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Posts published in “Richardson”

The meaning of “more”


In a recent interview with Reuters, the president claimed his administration "had done more in five months than practically any president in history."

My first reaction was to laugh. But maybe the president is right. I suppose it all depends on what he meant by “more.”

Perhaps by “more,” Trump meant he has done more to alienate and offend our long-time allies, countries like Germany, France, and Great Britain, by equivocating about his commitment to the North Atlantic alliance.

Or maybe he meant he has done more to isolate the U.S. from virtually every country on earth by withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Possibly, Trump meant he has picked more unprovoked fights with major U.S. trading partners like China, Mexico, Canada, and South Korea.

And he might have meant he has done more to relinquish the U.S. role as world leader to the benefit of Russia and China.

Perhaps Trump meant he has done more to model petulant and spiteful behavior by never accepting responsibility, always blaming and often bullying others, making ridiculous excuses when things don’t go his way, and treating those who disagree with him as enemies, best dealt with by threats rather than civil discourse.

He could have meant he has done more to move the GOP further away from the once-proud legacy of Lincoln and Eisenhower and closer to the odious views of David Duke.

The president may have meant he has done more to attack the “western values” he pretends to champion by assaulting the First Amendment, attacking our independent judiciary, denigrating minority rights, and ignoring all manner of democratic (with a lower case “d”) norms.

Perchance Trump meant he has done more to dumb-down our national dialog by routinely communicating in unintelligible bursts of 140 characters.

Or perhaps he meant he has appointed more inept and ideologically extreme cabinet members, people like Betsy DeVos, Rex Tillerson, Scott Pruitt, and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.

Presumably, Trump meant he has shown more admiration for greedy dictators who suppress dissent, blithely torturing and terrorizing their countrymen, while enjoying the spoils of graft and corruption.

Arguably, Trump meant he has done more to distract and deceive the American people, nowhere more egregiously than as to his ties to Russia, the hostile nation that attacked the heart of our republic by grossly interfering in the 2016 election.
If Trump was referring to any or all of the above “accomplishments,” I would have to agree – no president in history has done more.

Trump to Putin: I’m your puppet


I admire John McCain for his military service to our country but I find his political behavior extremely disappointing. Although McCain is a frequent and outspoken critic of Trump’s abhorrent conduct, he remains a reliable supporter of Trump’s agenda. McCain leads us to think he will call out the president once and for all, and then – at the last moment – scurries back into the party fold, unwilling to draw any line in the GOP sand.

But McCain has been consistently right on one point that bears special focus in light of recent events: Vladimir Putin is a thug and a murderer.

When Trump nominated Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state, McCain critically noted that Tillerson had received Russia’s “Order of Friendship,” award, given to foreign nationals who promote relations with Russia, directly from Vladimir Putin. Tillerson received the award after signing deals with the state-owned Russian oil company to drill in the Arctic. McCain said, “I would never accept an award from Vladimir Putin because then you . . . give some credence and credibility to this butcher, this KGB agent. . . .”
Indeed, in Putin’s Russia, political opponents – those who aren’t fortunate enough to be exiled for decades to Siberian work camps – are simply murdered. There is no concept of minority rights. The territory of neighboring countries is forcefully annexed; and brutal dictators, like Syria’s Bashar Assad, enjoy Russian military support.

Trump’s “bromance” with Putin has long been troubling. Last year, when Joe Scarborough confronted Trump about Putins’s extensive record of atrocities, Trump’s answer was chilling: “Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.” He added, “I’ve always felt fine about Putin. He’s a strong leader. He’s a powerful leader.”

Now, after his obsequious conduct at the G-20 meeting, Trump has shown himself to be much more than Putin’s fanboy: He is Putin’s puppet, an apologist for the Kremlin.

An American president does not say he is “honored” to meet a foreign despot whose hands are dripping with innocent blood. An American president does not denounce another American president and disparage the American media on foreign soil. An American president does not discredit the unanimous findings of American intelligence agencies and instead countenance empty denials from the man who orchestrated an unprecedented attack on our most cherished institutions.

The president has demonstrated time and time again that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office. What will it take for the likes of John McCain to stand up to Trump, to urge invocation of the 25th Amendment or call for impeachment?

