Daily Archive: 05/11/2015

May 11 2015

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

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New York Times Editorial: Magical Thinking on Migrants

Libya’s decent into lawlessness since the toppling of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 has spawned a terrible enterprise: smuggling people from Africa and the Middle East across the Mediterranean to Europe. In response, at Europe’s urging, the United Nations Security Council is going to be asked to consider a draft resolution authorizing military intervention in Libya against the smugglers.

Military intervention would be a grave mistake. It could sabotage negotiations for a power-sharing deal between Libya’s warring factions, thus killing chances of a political solution to the chaos in Libya. It is, in fact, a cynical strategy, born of Europe’s panic over a tide of foreign migrants. Smugglers have lured hundreds of thousands of Syrians, Iraqis, Eritreans and others fleeing conflict and misery, while selling a pack of lies to sub-Saharan Africans about the wonderful opportunities that await them in Europe.

Dean Baker: The arguments for the TPP are transparently weak

President Obama and other supporters of the trade deal are showing desperation

President Barack Obama must be having difficulty rounding up the necessary votes in Congress to pass fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Otherwise we would not be seeing President Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff Thomas McClarty, Secretary of State John Kerry and many other prominent people saying such silly things about the trade deal. While more arguments may be invented in the weeks ahead, it’s worth a quick review of the ones produced to date. [..]

If the economic arguments for TPP can’t sell the deal, lately we have seen people pushing it for geo-political reasons. I won’t attempt to assess the geo-political merits of the TPP, but it reasonable to ask about the expertise of those who say we need the TPP for geo-political reasons. Did these geo-political experts support the Iraq War? If so, is there reason to believe that their understanding of world politics has improved in the last 13 years?

Paul Krugman: Wall Street Vampires

Last year the vampires of finance bought themselves a Congress. I know it’s not nice to call them that, but I have my reasons, which I’ll explain in a bit. For now, however, let’s just note that these days Wall Street, which used to split its support between the parties, overwhelmingly favors the G.O.P. And the Republicans who came to power this year are returning the favor by trying to kill Dodd-Frank, the financial reform enacted in 2010.

And why must Dodd-Frank die? Because it’s working.

This statement may surprise progressives who believe that nothing significant has been done to rein in runaway bankers. And it’s true both that reform fell well short of what we really should have done and that it hasn’t yielded obvious, measurable triumphs like the gains in insurance thanks to Obamacare.

But Wall Street hates reform for a reason, and a closer look shows why.

Alexander Abdo and Jameel Jaffer: The courts stood up to NSA mass surveillance. Now Congress must act

One of the documents that Edward Snowden delivered to American journalists two years ago was a now-infamous NSA slide titled “New Collection Posture.” The slide summarizes, in surprisingly candid terms, the objective of the largest, most powerful surveillance agency on the face of the earth. ‘Collect it all’, it says. [..]

But perhaps the more immediate effect of Thursday’s decision will be on the debate now unfolding in Washington. The Patriot Act provision that underlies the call-records program is scheduled to sunset on 1 June, and over the next three weeks Congress must decide whether to reauthorize the provision, scale it back or allow it to expire. The appeals court’s decision should strengthen the hand of advocates who believe the revisions currently being considered by Congress don’t go far enough, and it should strengthen the resolve of legislators who have been pushing for more comprehensive reforms.

If Congress can’t coalesce around more comprehensive reform, the best course would be to let Section 215 expire. The intelligence community hasn’t even attempted to make a serious case that this authority is actually necessary. And as the recent ruling reminds us, it’s an authority that’s been grossly abused already and that could readily be abused again.

The court has done its part. Now it’s Congress’s turn.

Leo W. Gerard: Trade Abuse

America is in an abusive relationship with trade-obsessed politicians and corporations.

Despite their long history of battering the U.S. middle class with bad trade deal after bad trade deal, these lawmakers and CEOs contend workers should believe that their new proposal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will be different. President Obama and the CEO of Nike, a company that doesn’t manufacture one shoe in the United States, got together in Oregon on Friday to urge Americans to fall once again for a trade deal.  

