Opinion

The Edgy Optimist

The benefits of a ‘de-Americanized world’

By Zachary Karabell
October 16, 2013

This current bout of Washington inanity is approaching its denouement, but however it ends, it has accelerated a trend that has been gathering steam for at least the last five years: the move away from a Washington-centric world and towards a new, undefined, but decidedly less American global system.

The latest broadside was the widely disseminated editorial in China’s state-run news agency Xinhua, which called for a “de-Americanized world” that no longer depends on the dollar and is thus no longer at the whim of “intensifying domestic political turmoil in the United States.” That follows on the heels of a Vladimir Putin’s op-ed in the New York Times in which he called out the American tendency to see itself as an exceptional, indispensable nation. “It is extremely dangerous,” Putin concluded, “to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

The fact that these two powerful critiques of America’s place in the world were written by the United States’ historical adversaries should not be an excuse to dismiss their substance. Yes, these broadsides were politically motivated, and they play to domestic and international audiences that celebrate anyone who stands up to the big, bad Americans. But even a hypocritical adversary can have keen observations, and in both cases, the message was the same: the United States may be a powerful country that controls the world’s reserve currency and has the world’s predominant military, but that does not mean it is the global leader, the world’s policeman or anything other than a first among equals at best.

For all the fervor of the Tea Party and the anxiety of the middle class, Americans still adhere to a comforting story of the U.S. as the world’s sole superpower. If anything good comes out of this current morass, it will be that we’re one step closer to unraveling that outdated myth.

The financial crisis of 2008 disabused the rest of the world of the notion that the United States — whatever its limitations — was far and away superior at maneuvering the wheels of finance and capitalism. For a while, the denizens of the European Union enjoyed tut-tutting the Americans about their love affairs with derivatives and mortgages, until the EU itself plunged into chaos in 2010. The U.S. was exposed as the man behind the curtain, dispensing advice born of financial alchemy, but in the end just as susceptible to speculators and systemic failings.

That the “emerging” world came out of the 2008 crisis in much better financial shape was especially damning for Washington-centrism. The countries that learned hard financial lessons in past regional crises, such as Latin America in the 1970s or East Asian nations in the 1990s, held up remarkably well in the aftermath of the financial crisis, especially compared to the United States and Europe. Aware that they were weathering the storms, they became more vocal in their criticism and skepticism of the Americans.

As the United States adopted an easy-money, low-rate policy in an attempt to shore up its ailing economic system, many in the developing world cried foul and accused the U.S. of engaging in a currency war. In 2010, when President Obama appeared in Seoul at the G20 summit, he was met not with the deference normally accorded the leader of the world’s largest economy but rather with lectures and even a hint of scorn. China’s deputy foreign minister admonished America to “realize its responsibility and obligation as a major currency issuing country, and take responsible macroeconomic policies.” Germany’s Angela Merkel was more diplomatic but still unequivocally rebuffed America’s calls for less austerity.

Then, in 2011, came a similar game of debt ceiling chicken. The world once again watched as the American political class encased itself in a hermetically-sealed bubble of folly and arrogance while it disregarded the deleterious effects on both its own prestige and the global financial system. One bout of inanity that tilts toward insanity can perhaps be written off as a bad moment. Two in the space of two years begins to look like a pattern.

This diminution is widely perceived as negative, but for now it is actually an extraordinary boon for the United States. It provides a much-needed opening to turn full attention to pressing domestic issues, such as the future of job creation and the nature of economic growth in the decades ahead. (Granted, this crisis is not exactly leading to solutions on domestic issues, but perhaps that will emerge in its wake.) The U.S. has too many unresolved issues, and the world has too many emerging centers of dynamism, for America to do otherwise.

The realignment that is taking place is as much attitudinal as structural. By sheer dint of size and scope, if countries no longer look to the United States for leadership there will be global ramifications. In a world with multiple centers of influence, from China to Latin America to India and sub-Saharan Africa, new actors that take on a greater share of regional and, in time, global responsibility will yield a more stable future. We have known that forever, hence the stops and starts of the United Nations and other international bodies. Perhaps now, with the U.S. receding in relative strength, we will begin to create a truly international order. It will have its own challenges of course, but it also will be less dependent on any one country.

