Posts Tagged Constitution

When in the Course of Human Events


This is the time of year when Americans celebrate the anniversary of our declaration of independence from Great Britain.  It is ironic that the United Kingdom itself a few days ago found it necessary “for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another.”  By leaving the European Union the British people have reconfirmed that the longing for liberty is an eternal emotion.

Meanwhile, here in the colonies, the very document that ensured our rights as a free people has been under relentless attack.  The Constitution of the United States has withstood the test of time. After the Articles of Confederation failed to provide the framework for an effective federal government delegates from the 13 colonies met in Philadelphia and in September of 1787 put their signatures to the document which, at least theoretically, remains our nation’s ultimate authority.

On June 21, 1788, New Hampshire became the ninth state to ratify theConstitution which then took effect on March 4, 1789.  The document was, however, viewed as incomplete and several states insisted on the inclusion of ten amendments, which became known as the Bill of Rights.  Those amendments were ratified and became effective on December 15, 1791.

That the Bill of Rights was necessary is evidenced by periodic efforts throughout our nation’s history to disregard, water down, or remove them entirely.  Perhaps no amendment has been so violated as the tenth which limits the power of the federal government.  Congress and the president, frequently with complicity by the Supreme Court, have consistently throughout the ages infringed on this right.  Today the assault continues, especially upon the second amendment governing our right to keep and bear arms.  The non-existent “right” of freedom from religion has replaced the “free exercise of religion” guaranteed in the first amendment.

It is safe to assume that the founding fathers would place in the first amendment those rights that they viewed as most vital to a free people.  It is here that the Constitution guarantees our right to freedom of speech and of the press.  Now obviously there was no electronic media or internet back in 1787, but freedom of speech and of the press clearly applies to all means of communication.

A free press was instrumental in our nation’s founding.  The only method of mass communication was through the printing press producing formal newspapers, pamphlets, and broadsides.  From Thomas Paine during the revolution to the Federalist Papers, the expression of opinion via the printed word was a vital means of exercising free speech.  Throughout our history we have depended on a free press to keep government in check, such as it did during the Watergate scandal of the 1970s.  So vital is a free press that it is often referred to as the “fourth estate,” or fourth branch of government.

It is therefore disturbing to see candidates and elected officials from the national to the local level trampling this vital right.  In just the last few weeks, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump has banned the Washington Post from covering his campaign events.  Here in Penn’s Woods, the Democratic mayor of Harrisburg, Eric Papenfuse, has revoked the credentials of the capitol city’s newspaper the Patriot News/Penn Live. Papenfuse’s actions are especially curious in that he is the owner of a prominent bookstore, so you would think he might have some loyalty to the unfettered circulation of the printed word.

My goal here is not to defend the content of these publications – whose left-wing ideology frequently taints their reporting of the news – but to stand up for their right to do so.  If elected officials, from mayors to presidents can decide who can cover the news they can also then control the news.  This is not only a violation of the media’s constitutional rights, but an existential threat to our democracy and ultimately our individual liberty.

As we celebrate our freedom with fireworks and back yard barbecues let us always remember that the trampling of one right is the trampling of all rights.  The loss of any one right puts us on a very slippery slope which will ultimately lead to the loss of all rights.  From freedom of the press, to freedom of religion, to our right to keep and bear arms, we must fight to protect our God-given rights against those who would take them away.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Veepstakes: Trump & Clinton Weigh Options


Now that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have effectively secured their respective party’s presidential nominations, attention has turned to whom they might select as vice presidential running mates.  This is an important decision in that eight times in American history a president has died in office elevating the vice president to the presidency.  Another six times a vice president ran for and was elected president.

The U.S. Constitution proscribes few official duties to the vice president, with being president of the U.S. Senate – and thus able to cast tie-breaking votes – the most important.  The impact of vice presidents has varied greatly.  John Nance Gardner, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s vice presidents, famously said the office was “not worth a bucket of warm . . . ,” well he made his point.  Conversely, Vice President Dick Cheney was a political heavyweight in the administration of George W. Bush.  In short, the office is what the president and vice president make of it.

Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so there has to be something about which to speculate.  Over the next four weeks that speculation will focus on the selection of vice presidential running mates.  As their first major decision, who the nominees pick will say a lot about how they intend to run their prospective administrations.  The choice, of course, also depends on the immediate political situation.

For example, as one who has never held elective office Donald Trump might want to pick someone with government experience.  His statements to date tend to point in that direction.  As a result, former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Ohio Governor John Kasich make the list.  However, Trump is possessed of an out-sized personality and might want to pick a bland running mate who will fade into the background, placing U.S. Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Sessions of Alabama on the list.

