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Hillary Clinton

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Still Too Big to Jail.

“‘I think that there is a great sense of frustration and a sense of injustice that the laws have not been enforced in the way most Americans think they should have been,’ said Miller, who wrote the report’s chapter on regulatory enforcement. He notes that 79% of Americans ‘think more bankers and other financial executives should have been criminally prosecuted for their role in the financial crisis.'”

A welcome new report drafted by Americans for Financial Reform and Mike Konczal and championed by Senator Elizabeth Warren makes the much-needed case for further financial reform.“Today, the four biggest banks are 30% larger than they were five years ago. And the five largest banks now hold more than half of the total banking assets in the country.”

At the moment, Hillary Clinton’s 2016 ascendancy to the Democratic nomination, and subsequently the presidency, is looking like a virtual lock. But if Clinton really wants to nip a serious 2016 primary challenge in the bud, she’d start moving to the left on these matters. I’m not holding my breath. (Striking Guy Fawkes Day “Million Mask March” pic above via the OWS Twitter feed.)

Birds of a Feather.

Could I offer one piece of serious advice?…Start thinking now about you want your legacy to be.” Having made peace with The Queen, Tony Blair (Michael Sheen once more) now contends with President Bill and First Lady Hillary Clinton (Dennis Quaid and Hope Davis respectively) in this brief teaser for Richard Loncraine’s The Special Relationship, written by Peter Morgan. (This is the fifth Morgan/Sheen collaboration after The Deal, The Queen, Frost/Nixon, and The Damned United.) With this, Treme, The Pacific, Song of Ice and Fire, and Boardwalk Empire, the reasons for re-subscribing to HBO seem to be mounting.

The Ghosts of Ford and Bourne.

As most everyone keeping up on current events these days knows, the people around the president, as well as the president himself, spend a good bit of time emphasizing the pragmatic nature of this administration. One senior administration official recently deemed the president a “devout nonideologue”, and Obama himself has argued several times that he aims to tackle the myriad problems before us with a “ruthless pragmatism.” Now, we’ve seen nothing to indicate that Obama’s pragmatic nature is an act. If anything, from installing Sen. Clinton as his Secretary of State to keeping Sec. Gates at Defense, it’s clear that pragmatism, accommodation, and inclusiveness are his temperamental instincts as a politician. Nevertheless, it’s also clear that comparisons to Franklin Roosevelt, and the “bold, persistent experimentation” Roosevelt promised in 1932 — and subsequently followed through on over the course of the decade — aren’t entirely undesired by the White House.

Well, I’ve been traveling over the past few days, and thus haven’t been following the news as closely as usual. Still, even given President Obama’s health care announcement on Monday (highly reminiscent of the NRA in that it purports to let the big players in the health care industry help write the codes, so to speak) and the welcome declaration on Wednesday that the administration would soon seek a new regulatory apparatus for derivatives markets, Franklin Roosevelt was not the first president that came to mind as a point of reference for Obama this week.

No, that would be Gerald Ford, who, most historians agree, was an honorable man thrust into a thorny dilemma by the crimes of his predecessor, and who grievously hamstrung his own brief administration by deciding to pardon Richard Nixon. And now, it seems, history gets dangerously close to repeating itself. For, it’s moved beyond obvious that the Dubya administration not only willfully engaged in torture — clearly, bad enough — but did so to compel false confessions of an Iraq-9/11 connection that they knew never existed. And yet, we’ve already witnessed the ungainly sight of President Obama equivocating on the question of prosecutions in the name of some dubious “time for reflection, not retribution.” (Never mind that, as President Obama reminds us on other matters, wounds, like corruption, fester in the dark.)

This week, President Obama has compounded his recent error — twice. In the first of two eleventh-hour reversals, Obama — who has promised us “an unprecedented level of openness in government” many times over — instead chose to side with the publicists of the Pentagon and block the court-ordered release of new photographs detailing detainee abuse: “‘The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,’ Obama said yesterday. ‘In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in danger.‘” (How bad are they? If Sy Hersh is correct, and there’s no reason to think he isn’t, they could be very, very bad.)

