co. v. Sandford (164 U.S. 578) Supreme Court decision – corporations are persons
The Court declared, “it is now settled that corporations are persons, within the meaning of the constitutional provisions forbidding the deprivation of property without due process of law, as well as a denial of the equal protection of the laws.”
1791 – Ratification of the Bill of Rights
The first 10 Amendments to the Constitution were adopted to protect We the People from excesses of government and to affirm certain inalienable rights of human beings. At the time, however, We the People were only white males who owned property and were over 21 years old. Each state decided how much property must be owned to qualify to vote or run for office
1986 – Justice William Brennan delivered opinion of Supreme Court in Federal Election Committee v. Massachusetts Citizens for Life, Inc. (479 U.S. 238) – spending by corporations in elections may make them formidable power
“Direct corporate spending on political activity raised the prospect that resources amassed in the economic marketplace may be used to provide an unfair advantage in the political marketplace…The resources in the treasury of a business corporation…are not an indication of popular support for the corporation's political ideas. The availability of these resources may make a corporation a formidable political presence, even though the power of the corporation may be no reflection of the power of its ideas."
1773 – Colonists stage Boston Tea Party to protest British Tea Act
Parliament passed the Tea Act, which provided the East India Trading Company complete access to the colonies and exempted it from paying taxes to the colonies – increasing the profits to company stockholders, which included Parliament members and the King. This undercut colonial tea merchants who were required to pay taxes on tea.
Boston Tea Party participants saw themselves as anti-corporate protestors. Their call for “no taxation without representation” was not one against paying taxes, but rather an insistence that every entity – including the East India Company – should pay their fair share and that no entity should be taxed without governmental representation.
1964 – Death of Alexander Meiklejohn, Philosopher and Educator – on 1st Amendment and freedom threatened by dominant business enterprises
The 1st Amendment "does not intend to guarantee men freedom to say what some private interest pays them to say for its own advantage. It intends only to make men free to say what, as citizens, they think.”
“[I]nsofar as a society is dominated by the attitudes of competitive business enterprise, freedom in its proper American meaning cannot be known, and hence, cannot be taught. That is the basic reason why the schools and colleges, which are, presumably, commissioned to study and promote the ways of freedom are so weak, so confused, so ineffectual.”
1882 – Death of Henry James, Sr. – on democracy
"Democracy is not so much a new form of political life as a dissolution and disorganization of the old forms. It is simply a resolution of government into the hands of the people…”
2009 – Publication this month of article, “People as Property: Criminalizing Color, Dissent and Impoverishment through the Prison-Industrial Complex” by Karen Coulter, principal of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD)
“Slavery and involuntary servitude were supposedly abolished by the 13th amendment to the Constitution. However, the amendment reads that slavery and involuntary servitude shall no longer exist in the U.S. ‘except as punishment for crimes whereof the party shall have been duly convicted’…Then there are the investors in the prison industry: American Express Corporation invested millions in private prison construction in Oklahoma; General Electric Corporation financed prison construction in Tennessee; Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, Smith Barney, and other Wall Street investment firms made big profits by underwriting prison construction with the sale of tax-exempt bonds, a 2.3 billion dollar industry as of 1997. Some of the largest Wall Street investment corporations started buying bonds and securities from private prison corporations in the '90's and reselling them for profit to individual investors, mutual funds and others, literally speculating in the growth of locking up more and more people. The rise of the prison industrial complex can be accurately seen as part of a profound transformation restructuring U.S. economic development and its forms of social control. Philip Wood identifies corporate colonization of decision-making structures as a key element of the changes in U.S. public policy supporting the expansion and privatization of the prison industry.” http://www.poclad.org/BWA/2009/BWA_2009_DEC.html
REAL Democracy History Calendar
1885 – Corporate lawyers claim railroad corporation’s 14th Amendment rights violated
In San Mateo v. Southern Pacific R. Co., 13 F. 722 (C.C.D. Cal. 1882), corporate lawyers attacked a provision of the California Constitution that assessed higher property taxes against railroad corporations than against non-corporate properties. The attorneys charged that the state violated the railroad’s “rights” under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The parties settled the case before the Supreme Court announced a decision; however, the argument would be used one year later in what would become the very first time corporations were granted 14th Amendment “rights” by the Supreme Court in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company, 118 US 394.
1970 – Birth of Senator Ted Cruz (R., Texas) – politicians are open to the highest bidder
“Lobbyists and career politicians today make up what I call the Washington Cartel. … [They] on a daily basis are conspiring against the American people. … [C]areer politicians’ ears and wallets are open to the highest bidder.”