The trade fanatics say everything will be different under the TPP – even though it is based on deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that lured American factories across the border, destroyed good-paying jobs and devastated communities. They plead: “Just come back for one more deal and see how great it will be this time!” And, like all batterers, they say: “Sorry about the terrible past; trust me about the future.”

This is trade abuse.

Dave Hohnson: Senate Fast Track Vote Tuesday — Where Is Clinton?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has scheduled the voting process for trade promotion authority, commonly known as “fast track,” to begin as early as Tuesday. If passed, fast track prohibits Congress from amending trade agreements, no matter what problems might show up, and it requires that these agreements be voted on within 90 days, limiting the debate Congress is allowed to have while also prohibiting filibusters.

Passing fast track will essentially pre-approve the secret Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement before the public gets a chance to know what is in it, as well as future trade deals, regardless of who is president or what the rigged, corporate-dominated negotiating process produces.

With a vote coming as soon as Tuesday, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has not yet spoken out for or against fast track.

Geoffrey R. Stone: Intelligence Gathering, Secrecy and the Congress Problem

In an important decision, a federal court of appeals held yesterday that the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata could not be squared with the legislation that was said to authorize it. [..]

But that left open the question, which is still unresolved, of how Congress itself can authorize programs that must be kept secret from our enemies and, therefore, from the American people. One answer, of course, is that the government should never have any foreign intelligence programs that have not been discussed openly and approved by the American people. The problem with that answer is that that “solution” would automatically render eliminate all sorts of surveillance programs that require secrecy in order to be effective.

Another answer is to figure out some way that Congress can have a meaningful role in deciding whether to approve secret foreign intelligence programs without at the same time destroying their effectiveness. That, of course, was the reason for creating the House and Senate Intelligence Committees. But, if their approval is not sufficient to reflect congressional approval, then another way must be found to enable the Congress itself to discuss, debate, review and evaluate secret foreign intelligence programs without destroying them in the process.

May 11 2015

On This Day In History May 11

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

Click on images to enlarge

May 11 is the 131st day of the year (132nd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 234 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1934, a massive storm sends millions of tons of topsoil flying from across the parched Great Plains region of the United States as far east as New York, Boston and Atlanta.

At the time the Great Plains were settled in the mid-1800s, the land was covered by prairie grass, which held moisture in the earth and kept most of the soil from blowing away even during dry spells. By the early 20th century, however, farmers had plowed under much of the grass to create fields. The U.S. entry into World War I in 1917 caused a great need for wheat, and farms began to push their fields to the limit, plowing under more and more grassland with the newly invented tractor. The plowing continued after the war, when the introduction of even more powerful gasoline tractors sped up the process. During the 1920s, wheat production increased by 300 percent, causing a glut in the market by 1931.

The Dust Bowl, or the Dirty Thirties, was a period of severe dust storms causing major ecological and agricultural damage to American and Canadian prairie lands from 1930 to 1936 (in some areas until 1940). The phenomenon was caused by severe drought coupled with decades of extensive farming without crop rotation, fallow fields, cover crops or other techniques to prevent erosion. Deep plowing of the virgin topsoil of the Great Plains had displaced the natural deep-rooted grasses that normally kept the soil in place and trapped moisture even during periods of drought and high winds.

During the drought of the 1930s, without natural anchors to keep the soil in place, it dried, turned to dust, and blew away eastward and southward in large dark clouds. At times the clouds blackened the sky reaching all the way to East Coast cities such as New York and Washington, D.C. Much of the soil ended up deposited in the Atlantic Ocean, carried by prevailing winds, which were in part created by the dry and bare soil conditions. These immense dust storms-given names such as “Black Blizzards” and “Black Rollers”-often reduced visibility to a few feet (around a meter). The Dust Bowl affected 100,000,000 acres (400,000 km2), centered on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma, and adjacent parts of New Mexico, Colorado, and Kansas.