Then, today, the Obama administration announced they will continue using extra-legal military tribunals, not federal courts or military courts martial, for Gitmo suspects. “‘Military commissions have a long tradition in the United States,’ said Obama in a statement. ‘They are appropriate for trying enemies who violate the laws of war, provided that they are properly structured and administered.’” (The key line of the WP story: “In recent weeks, however, the administration appears to have bowed to fears articulated by the Pentagon that bringing some detainees before regular courts presented enormous legal hurdles and could risk acquittals.)”

Obama’s statements aside, the arguments — re: excuses — in favor of blocking the release of these no-doubt-horrifying photos and maintaining extralegal tribunals — now with 33% less illegality! — are the thin gruel you might expect. The WP’s Dan Froomkin already eviscerated the former quite devastatingly, while Salon‘s Glenn Greenwald, laudable as usual, has taken point on the idiocy of the latter: “[W]e’ll give due process as long as we’re sure we can win, and if we can’t, we’ll give you something less.” In both cases, the principle animating the advice given to President Obama seems mainly to be the usual self-serving, CYA behavior of Dubya holdovers at the Pentagon.

But that doesn’t absolve President Obama of his failures here. For whatever reason — perhaps he’s trying to smooth things over in these areas so he can focus on the considerable domestic problems on his plate — Obama is increasingly making the exact same mistake as Gerald Ford. As other commentators have pointed out, by shoving the rampant illegalities of the GWoT under the rug — or worse, perpetuating them — Obama is dangerously close to making his administration retroactively complicit in the crimes of the previous administration.

Now, I’d like to move on to fixing the economy and universal health care — not to mention voting, lobbying, and campaign finance reform — as much as the next guy., But sidestepping the tough choices on torture and the imperial presidency, as Paul Krugman (whom I’ve had issues with but am in complete lockstep with here) noted a few weeks ago, is simply not an option, if we are to maintain anything resembling our national soul after this egregious wallowing in torture and illegality.

Speaking of which, a quick comment on the emerging question of what and when Speaker Pelosi knew about torture (which the Republicans have shamelessly latched onto like a life raft — see in particular Karl Rove frantically pointing at her to save his own skin the other day. You can almost smell the desperate flop sweat exuding from his every pore.) Well, let’s look into it. Commissions, investigations, prosecutions — let’s quit screwing around and start getting to the bottom of this fiasco. I can’t believe I have to keep writing this like it’s even a bone of contention, but look: If we can’t get it together enough to collectively agree that torture is both immoral and illegal, and that those who designed and orchestrated these war crimes during the Dubya administration be subject to investigation, prosecution, and punishment, then we might as well call this whole “rule of law” thing off. As ethicist David Luban noted yesterday in congressional testimony, the relevant case law here is not oblique. Either the laws apply to those at the very top, or they don’t — in which case, it’s hard to see why anyone else should feel bound to respect them either.

Which brings me back to pragmatism. Hey, in general, I’m all for it, particularly when you consider all the many imbecilities thrust upon the world by the blind ideological purity of the neocons of late. But, let’s remember, the limits of pragmatism as a guiding national philosophy were exposed before all the world before Obama, or even FDR, ever took office. When, after several years of trying to stay well out of the whole mess, Woodrow Wilson entered America into World War I in 1917, the very fathers of Pragmatism, most notably philosopher of education John Dewey, convinced themselves war was now the correct call and exhorted their fellow progressives, usually in the pages of The New Republic, to get behind it. (Many did, but others — such as Jane Addams and Nation editor Oswald Villard — did not.) War went from being a moral abomination to a great and necessary opportunity for national renewal. Given it was a done deal, the pragmatic thing to do now was to go with the flow.

Aghast at this 180-degree shift in the thinking of people he greatly admired, a young writer named Randolph Bourne called shenanigans on this “pragmatic” turnaround, and excoriated his former mentors for their lapse into war fervor. “It must never be forgotten that in every community it was the least liberal and least democratic elements among whom the preparedness and later the war sentiment was found,” Bourne wrote. “The intellectuals, in other words, have identified themselves with the least democratic forces in American life. They have assumed the leadership for war of those very classes whom the American democracy had been immemorially fighting. Only in a world where irony was dead could an intellectual class enter war at the head of such illiberal cohorts in the avowed cause of world-liberalism and world-democracy.