So what we have in the debt debacle part XXXII is a gift, oddly, of time. With the world both aghast and bemused, the U.S. is left to sort out its own issues. Yes, many are legitimately worried that the fecklessness of the political class will trigger a global economic crisis if a debt default occurs. More likely, however, a worst-case scenario consists of a brief crisis that diminishes the U.S. as a global actor. A reduced U.S. role is still a lot more powerful than 100 emerging markets, but it would force even greater internal focus for the U.S. Whether that opportunity would be used well or used poorly we will have to see, but it’s an opportunity, and a good one at that.

PHOTO: A man walks through the Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol during the partial government shutdown in Washington October 14, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Comments
34 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

like Latin America in the 70′s and Asia in the 90′s, Europe is learning fast. No more Anglo-Saxon lessons, thank you

Posted by phoen2011 | Report as abusive
 

It would be interesting to know exactly what percent of GDP is due to being the world’s reserve currently. I’ll bet if you knew you’d change your tune. I think just the float would balance the budget.

Posted by watcher8 | Report as abusive
 

Debt restructuring is a great idea, if we the people do not do this now, it will be done for us, by people out side this country. You can see how our sovereignty is already at risk with all this delusional debt, that has a noose around every neck. Raising the debt limit is as good as hanging them.

Posted by 2Borknot2B | Report as abusive
 

Thank you Mr. Karabell, this article was sorely needed. I’m dying to see the comments…

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

So our wannabee challengers for preeminence believe “the United States may be a powerful country that controls the world’s reserve currency and has the world’s predominant military, but that does not mean it is the global leader, the world’s policeman or anything other than a first among equals at best.”? Belief is faith. In this case, what?

What other economy has demonstrated the strength and resiliency of the American economy, even considering that the actions of those in charge seem hell bent on destroying it? What other currency has demonstrated the strength and resiliency of the American dollar since WW II, even considering that the actions of those in charge seem hell bent on destroying it?

The world has shown man’s uncivil nature over thousands and thousands of years. We are no closer to being able to live in peace with one another today than back then. So the need for a “world policeman” remains. If not the U.S., who? Again and again history has shown the U.N. to be a toothless coward, hardly the “cop on the beat” best suited to “keep the peace” in a world of everlasting bubbling hostility.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Umm …@OOTS, I think the Chinese have weathered the cold war, American spoils of war, and now “The Great Recession” far better than we have. They maintained growth throughout the time period, created a brand spanking new infrastructure far larger than ours, and brought 500,000,000 people out of abject poverty at the same time, and are now the number two economy. They WILL be the number one economy before you get to push up a dozen daisy’s. Come on, give credit where credit is due. They have every right to make the statements they did. How they accomplished it is contentious, but they did accomplish it.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

Oh, and as a world policeman, virtually all countries in the world except us say it should be the UN. We always say how theoretically it should be them, then we stand in the way of it happening. We must stop being the spoiled kid in the room demanding our own way. When the UN says no, it is no. Otherwise we are just hypocrites, as they are saying now.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

The ‘End of American Supremacy’ is a notion that dates back to the 1930s, and it suffers from several fundamental flaws.

The first flaw that comes to mind is that there are simply no other candidates out there for the title of ‘Superpower’, or ‘Pole’ in a multi-polar world. With all due respect, neither Russia nor China can even aspire to pass the threshold, and those who thought the EU was a candidate to become a superpower seem to have abandoned this idea after witnessing its ongoing political and economic dysfunction. During the eighties, some people believed that Japan would become a world player equal in its importance to the US, but that didn’t happen.
Recently, some people advanced the acronym BRIC, only to realize it was little more than froth, and the word slowly disappeared from circulation.

The second flaw is that time and again, the US manages to show that when push comes to shove, it’s the only international player out there that has some global political and military clout.

The third flaw is that the US is in fact still the world’s economic leader, and internal problems here sometimes affect others more than they affect us. The dollar is still king, to a point where people all over the world rush to buy dollars whenever they sense upcoming trouble – even in the US. And BTW, it was the US Fed that helped the ECB a couple of years ago at the height of economic crisis, and not vice versa.