If Trump believes it necessary for his vice presidential pick to help him politically, he could follow the example of Ronald Reagan, who picked primary opponent George H.W. Bush to help him unify the party.  Senators Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio would fit that bill.  With Democrats running a woman at the top of the ticket Mr. Trump could seek to add diversity by picking a prominent GOP woman.  That is why former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice appears on many lists. Sarah Palin, who was tapped by John McCain as his running mate in 2008, also figures prominently in speculation.  Palin would also help solidify the party’s conservative base, as would former U.S. Senator Rick Santorum.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton has fewer options.  Republicans have decimated Democrats at the congressional and state levels over the past eight years yielding a shallow bench from which to select national candidates.  Here again, the first question Mrs. Clinton must answer is will her pick be a governing partner, or one who shores up her political standing.

The Democratic presidential primary proved to be more hotly contested and divisive than expected at the outset.  Senator Bernie Sanders tapped into a large vein of discontent within the party and Secretary Clinton’s first goal must be party unity.  Her recent meeting with ultra-liberal Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren resulted in rampant speculation there could be an all-female Democratic ticket.

Or, Democrats may wish to try and cement their standing in the rapidly growing Hispanic community.  Julian Castro, the former Mayor of San Antonio and current U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development is a rising star within the party and would fit the bill.  She too could go the route of choosing a governing partner, perhaps tapping former rival Martin O’Mally, or Virginia Senator Mark Warner.

Warner would have the added benefit of bringing a strong base of support in a battleground state, which is another route either candidate could go in making their selection.  There was a time when the vice presidential candidate was expected to help win a key state, one of the reasons why John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson of Texas in 1960.  That has been less the case in recent years.

In fact, vice presidential candidates rarely make a significant impact on the outcome of a presidential election.  The single most important factor is that the pick does no harm.  The Thomas Eagleton disaster in 1972 and the disruption caused when George H.W. Bush selected Dan Quayle in 1988 come to mind.  As Trump and Clinton make their decisions, that factor must weigh heavily.

All these questions will be answered next month. Until then, the guessing game will continue.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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R.I.P. PA Constitution 1968-2016


Governor Tom Wolf has been in office for just over a year, but already we know historians will put the words “budget crisis” in their lead paragraph.  But a far more ominous phrase may get top billing: “constitutional crisis.”

Like his authoritarian counterpart in Washington, D.C., Governor Wolf is willing, in fact may prefer, to shred the constitutional separation of powers and enact by executive fiat that which the legislative branch is unwilling to do.  The commonwealth has entered its ninth month without a completed state budget and that has spawned a growing debate over the limits of gubernatorial power.

Days before Christmas the legislature again passed a state budget.  This time Governor Wolf signed off on most of the spending plan but “blue lined” or line item vetoed about a third of the items thus extending the budget crisis.  Three months later, there is no resolution, but the administration is spending money anyway.  This, many lawmakers argue, is a clear violation of the state constitution.

The Governor, and his appointed State Treasurer Timothy Reese argue there is a competing requirement for the state to keep certain agencies operating – especially those involved with ensuring public safety.  But Treasurer Reese has gone far beyond that even authorizing a “loan” from the state treasury to House Democrats to pay their staff during the ongoing budget crisis.

The public safety argument is nothing more than a distraction from the main issue which is can a governor spend taxpayer dollars without explicit authorization from the General Assembly?   It is a clear violation of the state constitution and one which will explode into a full blown crisis, especially if the governor’s illicit spending extends outside the realm of public safety.

The budget, however, is not the only area in which Governor Wolf is willing to trample on legislative powers.  He is trying to shutter the Public Employees Retirement Commission (PERC), an obscure state agency that earned his ire when it disagreed with his view of the pension crisis.  The agency was created by an act of the General Assembly and signed into law by a previous governor.  Lawmakers have sued in court to block executive dissolution of PERC pointing out it would take legislative action to do so.

This week Governor Wolf again by-passed the General Assembly on the issue of the state’s minimum wage. The governor has called for an increase in the state minimum wage, but the legislature has refused to go along.  So, he signed an executive order unilaterally raising the minimum wage paid to state employees to $10.15 per hour.  The action applies only to state workers, but will be extended to those companies doing business with the state.  The minimum wage hike does not extend to private business.

However, the impact on small businesses will be significant.  Neal Lesher, legislative director for the National Federation of Independent Business-Pennsylvania, points out that the governor’s executive order effectively prevents many small businesses from entering the bidding process for state contracts.  “Some small businesses simply cannot afford to pay inexperienced, entry level workers that much more per hour,” Lesher explained.  “This creates an unfair playing field that favors larger companies.”