Millions of acres of farmland became useless, and hundreds of thousands of people were forced to leave their homes; many of these families (often known as “Okies”, since so many came from Oklahoma) migrated to California and other states, where they found economic conditions little better during the Great Depression than those they had left. Owning no land, many became migrant workers who traveled from farm to farm to pick fruit and other crops at starvation wages. Author John Steinbeck [ later wrote The Grapes of Wrath, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and Of Mice and Men, about such people.

May 11 2015

If true…

Ugh, in my heart of hearts I know it’s true.  Single sourcing?  Seymour Hersh!

My country, that I loved, has been stolen from me and I now live in a National Socialist regime (I will not answer to any arguments that my childhood illusions were misguided, I believed we could have been, should have been, better than that).

And now the great question.

Confront the truth or run away?

As always I leave it to you, gentle reader, to decide.  My natural instinct is always to fight for the oppressed and believe the best of people.  This seems like good ground, I expect victory.

And if not, a White Rose.

 photo 180px-Scholl-Denkmal_Muumlnchen_zps0phb1wf2.jpg

The Killing of Osama bin Laden

Seymour M. Hersh, London Review of Books

May 2015

The major US source for the account that follows is a retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad. He also was privy to many aspects of the Seals’ training for the raid, and to the various after-action reports. Two other US sources, who had access to corroborating information, have been longtime consultants to the Special Operations Command. I also received information from inside Pakistan about widespread dismay among the senior ISI and military leadership – echoed later by Durrani – over Obama’s decision to go public immediately with news of bin Laden’s death. The White House did not respond to requests for comment.



In October, Obama was briefed on the intelligence. His response was cautious, the retired official said. ‘It just made no sense that bin Laden was living in Abbottabad. It was just too crazy. The president’s position was emphatic: “Don’t talk to me about this any more unless you have proof that it really is bin Laden.”‘ The immediate goal of the CIA leadership and the Joint Special Operations Command was to get Obama’s support. They believed they would get this if they got DNA evidence, and if they could assure him that a night assault of the compound would carry no risk. The only way to accomplish both things, the retired official said, ‘was to get the Pakistanis on board’.

During the late autumn of 2010, the US continued to keep quiet about the walk-in, and Kayani and Pasha continued to insist to their American counterparts that they had no information about bin Laden’s whereabouts. ‘The next step was to figure out how to ease Kayani and Pasha into it – to tell them that we’ve got intelligence showing that there is a high-value target in the compound, and to ask them what they know about the target,’ the retired official said. ‘The compound was not an armed enclave – no machine guns around, because it was under ISI control.’ The walk-in had told the US that bin Laden had lived undetected from 2001 to 2006 with some of his wives and children in the Hindu Kush mountains, and that ‘the ISI got to him by paying some of the local tribal people to betray him.’ (Reports after the raid placed him elsewhere in Pakistan during this period.) Bank was also told by the walk-in that bin Laden was very ill, and that early on in his confinement at Abbottabad, the ISI had ordered Amir Aziz, a doctor and a major in the Pakistani army, to move nearby to provide treatment. ‘The truth is that bin Laden was an invalid, but we cannot say that,’ the retired official said. ‘”You mean you guys shot a cripple? Who was about to grab his AK-47?”‘

‘It didn’t take long to get the co-operation we needed, because the Pakistanis wanted to ensure the continued release of American military aid, a good percentage of which was anti-terrorism funding that finances personal security, such as bullet-proof limousines and security guards and housing for the ISI leadership,’ the retired official said. He added that there were also under-the-table personal ‘incentives’ that were financed by off-the-books Pentagon contingency funds. ‘The intelligence community knew what the Pakistanis needed to agree – there was the carrot. And they chose the carrot. It was a win-win. We also did a little blackmail. We told them we would leak the fact that you’ve got bin Laden in your backyard. We knew their friends and enemies’ – the Taliban and jihadist groups in Pakistan and Afghanistan – ‘would not like it.’

