Photo: Kyle Jones, Beaver Falls Obama Fan
Go All Out For
Obama in Western PA
By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue
Organized labor has set its sights on winning Beaver County and all of Western Pennsylvania for Barack Obama. They see victory in this battleground "swing state" as critical to the entire election nationwide, and are pulling out their big guns, all stops and every other available advantage to "Git 'er done."
That's the message made loud and clear by the visit of AFL-CIO chief John Sweeny to the IBEW Local 712 Hall here in Vanport, Pa this Saturday morning, October 25.
Sweeny's visit kicked off an all-day effort, and was teamed with a joint visit of United Steelworker union top officials and pro-Obama Pittsburgh Steelers players for a rally at the same hall later in the afternoon. In between, the unions deployed over 2200 rank-and-file union members to knock of the doors of some 31,000 union family homes across the state in a single afternoon, an effort that will get even more earnest in the next ten days.
I arrived early in a grey drizzle of a morning, unlike the glorious fall days of the last month of Saturday 'Labor Walks.' Media work was my task for the day, and I made sure a New York Times reporter quickly met all the local union officials and pro-union local candidates. While I'm getting wired on black coffee and a jelly donut, Bob Schmetzer, a local IBEW official, hands me one of his home-made flyers.
"Here, whaddya think of this?" he says. "I got it off the Internet." It's one of the now-classic pieces bouncing around exposing the undercurrent of unstated white supremacy in the campaign, using role reversal. "What if John McCain graduated and the top of his class at Harvard, and Obama came in at the bottom of his class with the record of a goof-off? What do you think Fox and the rightwing talk shows would be doing with that?" It gives a dozen more examples, using irony and good humor to make a very serious point.
"Terrific," I tell Bob, "We have to get people thinking about things like this. It arms them against the right." He agrees, and works the hall, pulling over one after another of his key guys, giving each of them the leaflet, going over it with them. He's thinking ahead, educating his troops, knowing that this battle's more than just dollars and cents.
Sweeny's arrival is low-key. He's escorted in by a young union staff woman, Yael Foa, assigned by the AFL-CIO to work with us in Beaver County. She's talented and tireless, but stands to the side with a beaming smile as Sweeny greets each union member as if he or she were family. Wearing his union jacket and cap, white hair and the trace Irish lilt in his voice, he's soft-spoken and warm with everyone, and gets the same in return. People like and respect him.
But on the platform he's a firebrand. "You're the reason Obama is out in front in Pennsylvania. Make no mistake; each of you here is very important. Of all the things that we do-mailings, advertisements, phone banking-there's nothing more effective or more persuasive than what you're doing today, a personal visit from one union brother or sister to another. Beaver County is the key to Western PA, Western PA is the key to Pennsylvania-and without Pennsylvania, there's no way McCain can win!'
Sweeney closes by pushing the entire ticket, from Obama at the top to Vince Biancucci and Dennis Rousseau, both local guys with a union history, for state reps at the base. He stresses the AFL-CIO's core message once again: No more nonsense about privatizing Social Security and putting it into the stock market, no more notions of taxing health care benefits, extend health care to everyone, no more nonsense about de-regulation of banking and Wall Street. They've made a huge mess, and we need a New Deal and a new leadership to turn things around. Obama is the most pro-labor candidate we've ever seen, so shift into high gear and let's make him our president.
Naturally, Sweeny gets a warm, standing ovation. Everyone is appropriately fired up, puts on 'Steelworkers for Obama' T-Shirts and like, and hits the streets in the nearby mill towns, as well as the back roads in the semi-rural township hills and hollows, for the next four hours.
While this is a key area, it's only one small part of organized labor's effort in this campaign. Aside from millions of dollars spent on print and other media pushing 'Green Jobs', health care, and the right of unions to organize, both the AFL-CIO unions and 'Change to Win' unions like SEIU, are making a common front, working together on this election. On this weekend alone, over 250,000 union volunteers across the country are on the streets, going door-to-door. Busloads from 'safe areas' like New York City spend weekends in the rural Pennsylvania Poconos, or working-class neighborhoods of Philadelphia. Car caravans from Chicago work the factory towns of Indiana, Kentucky and Western Ohio. There's nothing quite like seeing it in motion: "Awesome!" as the Obama volunteer young people put it, although they've done some pretty awesome things themselves more than once.