Having fully bought into the Obama “pen and phone” style of governing there is no indication Governor Wolf plans to return to a constitutional model any time soon.  His “budget address” to the legislature last month was hostile and confrontational and had the effect of solidifying Republican opposition which at times had shown signs of wavering.

It is clear crisis government is now the new normal in Harrisburg.  With no resolution to the current budget impasse in sight, and the deadline for adopting a budget for the next fiscal year less than four months away, the governor is content to act as if the legislative branch of government does not exist.  But legislators will not sit idly by and be consigned to irrelevance.  If the governor continues on his current course the constitutional crisis will explode into the courts, and possibly even lead to impeachment proceedings.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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Uncharted Waters


On one point there is unanimous agreement under the capitol dome in Harrisburg: Pennsylvania is in uncharted fiscal waters.  Never before in the history of the commonwealth has a state budget impasse lasted this far into the fiscal year.  There are no signs of agreement on a pathway forward.  And the deadline for next year’s budget is now on the horizon.

Despite all of this there has been little public outcry.  Recent polling suggests Governor Tom Wolf’s approval ratings have taken a hit, but the filing deadline for candidates to run for state House and Senate seats came and went in mid-February leaving most lawmakers with no or token challengers.  And, for the most part, the machinery of state government chugs onward.

Unlike past periods of budgetary disagreement state workers have continued to be paid throughout this impasse.  This as a result of past court rulings that held employees who in fact show up for work and perform their jobs must be paid.  As a result, essential – and many non-essential – state services have continued unabated.

Since the state constitution requires passage of a budget before spending can take place you might think state coffers would be overflowing with unspent tax money.  You likely have noticed that despite the lack of a budget, state income taxes are being deducted from your paycheck and you continue to pay sales tax on purchases.  The state, however, is broke.

The state treasury a couple of months back took out a $2 billion loan supposedly to keep the cash flowing.  But, without a budget how can the state spend so much money it actually had to take out a loan to stay in business?  The answer is over $37.5 billion has been expended, much of it prior to the partial budget resolution that occurred in January.

This has caught the attention of Republican legislators who point out Governor Wolf does not have the authority for such spending.  Worse, what gets paid and what does not get paid is basically happening at the discretion of the Governor.  Senate Republican spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that Wolf is spending as if he has “an open checkbook.” She pointed out, for example, the governor continues to fund the state corrections system even though he line-item vetoed that portion of the state budget.

The governor’s spending priorities have been controversial.  Last Fall the state treasury floated a “loan” to the House Democratic Caucus because they had run out of money to pay staff due to the budget impasse.  A couple of months later that same treasury denied the City of Erie School District a loan to keep schools open.

Worse, the Wolf Administration has been less than transparent in making public details of its unauthorized spending.  State Representatives Chris Dush (R-Jefferson) and Seth Grove (R-York) have had to file Right to Know requests to obtain information.

All of this has prompted calls for Auditor General Eugene DePasquale to conduct an audit of the state spending that is occurring during the budget impasse.  The GOP brought out the heavy artillery to make the request which came from House Appropriations Chairman Bill Adolph (R-Delaware) and Senate Appropriations Chairman Patrick Browne (R-Lehigh).  They head the legislative committees vested with budgetary power.

Governor Wolf triggered the ongoing budget battle by requesting, actually demanding, a massive increase in state taxes and spending.  Interestingly, the amount of money spent by his administration over the past seven months surpasses the total annual budget passed by the legislature and partially vetoed by the governor.  This has given rise to concerns that the governor plans to spend to his preferred level regardless as to whether or not he ever receives legislative approval.  That could turn the current fiscal and political crisis into a constitutional crisis.

Much like President Obama at the national level Governor Wolf has made it plain he plans to implement his agenda by whatever means necessary even if it means trampling the constitution.  His unchecked and unauthorized spending spree is proof positive he is doing just that.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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One Nation?


Since the beginning of our republic there has been a great debate on the role and scope of the federal government and its relationship to the states.  We did not begin as the United States of America, we began as 13 individual colonies each with their own unique socio-economic system and each wary of federal entanglement.

That federal entanglement has grown to a degree never imagined by our Founding Fathers and, safe to say, they likely would be appalled by how powerful and invasive the national government has become.  The Constitution of the United States was developed not to empower the federal government, but rather to protect the rights of the several states and their inhabitants.