Posted by reality-again | Report as abusive
 

@reality-again, you raise some very good points, but I think you miss the points that the “G20ish” countries, and more importantly the Chinese are trying to make. They don’t care about having a “SuperPower”. They care about having all military and “world police” actions be approved by the UN an not be at the American political whim. As far as response to disasters, yes I’m sure they appreciate our gorilla sized abilities, but again, they’re really not talking about that either.
For your second flaw, obviously that has been waning or we wouldn’t be having this discussion. For your third flaw, they are trying to point out that just because we are, at the moment, the largest economy does not mean we get to call all the shots and wreak havoc on their economies. So at best I’m sorry to say your comment seems to be just more American arrogance than actual discussion of the points they are trying to make. Or at worst you are making their case in point.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

Oh, forgot to say that your whole approach to your answer was the that if we’re not the “supremacy” that one of them wants to or must be. That is specifically what they don’t want and have clearly articulated that.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

Don’t worry about Americanized World.

Think how to save your nation (China) from the perils of – communism and population growth in 40 years.

Posted by Mott | Report as abusive
 

The “how dare they say this to us” responses give me some concern; those responses shoudl remember that the critics are growing and catching up to us.

The two biggest totalitarian critics speaking out generally lack rule of law and don’t have a domestic or international track record like the USA of “doing the right thing, after exhausting the alternatives” as Churchill put it. They often stop before getting to the right thing. They are offering these comments from a self-serving perspective.

Finally, exceptionalism is not something we can buy at WalMart. Domestically, we’ve replaced an ethos of economic nationalism that protected our middle class with an unthinking consumerist commodity consciousness that’s eroded our manufacturing base and handed part of our kids’ lunch overseas to the world’s biggest totalitarian economy.

Over the same time, we entered an era of deficits not just by spending, but by tax-cutting to the point that our low tax rates are below what they were for most of the 20th century. The ‘tax cuts for job creators’ justification for this seems baseless after a 30-year test period. Even worse for responsible conservatism and more effort to balance budgets, taxes are now off the table when in fact they are half of equation for reaching a deficit or a surplus.

Posted by Decatur | Report as abusive
 

Umm …@tmc,

You’re usually a deeper thinker than this.

I fully agree that the Chinese have, without question over the last fifty years created and maintained the economic growth you describe and leveraged it to create the infrastructure absolutely necessary for such trend to continue. I freely acknowledge the success of their “system” and applaud it.

Now that China has a permanent vested interest in a stable global economy we tend to forget back when they were a poor client-state of the Soviet Union. That was a time when their economy produced only the tools of war and cannon-fodder to stoke a myopic vision of a world dominated by Communism. Today’s “bargain” is a far, far better than any likely alternative.

That said, is is no surprise to any student of politics that the most efficient “system” of government is a benevolent dictatorship. Those citizens that personally experienced and survived the deprivations of the Korean War era and Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” are pragmatists who do not idealize so much about that which “can be” as how much better is it now.

“They don’t care about having a “SuperPower”. Then why are they busily designing aircraft carriers and stealth aircraft with which to project power in the future? What what t hey DO, not what they say.

“They care about having all military and “world police” actions be approved by the UN an not be at the American political whim.” Of course. At present, that serves their purpose(s). When it no longer does, that attitude will change.

They respond to disasters only when and where such serves their long term goal(s). In the U.S. calculation, ability to repay has NEVER been of significance. So those who would have the Chinese dominant in the future had best carefully consider the “good cop-bad cop” not as partners but as alternatives.

The U.N. is not NATO. It is comprised of countless “sovereign states” of no economic consequence or future that cast votes on a par with the United States and China. So a slightly different “cold war” goes on there forever, with the United States hated by all who envy our success and power and would support China against our recommendations in the hope that we will decimate ourselves at some point so their voices might gain a measure of importance.

Hope springs eternal, but such a forum is hardly good basis for a “world policeman” that is unbiased and fair. Be careful what you wish for, you may get it!

