The Blink in the California Governor’s Race

Meg blinked for the first time in an almost flawless campaign. Until this week, it appeared that the GOP had successfully rolled out their new product — a conservative, ambitious businesswoman with a big check book. Her branding was effective and her television advertising brilliant. Political consultant Mike Murphy earned his money. Team Meg was launched, and they were relentless. Nothing really hampered or stuck to them until “the blink” — involving her domestic help in her Atherton hacienda (no pun intended).
To be blunt, Jerry Brown sure caught a big break this week. The race was in a dead heat with Brown moving slightly ahead, and many independents still on the sidelines. To be frank, Brown had virtually run an invisible campaign until right after Labor Day. Many Democrats thought he could afford the luxury of sitting on his laurels (maybe) because of his legacy. But the reality was that Meg could not and she had to spend early and often to create her brand. Many of feared that she a runaway train in hand-to-hand combat with the invisible man. Talk about a scary election for Democrats. It is one that will become a case study in politics and branding for years to come.
Well the wheel spun and the dice were thrown. Lady luck came down on Jerry this week. It’s kind of like watching Apple’s latest iPhone launch and their goof. The question is will Team Meg will have the staying power to sustain a frontal attack. Their campaign is now playing defense, and under fire that the candidate never saw coming. The domestic help issue is a big no-no. It has taken down many political candidates and appointments over the years. She probably did not understand the severity because if she had it would have been cleaned up. Let’s face it, Meg is a political virgin but her advisors are not. It remains to be seen how this potentially fatal crisis is handled by Team Meg. How will this react, and how will the Brown campaign handle itself? Dancing a jig on an open casket won’t cut it for them. Will Team Brown leverage the avalanche of earned media? Will they play well with social media? Or will they sit on the sidelines? It remains to be seen as this California soap opera continues to unfold.
This article posted to the Huffington Post earlier today.

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We Need To Tell The Public, Too

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
Here is something that you and I know to be true: progressive values and policies are better for people than conservative values and policies.
Progressives believe that we’re all in this together and the community taking care of each other ends up working out better for everyone. History also shows that this is how it turns out, every time. Conservatives believe people should be on their own, in constant dog-eat-dog competition, with everyone looking out for themselves and only themselves. History shows that this approach leads to disaster, every time.
You and I know this. But the pubic-at-large doesn’t know our side of this argument, because we aren’t telling them. While conservatives market their philosophy through every conceivable information channel there is very little outreach explaining the progressive side. When you turn on the radio or the TV or read the newspapers you just don’t see or hear about the benefits of a progressive approach. So the public-at-large is only hearing one side of the story — the conservative side — and they are hearing that side loudly and often.

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California Government Is Good People But The System Is Designed To Fail

This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
I was in Sacramento for some meetings this week, and have a few thoughts and observations.
The first is the most important. The people in and around our government are good, dedicated people who are doing those jobs because they care and want to do the right thing. You don’t make big money in public service. In the last few decades a government job meant less pay than a comparable “private” sector job and a number of working-environment hassles, like the extra procedures (paperwork and bureaucracy) that are required in public positions to involve transparency and accountability. And, of course, they have to put up with the Republican-inspired abuse of people who work for the government. So give these people a break and assume good faith.
After decades of budget cutting our government is universally strapped for resources and it makes for a difficult workday. The things people went into public service to accomplish are being stripped out from under them by the state’s structured-to-fail system (see below). I hope the Bush years trigger some serious thinking about what things would be like without a government, because we are getting close to that possibility.
The state government is now structurally designed to fail — and this latest budget deal compounds the problem. This situation was created on purpose by anti-government ideologues, usually corporate-funded. Thus really is a choice between government by the people or government by a wealthy few who happen to be in control of large corporations. To them government is “in the way” of making money. Government means food and safety inspectors so people don’t get sick and workers don’t get hurt, and protecting workers and the public costs them profits. Government means regulations stopping them from dumping stuff in the water or air and properly disposing of waste costs them money. Government means regulations that make them pay back customers who are overcharges. Government means regulations requiring delivering goods and services that were promised. SO you can see why the hate government and regulation — they keep them from just taking your money and giving nothing back!
So they have used the power that comes from their access to corporate resources to set up a state system that is giving them what they want. They pay petition-gatherers to get anti-government initiatives on the ballot, and then they flood the TV and radio with lying ads that trick people into voting against their own interests — and here we are.
Here are just a few of our designed-to-fail structural problems:

  • Term limits mean that thinking must be short term, and encourages passing problems along instead of solving them, because then the problems will be “not on my watch.” People who are effective in their jobs are forced out, and voters who want to keep them there are prevented from doing so.
  • The campaign-finance system puts corporate-backed candidates in office by necessitating big money to win elections. And corporations, designed to amass resources, are perfect vehicles for pushing the interests of the few who control them.
  • The two-thirds budget requirement means that a few anti-government extremists are able to sabotage the process, keeping any budget from passing and shutting down the state.
  • The disappearance of political reporting in California media means the state’s citizens are uninformed about what is going on. The corporate-owned media concentrates on sitcoms and what Britney is wearing, and does not let the people find out what government is about.
    These are just some of the structural problems, and the system is. of course, structurally designed to keep us from fixing them. The only way we are going to address this is to get lots and lots of people involved. The election of Barack Obama tells us this is possible but I despair at amount of work that will have to be done to accomplish it.
    Click through to Speak Out California

  • Stunning New Budget Demands From California’s Republicans

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
    Tuesday I wrote that Republicans were demanding mass layoffs of public employees — during a recession. And they are getting away with it because the state’s corporate-owned media outlets are not explaining to the public what is going on.
    The history of how we got to this point of budget stalemate is that Republicans in the legislature have blocked every single budget and gone back on their own Governor and every negotiated compromise, demanding that all budget shortfalls be solved by laying off teachers, construction workers, DMV workers, firefighters, etc. And through the whole process they have refused to offer any plan for the cuts they demand. But this is explained to the voters as a problem caused by “both sides” or “the legislature” or “refusing to work together” or to “reach a compromise” or “pointing fingers.” Some even manage to blame the Democrats for not completely caving in to every single demand! The result is that effective public pressure does not develop to get this solved.
    Now, rather than compromise and work with the Democrats and the Governor, they have come up with a new list of demands, on top of their previous demands. And this list is really something:

    “Democrats have to capitulate to GOP demands for the 8-hour work day, meal breaks, looser environmental regulations, permanent budget cuts and a stiff spending cap, among other things.
    Then, and only then, will Republicans come to the table to discuss — but not necessarily agree to — new taxes”

    Even if Democrats agree to all of the new demands, then the Republicans demand that we “sell state property!” Note that the entire list of new demands involves more tax cuts for businesses, revoking labor laws, removing environmental protections, removing worker and consumer safety regulations, making a very few wealthy people richer through lower pay for working people, etc. They even want to get rid of meal breaks and overtime pay for employees! These demands have nothing to do with helping regular Californians get through the day, they are about making things harder and less safe for us, just to make a few people ever richer. These stunning new demands have nothing to do with the budget.
    This is an attempt to apply the 2/3 requirement to remove existing laws that have been in place for years, agreed to by majority votes of the Legislature, signed by the Governor, that are now established (and well-accepted) practices of the state.
    In an interesting observation, David Dayen at Calitics asks if these demands possibly violate Section 86 of the California Penal Code. Take a look at his argument.
    One thing for sure, this is not the time for Democrats to cave in to extortion like this. This extortion comes because Democrats have enabled the power to do this by trying to work with the other party to fairly govern the state and compromising in the face of these tactics in the past. But these are not negotiations with an opposition that is interested in governing, so this time Democrats have to put their foot down and protect Californians and protect our form of government. WE elected them and WE made them a majority for a reason. WE want our government to function, not to be hijacked to serve only the interests of a wealthy few.
    Click through to Speak Out California

    Where’s California’s Budget? Who Is Obstructing?