Before agreeing to ratify the Constitution, a number of states insisted on what has become known as the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments that more clearly and specifically protect the God-given rights of we the people and of our state governments.  To put an exclamation point on the issue the framers added the tenth amendment which reads: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited to it by the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Excepting during the Civil War, presidents largely adhered to the limitations of the tenth amendment until the early part of the 20th century when America emerged as a global power.  From that point on, the reverse has been true: the federal government has assumed those powers not specifically prohibited rather than those specifically delegated.

A parallel to the issue of states’ rights played out recently in the United Kingdom when Scotland entertained the notion of seceding from the union.  In the end, the three century old United Kingdom survived – but not until the British version of a federal government agreed to grant sweeping new power and more autonomy to Scotland.  Other parts of the kingdom, Wales and Northern Ireland and even England itself are eyeing more powers of self-governance.

In the run-up to the Scottish vote Reuters conducted a public opinion poll in this country and discovered an astounding 24% of Americans would like to see their state secede from the union.  In the mid-Atlantic region, including Pennsylvania, 21% favor secession.  Secession fever runs highest in the American southwest, where Texas – which generally considers itself to be a nation/state – particularly favors secession.

Secession has not been seriously entertained by any state since the Civil War, nor is it likely to at any point in the near future.  But the Reuters analysis of their poll offered this conclusion: “By the evidence of the poll data as well as these anecdotal conversations, the sense of aggrievement is comprehensive, bipartisan, somewhat incoherent, but deeply felt.”

The analysis further explained that those favoring secession from the United States were entering a “protest” against “a recovery that has yet to produce jobs, against jobs that don’t pay, against mistreatment of veterans, against war, against deficits, against hyper-partisanship, against political corruption, against illegal immigration . . . against government in general – the president, Congress, the courts and both political parties.”

In short this is more evidence that federal government intrusion into virtually every aspect of Americans’ everyday lives has reached a point where it can no longer be controlled, effectively administered, or even be viewed as being for the public good.  As a result, nearly one-quarter of all Americans believe they would be better off if their state seceded from the union and governed itself.

Rather than have states secede, we need to get back to two fundamental governing principles.  First, the primacy of the tenth amendment must be restored and the federal government must be shorn of those functions not specifically designated to it by the constitution.  In other words, we must pare down government to its essential public functions.   Second, those tasks that are legitimately the function of government should be performed at the lowest governmental level possible.

Only by returning to these core principles can we right-size government, make it truly effective and efficient, and restore a public confidence which has clearly been lost.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.  His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

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The Pendulum Swings


When history looks back at the just completed term of the Supreme Court of the United States it will view it as the end point of the pendulum swing toward an imperial presidency and the beginning of a return toward a government more respectful of constitutional rights.

In an amazing set of landmark decisions handed down by the high court during the last week of its term the justices have placed limits on executive power, upheld the constitutional prerogatives of congress, reaffirmed the constitutional prohibition against unreasonable searches and seizures, validated religious freedom, and protected Americans from forced association.

It is an enduring tribute to the wisdom of our Founding Fathers that the government they established during the Constitutional convention of 1787 and the subsequent addition of the Bill of Rights devised a system of government that, however tenuous, works to this day.  In this case, a president found that although he has a pen and a phone, the constitution is a more powerful instrument.  And, even when a feckless and inept congressional leadership allowed itself to be run over roughshod by an autocratic administration, the third branch of government – in this case the judiciary – stepped forward to reassert the primacy of the constitution.

Individually the court decisions covered a wide range of issues with each case posing a threat to constitutional rights. The common thread was in every instance the court did what the founders envisioned it doing and protected the liberties granted to us by our Creator and spelled out in our nation’s governing document.

While most of the cases were decided by narrow 5-4 majorities, a cause for concern moving forward, the Justices did unanimously rule against the President’s usurpation of congressional confirmation powers by upholding the right of the U.S. Senate to decide for itself when it is in fact in session.  At specific issue were appointments to the National Labor Relations Board made by the president while the senate remained in session but not fully present in the capitol.  The president argued that was a recess during which time he could make appointments without senate confirmation.  The court ruled otherwise, bringing to a close the presidential end-run around congress and the constitution.

In a major win for individual rights, the court held that the federal government cannot require family-owned corporations to provide contraceptive benefits to employees if it violates their religious beliefs. Under the Affordable Health Care Act the administration had sought to force the national craft chain Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Products in Lancaster County to provide such benefits despite their religious objections.  While the ruling was narrowly applied to corporations in which the corporation is indistinguishable from the family that owns it, it did mark the first time the high court has extended religious freedom protections to corporations.