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

Last time the world had a multi-polar international system was in the 1930s and 1940s. The poles were the US, British Empire, French Empire, Germany, Japanese Empire, and the USSR.
That system didn’t work, to say the least.
WWII knocked out Germany and Japan out of that system, and within the next couple of decades the British and French Empires were dismantled, as the system evolved into an bipolar one, where two superpowers and their allies faced each other.
Many years ago, when I studied International Relationships, the definition of a superpower was a state that was big end rich enough to sustain itself without depending on others, and the USSR fit that description. Still, that state was too weak politically, economically and culturally, and it collapsed too.
Based on what we can see today, neither Russia nor China could become superpowers. Russia could keep surviving in a twilight zone (or not), and China could become richer and consequently more influential on the economic scene, as was Japan in the seventies and eighties, but it doesn’t benefit from what it takes to become a superpower, and it’s facing a set of major problems that would limit its power for as long as the eye can see.

Posted by reality-again | Report as abusive
 

We are just losing propaganda war at the moment. No more or less. But this issue may and will have serious consequences if not rectified.

Posted by UauS | Report as abusive
 

Thanks for that @OOTS. I agree that a benevolent dictatorship I best form of government, but as we know they don’t last. We have seen the Chinese government change significantly from it Mao days. I would say it left those behind by the late seventies. It morphed again in the 90′s responding to Tiananmen square and globalization. We tend to agree now that they are no longer a “pure communism” state, but a new hybrid of it and our new form of capitalism. They have never stated goals of world domination or even of significant military influence. They layout there plans publicly in their Plenary sessions and have historically done very well sticking to them. We shall see in November if they make such claims now. btw- you never commented on Reuter article on the upcoming third plenum. http://blogs.reuters.com/great-debate/20 13/09/12/chinas-commitment-to-growth-wil l-drive-the-global-economy/
On the superpower thing, I again beg to differ. The vast majority of the international media quickly reported that China had bought and was refitting an old soviet carrier. They were not pumping billions into a modern super carrier. Though many war mongers here would like us to believe that. And “stealth” aircraft are all the rage now. Did you expect them to build by-plains? They have significant piracy to deal with since they ship more on the oceans than we do, and as we all know there is always skirmishes to worry about. The Chinese have not funneled a significant portion of there GDP into a new war machine as we do. So No, I do not think they want to be a superpower in the definition that you and many others state. They do want to be a superpower economy and are kicking our butts in it.
As to responding to only disasters that benefit them, well, our people are the most generous in the world, but those bags of wheat from our government most certainly do come with strings attached. That’s part of the American “meddling” that so many countries talk about. Besides, think about our support of Haiti? Only the America media says it was great.
Now, your statements on the UN are indeed accurate. But what’s your point? We should treat them like crap because they want to improve their standing? We’re losing international support faster than the republicans are losing national support. In the 80′s I could travel safely to far more countries than I can now, so just how good a cop have we really been?
I don’t wish that the USCA declines, but it seems hell bent on doing so. In fact I really don’t wish for anything. I just try to not be a hypocrite and actually walk what we talk. Thanks @OOTS, it’s always a pleasure hearing from you.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

@reality-again, you still seem to be stuck in the past 20th century. This is the 21st century and we certainly are not “big end rich enough to sustain itself without depending on others” so I guess by you’re definition we are no longer a super power.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

All super powers, all great civilisations and all great countries go through three phases. The US is not exceptional in this matter. The three phases are: the age of superiority, the age of privileges, and the age of vanity.
In which phase is the US at the present moment?

Posted by Jeanmichel | Report as abusive
 

@tmc

We have plenty of oil, natural gas, coal, minerals, forests, arable land, water, human resources and technology, military, industrial and financial power, functioning institutions (most of the time…), trade partners, military alliances, soft power, etc.
IE, we have all it takes to be a superpower, and no other country or group of countries even comes close.

@Jeanmichel

I would say we’re still in the first phase.

Posted by reality-again | Report as abusive
 

A de-Americanized world would be best for all.

Americans themselves would be better off in a de-Americanized world.

