New York

Major Win for Democracy in New York

Last week New York became the 17th state to formally call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This landmark achievement came as the result of a multiyear collaborative campaign involving several advocacy groups including People For the American Way.

On behalf of the 156,000 PFAW members who live in New York, Government By the People Campaign Manager Rio Tazewell spoke at the state capitol in Albany on Wednesday to help commemorate this significant victory. After remarks from activists, organizational leaders, and lawmakers, a strategy session was held to discuss what comes next for democracy reform organizing in the state of New York.

Over twenty municipalities from across the state including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

People in this country want a government that represents them and their interests. In New York and across the nation, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. Not only does this win help affirm the hard work and value of partnerships on the ground between activists, organizations and lawmakers, it helps drive a national narrative that the days of Citizens United are numbered.

PFAW

GOP NY Senate Candidate Speaks To Militant Oath Keepers Group

Wendy Long, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate in New York, spoke on Saturday to the state chapter of Oath Keepers, a radical anti-government group whose founder has called for the execution of Republican Sen. John McCain.

At the New York Oath Keepers event, Long thanked Oath Keepers leader Stewart Rhodes “for founding this whole organization” and appealed to her audience by declaring that Sen. Chuck Schumer, the Democrat whom she is hoping to unseat, is “one of the greatest enemies of the Constitution.”

“I am running against one of the greatest enemies of the Constitution, Chuck Schumer, in the United States Senate,” she said. “He’s an enemy not only of the Second Amendment — which, you know, everyone knows he’s the face of the anti-Second Amendment movement, which, by the way, is in great peril.”

Mentioning the recent Ninth Circuit ruling on concealed firearms, Long said, “The Second Amendment’s in great danger, as is the rest of the Constitution, as you all know.”

As it happens, Schumer was named at the event as one of the group’s “dirty dozen” of “great Marxist traitors in America.”

Long is the former leader of the Judicial Confirmation Network, a right-wing advocacy group that pushed for the confirmation of conservative judicial nominees during the Bush administration. The group is now called the Judicial Crisis Network and is leading the effort to obstruct President Obama's Supreme Court nominee.

As the Southern Poverty Law Center has explained, the “core idea” of the Oath Keepers “is that its members vow to forever support the oaths they took on joining law enforcement or the military to defend the Constitution.” But the reality of the organization is a constant stream of conspiracy theories feeding the idea that the federal government is out to get ordinary citizens and can only be stopped by armed Oath Keepers who answer directly the Constitution (or their interpretation of it).

As we wrote last month, “Rhodes, the group’s founder, regularly turns to the far-right media to promote conspiracy theories about a coming civil war in which the federal government will use some combination of race war, Jade Helm 15, gun laws, Ebola ,death campsBlack Lives Matter and radical Islamists to subdue an unarmed and unprepared population.”

The Oath Keepers were a major player in the Bundy Ranch standoff in 2014, which Rhodes said afterward nearly “kicked off a civil war” between armed militias and the federal government. Last year, Rhodes said at an event in Arizona that McCain should be tried for treason and “hung by the neck until dead” for going “along with the program of the destruction of this country.”

Also speaking at the New York event was Sheriff David Clarke of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, a rising star in the conservative media, who accepted a Leadership Award from the group. Clarke, seemingly taking a page from Donald Trump, began his speech with several minutes of haranguing the media in attendance, to the delight of his audience, before saying that he would do “everything I can” to get Trump elected. He slammed Black Lives Matter as a “hate group” while comparing groups like the Oath Keepers to the Founding Fathers: “The Founding Fathers of this great nation were also once dubbed as a dangerous ‘Patriot group’ by the crown after they declared their independence.”

Rhodes also spoke, repeating his frequent warning that America is being “divided and conquered on racial lines” in a deliberate liberal attempt to undermine the country. John Faso, a former state assembly minority leader who is now running for a U.S. House seat, also spoke to the group.