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
    One more attempt to get a state budget in place collapsed — blocked by the Republicans because it included tax increases. Republicans insist that the budget be balanced with billions and billions of dollars in cuts in our schools and fire protection and the other things most of us want our state to do.
    I would bet that most of California’s public doesn’t know what is going on with our budget. They only know that there isn’t one, and that this is causing problems. It makes people angry, and causes them to lose faith in government.
    People know that government employees are being forced to take pay cuts, and many are being laid off. But they really do not know why.
    Yesterday’s budget vote was 45-30. The public doesn’t understand that this means that there were forty-five votes FOR the budget and only thirty votes against, and this is why it failed. They don’t understand that because it does not make sense. But because of a trick that the Republicans were able to play on the public the rules are that it takes a two-thirds vote to pass a budget. So an overwhelming vote of 45-30 FOR the budget means that the budget does NOT pass!
    Every Republican in the state has taken a vow not to raise taxes on wealthy corporations or massively wealthy individuals. They won’t vote to require people who buy yachts or private jets to pay the same sales taxes that the rest of us pay when we buy cars. They refuse to ask oil companies to pay fees when they take our oil out of the ground and sell it to us. (Maybe they understand that such a vote will dry up their campaign funding…)
    News stories about the latest budget collapse:
    San Jose News:

    Although the $105.2 billion budget blueprint garnered a majority vote, 45-30, it fell short of the two-thirds supermajority that California’s constitution requires to pass a budget.
    . . . The vote “shows clearly that we’re not going to vote for taxes,” said Assembly Republican leader Mike Villines, R-Fresno.

    Wall Street Journal:

    “We’re fundamentally saying ‘no tax increases,'” said Mike Villines, the Assembly Republican leader.

    They will require workers to take pay cuts and layoffs. They will cut our school budgets. They will cut transportation, the DMV, road repair, law enforcement, prisons, fire protection. But they will not ask wealthy corporations or extremely wealthy individuals to pitch in.
    And here is why: by and large California’s public doesn’t know this. They are not being informed that this is entirely because a small minority of Republicans refuse to represent the public’s interests, choosing to represent the wealthy corporations and wealthiest few people.
    In fact, the public likely believes that it is the Democrats who are keeping the budget from being passed. If you Google the word Democrat with the word obstruction and you get about 600,000 results. This is a national result, but it reflects the same strategy in use in California. Republicans spent years accusing Democrats of being “obstructionist” when they were not, as a strategy to pressure them to pass Republican-/corporate-oriented bills. Now, after blocking almost everything that the nation’s Congress is doing, the Republicans are campaigning saying that the Democrats in Congress aren’t passing anything! Meanwhile a new Drum Major Institute polls shows that 72% of middle-class Americans can’t name a single bill passed by Congress in the last two years that benefited them or their families! (Minimum wage increase, stimulus package, college more affordable, SCHIP…)
    Less than two in five (38%) middle-class respondents to the Drum Major Institute’s new poll say they live comfortably. One-third (34%) say they meet their basic expenses each month with just a little left over for extras, while one-quarter (26%) of middle-class adults would say they just meet their basic expenses (17%) or have trouble meeting their basic expenses each month (9%). And, economy and jobs tops their concerns. They are pessimistic about the direction of the economy. They think it’s more likely that Brangelina will celebrate their 25th anniversary than gas prices returning to $3 a gallon.
    But they do not understand WHY. They don’t make the connection between the corporate-controlled Republican party and what is happening to the country.
    How do Republicans get away with this? How are they able to get the public to think so many things that are not true? The Republicans have a vast “noise machine” that tells the public things that are not true. (Remember how they were able to convince so many people that Iraq had attacked us on 9/11?) It costs a lot of money to have a noise machine like this, but they get the money from the very corporations and wealthy individuals whose interests they are representing. So it works for them.
    Plain and simple, they are bale to reach the public and tell them stuff, and get the public to believe it. The use of overwhelming repetition is the tactic. I use the word “stuff” here with meaning: it’s just stuff they want the public to believe, with no grounding in reality. They do it, and here we are. Nationally the debt is approaching TEN TRILLION DOLLARS and they are still able to get the public to think taxes are bad. In California they are able to force layoffs and school cuts while refusing to make the ultra-rich pay even the same taxes the rest of us pay.
    Please click through to Speak Out California an leave a comment with suggestions on how to fight this.

    California Leading On Environment … Most Of Us Anyway

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
    Take a look at the California Climate Change Portal.