The sun starts breaking through the clouds at mid-afternoon. I get back to the union hall after a stint at the nearby Court House for our weekly Beaver County Peace Links vigil, for over five years running, with our 'Bring the Troops Home Now! banner and 'Honk for Peace!' signs. The union parking lot is filling up, with more than when we started.
The reason? It's 'Steel Blitz for Barack' time. That means a bus is about to arrive carrying Dan Rooney, owner emeritus of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Edmond Nelson, former Steelers star defensive lineman, United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard and other union officials and players.
Outsiders might not get it, but in an area where 'Steelerism' comes close to being a state religion, THIS IS A BIG DEAL. Dozens of young, mostly white kids, boys and girls, are bundled up against the wind, plastering each others coats, front and back, with 'Union Voters for Obama' and 'Steelers for Obama' stickers, clutching autograph books, waiting for their heroes to get there.
Inside, Billy George, head of the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, is warming up a packed hall, standing room only. George is from the tough McDonald Heights neighborhood of nearby Aliquippa, PA, home of the shut-down Jones and Laughlin Steel, once the largest steel mill in the world. He was with USW Local 1211, a powerful and militant local in its day.
'What time is it?' he yells into the mike, right off the bat. 'UNION TIME!' the room yells back, no prompting needed. The Steelers are going to win their division, he predicts, then the Steelers are going to the Superbowl, and 'who will be the President to greet and open the Superbowl?" 'BARACK OBAMA!' comes back, instantly and loudly.
George turns serious and talks labor history, educating the younger people and getting knowing nods from the older workers. He reminds us of the fierce battles of the Steelworkers Organizing Committee in the 1930s, the violence and the arrests, at the historical marker at the old plant gate in downtown Aliquippa, marking the 1937 Supreme Court decision made in the case of the Aliquippa workers, the decision under FDR that broke the back of reaction, and allowed nationwide union organization to spread and the FDR New Deal to accelerate.
"Social Security came out of this," George explains. "Our right to organize came out of this. These are the most important things we've ever won, and now McCain and the Republicans want to 'privatize' it or take it back. Can you imagine if they put your social security in the stock market? No way, no way we'll let them. I know everyone here agrees with me, but I want four full shifts out of each and every one of you in the next ten days. Get this message out to your neighbors, relatives, and everyone else around here that knows better, or ought to."
Next up is Leo Girard, the Canadian-born international president of the United Steelworkers. Even with his north-of-the-border accent, he know the exact language of this group today.
"We've been getting the shaft," he says, "but this is our time, we're going to turn it completely around. We've never had a candidate like Barack Obama. After the thank-you's and standard lines, Girard asks the workers here to follow a thought experiment with him.
Imagine a candidate born to wealth and privilege of the high officer class. Follow him as he fritters away his studies. Recognize and respect his service, but when he gets back, he dumps his first wife and marries into brewery millions. He goes to Congress with the goal of letting the banks run wild, and voting against the unions 85 percent of the time. He's so wealthy, he doesn't even know how many homes he has.
Now imagine, Girard goes on, a candidate with a single mother, who works hard, but leaves him mainly with Kansas grandparents to raise him. They sacrifice everything to get him an education. He gets to Harvard, top of his class. Wall Street is offering hundreds of thousands of dollars just for sign-up bonuses, but what does he do? He decides to give something back. He works for a church group on the South Side of Chicago, with the unemployed laid-off workers, many of them steelworkers, helping them get retrained, helping them find a future.
"The Republicans want to talk about character," Girard shouts out. "What does this tell you about it? What does this tell you about the difference between these two men? I listened to rightwing radio yesterday, making fun of Obama for going to visit his dying grandmother, the woman who gave everything to see him succeed. He set aside the time to see her while she could still hear his voice, and they mock it."
"McCain and the Republicans have been running around like 'Robin Hood in Reverse,' then dump all this slime on Obama and us, and we're supposed to shut up and like it?," he asks. "No, take the measure of these two men. Take then measure of which one stands with family as we know it, take the measure of which one can benefit the working class that we're part of. Obama is going to be a great president, and we're going to put him there.