Big Win for Democracy in New York

This piece originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

Today the people of New York scored a significant victory for democracy in the United States by officially becoming the 17th state on record in support of a constitutional amendment to overturn disastrous Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United. This decision, among others, has created an out-of-balance system that allows powerful corporations and other wealthy interests to spend unlimited amounts of money to buy access and influence to advance their political agenda at the expense of everyone else.

This landmark accomplishment in New York comes as the result of a multi-year effort to encourage legislators in the state Senate and Assembly to sign onto a formal letter calling for such an amendment. Because of the work of dedicated activists and a broad coalition of organizations, lawmakers from both parties, representing a majority of each house of the legislature, have joined to represent the will of the people. Over twenty municipalities from the state of New York including Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, Mt. Vernon, Ithaca and New York City have passed resolutions supporting an amendment to the constitution. Moreover, since 2010 — the year of the Citizens United decision — nearly 700 cities and towns nationally have passed resolutions calling for an amendment and more than five million petition signatures have been gathered in support.

This victory represents the results of collaborative campaigning, with a diverse coalition of organizations coming together to educate, organize, and apply the political pressure necessary to win. On behalf of our more than 156,000 New York members,  People For the American Way is proud to have been one of several national organizations to play a role in advancing this effort. Since the start of this campaign several years ago, our members have signed petitions, written letters, called their legislators and shown up to advocate and protest in person.

In New York and across the country, poll after poll shows that reforming our big money system is a top priority for Americans. And with this historic win, the people of New York have contributed to the momentum of a growing national movement calling for a constitutional amendment to remedy a system that is tilted in the favor of wealthy special interests. If history is any guide, it’s not a  question of whether unaccountable money in politics will be addressed, it’s a question of when. Since our founding, this country has been on an uneven but ultimately forward-moving path towards creating a government that is truly of, by and for all the people. New York has just helped the nation take yet another step in making this promise a reality.  

PFAW

Manning: Obama Will Stay In Power By Stoking Race War

Notorious Harlem hate pastor James David Manning joined conservative radio host Alex Jones on Wednesday to discuss his theory that President Obama will try to stay in power beyond the end of his second term in office by releasing anti-American, Muslim inmates from prison, who will then serve as his personal Brownshirts.

“Black men that go to prison learn about Islam,” Manning said. “It’s very pervasive in the prisons.”

He claimed that criminal justice reform, which he said will empty the prisons of violent, America-hating criminals, and the remake of the miniseries “Roots,” which Jones criticized for “hyping” slavery even though “everybody’s done it,” will stoke anti-American sentiment and violence.

Manning suggested that the original “Roots” series “stirred the hearts of young men” and “sent men to prison in large numbers” in the 1970s, while Jones said that Obama wants to empty the prisons because he’s making room to imprison “the libertarians, the patriots and the Christians,” and make sure the “Viacom, CIA-run weapons system is activating the Beyoncés and all the rest of the folks to say, ‘Go out and kill the pigs.’”

He said that while “most Americans are locked and loaded” to deal with violent criminals released from prison, these felons will become Obama’s Brownshirt-like paramilitary. “I just can’t imagine Obama walking away from power,” Manning said.

This personal army and race war will give Obama the means and justification, respectively, to stay in office, he said.

“Why should he walk away and say, ‘Well, I had my eight years’?” Manning said. “He’s gonna try something, he’s going to. He’s already put it in the works. I mean, remember, Obama is CIA, understand that he is a compadre with Putin in Russia, he’s not gonna walk away from world power. He just isn’t going to do it. And anybody who thinks that he does — now, I’m all for Trump, hey, you know I am, I’m all in on Trump — but anybody who thinks that Obama’s gonna walk away from power, you’re not thinking. You just aren’t thinking.”

Fox News' Favorite Sheriff Will Speak To Radical Anti-Government Oath Keepers

David Clarke, the sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin, and a favorite of Fox News and the right-wing media, will deliver the keynote address to a meeting of the New York chapter of the radical anti-government group Oath Keepers next month, according to an invitation on the group’s website.

