The Marcellus Shale and the Fracking Myth 

Disclaimer: This essay contains spoilers from The Trouble at Deacon Hill

My recently published novel The Trouble at Deacon Hill revolves around a reporter and blogger investigating a natural gas company following a well explosion on a farm in Southwestern Pennsylvania. At first, you’d think it’s a freak accident that eventually got out of hand. However, as Pittsburgh Clarion Call reporter Marie Franco and blogger Claudia Cruces dig deeper into the disaster and Padraic Resources, they gradually discover how much messed up the state natural gas industry in Pennsylvania is.  

Now not all of what I say in Deacon Hill is true. For instance, gas companies don’t hire security contractors to kill off people to silence them, preferring legal bullying tactics instead. Nor would a gas company be based in Greensburg skyscraper as no such building exists. As most are based out of state, particularly in places like Texas. But a lot of what I wrote about the gas industry in the novel does and has happened. The Mallowvitch case was based on the stories of Stephanie Hallowich and her neighbor Ron Gullah. The Harnett case was based on few cases relating to farms that I combined. Gallagher’s Crossing’s debacle took inspiration from Range Resources’ clash with the town of Mount Pleasant (within Washington County, PA for those close to me to avoid confusion with the one in Westmoreland County). While I based the Highland Town pipeline blast on one that happened in 2016 in Salem Township while I was writing the book. The PSYOPs stuff is also based on Range Resources doing just that.  

What inspired me to write Deacon Hill was my experience with the gas industry in my neighborhood. Although nothing catastrophic happened aside from a creek bridge collapse on my road that nearly shut it down for over a year, no one got rich on it. In fact, the money was only a trickle from what the natural gas industry said it would be. The gas boom didn’t create many jobs. As of June 2021, most of the gas wells in my neck of the woods have ceased operation. And yet, during that time, I could remember Range Resources really selling the scheme that fracking’s safe, will bring money landowners, and much needed jobs to our state and region. Despite that I knew the image they convey in these TV ad spots was pure bullshit. Sure, the natural gas industry might’ve brought some benefit to Pennsylvania. But not a high cost to our infrastructure and environment that natural gas drilling may not be worth it. In addition to partly basing my novel on my gas land experiences while both in high school and college, I also conducted extensive research on fracking, leasing, royalties, working conditions, accidents, and politics. It’s very clear that PA’s natural gas industry wasn’t nearly as rosy as what Range Resources conveyed in its commercials. 

Since 2014, hydraulically fractured horizontal wells have accounted for the majority of new oil and natural gas wells developed in the United States, surpassing all drilling techniques. By 2016, nearly 70% of the country’s 977,000 producing oil and gas wells were horizontally drilled and fracked. The fracking boom that started during my high school and college days, is largely credited with making the US a top natural gas and crude oil producer in the world. And as fracking becomes more efficient (with fewer rigs generating greater output) and enable access to more of the country’s fossil fuel reserves, the trend’s expected to continue. With approximately 3/5 of the state atop the Marcellus Shale play, Pennsylvania is only second to Texas in producing natural gas, generating nearly 1/5 of US supply in 2017. In 2018, the Delaware River Basin (watershed spanning parts of Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, and Delaware) was marked off-limits to fracking. Although threats to drinking water and the environment still remain since some proposed regulations would still allow disposal of fracking wastewater in the watershed. Meanwhile, statewide concern about fracking hazards has mounted in recent years. According to a 2018 poll, 55% of Pennsylvanians believe fracking’s potential environmental risks outweigh its potential economic benefits. And in some cases, like in Deacon Hill, Pennsylvania has already seen fracking’s risks play out with drinking water contamination and air pollution. 

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During the 2020 presidential election, due to Pennsylvania’s status as a critical swing state, a series of pro-Trump ads tried to scare people into thinking Joe Biden would ban fracking. Although it’s not true, a fracking ban wouldn’t be catastrophic for Pennsylvania. And no, the state wouldn’t lose over 600,000 over it. However, what got me about these ads wasn’t just the message, but how fracking advocates keep selling a fantasy. Despite any benefit fracking has for the state, the natural gas industry is nowhere near the godsend fracking advocates claim. In some cases, whether through fracking, inadequate infrastructure, disasters, politics, and so much more, the natural gas industry has become the bane of a community’s existence. 