Now, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger cheerleader for the progressives than I. But the fact remains that Bourne, who perished soon thereafter in the 1918 influenza epidemic, was prescient in a way that many of the leading progressive thinkers were not. The emotions unleashed by the Great War and its aftermath (as well as the sight of the accompanying Russian Revolution) soon fractured completely the progressive movement in America, and proved exceedingly fertile soil for the reascendancy of the most reactionary elements around. (Back then “Bolshevik” and “anarchist” were preferred as the favorite epithets of the “One Hundred Percent American” right-wing, although “socialist,” then as now, was also in vogue. At least then they had real socialists around, tho’.) And the pragmatic writers and thinkers of TNR, who thought they could ride the mad tiger through a “war to end all wars,” instead found their hopes and dreams chewed up and mangled beyond recognition. They wanted a “world made safe for democracy” and they ended up with the Red Scare, Warren Harding, and an interstitial peace at Versailles that lasted less than a generation.

The point being: however laudable a virtue in most circumstances, pragmatism for pragmatism’s sake can lead one into serious trouble. And, as a guiding light of national moral principle, it occasionally reeks. As Dewey and his TNR compatriots discovered to their everlasting chagrin, you can talk yourself into pretty much anything and deem it “pragmatic,” when it’s in fact just the path of least resistance. And, when your guiding philosophy of leadership is to always view intense opposing sides as Scylla and Charybdis, and then to steer through them by finding the calm, healthy middle, you can bet dollars-to-donuts that the conservative freaks of the industry will always be pushing that “center” as far right as possible, regardless of the issues involved. And, eventually, without a guiding moral imperative at work — like, I dunno, torture is illegal, immoral, and criminal, or the rule of law applies to everyone — you may discover that that middle channel is no longer in the middle at all, but has diverted strongly to the right. In which case, welcome to Gerald Ford territory.

Nobody wants that, of course. We — on the left, at least — all want to remember the Obama administration not as a well-meaning dupe notable mainly for its unfortunate rubberstamping of Dubya-era atrocities, but as a transformational presidency akin to those of Lincoln and the two Roosevelts. To accomplish this goal, it would behoove the White House to remember that Lincoln, pragmatic that he was, came to abolition gradually, but come to abolition he did. Or consider that Franklin Roosevelt, pragmatic that he was, eventually chose his side as well. “I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match,” FDR said in his renomination speech of 1936. “I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.

I should like to have it said of President Obama’s administration as well. The alternative — Obama’s sad, “pragmatic” capitulation to Dubya-era criminals — is too depressing to contemplate. But the picture below (found here) gives you a pretty good sense of what it’ll mean for America if we don’t get to the bottom of this, and soon.

Clinton: Mea Culpa, Mexico.

“‘I feel very strongly we have a co-responsibility,’ Clinton told reporters accompanying her to Mexico City a day after the Obama administration said it would send more money, technology and manpower to secure the Southwestern frontier and help Mexico battle the cartels.” During a visit to our ailing neighbor, Secretary of State Clinton admits American culpability in the exacerbating of Mexico’s drug war. “‘Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade,’ she said. ‘Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians… Clearly, what we have been doing has not worked and it is unfair for our incapacity… to be creating a situation where people are holding the Mexican government and people responsible,’ she said.’That’s not right.’

Well, cheers to Sec. Clinton for being honest about some of the causes of Mexico’s escalating drug violence. Still, in pledging tighter borders, more troops, yadda yadda yadda, she and the administration are still dancing around one of the more obvious solutions to the problem.

Gaza: No Easy Answers.

Speaking of those ostensibly terror-despising free peoples, I haven’t written here on the depressing situation in Gaza, but friend and colleague Liam of sententiae et clamores concisely and elegantly summed up my basic sentiment toward recent events the other day: “it seems that almost all the discussion and reporting on the issue is one-sided and simplistic. Let me state my position: I am pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian, anti-Hamas and against current Israeli policy. I oppose what the Israeli government is doing now in the same way I opposed my own government’s war against Iraq: not only is it immoral, heartless, and cynical, but actually increases the long-term security problems for Israel, much like our invasion of Iraq has weakened our own security situation.