1913 – Congress passes Federal Reserve Act – Creating Federal Reserve System
The Act created a largely corporate controlled national banking and currency system, passed in the House by 298-60 and in the Senate by 43-25 and signed by President Wilson on this day. It was a major coup for banking corporations through the establishment of a private central bank authorized to "monetize" government debt (i.e. to print their own money and exchange it for government securities or I.O.U.'s). The central banking system was composed of 12 regional private/corporate banks owned by participating commercial banks. All national banks were required to join the system. Banking corporations now controlled the issuance and distribution of our national currency. By controlling our national money faucet, they could create inflation and deflation. This corporate monopolization of our currency allowed for public regulation, but not control. It was now banking corporations, not the U.S. government, that controlled the national currency. Congress handed its Constitutional power under Article 1, Section 8 to create our money over to private banking corporations. It’s the ultimate form of “privatization” – more accurately “corporatization” – of what was meant to be, and should be a public function or service.
1962 – Birth of David Cobb, national Outreach Director for Move to Amend and principal of the Program on Corporations, Law & Democracy (POCLAD)
Cobb debated James Bopp in September, 2014 at Indiana University in Bloomington, IN on “Citizens Divided: Corporate Money, Speech, and Politics.” Bopp is General Counsel for the James Madison Center for Free Speech and was lead attorney for Citizens United, the group that argued their corporate 1st Amendment “speech rights were violated when prevented to air a political program just prior to the election.”
The “debate” turned out to be one-sided – with Cobb presenting a much stronger case for why corporations should not be granted “personhood” rights and money should not be granting “free speech” rights than Bopp arguing the reverse.
Watch the debate at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijSsZdCatTM
2015 – Christmas – Jesus attacks “money changers”
Celebrated birth of Jesus Christ in Christian calendar.
In his only public act of violence, Jesus drove the “money changers” with a whip of chords out of the sacred Temple in Jerusalem, which he called “my Father’s house.”
Modern-day money changers are banking corporations – the most economically and politically dominant of all corporations. They have captured our most sacred democratic “house” – our government. They, too, along with all other corporations, need to be driven out of our government.
2015 – Boxing Day - corporate personhood, money equals free speech and U.S. Constitution “boxes” activists into small spaces of what is doable
“Boxing Day” is an annual holiday celebrated in the United Kingdom and other Commonwealth nations. Traditionally, it was when servants or employees would receive gifts from their bosses or employers in “Christmas boxes.”
Many Supreme Court decisions anointing corporations as legal “persons” and money as “free speech,” as well as many limitations of the U.S. Constitution (i.e. no direct election of President, no national initiative provision, no definition of economic rights, among many others) have been anything but gifts to individuals striving for real democracy. They have, rather, “boxed” activists into ever-smaller spaces concerning what laws and regulations can be passed. Unable to limit the amount of money in elections from individuals and corporate entities and incapable of preventing corporations from asserting Bill of Rights protections, the super wealthy and corporate entities have captured greater portions of public policies and public spaces and, in turn, shrinking these public arenas for the vast majority of citizens.
For background on limitations of and possibilities for a more democratic Constitution, see http://poclad.org/BWA/2007/BWA_2007_DEC.html and http://poclad.org/BWA/2007/BWA_2007_MAR.html#3
1907 – Death of John Chandler Bancroft Davis – unilateral action yielded first Supreme Court corporate “personhood” decision
Davis played a historical role in the corporate personhood debate. As the court reporter in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad (118 U.S. 394, 1886), his responsibility was to prepare ‘a summary-of-the-case commentary.’ He wrote in the headnote to the decision that Chief Justice Morrison Waite began his oral argument of the court’s opinion by stating, ‘The court does not wish to hear argument on the question whether the provision in the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws, applies to these corporations. We are all of the opinion that it does.”
Davis’ published reports and notes from 1885-1886 contained his views on the Santa Clara case: ‘The defendant Corporations are persons within the intent of the clause in section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which forbids a State to deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Thom Hartman and other journalists and authors charged Davis with a conflict of interest as previous President of the Newburgh and New York Railway in his role in the Supreme Court ruling. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bancroft_Davis
REAL Democracy History Calendar
1856 – Birth of Woodrow Wilson, 28th President of the United States of America – on the need for corporations and government to work together
“Since trade ignores national boundaries and the manufacturer insists on having the world as a market, the flag of his nation must follow him, and the doors of the nations which are closed against him must be battered down. Concessions obtained by financiers must be safeguarded by ministers of state, even if the sovereignty of unwilling nations be outraged in the process.“ http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2014/09/usa-sponsored-terrorism-mid-east-since-least-1948.html
1947 – Birth of Spencer Bachus, former Republican Chair of the US House Financial Services Committee – regulators serve banks
"In Washington, the view is that the banks are to be regulated and my view is that Washington and the regulators are there to serve the banks."