By even suggesting the U.S. should work with Russia to stop cyberattacks, Trump offers to give aid and comfort to our nation’s adversary, the corrupt regime whose attack on our national election was tantamount to an act of war. Trump will not protect us from enemies foreign and domestic. Instead, he will deliver us to them. If that isn’t grounds for removal, I don’t know what is.

The truth is not self-evident


Independent journalism has been critical to our country’s past; and it is absolutely essential to our country's future.
Today, we have a White House that calls real news fake and fake news real. It was bad enough when a nominee for the nation’s highest office trafficked in conspiracy theories, manipulated the media, and lied with impunity to the American people. Now that the nominee is our president, we have a recipe for disaster. And we – all of us – must rise to the defense of the Fourth Estate.

Unfortunately, the truth does not speak for itself. It is not self-evident. In our modern society, we must rely on ethical and independent journalists to tell us what is happening, to report – not distort – the news.

But this president has put a bull’s eye on the back of every credible mainstream journalist. He calls the media “totally dishonest,” “disgusting,” “corrupt,” “scum,” and – most horribly “the enemy of the American people.” His goal is simple: He wants to bully, silence, discredit, and coopt the media. If a reporter will not sing his praises – he aims to silence them – no matter the cost to our republic, no matter the damage to the First Amendment.

We know what happens in countries where the media is a nothing more than a mouthpiece for the regime. We know what happens to journalists who dare to report facts that reflect poorly on the potentate in power. They are abducted, exiled. They go missing and are imprisoned. They are killed.

In Washington, D.C., there is a place called the Newseum. It is a museum – about news. If you visit this museum, you will see a glass memorial, two stories tall. Etched in that memorial are the names of the 2,291 editors, reporters, broadcasters and photographers who died covering the news.

Not all of them died in global hotspots like Syria, Palestine, Libya, Iraq, Gaza and the Ukraine. But many of them did.

“Alternative facts” are, of course, not facts at all, but lies. Make no mistake, the Breitbart trained brown shirt that holds sway in the White House is a modern and audible echo of Hitler’s Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels. It is important to remember the lessons of history.

At a rally on the campaign trail, the president – then the GOP nominee – discussed Vladimir Putin’s treatment of the press in Russia. After repeatedly bellowing that he hates journalists, he said he would never “kill” them. But then he seemed to reconsider saying, “Uh, Let’s see, uh, no I wouldn’t. But I do hate them.”

When reminded by Joe Scarborough that Putin kills journalists and political opponents, the response was pathetic: “At least he’s a leader.” It would seem that our president not only admires Putin, but seeks to emulate him.

No, the media is not the enemy of the American people; rather it is the reckless demagogue who stubbornly, stupidly, and wrongly makes that claim.

As the president seeks to undermine our free press, it is more important than ever that we take concrete steps to check his actions and support a diverse and independent media. There is much we can do. Here, in no particular order, are my top ten suggestions.

1. Support public television and public radio.

2. Subscribe to progressive, independent news publications – both local and national, and give gift subscriptions to your family members and friends.
3. Support public libraries.

4. Write and submit letters to the editor and/or reader’s view commentary.

5. On social media, share only stories that you know come from a credible source. If you find that you have inadvertently shared a false story, delete it and note a correction.

6. Support the Committee to Protect Journalists, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Society of Professional Journalists, and/or Common Dreams – Free Press, all non-profits that advocate for the rights of reporters to do their jobs free of intimidation, censorship, arrest, imprisonment, torture and death.

7. Support net neutrality.

8. Encourage public school administrators and trustees to emphasize media literacy at all stages of education. Also encourage public school administrators and trustees to prioritize the humanities and social sciences. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM subjects) are important. But not every student is going to need advanced training in these areas. However, every citizen is eligible to vote at age 18 and needs to be prepared to responsibly exercise the franchise.

9. Contact your U.S. Senators and Members of Congress. Tell them that you strongly oppose the president’s assault on the First Amendment and that you expect them to publicly denounce his authoritarian tactics.

10. Support candidates for public office – local, state and national – who honor the First Amendment and speak out strongly and consistently against those who, like the president, undermine it at every turn.