Given what little I know about what’s going on, that’s basically my view of it as well. On the one hand, Israel is responding to an untenable security situation — Hamas rockets being fired into neighborhoods and cities — that we wouldn’t tolerate for a second. (In fact, we invaded Iraq on a much flimsier security pretext.) Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that Israel is trying to run the table right here right now, in the twilight moments of the Dubya presidency, because they know they have carte blanche from 43 to do what they will. And I suspect this particular neocon-run advance, like all the rest of ’em in recent years, is doomed to failure — if anything, I’d wager, it’s just swelling the ranks (and the coffers) of Hamas.

Regardless, the Obama administration and Secretary of State Clinton are going to have their work cut out for them. I’m not one who believes particularly that conflicts with roots in millennia-long religious strife can get “solved” in one or two US presidential terms. But let’s at least hope, under their watch, we can start to achieve the type of broader range of discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that you can find in…say, Israel. It’s both embarrassing and extremely counterproductive for our nation to be seen — and to continually be used — as a knee-jerk diplomatic dupe that will always blindly support policies initiated by the most conservative factions in Israeli politics.

A Rose By Any Other Name.

So I take it y’all have been following the recent outrage in Empire State politics: A woman who’s never held any kind of elected office but happens to have a big, important surname just up and decides she’d like to be the Senator from New York. To accommodate this sudden quasi-royal prerogative, other deserving candidates in the Democratic party are completely shunted aside, including some who’ve spent their entire careers in public service. And, here’s the real kicker: At the end of the day, despite having very little to show for her legislative career, this well-named woman is for some reason made Secretary of State.

Ok, I’m partly kidding. Nonetheless, I find the recent furor over Caroline Kennedy’s possible two-year appointment to the New York Senate to be a bit willfully obtuse about both recent events and the former occupants of that Senate seat. Even the obvious Clinton analogy notwithstanding, lest we forget: Longtime Massachusetts resident Bobby Kennedy was only tangentially qualified for a New York Senate seat in 1964, and even his brother Teddy was basically appointed the first time ’round. And, besides, if Clinton’s perch doesn’t go to Mrs. Kennedy, who then is waiting in the wings? Well, most likely, Andrew Cuomo. A real bootstrapper, that one.

Don’t get me wrong: In principle, I’m dead set against the idea of Senate seats being doled out on the basis of familial connections. It’s an ugly, monarchical habit, and if the seat ends up going to a relatively unknown pol who’s paid their dues (a la Nita Lowey, who got pushed out for Clinton in 2000), all the better. Still, I’m inclined to think charitably of Caroline Kennedy for several reasons other than her name and historic lineage: her early advocacy of Sen. Obama and the good work she’s done for my sister’s organization over the years, to name just two. And, if Gov. Patterson were to end up choosing her…well, ok. I can think of more egregious injustices in this world. To watch the TNR gang throw an extended fit about it, or read Salon hackmeister Joan Walsh (who, by the way, penned an extraordinarily self-serving 2008 retrospective this past week) put down her Clinton pom-poms for a second to tsk-tsk the Kennedy “celebrity” candidacy is, in a word, irritating.

The Man of the Hour.

So, can you guess who TIME’s Person of the Year for 2008 turned out to be?

Not a huge surprise of course. Regardless, in honor of the occasion, and since now seems as good a time as any to fire up the 2008-in-retrospect train, below are some of the longer GitM essays on President-elect Obama over the past year and change. (And if you’re really a glutton for punishment, and want to relive all the debate coverage or somesuch, there’s always the election 2008 archives.)