Clarke’s association with the anti-government fringe is nothing new: In 2013, he accepted the “Constitutional Sheriff of the Year” award from the Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, a group that believes that county sheriffs are the highest law enforcement officers in the country and have a duty to defy federal laws on issues like gun control and health care. At that event, he shared the stage with Oath Keepers head Stewart Rhodes and a number of other radical activists.

The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the Oath Keepers as “a fiercely antigovernment, militaristic group” summarizing the group’s philosophy like this:

The core idea of the group is that its members vow to forever support the oaths they took on joining law enforcement or the military to defend the Constitution. But just as central is the group’s list of 10 “Orders We Will Not Obey,” a compendium of much-feared but entirely imaginary threats from the government — orders, for instance, to force Americans into concentration camps, confiscate their guns, or cooperate with foreign troops in the United States. These supposed threats are, in fact, part of the central conspiracy theory advocated by the antigovernment “Patriot” movement of which the Oath Keepers is a part — the baseless claim that the federal government plans to impose martial law, seize Americans’ weapons, force those who resist into concentration camps, and, ultimately, push the country into a one-world socialistic government known as the “New World Order.” In 2013, the group took on a more aggressive stance, announcing the planned formation of “Citizen Preservation” militias meant to defend Americans against the New World Order.

Rhodes, the group’s founder, regularly turns to the far-right media to promote conspiracy theories about a coming civil war in which the federal government will use some combination of race war, Jade Helm 15gun lawsEboladeath campsBlack Lives Matter and radical Islamists to subdue an unarmed and unprepared population.

Speaking at a New York Oath Keepers event last year, Rhodes warned of a government plan to “cause chaos, and in the middle of all that chaos, spark a race war, and in the middle of that, unleash these ISIS cells that are now all over the country”:

At a gathering in Arizona last year, Rhodes said that Sen. John McCain “should be hung by the neck until dead” for being “a traitor to the Constitution.”

Clarke has been embraced by Fox News, and even by politicians like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, in part because of his fiery dismissal of critiques of the criminal justice system and in particular of the Black Lives Matter movement. They are seemingly willing to ignore Clarke’s association with an extremist fringe movement.

GOP Rep. Slams Trump As Not 'Very Much Involved At All' In 9/11 Recovery

Rep. Peter King, Republican of New York, was not pleased with Donald Trump’s harsh words about President George W. Bush at a recent presidential campaign, issuing a press release at the time calling Trump a “feckless pretender” and “a poor man’s imitation of Michael Moore.”

In an interview with Newsmax’s J.D. Hayworth posted online on Friday, King continued his tirade against Trump, saying that he “never saw Donald Trump being very much involved at all” in New York’s recovery after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“J.D., from all I know and from my recollection at the time, I never saw Donald Trump being very much involved at all,” he said. “He talks about having hundreds of friends of his who were killed an, I’m not trying to minimize anything, I’m not aware of funerals he went to or any efforts or causes he was involved in, including the 9/11 Health Act or anything, really. I’m sure there could have been some private donations he made, but he was certainly not an active force at all in New York after 9/11 as far as the whole World Trade Center tragedy.”

He demanded that Trump apologize to Bush, before attacking the presidential candidate for praising the late musician Michael Jackson.

“Quite frankly, I found it interesting last night,” he said, “he was saying what a great friend of Michael Jackson that he was and he was saying great things about Michael Jackson, who, as far as I’m concerned, was a pedophile, the same week that he’s calling President Bush a liar is, to me, almost sacrilegious.”

The exchange starts at around 2:30 into this clip:

Anti-Gay Pastor Warns Of Contracting The 'Sodomite Demon' At Restaurants, On Dates

James David Manning, the anti-gay Harlem pastor who has struck up an alliance with the anti-government group Oath Keepers, took to his “Manning Report” YouTube program yesterday to explain his theory of how people become gay.

Just as various diseases are spread through sexual intercourse and saliva, Manning explained, so too is the “sodomite demon.” If you have had sex with or even kissed or been at the same restaurant as someone who has such “demons in their blood,” he warned, you may have been “introduced to these demons in your life, sodomy, when you had no defense.”