Make no mistake. The president’s latest tweet showing him beating up a person upon whose head the CNN logo has been superimposed is not, as his apologists assert, simply "a tongue in cheek" joke. It will, in fact, incite violence against members of the press.

It is slowly dawning on him that he will be found out. That is why he has so rapidly escalated the viciousness and frequency of his attacks on the media. He mistakenly thinks that the only way to salvage his presidency is to thoroughly discredit the free press.

In coming days, I expect the First Amendment will be subjected to unprecedented assaults from the White House. The Fourth Estate needs our support now more than ever.

Oops – they did it again


The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (the DCCC) continues to suffer from a failure of vision. A month ago, Beltway Democrats conceded defeat in the Montana special congressional election before the race began. Last Tuesday, they did so again – this time in South Carolina.

While the DCCC went all in for Jon Ossoff in his bid to win the special election in Georgia’s 6th Congressional District, it did little, if anything, to support Archie Parnell, the Democrat running in South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District.

Unfortunately, both Ossoff and Parnell narrowly lost their respective contests; but Parnell, the candidate who was pretty much ignored by the national Democrats, came within 3 points of his Republican opponent while Ossoff, who received millions of dollars in support, lost by 4 points. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Parnell would have won had the DCCC given him anywhere near the same level of support it gave to Ossoff. But he might have. A 3 point margin was far from insurmountable.

Consider this: In the special election, Parnell garnered 42,053 votes -- that's 63,219 fewer votes than was received by the Democrat running in the 2016 general election -- and she lost by 18 points! In last week’s special election, Parnell's opponent won with a slim margin – just 2,836 votes. A well-funded and well-organized Get Out the Vote effort for Parnell could have made up that 2,836 vote difference; after all, more than 60,000 likely Democratic votes were "left on the table." This was a lost opportunity, another failure of vision.

The DCCC might have anticipated the closeness of the South Carolina race had it focused more on how the district performed in recent congressional elections and not so much on the performance of the 2016 presidential candidates. It seems that national Democrats only invest in “winnable” districts, those where the last Democratic presidential candidate made a good showing. Unfortunately, that narrow view of “winnability” misses a myriad of local factors that can swing a congressional election.

Mesmerized by the fact that Trump had won Georgia’s 6th Congressional District by only a single point, the DCCC saw the district as ripe for flipping. But because Trump carried South Carolina’s 5th Congressional District by 18 points, the DCCC didn’t give that race a second thought.

The DCCC would have done well to note that in 2016 the South Carolina contest was more competitive than the 6th District race in Georgia. In the last three elections, the Republican candidate for Congress in Georgia’s 6th averaged a 28% advantage over the Democratic opponent. But in South Carolina’s 5th, the Republican congressional candidate averaged a 16% advantage over the Democratic opponent. While both districts could fairly be seen as congressional long-shots, South Carolina’s 5th arguably offered more fertile ground.
If you’re looking to win a race for Congress, perhaps that contest – not the last presidential election – would serve as a better guidepost. There’s something to be said for comparing apples to apples.

I am not suggesting the DCCC should have supported Parnell instead of Ossoff. Ossoff deserved the support he received. But both races deserved to be taken seriously, as did the race in Montana.

Beltway Democrats must start looking beyond the presidential percentages from the prior election in assessing a congressional candidate’s chances. If they fail to do so, there will be many more lost opportunities. We need not settle for moral victories, those where we come close to winning but still fall short. I’m all for seeing silver linings in election results, and there are some to be seen when we improve our percentages. But As Republican operatives were quick to point out, “Moral victories do not vote in Congress.”

Digging in heels, and more


Good for Senate Democrats for deciding to apply the brakes to Mitch McConnell's runaway train.

Ordinarily, I don't like the idea of bringing senate business to a halt. But these are not ordinary times and the clandestine process by which the GOP is crafting a so-called health care bill is anything but ordinary. It is an affront to the American people and to the republic.

A lot of GOP talking heads attempt, unsuccessfully, to defend McConnell’s machinations by employing the empty accusation that the Democrats did “the exact same thing." Nothing could be further from the truth.

