Barb Caffrey's Blog

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Political Activist Sara Johann, Candidate for WI Assembly District 10, Needs Your Help

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Folks, I’m doing something different today. So if you don’t live in Wisconsin, or you don’t have any interest in politics, you may as well tune out right now — I promise, I won’t be offended.

Now, as for the rest of you . . . I had a request from Sara Johann, a brilliant woman I’ve known for several years due to our joint political activism; you see, she is running for Wisconsin Assembly District 10, and is having trouble getting the word out about her candidacy.

Now, I don’t live in District 10. (Think “Shorewood,” and you’re not too far wrong as to where District 10 is in Wisconsin. Take a look at this map from the blog Retiring Guy’s Digest; it’ll give you a good idea.) But I do know Sara. She is a hard-working, principled, honest and forthright person who believes with all her heart that Wisconsin is on the wrong track economically — and she believes if she can get to the Assembly and give the other Assemblymen and women a dose of some good Wisconsin common sense, she can make a positive difference.

This is why she’s running for office.

But because she is not wealthy, and because she’s running against three other Democrats and hasn’t any endorsements, this is very much an uphill struggle. She needs to be able to get out and meet the people of her district, bare minimum; she needs to know them, for them to know her, and traveling around takes money.

Sara is a citizen activist. She is in many ways a moderate. The independents who supported the recall, much less the statewide judicial recount of the race between David Prosser and Joanne Kloppenburg a few years ago, should like Sara if they only can find out she’s out there and shares their needs and interests.

And obviously, most Democrats are going to flock to her if she can get past the actual primary. But they won’t do that if she can’t make a go of it right now.

Personally, I think anyone who has the courage to put her money where her mouth is and run for office deserves to be supported regardless of party. But in this particular case, because I know Sara and know how hard she works — and how strong her commitment is to a better and brighter economy, to marriage equality and social justice and civil rights and safe, legal and extremely rare abortions — I believe she’d be an outstanding member of the state Assembly from her first day in office.

If you worked on the recalls, if you worked on the recount between Prosser and Kloppenburg, or if you just want to support a solid, hard-working Wisconsinite who isn’t made of money but wants and needs to run for office because she’s sure she can make a difference, please consider making a donation to Sara’s campaign at this link. It doesn’t have to be a lot; even $3, if 100 people all decided to give that, would make an enormous difference to her.

And I know there are far more than 100 political activists in Wisconsin who want to see moderate, citizen legislators in office who aren’t beholden to special interests.

Besides, Sara not having any endorsements is actually an asset in an odd way; she’s not going to be beholden to anyone but the voters.

And isn’t that a refreshing change?

So please . . . consider donating to Sara’s campaign. And do help her get the word out that she is running.

Because we need more real, honest, hard-working Wisconsinites in the Assembly. Truly.

(Thus concludes today’s political missive. I’ll be back to baseball and writing and everything else tomorrow, no doubt.)

Same-Sex Marriages Being Celebrated in WI…and It’s About Time

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Folks, last Friday, United States District Court judge Barbara Crabb overturned Wisconsin’s ban on same-sex marriages, saying it violates the U.S. Constitution. (Here’s a link to her ruling in full, in case you’re interested.)

Hallelujah!

While Wisconsin’s Attorney General, J.B. Van Hollen, immediately appealed the ruling to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, for the moment same-sex couples can marry in Wisconsin. And many are doing so, because Judge Crabb has not issued a stay on same-sex marriages pending appeal (as have some other judges); instead, she’s asked for further arguments from Van Hollen that explain why he feels a stay should be granted.

In the interim, every county in Wisconsin is doing something different with regards to same-sex marriage. Some counties are not allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry, including my own Racine County; others, like Dane and Milwaukee County and even the reddest Republican county in Wisconsin, Waukesha County, are allowing same-sex couples to marry.

I applaud the county clerks who are allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally. But I do understand why the other county clerks are hesitant to marry same-sex couples as there’s a law on Wisconsin’s books that says any county clerk who marries someone illegally can be held liable (to the tune of $10,000 per “illegal marriage”).