The cost of global military empire has been extremely high. The price has been an unfair fractured society where education, health-care, good jobs, and quality of life have always taken the back seat.

Posted by jrpardinas | Report as abusive
 

The arrogance of power is not pretty, but a super-power that believed in freedom, democracy and a free press is not to be thrown away because of a chippy, resentment of that power. Is there the same commitment to democracy and a free press in every South American county? In china? In Russia? In most Middle Eastern countries?

Posted by synnub99 | Report as abusive
 

Yet another prediction of the preeminent decline of America? I don’t see it and it really depends on your definition of a ‘superpower’? Is it one that can militarily sustain a global projection of power while fighting regional wars? Is it one which which heavily determines and influences outcomes withing the global economy? If it includes either of these, the US remains a superpower and if both the only superpower in the world. This is not likely to change any time soon as there is no alternative in sight (not even China which will be undermined by its aging demographics as was Japan).

Posted by AndrewsR | Report as abusive
 

@reality-again. Yes, we do, but then so do the Russians if you’re basing it on resources. They too are an energy exporter and have the land available, resources etc..
I guess I and I believe many other countries believe that the world no longer needs any superpower. We need to all work together now. I assure you our children and grandchildren are indeed being taught this. Take a close look at our school systems. We joke about trophies for participation and not for winning, but the truth is we’re teaching collaboration not individualism. It even shows in the Saturday morning cartoons. Sit and watch them with your grandchild and you’ll see what I mean.

@Jeanmichel, I think we are in the third stage for sure. The rest of the world definitely thinks so or we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

@jrpardinas, you are quite right. Vote your conscience, not for a party.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

@tmc

I generally agree with your comment about what and how our schools teach, and I can’t say I’m very happy with it, but I can also see advantages in teaching collaboration.

As for Russia, it does benefit from an abundance of natural resources, but other than those it has nothing. Practically, it’s almost the equivalent of a boreal Congo with a decreasing population, a space program, rusty leftover Soviet era military equipment, and a long border with China…

Posted by reality-again | Report as abusive
 

So, which countries are the other “superpowers”?

China recently tried hard (yet again) to replace the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency. How’s that going? Don’t bother answering. It went over like a lead balloon.

It’s laughable to claim that the world’s economy has recovered better than the United States. How are Brazil, Ireland, Spain, Greece, Portugal, Italy and the UK doing? For that matter, why are the economies of Europe still on the decline – with no near-term resolution? Why have the growth rates in China and India dropped precipitously?

This article is ridiculously misleading. Why?

Posted by ptiffany | Report as abusive
 

Actually @ptiffany, there is change happening to our world currency. Since the crash of 2008, many more large business deals have been done in other currencies. I recall not to long ago even some oil trades were done in I think it was rubles or renminbi. Also the Europeans are considering new banking models both domestically and internationally. It’s not going to happen overnight but subtle changes lead to larger ones. I realize you’re a wealth person and do not need to interact in international business, but those of us that do can see these changes both in attitude and in contract negotiations. You can’t always assume payment in US dollars anymore.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

Would there be war if there was no Patriotism?

I notice the Multinationals shed theirs rather quietly yet somehow, it seems acceptable.

Posted by SaveRMiddle | Report as abusive
 

All of these activities were FORETOLD in our famous Holy Bible. At the end of history, a large economic, financial and military empire will attempt to conquer the world. It will attempt to create a uni-polar world and insist that these things must happen.

It will make a god out of himself, magnifying himself over everyone and insist on total autonomy. He will boast that he is greater than them all. Becomes exceptional. (Daniel 11:36,37)

Giving no respect or consideration to subservient people or land. This “King” will act according to his own will. So great will he fancy himself to be, that he will even take on the Prince of Princes in battle, but in doing so he will seal his own doom. (Daniel 8:25)

This King will worship his military and spend lavishly on it. (Daniel 11:38) The strategy taken by the King of the North unravels and begins to become very ($)costly to him. (Runs debts, deficits, & sequesters). His economic and financial wealth takes a hit. His cities and infrastructure becomes old. He starts to go broke! His friends & allies turn on him. And in the end finds himself all alone.