    This website contains information on the impacts of climate change on California and the state’s policies relating to global warming. It is also the home for the the California Climate Change Center, a “virtual” research and information website operated by the California Energy Commission through its Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) Program.

    California Attorney General Brown recently announced the state will sue to block a huge Nestle bottled-water plant unless its effects on global warming are evaluated. Why bottled water? A recent Huffington Post piece by Diane Frances, Bottled Water: The Height of Stupidity talks about the bottled-water scam,

    Bottled water is a joke, one of the biggest consumer and taxpayer ripoffs ever. I applaud California’s Attorney General Jerry Brown who said recently that he will sue to block a proposed water-bottling operation in Northern California by Nestle.
    . . . Not only do society and the environment pay an unfair price for this consumer hoax, but consumers are being hoodwinked. They are paying from 300 to 3,000 times more than the cost of tap water without any benefit.
    . . . The water is usually not superior to “city” water or tap water, and is merely a big branding hoax by soda makers. In some cases, this “designer” water is drawn from tap water and labeled for suckers to buy as though it is a superior product.
    . . . One expert estimated that the amount of petroleum — used to make the bottles, transport, refrigerate, collect and bury them — would fill one-third of each bottle.
    These plastic bottles are creating landfill problems worldwide, and are washing up on beautiful beaches around the planet.

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    A Key Race – CA SD-19, Hannah-Beth Jackson

    In California Hannah-Beth Jackson is running for the State Senate. This is a key race because this is the Senate seat that could flip from Republican to Democrat, finally giving the Dems a 2/3 majority and enabling them to finally pass budgets.
    Her website is: Meet Hannah-Beth
    Hannah-Beth is a former member of the California State Assembly who founded Speak Out California, where I post once or twice a week, and the Institute for the Renewal of the California Dream (which does not yet have a website) where I am a Senior Fellow. This should tell you that she is a solid progressive, concerned with advancing democracy, community, and the mutual prosperity of all Californians instead of the benefits of our work and investment being funneled to the corporations and wealthy. So she has my endorsement and I hope she can earn yours.