In these pro-Trump fracking ads from 2020, working the gas fields is just another day at the office. Gas workers get up, get ready, kiss and wife and kids goodbye, work an 8-hour shift, and return to their quaint single-family homes by dinner time. Sure, it’s a nice portrait but that’s not a typical day for most gas workers. Far from it. For one, as 2019, that natural gas industry has created 24,000 to 40,000 jobs. Secondly, as in most extractive economy despite what nostalgia might tell us about the bygone industrial days in the Rust Belt, natural gas isn’t a stable industry. Rather, it creates boom and bust cycles while producers often can’t survive without state money. Third, most gas workers in PA come from out of state and most don’t plan to stay. They don’t buy houses. They don’t bring their families. Thus, a gas worker residing in a single-family home is way less likely than say, a nearby hotel or an on-site trailer with a few other guys. Maybe even a shipping container. Nor do they always work at the same site beyond a few weeks or months. Once their work is done, they leave for the next project. Thus, rendering the prospect of any permanent residence moot.  

Most importantly, while fracking jobs may pay up to $50,000 a year, gas workers’ lives absolutely suck. Weeks and months away from their families aside, life in the gas fields isn’t worth the paycheck. While gas workers are supposed to work 8-hours days on paper, they’re usually the exception than the norm in practice. Most work beyond that, sometimes non-stop for over 24 hours, which doesn’t do favors in regards to sleep. Not to mention, many gas companies don’t pay overtime for those extra hours, an issue many legal websites explain in great detail. Considering that such work involves operating and fixing heavy machinery, contending with slippery surfaces, working on multiple platforms, and a high-pressure work environment, it’s a set up for disaster. In addition, many gas workers are young and inexperienced with such site equipment because their employers don’t take the time to properly train them. It’s no wonder gas pads are often ripe for routine workplace accidents consisting of slips and falls, machinery malfunctions and human error, explosions and fires, falling objects causing death or injury, and exposure to hazardous chemicals. Such incidents can cause serious injuries like broken bones, skull fractures, brain injuries, amputations, burns, and even death. Gas companies have a reputation in covering many of these accidents up. In addition, it’s not uncommon for a single drill pad to have workers from multiple companies, adding to difficulties in coordination. Oh, and given that they often can’t unionize, gas workers can’t address their grievances to the boss without the risk of getting fired. 

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Of course, there’s fracking, which receives the most attention in regards to natural gas drilling as it’s been the most contentious. Short for hydraulic fracturing, fracking comprises of blasting chemicals and massive amounts of water into a drilling borehole at high enough pressures crack into the seemingly impenetrable rock formations. Such blasting is supposed to open the fissures and allow the trapped gas to flow up to the surface. The most contentious part of this process is in the fluid, namely, what’s in it. According to the NRDC, this consists of 97% water, along with chemical additives and proppants (small, solid particles used to keep fractures open in the rock after the injection pressure subsides). Most states with oil and gas production have rules requiring chemical disclosure in regards to fracking. However, those rules often contain exclusions for “confidential business information (CBI), which gas companies can use to shield chemical identities considered trade secrets. When the EPA examined more than 39,000 chemical disclosure forms submitted to FracFocus from January 2011 to February 2013, more than 70% of them listed at one CBI chemical. While 11% of all fracking chemicals were labeled as such. 

So what chemicals are used in fracking? Well, they use different chemicals for different purposes according to rock type and other fracking site specifics. Acids dissolve minerals to help fossil fuels flow more easily. Biocides kill bacteria. Gelling agents help proppants into fractures. Corrosion inhibitors prevent the well’s steel parts from fracking fluid damage. The EPA has identified 1,084 chemicals used in fracking formulas between 2005 and 2013. Many of them are considered hazardous to human health. While the potential human health impacts on most of them are simply unknown as of June 2021. As California scientists could only find complete information about environmental and health risks available for one-third of fracking chemicals used in their state drilling operations. As for proppants, sand is the fracking industry’s favorite, particularly “frac sand” containing high purity quartz with its round shape, uniform size, and crush resistance. A single frack operation can truck thousands of tons of this stuff with 70% of this stuff coming from the Great Lakes region, particularly in Wisconsin and Minnesota which doubled their sand mines between 2005 and 2013. 