A worrying factor at this early point, according to the retired official, was Saudi Arabia, which had been financing bin Laden’s upkeep since his seizure by the Pakistanis. ‘The Saudis didn’t want bin Laden’s presence revealed to us because he was a Saudi, and so they told the Pakistanis to keep him out of the picture. The Saudis feared if we knew we would pressure the Pakistanis to let bin Laden start talking to us about what the Saudis had been doing with al-Qaida. And they were dropping money – lots of it. The Pakistanis, in turn, were concerned that the Saudis might spill the beans about their control of bin Laden. The fear was that if the US found out about bin Laden from Riyadh, all hell would break out. The Americans learning about bin Laden’s imprisonment from a walk-in was not the worst thing.’

Despite their constant public feuding, American and Pakistani military and intelligence services have worked together closely for decades on counterterrorism in South Asia. Both services often find it useful to engage in public feuds ‘to cover their asses’, as the retired official put it, but they continually share intelligence used for drone attacks, and co-operate on covert operations. At the same time, it’s understood in Washington that elements of the ISI believe that maintaining a relationship with the Taliban leadership inside Afghanistan is essential to national security. The ISI’s strategic aim is to balance Indian influence in Kabul; the Taliban is also seen in Pakistan as a source of jihadist shock troops who would back Pakistan against India in a confrontation over Kashmir.



The bin Laden compound was less than two miles from the Pakistan Military Academy, and a Pakistani army combat battalion headquarters was another mile or so away. Abbottabad is less than 15 minutes by helicopter from Tarbela Ghazi, an important base for ISI covert operations and the facility where those who guard Pakistan’s nuclear weapons arsenal are trained. ‘Ghazi is why the ISI put bin Laden in Abbottabad in the first place,’ the retired official said, ‘to keep him under constant supervision.’



‘Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,’ the retired official said. ‘Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.’ A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that ‘we were not going to keep bin Laden alive – to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, “Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.”‘ The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.

At the Abbottabad compound ISI guards were posted around the clock to keep watch over bin Laden and his wives and children. They were under orders to leave as soon as they heard the rotors of the US helicopters. The town was dark: the electricity supply had been cut off on the orders of the ISI hours before the raid began. One of the Black Hawks crashed inside the walls of the compound, injuring many on board. ‘The guys knew the TOT [time on target] had to be tight because they would wake up the whole town going in,’ the retired official said. The cockpit of the crashed Black Hawk, with its communication and navigational gear, had to be destroyed by concussion grenades, and this would create a series of explosions and a fire visible for miles. Two Chinook helicopters had flown from Afghanistan to a nearby Pakistani intelligence base to provide logistical support, and one of them was immediately dispatched to Abbottabad. But because the helicopter had been equipped with a bladder loaded with extra fuel for the two Black Hawks, it first had to be reconfigured as a troop carrier. The crash of the Black Hawk and the need to fly in a replacement were nerve-wracking and time-consuming setbacks, but the Seals continued with their mission. There was no firefight as they moved into the compound; the ISI guards had gone. ‘Everyone in Pakistan has a gun and high-profile, wealthy folks like those who live in Abbottabad have armed bodyguards, and yet there were no weapons in the compound,’ the retired official pointed out. Had there been any opposition, the team would have been highly vulnerable. Instead, the retired official said, an ISI liaison officer flying with the Seals guided them into the darkened house and up a staircase to bin Laden’s quarters. The Seals had been warned by the Pakistanis that heavy steel doors blocked the stairwell on the first and second-floor landings; bin Laden’s rooms were on the third floor. The Seal squad used explosives to blow the doors open, without injuring anyone. One of bin Laden’s wives was screaming hysterically and a bullet – perhaps a stray round – struck her knee. Aside from those that hit bin Laden, no other shots were fired. (The Obama administration’s account would hold otherwise.)