By this time there's not a dry eye in the house, and Rooney takes the mike to add to his admiration of Obama. But the most powerful applause comes for linebacker Edmond Nelson, a huge African American man who dwarfs everyone else on the platform.
"I'm for Barack Obama because I hate this war in Iraq," he shouts out as his opening line. "I hate this war because of the lies told us about 'Weapons of Mass Destruction' to drag us into it. I'm for Obama because I hate what's been done to our soldiers and the people of Iraq.
These lines get the strongest applause of the afternoon.
But Nelson closes with "I'm for Barack Obama because I want to see people who look like me get a fair shake and a decent chance in this society." Again, powerful applause from a group that's over 90 percent blue-collar white workers, but still a group that knows exactly what he means.
As the lines are being organized so the youngsters, and many older people too, can line up to get their Steeler autographs, one of the AFLCIO chiefs gets order in the room. "One last speaker, one of the most important. She's going to tell you what to do."
Up comes Kyra Ricci, a petite twenty-something starkly contrasting when every previous speaker, with a terrific smile, but a "listen up now" sense of command. The Obama youth insurgency is "in the house", too, and she lays out the tasks of the final days, and has her people with their sign-up clipboards stationed so they won't be gotten by without a commitment.
It's the perfect counterpoint to end the day. Three powerful movements are coming together here-organized labor, the African American fight for justice and a new antiwar youth insurgency. Given the sense of class-conscious solidarity and unity in the hall, it's hard to see how McCain and the GOP can stop them. But it's also clear that an Obama White House, in calling for partners for 'change from below,' will also face forces that will not be easily deflected or denied.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Election as an
Just as a Voter
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On!
It's the home stretch everyone, the last two weeks.
Don't pay too much attention to the polls, even if they're on our side at the moment. They change like the weather.
At this stage, the 'ground game' is what counts most, and believe me, it counts a lot.
So this is a direct appeal to each and every one of you. Get fully engaged. Everything counts in these final days.
Approach the election as an organizer, not just as a voter. Keep lists of names, make new friends, meet new groups. We'll need them to bring pressure on the White House no matter who is in it.
Here's the key tasks: GOTV, PTV, CTV
--Get out the vote. Just because people registered, doesn't mean they go to the polls. This is especially true with youth. Organize 'early voting' parties. Make a list of your 'pluses'--pro-Obama votes--and 'run them' all day, checking them off as they vote. Drag out the slackers. Everything counts.
--Protect the vote. Yes, they do nasty things in some polling places. Volunteer as a poll watcher, or election-day judge. Take a training. Do it. Judges even get paid for the day. Make sure the tally in your precinct matches the tally actually turned in at the election board. Raise a stink if it doesn't. Also, the GOP is already doing 'Depress the Vote' tactics by spreading false information and sending intimidation teams to early voting sites, harassing people. Organize a 'counter-intimidation team.' Face them down, non-violently but resolutely. It works.
--Claim the vote. If and when we win, let the local incumbents know. If many cases, they didn't do that much. Tell them you'll stay organized for the long term, and not just on elections, but tell them they better stop the damned war, and a lot more. Exercise your newly gained 'clout.' You've earned it.
Just remember, like our candidate asserts, change comes from below, and sprint all the way to the line and through the ribbon.
'Progressives for Obama'
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Thursday, October 16, 2008
Photo: Acorn protest against toxic lenders
The Phoney War
and Voter Fraud
By Carl Davidson
Keep On Keepin' On
If you want an idea of how the Fox-Limbaugh-Hannity media machine and its phony war on ACORN reaches the local level, and how to fight it, here's some recent examples of me going back-and-forth in the on-line commentary pages our our local paper, the Beaver County Times.
As these papers go, the Times has a relatively large circulation and does a decent job with covering local news, but adding some national stuff as well. It's politics are a mixed bag of fiscal conservatism, pragmatism on local development, and liberalism on most social issues, often with a working class angle. You can say most anything on the site, just don't use cuss words, and your posts are rigidly kept to 200 words or less. So it's good training for snappy comebacks.