As fracking charged ahead between the mid to late 2000s to the early Tens, research into how safe it is for human health and the environment hasn’t kept pace. Many questions remain about the process’ dangers. While mounting evidence raises serious red flags about fracking’s impact on drinking water, air pollution, and our climate. In any drilling operation, anywhere from 1.5 to 16 million gallons of water can be used to frack a single well, depending on the type of well and rock formation. Water used in fracking is typical fresh water taken from ground and surface water resources. Although there are increasing efforts to use nonpotable water, some of these sources also supply drinking water. Even at this rate, US frack water consumption is still considered “negligible” compared to other industrial water uses (like cooling coal-fired power plants). And yet, fracking operations can strain resources in areas where freshwater supplies for drinking, irrigation, and aquatic ecosystems are scarce (often becoming scarcer thanks to climate change). Without extensive treatment, water used in fracking is too contaminated to return to its source. So, it’s typically removed from the freshwater cycle and disposed deep underground. 

Because I live in Pennsylvania where it rains all the time during the summer, I didn’t get into the water supply depletion in Deacon Hill. But it’s a key point to consider if you live out in the West where fracking might lead to water shortages and rationing within many communities. And I’m sure the infrastructure to treat the frack water is often nonexistent or inadequate. Nonetheless, water amounts used in frack jobs has grown over time, exacerbating fracking’s effect on water supplies. A Duke University analysis found that while US producers scaled back on installing new wells between 2011 and 2016, frack water usage has surged. For instance, within the already drought-ridden Permian Basin region in West Texas, frack water usage during those years increased by as much as 770%. While the amount of wastewater generated during a well’s first production year increased by as much as 1,440% during the study period. The authors even predicted that some regions could expect local fracking operations’ water footprint to increase by up to 50-fold by 2030. And if you live in the West Texas Permian Basin region, the average fracking job in 2016 used 10.5 million gallons of water. That’s enough to fill about 16 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  

Not only do fracking operations strain water resources, but also risk polluting them as well. Although a 2016 EPA analysis found that while large data gaps and uncertainties make it difficult to fully assess fracking’s impact on drinking water, fracking operations can and do affect water quality. Activities posing the biggest threats include spills, fracking fluid leaks, injecting fluids into inadequately built wells, and poor wastewater management practices. 

Spills and leaks can occur throughout the fracking process, whether during transport of concentrated chemical additives, mixing and pumping fracking fluids along with storage, and transportation and disposal of used fracking fluid and wastewater. Both human error and equipment failure can cause these. According to the EPA, some spills are known to reach surface water resources. An analysis from the agency on 11 state spill reports revealed 151 fracking fluid spills between 2006 and 2012, with nearly 10% of them (ranging from 28 to 7,350 gallons) winding up in creeks, streams, or other bodies of water. For many reasons, it’s difficult to measure the full impact, particularly since the spilled fracking fluid’s chemical makeup may be unknown or poorly described. While the spill’s fracking fluid and impacts aren’t typically studied. We should also keep in mind that natural gas and oil companies are known to cover up many of their accidents so the EPA’s going on the spills the states know about, which may only be a fraction of how many of these happen. 

In any natural gas fracking operation, gas wells must be properly constructed to withstand intense temperature and pressure fluctuations. Otherwise, a well may be damaged, which can possibly result in a gas or fracking fluid leak. For instance, the EPA faulted burst casings (steel pipes used to construct wells) in a 2010 fracking fluid leakage into wells used to monitor water quality in Killdeer, North Dakota. A study of 133 suspected drinking water contamination cases in Pennsylvania and Texas pointed to faulty well construction as the likely reason behind some methane pollution cases. Also, when Atlas and Chevron drilled in my neighborhood, I can remember the drill sites being active for 24/7 during the whole operation. In addition, we should keep in mind that the workers might be poorly trained, probably haven’t slept for hours, and may have to deal with people from different companies. I’m sure faulty well construction happens far more often than most people think.  