2014 – Big money breaks out: Top 100 donors give almost as much as 4.75 million small donors combined
“The 100 biggest campaign donors gave $323 million in 2014 — almost as much as the $356 million given by the estimated 4.75 million people who gave $200 or less,” a POLITICO analysis of campaign finance filings found.
‘When 100 big donors give as much almost 5 million small donors, with whom do we expect candidates to spend their time, and whose interests do we think they will represent?’ McKinnen asked. ‘That’s not democracy. That’s oligarchy.’”
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/12/top-political-donors-113833#ixzz3ta7ebjxE
2011 – Pittsburgh City Council passes resolution calling for a constitutional amendment to abolish corporate personhood
The resolution also called for returning elections to the American people.
1945 – Birth of Harvey Wasserman – exposes fraudulent electronic voting machines
Wasserman is an anti-nuclear and safe energy activist, journalist and senior editor of the Columbus Free Press. He has co-authored numerous articles with Bob Fitrakis on election fraud of elections since 2000, with special emphasis on the 2000 and 2004 election results in Ohio.
Wasserman and Fritakis have recently written.
“The way our electoral process now stands, electronic voting machines guarantee a Republican victory in 2016…
“Source codes remain "proprietary," so the public has no control over the private machines on which our allegedly democratic elections are conducted. There is no usable paper trail, transparency or accountability.
“We are concerned that all voters get fair access to the polls, and all votes are fairly counted, no matter who the candidate. We have no doubt the Democratic Party would be just as willing to flip elections from Republicans as vice versa, and that both have, can and will do the same to the Green Party and other challengers.
“So we support universal hand-counted paper ballots, automatic universal voter registration, a four-day national holiday for voting, major restrictions on campaign spending and a wide range of additional reforms meant to guarantee some kind of democracy in the United States.”
Featured Poclad Article
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a Brand New, Same Old Story
by the POCLAD
Many citizens were stunned and outraged when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the now infamous 2010 Citizens United v Federal Communication (FEC) case that corporate entities could donate (more like invest) unlimited sums of cash to electoral causes. This was based on corporate entities possessing First Amendment free speech “rights” combined with money spent in elections being constitutionally protected “free speech.”
Many people learning of Citizens United assumed the five-member Court majority supporting the decision had engaged in never-before judicial activism with a “shock and awe” invasion of constitutional rights previously held exclusively by natural persons. They weren’t aware that the U.S. Supremes simply expanded upon earlier rulings equating corporate entities with legal “personhood” and money with “free speech.” Citizens United was simply the latest and most visible in a long series of egregious Court cases that carved up the Bill of Rights and other Amendments to the liking of plutocrats and corporate agents.
Citizens United was just a brand new, same old story.
There’s a similar tale in the 6000-page Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), to be signed by President Obama in February and then presented to Congress for ratification:
- The TPP is very like previous so-called “trade” agreements between the U.S. and one or more nations, the difference being chiefly of scale.
- The second way the TPP is more old than new is its anti-democratic similarity to our Constitution and Supreme Court – the wording of the former and many decisions of the latter that have squelched self-governance all along the way.
Yes, we must educate and organize against ratification of the TPP and other such deals waiting in the wings, but not to the exclusion of doing the same against the nation’s founding document and its highest court that deny self-governance to the people and needed protections for communities and earth.
1. Similar to previous trade agreements -- with a few exceptions
The U.S. is party to more than a dozen Free Trade Agreements and is in various stages of negotiation on nearly 20 others, mostly bilateral. The most (in)famous is the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, in effect since 1994.
The other relatively well-known “trade” entity is the World Trade Organization (WTO) composed of 100 member nations including the U.S. Remember the 1999 “Battle in Seattle” that disrupted the “Millennium Round” of WTO negotiations?
We’ve heard all the pro TPP arguments before. It will reduce cumbersome barriers, set common standards for selling American goods and services abroad, grow the economy, provide middle class jobs, reduce the nation’s trade deficit, and strengthen economic interdependence between the U.S. and other member nations, 11 Pacific Rim countries, comprising 40% of the global economy.