In 2009, when the ACA was enacted into law, there were hearings after hearings -- more than a year's worth. Time and time again Democrats compromised with their Republican counterparts and accepted substantive Republican amendments to the bill. None of this was enough to garner Republican support. The GOP did not budge an inch.

After a good deal of time and numerous efforts to accommodate Republicans, the Democrats realized it was futile to continue seeking Republican assistance in passing a bipartisan bill. It had become crystal clear that further concessions would be met by unthinking resistance. They would have to do it on their own.

Of course, the Democrats of 2009 did not know what would soon be revealed – that on the eve of President Obama’s inauguration, Mitch McConnell and his confederates met in a D.C. watering hole and vowed to oppose anything and everything the new president proposed. Recall that their primary goal was to make Obama a “one term president.” Heck, hurting the country is a small price to pay they reasoned – if only they could win back the White House.

Digging in their heals might have helped make McConnell majority leader in 2010, but in 2012 Obama would handily win re-election, defeating former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the Republican after whose own health care plan the ACA was most closely modeled. In their head long rush to defeat Obama, the Republicans blatantly put party before country.

They’re still doing it. Old habits die hard.

One thing is certain: the process that resulted in the passage of the ACA, though imperfect, was open and transparent. The bill was thoroughly vetted in broad daylight, quite a contrast with McConnell's closed door, get-it-done and push-it-through process now unfolding.

Health care accounts for one-sixth of our economy and McConnell's slash and dash approach to legislating is utterly irresponsible and completely unacceptable. The Democrats must go to the mat on this one. They must use every tool at their disposal to stand up for the American people, 23 million of whom are estimated to lose coverage under the plan passed by Republicans in the House.

As for Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans? They are brazenly sowing the wind. And those who sow the wind will reap the whirlwind.

Both stupid and evil


Long-time Idahoans remember GOP Congressman George Hansen, who represented Idaho’s second congressional district from 1964-1968 and from 1974-1984. At 6’6” Hansen was an outsized figure with a personality to match. A far-right conservative, Hansen had a flamboyant, impulsive style and a pronounced disdain of all things relating to the federal government.

In 1974, Hansen was the first member of Congress to be convicted of violating a federal regulation requiring disclosure of campaign contributions. Initially, he was sentenced to two years in jail but the sentence was later suspended after his attorney convinced the judge that Hansen was “stupid, but not evil.”

I was just in college when Hansen made this novel plea, but as soon as I heard Paul Ryan’s defense of the president, the words came back to me. “He’s new at government,” Ryan said. “He’s learning as he goes.” Aha, I thought, a variation on the “stupid, not evil” theme. It seemed Paul Ryan was echoing Hansen’s attorney, “The poor fella, he just didn’t know any better.”

Citing Trump’s lack of political experience, Ryan said, “The president’s new to this. He probably wasn’t steeped in the long running protocols that establish the relationship between DOJ, FBI and White House’s. He’s just new to this.”

Trump is hardly an ingénue, wide-eyed to the ways of the world. And, to the extent he is ignorant, that ignorance is purposeful. After all, the president has constant and ready access to abundant expertise.

But Trump knew exactly what he was doing when he sent Attorney General Sessions and his omnipresent son-in-law Jared Kushner out of the room before telling former FBI Director James Comey he wanted to talk about Michael Flynn. He knew it was wrong to tell Comey he hoped he would drop the Flynn investigation.

This was not the naïve act of a babe in the political woods; it was a calculated ploy to get Comey to do his unlawful bidding. That’s why he didn’t want any witnesses.

Not to put too fine a point on it, this was an attempt to obstruct justice.
Paul Ryan said that – in pointing to Trump’s newness to governing – he wasn’t making an excuse, just an observation. Call it what you will – an excuse, an observation, or an attempt at obfuscation – it is nonsense. Ryan knows it, and so do the American people.

Perhaps Trump, like Hansen, was stupid. But the presence of contrived stupidity does not negate the existence of real evil. The American people deserve so much better. They deserve a president who is neither stupid nor evil. Unfortunately, the incumbent is both.