Personally, if I were Governor Scott Walker, I’d call off J.B. Van Hollen and concede this issue. (Note that state Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, has already done so.) Walker and Van Hollen can be personally opposed all they like, but the fact of the matter is, same-sex couples should be allowed to marry in the same manner as opposite-sex couples.

However, as they’re unlikely to do that, I will wait for the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals to come down with a decision. I hope they will not issue a stay, because not every county clerk who’s allowing gay marriages to go forward is waiving the five-day mandatory waiting period (though both Milwaukee and Dane counties are). And that means the paperwork may get started, but the people in those counties may not be able to get married after all if a stay is put in place before the marriage can actually be celebrated.

I’d been hoping that the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals would immediately back up the federal court judge on this one, which is the only reason I hadn’t immediately blogged about this back on Friday night. (Over the weekend, Pride Fest was held in Milwaukee, so it was especially apt that the federal judge issued her ruling at that time.) I wanted to be able to say unequivocally that same-sex marriage would be forevermore legal in the state of Wisconsin — as it should be.

And while I cannot say that at this hour, I can at least say that I’m very pleased we’ve taken this step forward, thanks to the federal judge.

Now let’s try to stay there.

Written by Barb Caffrey

June 10, 2014 at 8:44 am

Why Voting is Important — Especially in Local Elections

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Folks, I voted today.

Why is this a big deal? Well, there were no truly contested races on the ballot, except for school board — and as I have no children, you might think I’d not care about that. (Of course, if you did think that way, you’d be wrong. But I digress.) Which is why some people sit small elections like today’s out.

But they shouldn’t.

It’s important to vote in local elections, no matter how small they may seem. People who get elected to the school board, or the county board of supervisors, or are elected as judges need to be held accountable — and need to be fully apprised of what’s going on in and around their own, particular area in order to make good decisions.

Local control is important.

I say all this because we had two elections today in Wisconsin that are highly unusual, because outside influences got heavily involved in them. The first was for the County Board of Supervisors in tiny Iron County, Wisconsin — which has as a population for the entire county around 6,000 (no misprint). And the second was for the Kenosha Unified School Board election, Kenosha being right on the Illinois border and having about 85,000 people within the city, perhaps as many as 170,000 in the county.

And the group that got involved in both cases was Americans for Prosperity, a group widely known to have been founded by the Koch Brothers.

Now, why should the Koch Brothers or AFP care about Iron County, WI? Well, according to this article from NorthlandNewscenter.com, it’s all because of a taconite mine. A billionaire named Chris Cline wants to open the mine according to the Daily Beast, but the Chippewa Indian tribe has objected, along with many environmentalists.

That’s why AFP and the Koch Brothers got involved, apparently — they want this taconite mine to go forward, and they have pumped well over $100,000 of advertising into the sleepy little county to get their own way.

They’ve also apparently recruited or helped to recruit ten candidates to challenge the fifteen incumbents on the Board of Supervisors, as usually the people on this particular supervisory board run unopposed — not because people don’t care, but because it can be hard to find fifteen civic-minded souls who want the job in little Iron County.

So there are fifteen seats, with ten being contested this time around, and a whole lot of misleading advertising thrown into the mix. There also appears to be a rather unusual connection to Governor Scott Walker and many of the Republicans currently sitting in the state Legislature that is accounting for at least some of the involvement by AFP (you need to read the Daily Beast article to find out why), which just screams that something strange is going on here.

As writer Dean Obeidallah says for the Daily Beast:

This all appears to be legal, but I doubt I’m the only one who feels something is horribly wrong. This is reminiscent of the “cooper kings” who in the early 1900’s controlled Montana politics with their mining money.

Rest assured, Mr. Obeidallah, that you are far from the only one who feels this is morally wrong, as well as more than a little bit underhanded.

But all of that, bad as it is, pales in some ways to what’s going on in Kenosha. (Kenosha, for those of you not from Southeastern Wisconsin or Northern Illinois, is Racine’s nearest neighbor to the south and is the first big city you drive through if you’re on I-94 driving into Wisconsin.)