President Obama said the agreement “reflects American values,” and “levels the playing field for American workers and businesses.” He further asserted, “We can’t let countries like China write the rules of the global economy. We should write those rules, opening new markets to American products while setting high standards for protecting workers and preserving our environment.”
Who in their right mind could oppose this? But with such compelling content, why were negotiations kept secret from our public officials for nearly four years while more than 600 transnational corporate advisors occupied all the seats at the table?
The regurgitated TPP rhetoric and promises begin with the framing of the agreement as predominately involving “trade.” As with NAFTA and other previous agreements, this is deceiving.
Of the 30 sections or “Chapters” of the proposed deal, only six address traditional trade issues – the buying and selling of stuff. The remaining 24 address such issues as market access, investment, telecommunications, intellectual property, competitiveness and business facilitation, state-owned enterprises, labor, the environment, and dispute settlement. NAFTA and other international agreements also determine much more than “trade.”
A fundamental goal of the TPP is to remove “trade barriers” to the free flow of goods and services among participant nations. These “barriers” involve other than mere tariffs, quotas and onerous custom procedures. We’re talking about laws and regulations passed by national and sub-national governments (states in the U.S.) that protect workers, consumers, communities and the environment. But “impediments” to multinational corporations entering foreign markets are “protections” to local people, enabling their quality of life and right to self-determination.
A few of the proposals contained in the TPP would:
- delay the introduction of low-cost generic medicines, imposing higher costs to people in all 12 nations;
- add to climate change by expanding trade in dirty energy products such as tar sands oil, fracked natural gas, and coal – justified as in the public interest;
- weaken existing food safety standards, food inspections and protections for small farms;
- force Internet Service Providers to be “copyright cops” by taking down websites in response to mere claims from corporations or governments that posted material is copyrighted;
- prohibit financial capital controls (which led to the 2008 financial implosion) and limits on bank size, prohibit “firewalls” between investment and consumer banks and national efforts to control or reject bizarre financial products like derivatives;
- deny protections from labor abuse, such as poverty wages and poor working conditions, facilitating a further “race to the bottom.”
The many specific problems of the TPP are connected by another fundamental assault against people’s sovereignty -- the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) provision in Chapter 28. The TPP establishes three-person “Panels” to rule on “investor-state” suits against governments on any of the above issues.
While ISDSs exist in other trade deals, the TPP is unique in allowing challenges to be brought against a nation directly by one or more corporations. Multinationals no longer have to rely on surrogate governments to do their bidding.
The TPP ISDS Panels can meet in secret. Their decisions are final. There are no appeals. Panel members are unelected and unaccountable trade attorneys, most having relationships with major corporations. They may act as prosecutors or defenders for governments or corporations on different issues at different times. Of course, we are to assume this raises no conflicts of interest!
Panels have a sole responsibility: decide if an existing national law or regulation, even when enacted democratically, threatens expected future corporate profits. If so, the nation must rescind or change that legislation to comply with the TPP or provide taxpayer compensation for lost future profits.
This isn’t simply theory, it’s real. The WTO ruled in December against the United States’ wanting to know the source of meats in the butcher case. This “country of origin” labeling law put Canadian and Mexican meat producers at a disadvantage. The WTO dispute resolution panel ruled that $1 billion in fines from U.S. taxpayers would be levied unless the law was revoked, which Congress dutifully did as a rider to the year-end spending bill. Never mind that consumers overwhelmingly support wanting to know where their food comes from.
The mere threat of suits under TPP, if ratified, will deter legislators from enacting laws that don’t jibe with this pro-corporate agreement. So much for national sovereignty! So much for believing it will make any real difference who is elected to office. So much for organizing pro-worker, consumer or environmental citizen initiatives that might threaten expected corporate profits. The public interest will be subordinated to the corporate-serving TPP manifesto. Elected officials will be reduced to deciding the date of the annual fruit festival, whether to change the official state bird and other trivial matters. The important issues will find federal and state officials deciding whether existing laws must be gutted to avoid millions or billions in compensatory payments to corporations.
The TPP is not about “trade,” be it free or fair. It’s about corporate governance – increasing the power and authority of corporations of all types, sizes and national-origins to override the laws, regulations and court rulings of nation states.