Open letter to the president


Dear Biff:

It has become increasingly clear that you could not pass a high school government class. You have no rudimentary understanding of how the federal government works. For evidence, we need look no further than your most recent tweets regarding the U.S. Justice Department, the Supreme Court, and your executive orders banning travel from certain majority Muslim countries.

The series of tweets to which I refer include the following:

Tweet #1: "People, the lawyers and the courts can call it whatever they want, but I am calling it what we need and what it is, a TRAVEL BAN!"

Tweet #2: "The Justice Dept. should have stayed with the original Travel Ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted to S.C."

Tweet #3: "The Justice Dept. should ask for an expedited hearing of the watered down Travel Ban before the Supreme Court - & seek much tougher version!"

Tweet #4: "In any event we are EXTREME VETTING people coming into the U.S. in order to help keep our country safe. The courts are slow and political!"

Biff, Biff, Biff . . . .

If you wanted the Justice Department to stay with the original Travel Ban, you should not have withdrawn it. The Justice Department is part of the Executive Branch. You are the head of the executive branch. Once you withdrew the original Travel Ban and entered the second Travel Ban, the original Travel Ban had no force whatsoever. And who created that situation? That would be you, Biff.

You refer to the second Travel Ban as “watered down.” Well, you’re the one who watered it.
You say that you want the Justice Department to ask the Supreme Court to enter a “much tougher version” of your “watered down Travel Ban.” Reading this tweet, someone would think you had never heard of the bedrock constitutional doctrines of separation of powers or checks and balances.

The Supreme Court is the JUDICIAL branch of government; it adjudicates. It does not legislate. (That would be Congress). And it most certainly does not draft and sign executive orders. (That would be the President – namely you.)

And let’s not forget that the reason you issued your executive orders was to have time to put “extreme vetting” in place. You said you needed 90 – 120 days to do so. Well, you’ve had more than 120 days and, from your last tweet, it appears you’ve already done that. So the entire rationale for your travel ban is now moot.

Oh, and one more thing . . . . The Department of Justice has tried to make a silk purse out of your sow’s ear by arguing that the second version of the Travel Ban is not, in fact, a Travel Ban. And why is that?

Well, a Travel Ban would pretty clearly run afoul of the U.S. Constitution. You do know that “politically correct,” at least in this instance, might equate with the phrase “more likely to pass constitutional muster.” Or do you?

The Department of Justice has tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade two federal appellate courts that all those racist things you said during the campaign are not relevant to the appeal. “That was candidate Trump, not president Trump,” they claimed.

Now that you, as president, have doubled down on your campaign rhetoric, what is the DOJ to do?

In your rogue tweet storm, you seem to have decided that DOJ lawyers are not up to the task and that you would prefer to appear pro bono. Well, there’s an old adage that comes to mind: “He who represents himself has a fool for a lawyer.”

Good luck with that, Biff. I’m willing to bet that even Clarence Thomas and Neil Gorsuch might find all of this a little too much to swallow.

But don’t listen to me. Frankie Avalon had some great advice in the musical “Grease!” It came in the song titled “Beauty School Dropout.” Remember? "Go back to high school!"

A failure of vision


The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee suffers from a failure of vision. Consider the Montana special election to fill the vacancy created when Congressman Ryan Zinke resigned to become Trump’s Secretary of the Interior.

Trump carried Montana by 21 points in the presidential election so the conventional wisdom held that the Republican nominee, multimillionaire Greg Gianforte, would easily win. Nonetheless, the GOP did not take victory for granted. Instead, the Congressional Leadership Fund, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the Republican Congressional Committee spent more than $5 million to prop up Gianforte and attack the Democratic nominee, Rob Quist. They invested heavily in Montana from day one.

Their Democratic counterparts spent comparatively little on the race, reflecting their pessimistic view that defeat was inevitable.

Sure, a Democratic win in Montana was always a long-shot, but it wasn’t out of the question. In order to win, Democrats needed to recruit a top-flight candidate. Quist was a deeply dedicated, likeable and hard-working fellow; but he likely wasn’t the strongest nominee the Democrats could have offered. As important, though, he needed a break. When he got one, the Democrats weren’t positioned to take advantage of it.

The national Democrats never thought they had a chance to win the seat. So, when Greg Gianforte assaulted a reporter the night before the election, there was a hurried infusion of money for on-line ads and “boots on the ground.” But it was too little too late.