In any case, two regulars start off with jabs at Obama and ACORN recently. Some people use their real names, some use 'handles':
'Ridiculous' wrote on Oct 10, 2008: "Now we find that the dead are registering to vote in many states. I'm not quite sure how the dead will be voting, but since Obama and ACORN have managed to get them to register to vote, I'm sure they can manage some additional type of miracle! Actually the dead have been voting in Chicago for years.....Even CNN Gets it on the voter fraud taking place on the left.' Then 'JimL' adds: "You're right. Obama was trained under the Daley's too. He well understands the meaning of those votes. What was it they found in Ohio, 10 registrations with same name but listing different birth dates and addresses but similar signatures? Go ACORN."
So I come back with:
CarlDavidson wrote on Oct 13: " You're dead wrong on ACORN and voter fraud.
In most states, ACORN is required by law to turn in ALL voter forms they have that are signed. ACORN itself tries to catch the bad ones, bundles them, labels them as suspect, and turns them in. They catch over 90 percent of them, but in many states, they're not allowed to just toss them.
Thousands of people are hired by ACORN to do voter reg, and they're paid by the hour. Those caught cheating are promptly fired.
It's as if a department store with many employees catches a worker shoplifting, gathers the evidence, call the cops, and then the Store get charged with a crime.
Besides, it's only 'voter fraud' when someone actually tries to vote under a registration not their own. In almost every precinct in the country with pollwatchers from both parties and independent judges, this is much harder these days. Your signature has to match the one on the registration card.
Recognize this for what it is, Red Meat the GOP is throwing out to rile up their base that fears low-income Blacks. "
But my opponents still don't get it, and up the ante:
'finnegan' wrote on Oct 13, 2008: " ACORN needs to be torn apart and every registration that is questionable should be thrown out. Incomplete information any questionable registration that cannot be determined to be truthful!! If anything because NOBAMA worked so closely with this organization we surely don't want a repeat of Florida in the last election...Yes thats right, nothing wrong with Acorn, that's why they are being investigated in 16 states so far! Forget that they registered the same person in Ohio 70 times using a variety of names or that the dead are also registering. LOL, If someone came up and hit some of you guys in the face with the actual ballots of fraud you wOULD still cry NOT SO NO FRAUD HERE!! ".."
So I reply:
"Finnegan, ACORN is a mass membership organization of some 400,000+ low-to-middle income people, mainly African Americans.
Exactly how do you propose 'tearing it apart?'
The mortage loans it won for its members remain some of the safest and best around, and ACORN was in the streets opposing predatory lending and toxic loans when most of you never heard of them, and McCain and crew were for even more de-regulation.
ACORN itself, as is required, bundles suspicious voter apps as just that, and turns them in, as required. Then Karl Rove uses a lot of smoke and mirrors to blame ACORN and Blacks for the credit crisis, then the Talk Radio dittoheads listening to Limbaugh's and Hannity's lies turn into a bunch of snookered and suckered lemmings.
Don't you realize these sources, to use a kind term, are far right, proto-fascist 'infotainment' and not news? Do you bother to use factcheck.org or any reliable source to look deeper?
Time to wake up, things are getting serious. The people you're attacking are your best allies against the real criminals at the top with fountain pens, not six-guns.
Stop McCain, Stop the War, Vote Obama 2008!'"
Now 'Finnegan's wavering a little, but not much:
"Not so sure about those great loans that ACORN obtained seems like many of them weren't so great after all. It was 70 registrations with the same name (of course they paid the street person 1.00 per registration and threw a few cigarettes at him for these registrations) I also know they registered Mickey Mouse in Florida. Yea Carl, ACORN is just a great asset to America. Go McCain/Palin!! "
And so it goes. I'm not sure this applies to my debate partners 'Ridiculous' and 'Finnegan' here, but for some I've met, it doesn't matter if you present them with facts showing they've got it wrong. They stic to it anyway, because the particular lie is only a story that's a cover for something else, a hard-held belief that most Blacks are lazy, shiftless, thiefs, too uppity and don't know their place. but now we have new terms for all these: 'elitist,' ACORN, voter fraud, secret Muslim, Arab, terrorist and 'not one of us.'