‘They knew where the target was – third floor, second door on the right,’ the retired official said. ‘Go straight there. Osama was cowering and retreated into the bedroom. Two shooters followed him and opened up. Very simple, very straightforward, very professional hit.’ Some of the Seals were appalled later at the White House’s initial insistence that they had shot bin Laden in self-defence, the retired official said. ‘Six of the Seals’ finest, most experienced NCOs, faced with an unarmed elderly civilian, had to kill him in self-defence? The house was shabby and bin Laden was living in a cell with bars on the window and barbed wire on the roof. The rules of engagement were that if bin Laden put up any opposition they were authorised to take lethal action. But if they suspected he might have some means of opposition, like an explosive vest under his robe, they could also kill him. So here’s this guy in a mystery robe and they shot him. It’s not because he was reaching for a weapon. The rules gave them absolute authority to kill the guy.’ The later White House claim that only one or two bullets were fired into his head was ‘bullshit’, the retired official said. ‘The squad came through the door and obliterated him. As the Seals say, “We kicked his ass and took his gas.”‘

After they killed bin Laden, ‘the Seals were just there, some with physical injuries from the crash, waiting for the relief chopper,’ the retired official said. ‘Twenty tense minutes. The Black Hawk is still burning. There are no city lights. No electricity. No police. No fire trucks. They have no prisoners.’ Bin Laden’s wives and children were left for the ISI to interrogate and relocate. ‘Despite all the talk,’ the retired official continued, there were ‘no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks. The Seals weren’t there because they thought bin Laden was running a command centre for al-Qaida operations, as the White House would later tell the media. And they were not intelligence experts gathering information inside that house.’

On a normal assault mission, the retired official said, there would be no waiting around if a chopper went down. ‘The Seals would have finished the mission, thrown off their guns and gear, and jammed into the remaining Black Hawk and di-di-maued’ – Vietnamese slang for leaving in a rush – ‘out of there, with guys hanging out of the doors. They would not have blown the chopper – no commo gear is worth a dozen lives – unless they knew they were safe. Instead they stood around outside the compound, waiting for the bus to arrive.’ Pasha and Kayani had delivered on all their promises.



Five days after the raid the Pentagon press corps was provided with a series of videotapes that were said by US officials to have been taken from a large collection the Seals had removed from the compound, along with as many as 15 computers. Snippets from one of the videos showed a solitary bin Laden looking wan and wrapped in a blanket, watching what appeared to be a video of himself on television. An unnamed official told reporters that the raid produced a ‘treasure trove … the single largest collection of senior terrorist materials ever’, which would provide vital insights into al-Qaida’s plans. The official said the material showed that bin Laden ‘remained an active leader in al-Qaida, providing strategic, operational and tactical instructions to the group … He was far from a figurehead [and] continued to direct even tactical details of the group’s management and to encourage plotting’ from what was described as a command-and-control centre in Abbottabad. ‘He was an active player, making the recent operation even more essential for our nation’s security,’ the official said. The information was so vital, he added, that the administration was setting up an inter-agency task force to process it: ‘He was not simply someone who was penning al-Qaida strategy. He was throwing operational ideas out there and he was also specifically directing other al-Qaida members.’

These claims were fabrications: there wasn’t much activity for bin Laden to exercise command and control over. The retired intelligence official said that the CIA’s internal reporting shows that since bin Laden moved to Abbottabad in 2006 only a handful of terrorist attacks could be linked to the remnants of bin Laden’s al-Qaida. ‘We were told at first,’ the retired official said, ‘that the Seals produced garbage bags of stuff and that the community is generating daily intelligence reports out of this stuff. And then we were told that the community is gathering everything together and needs to translate it. But nothing has come of it. Every single thing they have created turns out not to be true. It’s a great hoax – like the Piltdown man.’ The retired official said that most of the materials from Abbottabad were turned over to the US by the Pakistanis, who later razed the building. The ISI took responsibility for the wives and children of bin Laden, none of whom was made available to the US for questioning.