Here in Southeastern Wisconsin, we’ve had a fight on our hands with regards to private charter schools versus public education. Racine was one of the first “pilot programs” in the state for private charter schools being funded by taxpayer dollars, and we didn’t exactly do very well — yet the program has been expanded, little by little, even though privately-owned charter schools have been proven thus far to actually be educating children even more poorly than the public schools.

Well, Kenosha Unified School District has been vocal in the past about the need for more funding for public schools. They do not want to see private schools expand into the Kenosha area whatsoever. And they have continued to be a staunch supporter of the teacher’s union.

All three of those things are apparently things AFP and the Koch Brothers do not support.

Let’s be honest here. The main reason the Rs in Wisconsin want private charter schools is to break the remains of the teacher’s union here in Wisconsin. So a pro-union district like Kenosha or Racine is a big, fat target to them.

That’s why AFP — a long-time supporter of both the national and Wisconsin Rs — got involved in, of all things, the Kenosha Unified School Board election.

So there you have it: AFP has inserted itself into not one, but two local elections because they apparently see their own interests in taconite mining and private charter schools at risk.

When the Republicans, in and out of Wisconsin, are all supposedly for “local control,” this sort of interference really seems hypocritical.

Anyway, it’ll be hours before all the results come in with regards to both elections, but I’ll try to write a follow-up blog tomorrow about whatever happened, and whatever lessons can be learned after the fact.

But for now, make no mistake about it — local elections are important.

And the Koch Brothers know it.

 

WI Gov. Scott Walker in Trouble Again as 28,000 e-mails Released in “John Doe” Probe

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Folks, I have said this time and time again: Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) has a lot of explaining to do.

Why?

Well, last night 28,000 e-mails were released due to an Open Records request by several state newspapers due to one of the latest “John Doe” probes against Gov. Walker. (There currently are at least two and possibly three “John Doe” probes going on, but this one deals with former staffers convicted of electioneering on government time — basically, being paid to perform other duties, or doing election business on state time — a felony under Wisconsin law.) This specific “John Doe” probe was about Walker staffers who’d set up an illegal campaign network only steps from Walker’s own desk when he was still campaigning for the job of Governor and was serving as Milwaukee County Executive.

While my hometown newspaper the Racine Journal-Times buried this story for whatever reason, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel and the Wisconsin State Journal — Wisconsin’s two biggest newspapers — came out strongly against what has since been found in the massive e-mail release.

The Journal-Sentinel was blunt in its assessment:

Daily calls. Walker was hands-on. In April 2010, Nardelli sent an email to top aides saying Walker wanted 8 a.m. conference calls between campaign and key county staff “to review events of the day or of a previous or future day, so we can better coordinate sound, timely responses, so we all know what the others are doing.”

Cover blown, no more laptops. In addition to running a secret email system inside the Milwaukee County Courthouse, Walker’s aides used laptops to perform campaign work.

After prosecutors seized a computer of Walker aide Darlene Wink, who spent a good chunk of her time on the county dime posting positive comments about Walker online, Walker sent an email and ordered his aides, “no laptops, no websites, no time away during the work day, etc.”

Note that this last point is a particularly big deal as Scott Walker has insisted throughout that he knew nothing about the fact his staffers were doing campaign work while being paid by the city and county of Milwaukee — in short, committing felonies.

But if Walker truly knew nothing, why did he say “no laptops?”

And if he didn’t know anything, yet was a micro-manager otherwise, how is this remotely credible?

As Dee J. Hall of the Wisconsin State Journal put it, Walker “must have known” about the “private e-mail, laptop system.”

Mind you, neither of these reports go anywhere near as far as reporter Ruth Coniff of The Progressive, who notes that Walker’s scandal is far worse than New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s “Bridgegate”:

But Bridgegate is minor compared to the “John Doe” investigations that have dogged Walker for the last four years, landing one of his closest aides and longtime political advisers in prison.