  • Progressivism, a Born Loser?, “Progressivism Continued” — November 2007. Wherein the case is made that [a] Obama is more progressive than he is liberal and that [b], contra friend and colleague David Greenberg, that’s exactly what America needs right now.
  • IA-Day | GitM for Obama” — January 2008. An overview of the Democratic field as it stood the morning of the Iowa caucus, and an endorsement of Barack Obama.
  • The Future Begins Now,” “Iowa By the Numbers” — January 2008. On Senator Obama’s victory in the Iowa caucuses.
  • Barack Obama and the Generation Gap” — January 2008 — A plea to Baby Boom voters, borrowing heavily from my man Bob Dylan, to get behind Sen. Obama.
  • Greenberg: Missing the Thread” — January 2008. Arguing, again with friend David Greenberg, that there is much more to Obama’s candidacy than just the “Great White Hope.”
  • The Great Need of the Hour” — January 2008. An excerpt from then-Senator Obama’s MLK day speech.
  • Yes, We Can,” “Oh Carolina!” — January 2008. Excerpts from Sen. Obama’s speech, and parsing Obama’s victory, in my home state of South Carolina.
  • A President Like My Father,” It is Time Now for Barack Obama” — January 2008. Excerpts from Caroline and Ted Kennedy’s respective endorsements of the Senator.
  • “Empty Suit…with a Stovepipe Hat” — January 2008. The Tribune‘s Eric Zorn makes the Lincoln v. Seward comparison explicit.
  • Lakoff on the Dem Divide” — January 2008. Linguist and political theorist George Lakoff endorses Obama.
  • Showtime | Barack Obama for President” — February 2008. A round-up of Obama endorsements, and primary news thus far, on Super Tuesday.
  • We’re Going the Distance” — February 2008. Parsing the Super Tuesday results.
  • Obama Endorses La Follette” — February 2008. In Wisconsin, Obama rhetorically tips his hat to the progressives of yesteryear.
  • Dodd Comes Forward” — February 2008. Senator Chris Dodd becomes the first former primary opponent to endorse Obama.
  • We are Hope Despite the Times” — March 2008. Michael Stipe endorses Obama.
  • Stepping Back for the Big Picture” — March 2008. On the state of the race during the six-week Pennsylvania lull.
  • A More Perfect Union” — March 2008. On Senator Obama’s “Race in America” speech.
  • Our Five Year Mission” — May 2008. Barack Obama and others respond to the fifth anniversary of “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq.
  • So Happy Together… | It’s On.” — May 2008. The McCain-Obama general election unofficially begins.
  • The Lesson of the Ring” — June 2008. Some closing thoughts on the seemingly never-ending 2008 Democratic primary.
  • The Nominee” — June 2008. Excerpt from Sen. Obama’s nomination-clinching victory speech.
  • The Bygones are Bygones” — June 2008. Senators Obama and Clinton make peace.
  • Obama: Don’t Tread on Me” — June 2008. Thought on and excerpts from Sen. Obama’s “patriotism” speech in Independence, MO.
  • Wir sind alle Berliners” — July 2008. On Sen. Obama’s summer world tour and speech in Berlin.
  • That’s Me in the Corner…” — August 2008. On Sen. Obama’s visit to Chesapeake, VA, which I attended.
  • The Ticket” — August 2008. Sen. Obama chooses Joe Biden as his running mate.
  • Wow,” “Obama: The Main Event” — August 2008. Reflections on my visit to Denver, and Sen. Obama’s nomination speech.
  • Astride the Mad Elephant” — October 2008. On the sad turn taken by the McCain campaign.
  • Barack Obama for President” — November 2008. The closing argument for Sen Obama, on election day.
  • 44,” “Thoughts after the Quake” — November 2008. Early reflections on the election of Barack Obama.
    Phew, what a long, strange trip it’s been! Of course, in all the important ways, we’re only just getting started.

  • The Restoration?

    ‘You could have had an administration with a sprinkling of Clinton people, it would have been fine,’ said Robert Kuttner, co-editor of the American Prospect…’But when so many of the top people are holdovers, and he’s promoting change, you have to say, wait a minute.’” As the official Cabinet appointments file in, some left-minded folk cast a wary eye upon the Clintonian tinge of the Obama cabinet. (If you haven’t been keeping up, among those announced by the transition of late are Eric Holder at Justice, Tim Geithner at Treasury, and Larry Summers(!) as in-house economic guru, and word has leaked of Bill Richardson for Commerce and You-Know-Who for State.)