    Tax Cuts make Us Poor

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
    Some years ago the corporate-funded anti-tax, anti-government advocates paid their way to become the dominant voice in our civil discourse. They said there was a magic, simple formula that would lead to shared prosperity. All we had to do was cut taxes, and everyone would have more money.
    Everyone wants to have more money so this sounded wonderful. It is always a seductive argument to tell people that you have a magic formula that can make things better for them. One example is machines that create as much energy as they use — or more. A common myth is that doctors are conspiring to hide the cure for cancer because it would put them out of business. Another is that there is a formula that turns water into gasoline — or lead into gold.
    “Just cut taxes, and we will all have more money.” “Taxes take money out of the economy.” “It’s your money and you should decide how to spend it.”
    “But,” some people asked, “where will the money come from to pay for our roads and schools and all the things that have made us so prosperous?” The seductive response from the tax-cutters was that government is an anonymous, incompetent, inefficient “them” that spends too much money that we could all have in our pockets, and if we just cut out waste everything would be all right. Just cut the waste.
    The thing was, whenever one tried to pin them down on specifics of this waste they would never really explain where all that fat really was that they were going to cut — at least not in quantities sufficient to match their tax cuts. Don’t worry, put us in power, cut the taxes, and it will all sort itself out.
    So eventually we fell for it and cut taxes and put the anti-government people in power. When we noticed that their tax cuts went mostly for corporations and the very rich, they said don’t worry, the money would trickle down to the rest of us. So we quieted down and waited for the magic to happen. When we noticed that the corporations and wealthy were getting richer and richer while we were losing our pensions and health insurance and jobs, they said don’t worry, tax cuts make us richer. We still didn’t understand that you and I and the regular people of California were not part of their “us” that would get richer.
    The fact is the public officials that We, the People had elected had done competent jobs and there just wasn’t really much waste to cut. Why would there be? The people that we had elected had been good managers of our money. Democracy and accountability require open, transparent processes that the corporate anti-government, anti-tax advocates labeled as “inefficient bureaucracy.” That was the waste they had been talking about – the oversight and transparency of good government! Our elected officials had put these systems in place and they had made sure there was no waste — it was a myth.
    Our government had been humming along, paving the roads, educating our children and investing in projects that led to modern wonders like the Internet. And we had been enjoying the resulting prosperity. California had the best public schools, colleges and universities in the country. We had the best roads, courts, parks, libraries, health care system, water projects and most innovative and open government and this investment had led to a thriving economic ecosystem.
    So instead of cutting imaginary waste we started cutting out this engine of prosperity. We cut the schools and the road maintenance and everything else. The education system started getting worse and the roads and other infrastructure started deteriorating. California fell from first to near the bottom on many scales. Companies started leaving the state because of the deteriorating infrastructure and lower education levels.
    Then when cutting our own services wasn’t enough we borrowed money to cover those tax cuts and pay for what government was left. We borrowed and borrowed and borrowed. We were just like the homeowner who refinanced every year as prices went up it seemed like the gravy train would run forever.
    Today the borrowing is catching up with us. As so many homeowners are learning to their dismay: borrowing means payments. And borrowing more means larger payments. In California the payments on our borrowing just happen to be pretty close to the amount of our budget shortfall. The same is true of the federal government.
    Now we approach a day of reckoning for our tax cuts. The bill has to be paid, and the people who received the big tax cuts are pointing the finger at you and me. We can continue to cut out government and lay people off. We can continue to cram more and more children into classrooms with fewer and fewer teachers. We can have longer and longer lines at the DMV. We can close parks. We can have fewer police patrols and fire stations and ambulances and health and safety inspectors. We can just get poorer and poorer.
    Or, we can start to close loopholes like the one that lets wealthy people avoid sales taxes on yachts and private jets while the rest of us pay sales taxes on everything we purchase. We can start to close loopholes like the one that lets oil companies pump our oil out of the ground without paying us and then sell our oil to us. We can start to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations who prosper because of the roads and financial and legal system we built, and whose taxes were cut leading to this mess. They need to stop simply taking and start paying their fair share. We can do these things and start to restore the thriving economic ecosystem we once had.
    Click through to Speak Out California

    Tax Internet Sales — Just Like Local Stores

    This post was originally written for Speak Out California
    Have you ever bought something online, had a problem, and tried to reach the company’s customer support line? Could you even find a phone number to call? If there was a phone number to call did you reach a phone tree or a person? Were you on hold for a long time? If you ever did reach a human, was the person in the United States or did they at least speak English (or Spanish) clearly enough to be able to help you?
    A local store employs people in your town, boosting the local economy. The local store either owns or pays rent for their space, which means they pay local taxes to support police and fire services and schools, etc. The local store has people who can help you when you have a problem.
    But buying something from your local store usually costs a bit more. This is because they pay to have actual employees to help you, pay rent, pay to maintain a building, etc. And, finally, the goods cost a bit more because you have to pay sales taxes when you shop at your local store.
    The state of California, in its wisdom, has chosen to provide a huge tax subsidy to anonymous internet businesses, at the expense of your local retailers. You pay sales taxes locally, but not online.
    Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Shouldn’t the state want to promote local stores, local employment, local police and fire services, local schools and a prosperous local economy? Shouldn’t the state be promoting a thriving local economic ecosystem? Instead the state provides a huge competitive advantage to anonymous internet businesses.
    With a huge budget deficit, with the Governor calling for 10% across-the-board cuts in your children’s schools, police patrols, fire protection, parks, and all the other things our state government does for us, the state still hands the anonymous internet businesses a huge competitive advantage over our local retailers by letting them no charge sales taxes.
    You owe it to yourself and your local community to find out if YOUR Assemblymember or Senator supports a requirement that internet companies charge the same sales taxes as your local businesses charge.
    Click through to Speak Out California.