While the rural areas of eastern Montana, where Trump won by outsized margins, also came out strong for Gianforte, the rest of the state took a giant step in the other direction – moving the needle toward the Democrats by at least 15 points. Perhaps no amount of money would have pulled Quist ahead of Gianforte, but a six point lead need not have been insurmountable.

National Democrats who place bets on political futures dismiss red state races at their peril. Whether or not it’s likely we will win, we need to be prepared to compete in each and every race. Certainly, the level of resource allocation can and should be race specific. We should triage races and constantly assess where dollars can be spent to greatest effect.

But we should not begin an election cycle by assuming that any race is beyond our reach. We should not surgically remove red districts from the “win” map.

Too often the national Democrats refuse to look beyond the presidential percentages from the prior election in assessing a candidate’s chances. Just because Trump won a district “bigly” in 2016 doesn’t mean the district will inevitably vote for a Republican congressional candidate. As former House Speaker Tip O’Neill famously said, “All politics is local.”

When the DCCC decides to ignore a contest because it concludes at the outset that a district isn’t winnable, it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. Just because a seat is designated “safe Republican” by beltway pundits doesn’t mean it is.

Simpson breaks rank


Almost all Republican members of Congress resist the idea of an independent commission to investigate the web of spy craft that undermined the integrity of the 2016 election. They argue that the House and Senate Intelligence Committees are up to the task.

They are wrong. However well-intentioned individual members, these committees cannot do the job.

One of the few Republicans to break ranks is Idaho’s Mike Simpson who has publicly advocated for a truly independent commission. The Washington Post and The Hill report that Simpson thinks members of the Intelligence Committees are “too involved” to do a proper job. He wisely suggests that we learn from history, observing that – in the early 1970s – many politicians were too quick to dismiss the notion that Nixon had done anything wrong.

I share the anger of others who are profoundly disappointed in Simpson’s vote to repeal the ACA and replace it with “Trumpcare” and his inclination to support the rest of the Trump agenda. But unlike other members of Idaho’s all GOP congressional delegation, Simpson will, on occasion, put country before party. This is such a time, and it is significant.

We must understand all ramifications of foreign interference in the 2016 election so that we can prepare to address new threats and make sure this never happens again. The appointment of a special counsel was a critical first step in the process. But a prosecutor's focus is, necessarily, on past conduct. In order to prepare to thwart future meddling, an independent commission is needed. Creating such a commission will be a very heavy lift. It requires legislation – a bill passed by both houses of Congress and signed by the president.

Several polls show that a large majority of the American public supports creation of an independent commission. But Democrats alone don't have the numbers to pass a bill. Only if enough Republicans summon the courage to follow Mike Simpson’s lead and join the Democratic minority will a bill establishing this commission pass in the House and Senate.

If and when that bill lands on his desk, there will be tremendous pressure on the president to sign it into law. If he vetoes the bill, we can reasonably conclude that he wants to bury the truth, that he has a lot to hide, and that he is unwilling to address the escalating threats going forward. Should the president veto such a bill, it would help confirm what a growing body of evidence strongly suggests – that he is, indeed, Russia's errand boy.

But if Congress acts to establish an independent commission, it will be because a handful of Republicans, like Mike Simpson, finally stepped up to break the partisan log jam. Regardless of my adverse views on much of Simpson’s record, I acknowledge and applaud his leadership on this extremely serious matter.

But now it is time for Simpson’s actions to match his words. Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton, has introduced a bill that would create a bipartisan, 12-member panel in the mold of the 9/11 Commission. Simpson should join his Republican colleagues Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan and Rep. Walter Jones of North Carolina as co-sponsors of Swalwell’s bill.

Last week, the Republican majority in the House blocked a move to bring Swalwell’s bill to a vote. Democrats are now gathering signatures on a discharge petition, which would trigger a floor vote if a majority of Congress signs on. That means they need 23 Republican signatures.

This is where the rubber meets the road for Mike Simpson. If Simpson co-sponsors Swalwell’s bill and signs the discharge petition, we will know that his show of independence is more than lip service. As the saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words.”