‘Why create the treasure trove story?’ the retired official said. ‘The White House had to give the impression that bin Laden was still operationally important. Otherwise, why kill him? A cover story was created – that there was a network of couriers coming and going with memory sticks and instructions. All to show that bin Laden remained important.’



Within weeks of the raid, I had been told by two longtime consultants to Special Operations Command, who have access to current intelligence, that the funeral aboard the Carl Vinson didn’t take place. One consultant told me that bin Laden’s remains were photographed and identified after being flown back to Afghanistan. The consultant added: ‘At that point, the CIA took control of the body. The cover story was that it had been flown to the Carl Vinson.’ The second consultant agreed that there had been ‘no burial at sea’. He added that ‘the killing of bin Laden was political theatre designed to burnish Obama’s military credentials … The Seals should have expected the political grandstanding. It’s irresistible to a politician. Bin Laden became a working asset.’ Early this year, speaking again to the second consultant, I returned to the burial at sea. The consultant laughed and said: ‘You mean, he didn’t make it to the water?’

The retired official said there had been another complication: some members of the Seal team had bragged to colleagues and others that they had torn bin Laden’s body to pieces with rifle fire. The remains, including his head, which had only a few bullet holes in it, were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains – or so the Seals claimed. At the time, the retired official said, the Seals did not think their mission would be made public by Obama within a few hours: ‘If the president had gone ahead with the cover story, there would have been no need to have a funeral within hours of the killing. Once the cover story was blown, and the death was made public, the White House had a serious “Where’s the body?” problem. The world knew US forces had killed bin Laden in Abbottabad. Panic city. What to do? We need a “functional body” because we have to be able to say we identified bin Laden via a DNA analysis. It would be navy officers who came up with the “burial at sea” idea. Perfect. No body. Honourable burial following sharia law. Burial is made public in great detail, but Freedom of Information documents confirming the burial are denied for reasons of “national security”. It’s the classic unravelling of a poorly constructed cover story – it solves an immediate problem but, given the slighest inspection, there is no back-up support. There never was a plan, initially, to take the body to sea, and no burial of bin Laden at sea took place.’ The retired official said that if the Seals’ first accounts are to be believed, there wouldn’t have been much left of bin Laden to put into the sea in any case.



Obama today is not facing re-election as he was in the spring of 2011. His principled stand on behalf of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran says much, as does his decision to operate without the support of the conservative Republicans in Congress. High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.

So the bottom line is that the ISI were protecting Osama Bin Laden as a security asset (retired spy) in Abbottabad, a major military base like Fort Dix, New Jersey, until they allowed Obama to assassinate him with a firing squad flown in for that purpose which still managed to screw things up and fry a Blackhawk (Team ‘Murika, Yay!).

Well, thank goodness we killed those Poles that stormed our radio station at Gleiwitz and those anarchist Jews who burned down the Reichstag.

May 11 2015

Sunday Train: Benefits of the Maryland Red and Purple Lines

Just as national attention has been focused on the sections of Baltimore that have been largely locked out of the revival of economic activity in downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbor, the new Republican governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan, is considering whether to proceed with the construction of the Red Line in Baltimore, as well as the Purple Line in the Maryland DC suburbs.

As discussed in StreetsblogUSA back in January, “Considering to proceed”, here, means:

Early in his gubernatorial campaign, Hogan promised to kill the projects, saying the money would be better spent on roads and that the western, eastern, and southern parts of the state deserved more attention. But closer to the election he moderated his views, saying the lines were “worth considering.”

Now Transport for American (t4america.com) has weighed in, producing a report that argues that the benefits of the lines make them well worth their cost.

Indeed, part of their case may well help explain why Gov. Hogan is “deciding” when originally Candidate Hogan sounded like he had already made up his mind. For the Transport for America case for these lines, join me below the fold.