    Hating On We, the People

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California.
    At Speak Out California, we have been writing quite a bit about democracy and about the meaning of the words “We, the People.”
    Decades of conservative/corporate marketing has convinced too many of us to think of ourselves as passive consumers rather than participatory citizens. This thinking has brought with it numerous negative consequences. But if we work to restore our understanding that WE are “the government” we can start to see our state and country the way the founders intended. We can see that we are in control and can make decisions that increase the benefits we receive as citizens.
    In a recent post, The Power of the Words “We, the People”, I wrote,

    As an experiment, try substituting the words, “We, the People” every time you read or use the word “government.” Or use the word “our” instead of “the” when you say “the government.” Our government, us, we, the people.

    Later in that post I wrote,

    Conservatives have worked hard to make “government” a bad word. They complain about “big government.” They complain about “government schools.” But what happens when we substitute a form of “We, the People” into their slogans? The whole meaning seems to change.

    With that in mind, lets take a look at an opinion column in April 2’s Orange County Register by Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association President Jon Coupal: California Focus: No tax loopholes merit closing. The column is your standard conservative anti-government screed, arguing against closing tax loopholes that benefit corporations and the very wealthy to solve the state’s budget problems. It begins,

    In recent weeks, Gov. Schwarzenegger, legislative leaders and the Legislative Analyst’s Office have called for eliminating what they term “tax loopholes” to help close California’s staggering $16 billion budget deficit.
    But one person’s loophole is another person’s legitimate advancement of public policy. This is especially true with those tax credits or deductions that are both broad-based – benefiting large segments of society – and which result in a significant societal benefit.

    The specific tax loopholes under discussion include one that allows the very rich to avoid paying sales tax on new yachts and private jets, while the rest of us have to pay. Another lets oil companies pump our oil out of the ground without paying the state, and then sell it back to us. Another lets sales over the internet go untaxed, giving them a competitive advantage over local businesses that pay rent for a storefront, employ sales clerks, etc.

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    Conservatives Opposed To Rule Of Law, Our Constitution And Good Education

    This post originally appeared at Speak Out California
    Conservative leader and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich writes about the California court ruling that children – even home-schooled children – must be educated by credentialed teachers, saying it is an example of “Judicial Supremacy.” In his article he quotes a Wall Street Journal editorial calling the ruling a “strange new chapter” in the “annals of judicial imperialism.” Later in the piece he writes,

    The decision represents yet another case of a special interest — in this case, the education unions and bureaucracy — using the courts to get what they can’t get through the popular vote.
    This is yet another example of judicial supremacy: Rule by an out-of-control judiciary rather than the will of the people. It joins court rulings such as the removal of “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance on a long list of usurpations of the freedom and self-determination of the American people.

    Lets take a moment to examine what Gingrich is really complaining about here.
    Here’s how the American system of law and justice is supposed to work: We have a Constitution and we have laws that we are all supposed to follow by mutual agreement. And we have in place a judicial system for interpreting our Constitution and laws, again by mutual agreement. So when there is a dispute we take that dispute to the courts, and the judges rule according to the Constitution and laws. And then we agree to follow their rulings.
    Newt Gingrich and the conservatives complain that this is “Judicial Supremacy” and “judicial imperialism.” Wow, this sounds pretty bad! But look at the meaning of these negative-sounding words. Isn’t “Judicial Supremacy” really just another way of saying that we agree to follow “rule of law?” When Gingrich uses language that casts a negative frame on the concept, isn’t he undermining public respect for the rule of law? Gingrich and other conservatives are happy enough with our American system when it works in their favor but when it rules against their agenda they launch another anti-government screed.
    This post is not written in opposition to home or private schooling, but to point out the importance to all of us that we all operate under the same set of agreed-upon rules. At least in California, another agreed-upon rule is that our children should receive the best possible education. Article 9 of our California Constitution states that a good education is “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people.” The wording at the beginning of Article 9 is as follows:

    A general diffusion of knowledge and intelligence being essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people, the Legislature shall encourage by all suitable means the promotion of intellectual, scientific, moral, and agricultural improvement.

    To this end Article 9 describes how California will manage a system of free, public schools. And Article 9 makes it clear that to this end our children deserve qualified, “credentialed” teachers.
    Once again, We, the People of California have decided that a good education is “essential to the preservation of the rights and liberties of the people.” This is what we want. Just what is it that Gingrich and other conservatives want instead if it doesn’t involve qualified teachers providing education to our state’s children?
    Click to continue.