Fractured rock formations are another issue as operators can’t control where they occur. When a fracture extends further than intended, it can link up with a naturally occurring fault, other natural and manmade fractures, or other wells. Then it might carry fluids to other geological formations, including potentially, drinking water supplies. A larger concern, according to the EPA, is the lack of data on how close induced fractures are to underground aquifers. Thus, in its 2016 assessment, the EPA couldn’t 100% determine whether fractures could reach underground drinking water resources. Although most fracked rock formations are often thousands of feet away from aquifers, in some cases, fracking can occur within a drinking water resources’ vicinity. While drinking water’s generally shallower than gas underground, there are no geological barriers separating the two. Some private drinking water wells have experienced contamination from methane and other chemicals escaping from surface pits used to store wastewater or from improperly constructed wells. Although it’s difficult to determine the contamination source. 

Each year, fracking operations within the oil and gas industry generates billions of gallons of wastewater, a potentially hazardous mixture of flowback (used fracking fluid), produced water (naturally occurring water released with oil and gas), and any number of naturally occurring contaminants ranging from heavy metals, salts, toxic hydrocarbons like benzene to radioactive metals like uranium. In addition to gas wells, I also live near a toxic waste dump (although that’s further out near Yukon). During the gas boom, the dump stopped taking fracking waste on account of it being too radioactive. Still, this wastewater can enter and contaminate the environment in a variety of ways. This can happen when transported such as in 2015 North Dakota pipeline break that spilled about 3 million gallons of contaminants into a nearby creek. In addition, in Deacon Hill, I point to how wastewater’s stored in aboveground pits that can spill, leak, and emit air pollution. While wastewater treatment facilities don’t have the means to properly handle pollutants found in fracking waste, which can release contaminants into surface water. This was the case in Monongahela. Even recycling wastewater poses a threat, generating concentrated waste products including a by-product called TENFORM (technologically enhanced naturally occurring radioactive material), which must be properly managed. There also must be proper treatment for recycled wastewater for its intended end use. When gas companies don’t fully disclose all chemical contents, this is a challenging process. 

But water contamination isn’t the only thing to worry about in regards to fracking. Air pollution is also a serious problem threatening nearby communities’ health. Significant sources of air pollution are flaring (a controlled burn used for testing, safety, and waste-management purposes), venting (the direct release of gas into the atmosphere), leaking, combustion, and release of contaminants throughout natural gas production, processing, transmission, and distribution. Natural gas mostly consists of a potent greenhouse gas called methane that traps 80 times as much heat as climate change poster boy, carbon dioxide. When gas is flared, vented, or accidentally leaked, it accelerates costly health impacts of climate change. Oil and gas operations like fracking also release numerous toxic air pollutants like benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene; fine particulate matter (PM2.5); hydrogen sulfide; silica dust; and nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. When combined, these all produce smog. In rural northeastern Utah, researchers estimated that the amount of smog-forming compounds coming from oil and gas production each year was equivalent to 100 million car emissions. Exposure to these air pollutants can result in a broad range of health effects ranging from mild to severe respiratory and neurological problems, cardiovascular damage, endocrine disruption, birth defects, cancer, and premature mortality. Meanwhile, oil and gas workers face even greater risks from on-site exposure to toxic chemicals and other airborne materials including silica in frack sand, which can lead to lung disease and cancer when inhaled. 

As with other oil and gas operations, fracking involves intense industrial development. With well pads, access roads, pipelines, and utility corridors, you also get intense, round-the-clock noise, nighttime floodlights, and truck traffic. In addition to potentially polluting local water and air resources, this vast web of infrastructure can fragment forests and rural landscapes while degrading important wildlife habitats. Fish die when fracking fluid contaminates streams and rivers. Chemicals in wastewater ponds poison birds. While the intense industrial development accompanying fracking pushes imperiled animals out of wild areas they need to survive. In more arid regions like the west, fracking could mean less water for fish and wildlife as well. Not to mention, fracking can also lead to further disintegration of our already degrading infrastructure. Too many tanker trucks can lead to a small bridge collapse. While most water treatment facilities aren’t adequately equipped to treat fracking wastewater.  