I guess it's a sign of progress that those holding to the old stuff have to hide it. There's several hundred regular posters using this local site, and several thousand read them every day. check to see if your local paper or home town paper allows something similar, and join in. Clearly, the struggle continues and these are valuable forums . Keep On, Keepin' On!
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Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Photo: Obama Signs on Rural Street in Raccoon
Tide Is Turning
For Obama In
Beaver County, PA
By Carl Davidson
Beaver County Blue
About twenty of us are gathering early Saturday morning at the IBEW Hall, 'Labor Central,' in Vanport, Beaver County, Western PA. Today it's a team of electrical workers, steelworkers, SEIU service workers and a few activists with the 4th CD PDA, Progressive Democrats of America.
We're walking streets, lanes and backwoods roads to hit every union household in the area. The goal today? Voter ID. Make sure every list is correct, find every registered union family voter, find out where they stand, and then, Voter ED, give them our pitch and materials on why Obama-Biden is their best shot to defend their interests in 2008-'Green Jobs,' ending the war, defending health care.
The press calls our turf a critical battleground for the hearts, mind and votes of 'the white worker,' which it is, with McCain-Palin sliding down, but still at 51 percent today. But you wouldn't know Obama had a problem by looking at our team today. They're a hard-muscled crew, ball caps and blue jeans, but 'Vote Obama 2008' emblazoned on T-shirts, hats and buttons galore. The rightwing's bigotry is reaching a fever pitch, but these workers are making it very clear where they stand.
I enter the hall with a reporter from a major Portuguese paper, Expresso, that I'm helping out. The European press is also following this election more intently than any in a long time, and he's neither the first nor the last from Europe to visit us. I introduce him to Bob Schmetzer, one of the IBEW officials, who tells him what the unions are doing. Then he meets our PA State Rep, Vince Biancucci, who's doing the walks with us today. He and Vince trade stories about workers in Italy.
Leaving him to his business, I gather up flyers I'll need for the day. Most are aimed straight at the economic crisis and pocketbook issues. Schmetzer pulled together a good one of McCain's lousy record on veterans, well documented. There's a stack of a new one, full color, with nice pictures, with text: Obama wears a flag pin, puts his hand on his heart saying the Pledge, is a Christian who goes to church, was sworn in on the Bible, not the Koran, that was another Black guy from Minnesota, and so on.
There's a grey-bearded electrical worker who looks like a six foot six version of Kenny Rodgers reading it, too. "Whaddya think," He asks? A nice-looking job, I say, but it's pitiful that we have to put things like this out. "My thought exactly," he replies, "but we still got to answer and defeat this crap."
The union staff gets us organized into smaller teams and on our way. We're working north of the Ohio today. I'm headed for Beaver Falls, an old merchant center and industrial town on the Beaver River, known mainly these days as the home of Joe Namath, the football star. At the end of the Reagan era the Babcock and Wilcox tubular mill closed and dismissed over 5,000 workers in Beaver Falls. It's hard times, like everywhere else around here. Six of us, in teams of two, work a low-to-middle income working-class neighborhood on the north side of town, with Black and white workers on the same streets, not always that common in some places.
My first door is a Black construction worker, who tells me, "We're solid for Obama, and everyone in the house is registered, but go see the guy a couple doors down." He does want a yard sign, though, so we put one up for him. This is clearly the Obama base, or at least one major sector.
The guy a few houses down is a 57-year-old white worker, very friendly. "I'm going with Obama and the Democrats, no two ways about it." He tells us he's just registered, never voted before in his life, but the stakes are too high this time, and the conservatives have to be put out.
We keep working the street, but run into Randy and Tina Shannon of PDA at the corner. I get another sheet of names, and we swap stories.
"People are starting to use the 'O' word," says Tina. "Before, they'd just say, 'I'm voting Democrat.' Now they're saying, 'I'm for Obama and the Democrats, and give you an earful.' I think that's a shift."
"I was just up on 'The Heights,' says Randy, meaning the neighborhood on the surrounding hill. "I had one elderly lady for McCain, but I warned her, 'You're on Medicare, aren't you? If McCain has his way, you'll see it cut back.' Didn't help with her, but I ran into another lady who must have been almost ninety. 'McCain? No way, you know where he can go.' Let's just say her comments weren't appropriate for print, but she's determined to vote for Obama. I had just one guy telling me he was only going to vote for the local Democrats."