    To be honest, with a few exceptions — After his egregious stint at Harvard and his hand in forging the economic mess we’re in now, I’m not altogether sure Larry Summers deserved to “fail up” — I’m not only fine with so many experienced Clinton-era officials in the Obama cabinet, I expected it. This was the great fallacy of the McCain campaign — For all his talk of maverick independence, there was never any substantial trough of non-Dubya Republicans out there from which McCain could’ve picked a government. A few cosmetic changes in the Cabinet aside, a McCain Washington would by necessity have been run by the same jokers who brought us the last eight years. And, for better or worse, we Dems also don’t have a different farm team of any kind. As Robert Borosage well puts it in the article above, “It hasn’t surprised me that he’s chosen stars from the Clinton bench, because that’s the bench we have.

    All that being said, I’d be lying if I didn’t note that the probable choice of Sen. Clinton for Secretary of State gives me pause. Part of my qualm, I suppose, is just a temperamental defect in my grudge-carrying Irish character — I’d be the first to admit that I lean towards “the Chicago way” in these sorts of things. (If it were up to me, Joe Lieberman would be working the Senate cloakroom after his behavior this election cycle, and, imho, Sen Clinton still has quite a bit to answer for as well.) But even allowing for my own petty vindictiveness, I’m not feeling the pick. Notwithstanding her dubious qualifications for State — don’t we have any career diplomats who would fit the bill? — Sen. Clinton’s record in foreign policy matters thus far is not what you’d call stellar. (See also: the Iraq vote, the Iran vote.) And, to put it delicately, if we learned anything from the Clinton campaign this past cycle, it’s that management skills may not be her forte — Wouldn’t we all be better served with Sen. Clinton replacing Ted Kennedy as the new liberal lion of the Senate?

    Mind you, I can see the political merits of the pick, both in terms of its Lincolnian magnanimity (it enhances Obama’s “goodbye to all that” post-partisan prestige, and completes the Seward analogy) and its Johnsonian shrewdness. (As LBJ said of J. Edgar Hoover, ““I would rather have him inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in.“) And, if the president-elect believes Sen. Clinton to be the woman for the job, despite everything that’s happened over the year, I’m inclined to trust his judgment on the matter. I just hope it works out better than I fear. (Pic via Sullivan.)

    Clinton II: I Want to Believe.

    “Everything I learned in my eight years as president and in the work I’ve done since, in America and across the globe, has convinced me that Barack Obama is the man for this job. He has a remarkable ability to inspire people, to raise our hopes and rally us to high purpose. He has the intelligence and curiosity every successful president needs. His policies on the economy, taxes, health care and energy are far superior to the Republican alternatives. He has shown a clear grasp of our foreign policy and national security challenges, and a firm commitment to repair our badly strained military. His family heritage and life experiences have given him a unique capacity to lead our increasingly diverse nation and to restore our leadership in an ever more interdependent world. The long, hard primary tested and strengthened him. And in his first presidential decision, the selection of a running mate, he hit it out of the park.:

    And with that, President Bill Clinton, in his impressive throwback performance tonight, helped to rectify the most egregious lacunae in his wife’s speech the night before. [Transcript.] In some ways, the former President’s speech exhibited a classic Clinton dynamic: His remarks had many of the same issues as those of Sen. Clinton — they were often relentlessly self-aggrandizing, for example — and yet, as with so many other things, he’s often just better at getting away with it. “Vote for Obama, because he’s the Second Coming of Me in 1992” is an argument that’s almost breathtaking in the audacity of its self-absorption, and yet Bill Clinton — when he’s on his game, as he was tonight — is remarkably good at making such egotism seem more like a magnanimous benediction, kindly bestowed on his Democratic successor. It’s a neat trick, no doubt…and when he goes after the GOP, few in our party do it better.

    That being said, I thought even President Clinton’s unparallelled powers of salesmanship and seduction couldn’t sell me a line like “If, like me, you still believe America must always be a place called Hope, then join Hillary, Chelsea and me in making Sen. Barack Obama the next president of the United States.” Not when you spend even a moment remembering anything Clinton had to say about “false hopes” or “fairy tales” over the first six months of this year. But that’s watching the magician’s hands move, isn’t it?

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