This King starts to become concerned that he is LOSING POWER and begins to spy on everyone. It will begin to use sophisticated forms of intelligence like High-tech drones. Most people have already heard of the infamous Big Brother is watching narrative where the government will be able to access public records for their own private use.

All of humanity becomes roused because of the policies enacted by the King of the North. (Daniel 7:2) The sanctuary of humanity becomes completely disturbed and polarized. People will become divided and start to wage War against each other.

The cycle of violence becomes commonplace. We probably remember our grandparents telling us tales that we would see Wars, Wars, & Rumors of Wars. Eventually in the End, he shall be broken by the hand of God, though no human means could overpower him. (Daniel 8:25)

Posted by Reuters66 | Report as abusive
 

The argument that a multi polar world would be more stable is extremely questionable. The period of American dominance was the most stable in world history and brought about an era of unprecedented prosperity for people both inside and outside the US. Sadly the decadence created by our success is likely leading to our downfall, however, this is not cause for celebration. Those smaller “centers of influence” that are likely to replace the US are regional hegemons that are more likely to use force to maintain rule and less likely to create a fair order in which nations stand as equals. That is not to say the current US led order is always fair, but the next one will be less so. Far worse, many of these hegemons have deplorable human rights records, and the sovereignty of the individual is likely to deteriorate. I cannot imagine how anyone thinks that China or Russia are going to be good for individuals in neighboring countries, when they oppress their own citizens for the benefit of the leadership. This article lays out the path of American decline, but with no clear indication of how it benefits anyone. The opportunities created by a US power vacuum are likely to be taken advantage of by despots and at best will result in oppression and worst a return of great power wars.

Posted by wildcat27 | Report as abusive
 

@synnub99 — One million of goverment workers tasted some striking advantanges of the American democracy being deliberately kicked out of jobs, because that superefficient American economy could not generate enough cash to pay them instead of borrowing money from China.

Posted by behave | Report as abusive
 

@Very good counter points @wildcat27. Hopefully the long period of stability allowed other parts of our societies, like the global economy and global social media, to gain enough traction that they outweigh the propensity for war and power struggles.
I think they do in the important parts of the world, and it’s spreading fast.

Posted by tmc | Report as abusive
 

@synnub99,

Society no longer needs the number of people to do what needs doing it once did. Unemployment is thus destined to increase without end. So the millions unnecessary at the public trough will be increasingly “at risk”. Computers have eliminated millions of once “normal” functions that productively employed “working class” people.

Illegal international squatters, related large families, and the “normal” reproductive rate of existing citizens mean more and more people are chasing fewer and fewer jobs across the globe. There are only a few actions that will address such root causes, and these are not choices but actions already necessary across the planet.

The earth’s present SEVEN BILLION (and exploding) population MUST be reduced by at least half (to a number sustainable). The “civilized” way is through consensus to adopt and endure population CONTROL and attrition (not replacing everyone that dies). The “kick the can down the road” alternatives are the historically efficient vagaries of starvation, pestilence and war.

In addition, economies must figure out how to make those whose efforts ARE still required efficient and productive enough to also, through taxation not confiscatory, support those who have no productive place in society. They must concurrently ensure otherwise idle time is occupied, otherwise it will be the work(s) of the devil that they will do.

The “make work” approach of unions merely decreases already uncompetitive productivity. They have no victim to threaten or intimidate that can change fundamental socio-economic reality.

Regional implementation will merely concentrate suffering within those countries that can or will do nothing. That will inevitably result in warfare between the “responsible and comfortable” and the irresponsible and desperate.

If environmental balance is not achieved in time, man is toast. We’re not talking centuries, but decades. Failure is not an option. We live in interesting times.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

OneoftheSpeep. The concentration of money and power is the cause of the environmental, socio-economic and spiritual imbalance. The failure of that concentration is not a option. There will be approximately 10 Billion souls on this planet and will level out at that number.

Posted by 2Borknot2B | Report as abusive
 

2Borknot2B,

The lips appear to move but nothing intelligible comes out. ??? “Spiritual imbalance? Please.

Posted by OneOfTheSheep | Report as abusive
 

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