…Six Walker staffers and associates racked up 15 felony convictions and three misdemeanors in the first John Doe investigation, begun in May 2010 — a secret probe into illegal campaign work on taxpayer time while Walker was county executive of Milwaukee.

Walker started a criminal defense fund — an unprecedented move for a Wisconsin governor — in response to the first John Doe. In total, he paid more than $650,000 for lawyers representing himself and his campaign committee, according to Jason Stein of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The first John Doe investigation ended on March 1, 2013 with no charges against the governor.

A second John Doe probe, begun in 2012, focuses specifically on illegal coordination between rightwing groups and the governor’s campaign during the recall election, according to Dan Bice of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

I posted all of this to give those who don’t live in Wisconsin some idea of what we’ve been living through here in the state. We’ve never had a Governor do anything remotely like what Scott Walker has been accused of doing.

And when Walker got through the first “John Doe” probe without being charged, Republican radio commentators (including Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM 620, perhaps the most widely-listened to conservative radio host in the state) called this a “Democratic witch hunt” and said Walker had been “vindicated.”

So the release of these 28,000 e-mails has been a stunner — at least to the Republicans who have to discuss it.

Note that most of the sitting Republicans in both the statehouse and in Washington, DC, have been ominously silent. Two of them, U.S. Representative Paul Ryan of Janesville and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, are particularly close friends of Walker and were the fastest to say Walker was vindicated last year when the first “John Doe” probe ended without the Governor getting charged.

As state Sen. John Erpenbach (D-Madison) said on Ed Schultz’s show on MSNBC this afternoon, “This probe is far from over.” The Progressive has had a number of updates today, including this one about a chief investigator insisting that Walker used the illegal communications network (written by reporter Matthew Rothschild), and this one written by the staff of The Progressive that reports one of the now-convicted felons who used to work for Scott Walker, Kelly Reindfleisch, knew what she was doing was wrong.

This evidence is so damning, the Journal-Sentinel — a paper that endorsed Scott Walker twice (once in the 2010 election, and again in the 2012 recall) — has written an editorial calling for Walker to give the state of Wisconsin some answers. Now.

As their editorial says:

Gov. Scott Walker needs to talk. He should hold a news conference to explain how much he knew about a secret email system as Milwaukee County executive. And he needs to let reporters ask as many questions as they want.

Why wouldn’t the governor want to clear up questions raised by the release Wednesday of 27,000 pages of emails related to a John Doe investigation into links between his county government staff and his gubernatorial campaign staff in 2010? State law bars public employees from working for political parties and campaigns while being paid by taxpayers to provide government services.

While I don’t often agree with the Journal-Sentinel about Wisconsin state politics, I am in full agreement here.

Scott Walker must answer these questions, fully and openly. And he’d best tell the truth.

Any other action does not befit the sitting Governor of Wisconsin.

———-

** One, final thought: thus far, Democratic candidate for Governor Mary Burke has yet to say anything about this latest scandal. This seems, at best, nonsensical on her part. (Where is Sen. Kathleen Vinehout when we need her?)

Written by Barb Caffrey

February 20, 2014 at 6:22 pm

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) Announces She Will Not Run for WI Governor

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Earlier today, Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) announced that she will not run for Governor against millionaire Mary Burke. (Please see this article from the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel for further details.) From her statement:

“The severity of the injury received in the car accident last month — a splintering of the bone in my upper right arm — and the time required to recover and rehabilitate make it impossible for me to run the intense, grass roots campaign that I want to run and would be necessary to win. …I wish success to Mary Burke and others who may offer their time and talents in leading our state.”

Folks, I knew this news was coming, but I’m still upset by it. As I wrote back in October, Mary Burke is an untested, unqualified candidate. Burke does not understand anything about the poor or those looking for work, has shown no empathy, either, and has offered no solutions as to how to grow the economy in the Southeastern Wisconsin area. Whereas Kathleen Vinehout is an eminently qualified candidate, a centrist who’s won election and re-election in a Republican-dominated area, someone who’s been both a dairy farmer and a college professor — and someone who was so committed to getting elected to the Senate that she sold off her own dairy herd to do it.