The court also issued a sweeping ruling protecting the privacy rights of every American by requiring law enforcement authorities to obtain a search warrant before looking at the contents of an individual’s cellular telephone. Chief Justice Roberts humorously observed that “the proverbial visitor from Mars might conclude they were an important feature of human anatomy.”

President Obama was not the only one reeled in by the court’s recent rulings.  Ruling in an Illinois case the Justices collared public sector labor unions that had been forcing thousands of in-home health care workers to pay union dues. The court held that practice violated the first amendment rights of workers who might disagree with union policy and political positions.

Thomas Jefferson once observed that: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time by the blood of patriots and tyrants.”  In his time there was little recourse to obtain liberty than by armed rebellion to win and protect it.  He and his compatriots embarked on a Great Experiment to provide a peaceful means of refreshing our God-given rights.  This past week, for the time being at least, the experiment worked.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and 

host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cited.

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Firewall Against Tyranny


By Lowman S. Henry

When considering whether or not to ratify the proposed Constitution of the United States of America a number of the former colonies expressed concern that the proposed new national charter failed to provide enough of a safeguard against the federal government developing into a tyrannical regime trampling the rights of the people in much the same manner as did Great Britain, from whom independence had just been won at a great cost in lives and treasure. Thus was born the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments clearly defining what no future government could take away from We the People and placing strict limits on its power.

After first securing our religious freedom, right to free speech, freedom to assembly and the right to petition government, the framers of the Bill of Rights added an enforcement mechanism: the Second Amendment which states in plain, straight forward language that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”   The new nation was born out of armed conflict with what had been the preeminent military power of the age. Our Founding Fathers were keenly aware of the fact that the greatest protection against tyranny was an armed populace.

Today we are engaged in a great battle over whether or not this firewall against tyranny will stand. At all levels of government: international, federal and state, an historic and epic struggle is taking place over whether or not this most basic American right will survive for another generation. The stakes could not be higher, for if this right is abridged, the ability of the people to defend itself against its own government will be gone and it won’t be long before the entire Bill of Rights is consigned to the dust bin of history.

You don’t have to dig too deeply into the history books for examples of what happens when a people are disarmed and government becomes all powerful. From Stalin’s Russia to Mao’s China to the killing fields of Cambodia, the pages of history are replete with the tragic misdeeds of dictators. The one factor tying together the massacres, genocides, and “cleansings” throughout the ages is that the victims were unarmed and defenseless against their own government.

In today’s America such a repeat of history seems remote and far-fetched. It is. And that is because of our Constitutional protections. But, absent those protections, the course of both human nature and the history of mankind suggests a predictable path. That is why the multi-level battle to protect our rights is so vitally important. At the moment, the outcome of that battle is hopeful, but continues to hang in the balance.

The United Nations recently approved an Arms Trade Treaty. This gun ban, were it to be ratified, would effectively nullify the Second Amendment. Fortunately, there is virtually no chance the U.S. Senate will ratify the pact. Ratification requires a two-thirds vote of the Senate, and – if public pressure continues to be exerted – even a simple majority will not be possible.

It is at the national and state levels where our rights face their greatest threat. Acting upon former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel’s dictum that no good crisis should be allowed to go to waste, President Obama has shamelessly played upon the victims of the Connecticut school shooting to advance his gun control measures. It would appear the more restrictive of those measures lack the votes for passage. But, rights are more often lost by a continual chipping away rather than by outright taking. Thus more “reasonable” sounding, but equally damaging measures such as universal background checks gain traction. The debate continues as if the perpetrators of gun violence are going to follow such laws and gun violence will cease once they are passed. Americans need to ask themselves do we really want the federal government maintaining a data base on each and every one of us, accessible by millions for purposes both noble and nefarious?   Such a move tramples freedom on many levels.

Meanwhile, a number of states – Connecticut, New York and Colorado most noticeably, have passed restrictive and likely unconstitutional gun control measures. Federal litigation is sure to follow, and many of these provisions will be struck down. Here in Pennsylvania – where we are known for clinging to our guns – new laws are not only unlikely, but would violate Article I Section 21 of the state constitution which says the right of the people to keep and bear arms “shall not be questioned.” It would be a violation of a legislator’s oath of office – and an impeachable offense – to even introduce gun control measures.

Thomas Jefferson observed that “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” While always true, the need for vigilance, and citizen involvement in defense of our liberty has seldom been as necessary and as crucial to the survival of a free nation as it is today.

(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is lhenry@lincolninstitute.org.)

Permission to reprint is granted provided author and affiliation are cites.

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