That's called the 'top of the ticket' problem, and it's a point of contention between the unions' approach, which is to work for everyone, and a few local incumbents shying away from taking a clear leadership stand to win over Clinton and McCain-leaning older Democrats.
"Most important all day," Randy added, "was one steelworker I met, who said: 'It's time to give the Black guy a chance,' and you could tell from the way he said it that he'd thought on it for some time, and probably not alone. They're seeing their pension funds shrink, their jobs lost or cut back, and they want to turn them all out."
We turn in our sheets by lunchtime and share more stories. The PDA folks are lining up people to buy tickets for a PDA 'Dinner and a Movie' night out, Nov. 1, in Monaca, PA, featuring the documentary film 'UnCounted', which will expand people's horizons on electoral problems, and help build for the next round of battles around single-payer health care and stopping the war.
Everyone agrees the tide is turning, but a lot can still happen, for better or worse. No one wants to coast. My township, Raccoon, went 30 percent for Obama in the primary, with the bulk going for Hillary. Most voters there are Democrats, and they'll break three ways-for Obama, for McCain and for 'staying home.' Getting enough to get past 50 percent was always possible, but with the Wall Street crash, it's now clearly in sight.
The Palin right's attacks on Obama as a 'terrorist' are backfiring among many as a devious diversion. Some we talk to cling to the 'Secret Muslim' stories, no matter how clearly the lies are exposed. The reason soon becomes crystal clear: they don't let go of it not because they believe it, but because it's the new way to say they won't vote for a Black candidate. That's simply a reactionary political stand, and has nothing to do with the facts.
But the grip of the right is weakening. Obama-Biden signs are going up everywhere in the white areas. When the right takes them down, more go back up. One guy down the road took a four by eight sheet of plywood, and painted it dark blue, with the Obama 08 Symbol in the middle, and leaned it against his house, as if to say, 'Let see you try to take this one down!'
After lunch we head over the Court House in Beaver. Every Saturday for more than five years now, our PDA and Beaver County Peace Links groups are out there with 'Honk for Peace' and 'Healthcare Not Warfare' signs, together with a big 'Bring the Troops Home Now' banner. We can walk and chew gum at the same time, working to end the war and defeat McCain. Today the cars are honking like we're in Times Square. It's another good sign that change is coming.
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Tuesday, October 07, 2008
Create Jobs Here?
By Carl Davidson
Every morning I take a look at Townhall.com to see what's on the minds of conservatives and the far right.
This morning, Lawrence Kudlow, host of CNBC’s “Kudlow & Company,” as well as a columnist and economics editor for National Review Online, was warning McCain to stick to jobs and growth in the debates, and set aside the 'guilt by association' attacks. He says:
"The financial crisis and economic downturn clearly have buried Sen. McCain in recent weeks. Some of McCain's supporters think he can turn the page on the economy Tuesday night and instead attack Obama on character and qualifications. That doesn't seem realistic.
" The recession economy and the financial crunch are front and center. Folks are asking: Can I get a loan? Will I have a job? Can I keep my house? Unfortunately, Sen. McCain's message overemphasizes government spending cuts, almost to the exclusion of stimulative and expansive tax cuts. This just doesn't seem like the right time for a government spending freeze, at least to the exclusion of other pro-growth policy levers. Sounds like too much root canal. More like Bob Dole than Ronald Reagan."
This shows he's on Planet Earth at least, but I posted a short reply, asking him 'Create Jobs Where? Here's the text:
Cutting taxes may indeed give corporations or venture capitalist more funds to invest in job creation, but what makes you think they would use it to create jobs HERE, and in areas where they're needed HERE, rather than for a higher return in, say, Malaysia?
As the neoliberals who gutted the mills here in Western PA put it, 'our job is to make money, not steel,' so they left us in the lurch to take their newly acquired funds and went off speculating in oil futures.
Creating jobs HERE requires green industrial policy with government guiding investment with both carrot and stick, and Obama is the only one talking up that program. Nice try, but no cigar. We've all learned a thing or two about markets, and to work well, they need an intelligent hand, as well as an invisible one. Read more!