As I said in October:

From this vantage point, the only thing Burke has to offer is a whole lot of her own money to throw into the governor’s race.  She has no record to run on.  She has no idea how to improve things as a Governor because she’s never been elected to public office (excepting her current stint on the Madison school board).  She officially has “no platform” and has made “no promises,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal . . .

While I completely understand Sen. Vinehout’s position — she was in a nasty car accident in a snowstorm that left her arm with a nasty fracture requiring an eight-hour surgery to put back together, and substantial rehab must now be required — it still makes me extremely upset.

Vinehout doesn’t have a lot of money, you see.  But she has the right values for Wisconsin.  She understands, as Mary Burke doesn’t, the plight of the working man and woman — she understands the self-employed, the unemployed, the fully employed, and works hard for every last one of us.

I am deeply impressed by Sen. Vinehout, and wish her all the luck in the world going forward.  But her not running for Governor at this time — while completely understandable on a personal level — is a huge loss for Wisconsin.

And I refuse to say otherwise.

EMILYs List Endorses Mary Burke, Leaves Sen. Kathleen Vinehout Out in the Cold

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Yesterday, the influential group EMILY’s List (Early Money is Like Yeast) endorsed Democratic candidate Mary Burke for the 2014 Wisconsin Gubernatorial race.  Their stated reason for doing so, according to the President of EMILY’s List, Stephanie Schriock, is that Burke has “been quietly changing the world for the better for years, by breaking barriers herself and by making opportunities for others to get ahead.”

But as the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel’s article said in an almost throwaway line, the person this really hurts is state Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma).  Vinehout, one of the “Wisconsin 14″ who stood up to Republican Governor Scott Walker and left the state due to the controversial Act 10 repealing collective bargaining for most public employee unions, ran for Governor during the 2012 recall race but didn’t really have the money to contend with the two top Democratic candidates, former Madison County Executive Kathleen Falk and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Vinehout was my pick last time for Governor, mostly because I met her, listened to her positions, researched her, and knew that if the general public got any sense of her whatsoever — she’s a woman of substance who’s been a dairy farmer and a college professor, and is known as a “budget hawk” — I believed she’d beat Scott Walker.  Vinehout’s district is more Republican than not, yet she’s won re-election in that district, which means she has bipartisan appeal.

By EMILY’s List endorsing Burke — a woman who’s never been elected to state office, though she was appointed to state Commerce Secretary by former Governor Jim Doyle — this significantly hurts Vinehout.

Worse yet, Burke is a millionaire in her own right and a former executive at Trek Bicycle, a company her father founded.  (Please see this article from Blogging Blue about the problematic issues facing Burke if she continues her gubernatorial run.)  Which begs this question: Is big money the only reason Burke is getting these endorsements?

Currently, Burke sits on the school board in Madison.  While there’s nothing wrong with that, this is the only position she’s ever been elected to in her life.  Whereas Vinehout is a sitting state Senator who’s actually had to do something extremely difficult and take a stand — all while not getting paid in the process (as she is not wealthy, I’m sure this did not help her or her family much).

Overall, I’m deeply unhappy EMILY’s List has decided to endorse Burke.  From this vantage point, the only thing Burke has to offer is a whole lot of her own money to throw into the governor’s race.  She has no record to run on.  She has no idea how to improve things as a Governor because she’s never been elected to public office (excepting her current stint on the Madison school board).  She officially has “no platform” and has made “no promises,” according to the Wisconsin State Journal, which, as they put it, “has led some Democratic activists to express concerns about her candidacy” while union leaders and the main Democratic Party have largely been silent.

All these types of endorsements do is limit the prospects of candidates like Vinehout who might really have a chance if that big money came her way later on, favoring those who already have big money themselves or big money pledged, as now, from influential Democratic organizations.

Besides, I have a real problem with a woman who gets into a race but hasn’t a clue how to fix anything.  Especially when an outstanding candidate like Sen. Kathleen Vinehout is available.