Militia Group Teams Up With 'Stone Homos' Pastor To Heal America's Racial Divide

We’ve seen plenty of strange bedfellows, but frankly this one has us stumped. Oath Keepers – the anti-government militia group whose leader, Stewart Rhodes, wants to hang John McCain for treason — is joining James David Manning, the Harlem pastor famous for declaring that “Jesus would stone homos” and warning that Starbucks flavors its coffee with “semen from sodomites,” at a 4th of July event at the Gettysburg battlefield that will apparently help to heal America’s racial wounds.

We can’t wait to see how this goes.

Larry Pratt On Eric Garner: 'Socialism Breeds Death'

Gun Owners of America’s Larry Pratt has an explanation for the death of Eric Garner, who was choked by a New York police officer apprehending him for selling loose cigarettes on the sidewalk: “socialism breeds death.”

Discussing the assassination of two police officers in Brooklyn last month with talk show host Steve Deace yesterday, Pratt noted that the gunman had mentioned Garner’s death in social media posts before the shooting, implying that the officers’ murder was also part of the death wreaked by New York’s “socialism.”

The dirtbag that murdered the two cops sitting in their car said that he was getting even for Eric, what’s his name, Garner, the guy the cop had taken down and subsequently died on the way to the hospital in an ambulance.

Had New York politicians had not been so bodaciously greedy to have passed such astronomically draconian tax laws so that a guy can actually sell a single cigarette in the black market as a way to make money and I guess at least some kind of a living, and it so bothered the merchants that were selling at required lawful higher prices that they dropped the dime on the guy. And the cop wasn’t just trying to enforce stupid laws because he was a jerk, there had been an actual complaint filed about the guy selling loosies, namely single cigarettes loose from the pack.

That’s how bizarre it is in a socialist city like New York City in a socialist state like New York. Socialism breeds death.

PFAW Memo: Senate Needs to Confirm Pending Judicial Nominees

To: Interested Parties
From: Paul Gordon, Senior Legislative Counsel, People For the American Way
Date: September 15, 2014
Subject: Senate Needs to Confirm Pending Judicial Nominees

There is probably little more than a week before the Senate goes out on recess until after the election. One of the most important – and undoubtedly quickest and easiest – things it can do before then is confirm 16 judicial nominees, most of whom have overwhelming bipartisan support.
                                                                                      
One of the most important responsibilities of the United States Senate is to maintain a functioning federal court system. District courts are the backbone of the American judicial system. They are where people turn when they feel their rights have been violated. “Having your day in court” is an essential part of the American ideal. But that ideal cannot be met if we don’t have enough judges to make it happen. Even if every vacancy in the country were filled tomorrow, it wouldn’t be enough: The Judicial Conference of the United States – the entity responsible for assessing the federal courts’ ability to effectively manage their caseloads – has urged Congress to create an additional 85 district court judgeships. So when an existing vacancy can be filled with a qualified nominee, it ought to be done with dispatch.

Right now, nominees for 16 such vacancies can be confirmed within the next few days. Seven of these were fully vetted and approved by the Judiciary Committee and have been waiting for a floor vote since June or July. Of these seven, all but one of them advanced without any opposition. Four alone are from Georgia: nominees who have the unanimous support of the Judiciary Committee’s Democratic and Republican senators. There are no more questions to ask of these nominees, except when they will be allowed to take up their judicial responsibilities and fill empty courtrooms in Georgia, New York, Wisconsin, and the District of Columbia.

The remaining nine were scheduled for a committee vote last week, having had their confirmation hearings back in July. They have been nominated for judgeships in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, Missouri, Connecticut, and New Jersey. Four of them – nearly half – would serve in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, a state with so many vacancies that it alone accounts for 15% of the nation’s total, but Chairman Leahy was forced by the GOP to delay the vote. Republicans gave no reason for the delay, but they rarely do: Since President Obama took office, Republicans have exercised the right of the minority party to have a committee vote “held over” (delayed) by at least a week without cause for nearly all of his judicial nominees, part of their overall mechanism of obstruction. Fortunately, they are expected to get their overdue committee approval later this week.