2. Similar to the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court
It’s not only whether the TPP is akin to NAFTA and previous corporate governance agreements but also how much it can be likened to a “child,” even a “great, great grandchild” of our own U.S. Constitution. This may rub people the wrong way, believing as many do that the Constitution is a most democratic document.
While there are elements of the Constitution worth keeping, it has disturbingly similar anti-democratic features as the TPP that favor giant business interests and serve those of extreme wealth and privilege.
Here are a few examples:
Like the TPP, those who attended the Constitutional Convention in 1787 did so under the major premise of liberalizing “trade” and commerce. The Constitution’s Framers had come together to amend the Articles of Confederation, the nation’s original founding document, which had rejected free trade by allowing states to ban imports and exports as they saw fit. This was unacceptable to the rising merchant class. The goal of the Convention was to create a more efficient and powerful central government that would call all the shots on matters of commerce. The new Constitution would declare it so.
The Constitutional Convention’s attendees met in secret, not unlike the authors of the TPP. Its Secretary, James Madison, made none of the proceedings public after the convention.
Delegates to the Convention were elite men of property – northern merchants and southern planters. Workers, women, people of color, and men without property had no seat at the table.
The proposed Constitution was a property-rights document granting powers to those who owned property, slaves included. Those assembled in Philadelphia added a Bill of Rights similar to that in many state constitutions because several state legislatures refused to ratify the federal Constitution without it. The Bill of Rights served the same purpose as a “side agreement” today. It ensured passage of the Constitution just as tagalong labor and environmental provisions assist the passage of “trade” treaties.
The power to regulate commerce and trade was shifted from the states under the Articles of Confederation to the federal government. Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution was called the Commerce Clause: “The Congress shall have power…to regulate Commerce with foreign Nations…and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes.” The Commerce Clause has been the Supreme Court’s anti-democratic weapon of choice to strike down hundreds of local and state laws protecting people, communities and the environment on grounds that they interfere with interstate commerce.
Article III of the Constitution established a Supreme Court, members of which are nominated by a President and confirmed by the Senate. There are no term or age limits, unlike other nations. Impeachment is a virtual impossibility. They serve with little accountability or responsibility to anyone or anything else.
The High Court is the final arbiter of what is deemed “constitutional” among federal and state laws. Its powers are vast and were greatly strengthened by Supreme Court decisions. A prime example is Marbury v. Madison (1806), establishing the doctrine of Judicial Review. This gave the Supremes even more power to overturn federal, state and local laws, regulations and lower court decisions.
Legal historian Lawrence Friedman said, “The [U.S. Supreme] Court, in short, guaranteed to business that there was and would be a giant free trade area within this country. It made the country safe for big business.”
Like the TPP’s ISDS Panels, Supreme Court decisions can’t be appealed. Supreme Court decisions can be overturned via Constitutional Amendment but the process is far more difficult in the U.S. than in other nations. Supreme Court decisions defending slavery and political disenfranchisement of women were upended by passage of Constitutional Amendments requiring the organization of mass social movements.
Two-track strategy required
"Commerce defies every wind, overrides every tempest, invades every zone."
- Quote chiseled into granite above a US Department of Commerce building entrance, Washington, DC
A free trade zone is a forced trade zone – against the will of a people or a government. There is no room for democracy. This is an economic invasion with implications for self-governance. The invasion is both foreign and domestic. The invaders are corporations and oligarchs using “trade” deals like the TPP when they invade abroad and provisions of the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court rulings when they invade on the home front.
Because these two tracks are connected, our democratic strategy must be two-fold:
Defeating the TPP through education, advocacy and organizing in all conventional and creative forms. It means engaging our friends and family in face to face conversation, using mainstream, independent and social media. It means advocating for the defeat of this trade deal when it comes to a vote in Congress later this year.
Addressing the impediments to real democracy in our Constitution. Just as reversing Citizens United in itself will not abolish corporate “personhood” or money equated with free speech, stopping the TPP in itself cannot ensure self-governance. The Constitutional roadblocks must be removed – those that have allowed a propertied elite and the corporation to assert illegitimate authority over the democratic rights of the majority.
In some respects, this is the more difficult assignment. The Constitution has been covered in a blanket of reverence and the myth of a democratic republic that offers freedom and justice for all. We have failed to examine our Constitution objectively, unemotionally and in comparison with the models of other nations.
This is our collective challenge. If we fail to meet it we’ll continue to face brand new, same old stories.
Read more: “Gaveling Down the Rabble: How ‘Free Trade’ Is Stealing Our Democracy” by Jane Anne Morris.
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