If I were the state Democratic Party Chairman, Mike Tate, what I’d do is throw money at Vinehout.  Vinehout is by far the best chance we have in Wisconsin to take back the Governor’s chair.  She’s articulate, she’s funny, she’s an impressive candidate “on the stump,” she has been both a dairy farmer and a professor (you don’t get that combination very often), and she’s had to stand up for what she believed in by walking out of the Senate and leaving the state as one of the “Wisconsin 14.”

At an absolute minimum, I’d want a primary if I were Tate in order to improve Burke as a candidate.  Right now, Burke is a “one-percenter,” a millionaire who’s never had to face most of the issues most Wisconsinites face every single day.  Vinehout, on the other hand, is not wealthy and has had to face every single last one of them and can relate to most if not all Wisconsin voters.  If Burke has to debate Vinehout, Burke would either quickly improve or implode.

Either way, the state would win, the voters would win, and we’d get a far better chance to oust Scott Walker from the Governor’s chair.

One final thought: How does it improve democracy to run a well-heeled candidate with deep pockets who doesn’t have a clue how to run the state, especially when a much better candidate is available and all she needs is money to help her out?

Written by Barb Caffrey

October 25, 2013 at 4:26 am

Action 2013 — Racine Residents Need to Support the Racine Concert Band

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Racine area residents, listen up: The City of Racine needs to hear from you that the Racine Concert Band is an important part of your lives.

Now, am I just saying this because I play in the band myself?  Hardly.  The Racine Concert Band (henceforth shortened to “RCB”) has been in existence for ninety years, playing free summer concerts and giving many hours of enjoyment to local residents.  There’s also been an emphasis ever since the late 1970s of playing concerts in the various high schools or at other public school functions as a way to show kids that music is worth learning for its own sake.

I cannot imagine Racine being remotely the same if we didn’t have the RCB available to play free concerts at the Zoo during July and August.   But, apparently, at least some Racine aldermen and Mayor John Dickert have yet to figure out how much good the RCB does for the City of Racine (partly because most of them have never attended one single free concert).  And this is a problem, because the RCB’s contract with the City of Racine runs out in December . . . but the budget for 2014 will be decided in the next few weeks.

It’s really irritating for me as a musician to know that a bunch of people who’ve never once been out to the Zoo to see or hear the RCB are going to determine its budgetary fate.  I know what good the band does; I’ve seen it.  Little kids dance on the grass over at the Zoo when we play Broadway show tunes or medleys from famous movies like “Star Wars”; older people bob their heads in time to the songs that were popular when they were growing up (or that were popular in their parents’ time).  The band plays all different types of instrumental music, so there’s something there to please just about everyone whether you’re six — or ninety-six.

But the Mayor and the Aldermen definitely don’t seem to understand how much good the RCB does.  Which is why I’m calling on everyone who reads my blog and lives in Racine to please get in contact with Mayor Dickert or your local alderman by phone, e-mail, fax, or carrier pigeon (the latter might really shock them, wouldn’t you say?)  Let them know that you, too, believe that the RCB should be fully funded.

Mind you, I do understand why at least some of the aldermen are balking.  Racine has a severe budgetary shortfall, partly due to Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budgetary priorities (which seem to be to starve all the cities, mostly led by Democrats, and give to all the rural communities, which are run by Republicans).  Potholes aren’t getting filled, streetlights are being removed, and furlough days have been implemented for all public workers as a way of saving money.

Still.  The RCB has fewer concerts than it did when I was in high school because of these same budgetary issues.  But it remains in existence, does a lot of good to hearten Racine residents, and gives us a reputation for class and culture that, quite frankly, Racine needs right now.

Please let your local legislators know that music still matters by telling them to please fully fund the Racine Concert Band in 2014 and beyond.

And for those of you who don’t live in Racine but still want to help — if you’ve ever visited Racine or ever taken in a free concert, now’s the time to say how much you enjoyed it.  It can’t hurt, might help, and certainly will emphasize to the Mayor and aldermen that the RCB is indeed a selling point for the City of Racine.

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