There remains plenty of time to confirm all 16 nominees before the Senate goes out for its pre-election recess next week.

The fact that we are heading into an election is no reason not to hold these confirmation votes. In fact, in September of 2008, a presidential election year – and the twilight of George W. Bush’s presidency, no less – Democrats rushed several of his nominees through to make sure they got confirmed before recess (and before his presidency ended). Ten of Bush’s district court nominees were confirmed just one day after being approved by the Judiciary Committee. All ten had had their committee hearings earlier that same month – in some cases, during that same week. The confirmation votes took hardly any time at all, since all ten were considered and confirmed as a bloc by unanimous consent.

Interestingly, three of those 2008 nominees were from the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, where four of the current 16 nominees could be serving by next week, if given the chance.

Republicans still have a chance to demonstrate that they can prioritize the functioning of the U.S. court system over their own partisan interests. But it seems unlikely. Since last year, the GOP has insisted that no judicial nominee, despite their bipartisan support, advance on the Senate floor without time-consuming cloture votes and roll-call confirmation votes. And it isn’t just the roll-call votes that take time (although each one can take nearly an hour). Without unanimous consent to waive the chamber’s time requirements, cloture votes cannot be held until two days after cloture petitions are filed, and each confirmation vote requires at least an hour of needless “post-cloture debate” even after the filibuster is broken.

If Republicans successfully prevent votes this month, the earliest the courtrooms will see some relief will be in a potential lame duck session.  That means another two month wait until clearly qualified nominees are  able to take their seats in courtrooms around the country.  There is simply no good reason for such delay.
 

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Judicial Vacancies Wreaking Havoc In U.S. Courts

Judicial vacancies slow down courts’ work, drive up litigation costs, cause evidence to go stale, make it harder to settle civil cases, and even pressure defendants into pleading guilty, according to a report released this week by the Brennan Center. The report cites example after example of how not having enough judges erodes our nation’s system of justice. Everyone counts on having their day in court, a fundamentally American principle that is threatened by persistent vacancies. The report quotes Chief Judge William Skretny of New York’s Western District:

We don’t neglect the Seventh Amendment, the right to a civil trial. But we tell people, if this is what you want to do, it will take time to get there.

Heavier caseloads and backlog created by vacancies also take a toll on judges, reducing the amount of time they have to spend on each case.

Chief Judge [Leonard] Davis in the Eastern District of Texas described the situation in his district as “simple math.” With more cases “you have less time to give to [an individual] case,” he explained. “It affects the quality of justice that’s being dispensed and the quantity of work you can complete,” he added.

[Judge Davis] also highlighted the impact of the Sherman vacancy on the timing of sentencing. “It’s a hardship for the litigants,” he explained. “Due to the backlog and [the] vacancy [in Sherman], we have a very high population of criminal defendants, about 200, sitting in county jails, having pled guilty and waiting for sentences. They can’t get their cases processed.” He noted that inmates are typically housed in a county jail because there are no federal facilities available, which is more costly for the government and leaves inmates with fewer work and educational opportunities. “That’s not fair to [the inmates] and adds a great deal of unnecessary cost by having to house them for so long in county jail holding facilities,” he said.

As the report makes clear, vacancies have real impacts for all citizens. This is why PFAW supports the speedy confirmation of qualified judicial nominees to federal courts. Filling judicial vacancies with quality judges will reduce backlogs and costs while allowing the judicial system to better serve all Americans. Maintaining the third branch is one of the most important constitutional functions that the Senate performs.

PFAW

PFAW Foundation Releases Report on McCutcheon’s Impact on Campaign Spending in Eight States

Decision Could Balloon Spending In State Elections

WASHINGTON – Campaign spending in states with aggregate contribution limits will likely soon balloon in the wake of the Supreme Court’s McCutcheon v. FEC decision, according to a new report by People For the American Way Foundation.

The report analyzes the anticipated state impacts of the high court striking down limits on the total amount a donor can give directly to candidates, parties, and committees at the federal level in the McCutcheon ruling. It forecasts a spending explosion in states whose aggregate limits on contributions to state candidates will soon be challenged or nullified in light of the decision. Among other data, the report finds:

•        In New York, the current limit is $300,000 per two years. We estimate big donors will now be able to contribute $2,531,600 per election cycle, more than eight times the previous limit.

•        In Maryland, the current limit is $10,000 per four-year election cycle. We estimate big donors will now be able to contribute $768,000 per four-year election cycle. This is a greater than 76-fold increase.

The states analyzed in the report are Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.

“The McCutcheon decision didn’t only undercut our federal campaign finance laws, it has ramifications for states across the country,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way Foundation. “Allowing wealthy donors to put exponentially more money into state elections tilts the playing field even more starkly in their favor and strikes at the very foundation of our democracy.”

The report is available here: http://www.pfaw.org/media-center/publications/how-supreme-courts-mccutcheon-decision-could-balloon-spending-state-electi

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People For the American Way Lobbies in Albany for a Constitutional Amendment to Reclaim our Democracy

On Monday, People For the American Way joined allied organizations and activists of the NY4Democracy coalition for a rally and lobby day at the Albany state house urging New York lawmakers to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, McCutcheon, and related cases. 

Over 100 activists joined the efforts, targeting state senators of all political persuasions to ask for their support in elevating the issue and calling for an amendment.  The group gathered in the morning to lobby senators and their staff, held a press conference at noon, and continued lobbying afterwards.  In total, NY4Democracy activists met with 32 senate offices. 

Click here to view a local news story about the lobby day.

Click here to view an interview with People For the American Way legislative representative Calvin Sloan on the Capital Tonight show.

 

(Photo credit Tony Cresswell)

(Photo credit Tony Cresswell)

(People For the American Way legislative representative Calvin Sloan -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)

(Public Citizen’s director of the Democracy is For People campaign, Jonah Minkoff-Zern -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)

(Move To Amend New York state coordinator, Victor Tiffany -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)

(Communication Workers of America policy and legislative coordinator Joe Mayhey -- Photo credit Tony Cresswell)

 

If successful, NY4Democracy will help New York join the growing chorus of state and municipalities that have already called for an amendment.  To get involved with the campaign, please email amendment@pfaw.org with the subject line, “NY4Democracy.”  

PFAW

Video: PFAW’s Calvin Sloan Discusses Money in Politics on Capital Tonight

On Monday, People For the American Way joined ally organizations in the New York for Democracy Coalition in Albany to urge state lawmakers to call for a constitutional amendment to overturn decisions like Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC.  If successful, New York would become the 17th state to go on record in support of such an amendment, joining a rapidly growing nationwide movement to reclaim our democracy.

People For the American Way’s legislative representative Calvin Sloan joined Nick Reisman on Capital Tonight to discuss the efforts underway in New York – and across the country – to fight back against the outsized influence of big money in our political system.

PFAW

Remembering Bobbie Handman

Barbara “Bobbie” Handman, a former Vice President of PFAW and PFAW Foundation, died on Thursday. For years, Bobbie’s creative energy and fierce commitment to the First Amendment shaped the organizations’ free expression work from New York City, where she was based. Bobbie’s long record of advocacy for free expression and the arts was recognized in 1998 when she received the National Medal of Arts from President Bill Clinton.

Hillary Clinton, Bobbie Handman, Bill Clinton

Bobbie’s years at PFAW were part of a long life of political activism. Time after time she responded to would-be censors by rallying well-known actors and writers to participate in public events that affirmed the value of artistic freedom. You can read more about Bobbie’s life and work in the obituary that appears in today’s New York Times. It ends with this quote from Norman Lear: “Bobbie was a lifelong lesson in perseverance. She made New York happen for People For the American Way. And she made everything grander. She dealt in grand.”

People For the American Way extends its heartfelt condolences to Bobbie’s husband Wynn Handman and the rest of their family.

PFAW Foundation

Open Season for Money in Politics in NYC

Citing Citizens United, a circuit court opens the floodgate for unlimited money to flow into the NYC mayoral election.
PFAW Foundation
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