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And yet, working conditions and fracking are only part of the shady shit going on within the natural gas industry within the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. Another facet that has more relevance in my neighborhood is the royalties. When they started drilling, people thought that leasing with Atlas (later Chevron) on the impression the royalty payments would enrich landowners and lift rural economies in the state. But none of that happened while many landowners saw significantly smaller royalty checks than they thought were promised. Sometimes nothing at all. Since 1982, federal law has established that landowners who lease their mineral rights to oil and gas companies are entitled to no less than 12.5% of the royalties from sales. However, a 2013 Pro Publica investigation found that oil and gas companies kept billions of dollars out of the hands of private and government landowners through cost and data manipulation. Their analysis of lease agreements, government documents, and thousands of pages of court records show that underpayment was widespread.  

Much of the controversy surrounding royalty money boils down to post-production costs. These are expenses of moving and treating gas through pipeline networks. To cover the costs, drillers may take deductions from royalty checks. Some landowners agree to this. Others negotiate a lease forbidding it. Many sign leases that don’t address it at all. While some leases have vague leases leaving room for gas companies to take deductions, even if the owner objects. And it’s clear many landowners signed leases without fully understanding their implications like you sign the terms of conditions on anything. 

However, some companies deduct expenses for transporting and processing gas. Even when leases have clauses specifically forbidding such deductions. In other cases, they withhold money without explanation for other, unauthorized expenses, and without telling landowners the money’s being withheld. When significant amounts of fuel aren’t sold at all, companies could use it themselves to power the gas processing equipment, sometimes at facilities far away from the land it was drilled from. To keep royalties low, companies may set up subsidiaries or limited partnerships selling oil and gas at reduced prices. Only to recoup the full value when their subsidiary resells it. While the royalty payments are based on the initial transaction. And according to Oklahoma court documents, it’s perfectly legal despite the companies clearly ripping off the landowner. In other cases, companies barter for services off the books, hiding the full resource value to the landowners.  

Making matters more complicated, the gas rights frequently get split into shares, sometimes among as many as a half-dozen companies and get frequently traded. Once they produce the gas, a host of opaque transactions influence how they’ll account for sales and allocate proceeds to everyone entitled to a slice. Chain of custody and share division can be so complex that even America’s finest forensic accountants struggle to make sense of these energy companies’ books. 

The federal government has a whole arsenal to combat royalty underpayment with Department of Interior rules on allowable deductions and employs an auditing agency that that’s uncovered more than a dozen instances of gas companies willfully deceiving them on royalty payments since 2011, recouping more than $4 billion in unpaid fees. Unfortunately, private landowners have many protective mechanisms, who often enter into agreements without regulatory oversight. This leaves them with only two options. Either pay to audit or challenge energy companies out of their own pockets. Although Pennsylvania has passed laws requiring the amount of deductions be listed on royalty payments, as of 2013, it has no laws dictating at what point a sale price must be set and what constitutes as legitimate expenses. In dozens of class action lawsuits ProPublica’s reviewed, landowners claimed they can’t make sense from the expenses deducted from their payments or that companies hide charges. While publicly traded oil and gas companies also have disclosed settlements and judgements in royalty disputes that collectively add up to billions of dollars. Since individual lease language can vary widely while some can date back nearly 100 years, many deduction disagreements boil down to differing interpretations related to the contract’s language. 

Should a landowner in Pennsylvania decide to sue the gas company over royalties, proceed with caution and aim low. As of 2013, courts have set few precedents for how leases should be read and substantial obstacles stand in litigating landowners’ way. Attorneys say that many of their clients’ leases don’t let landowners audit gas companies to verify their accounting. Those allowed must shell out thousands of dollars to do so. When audits reveal discrepancies, many Pennsylvania leases require landowners to submit to arbitration, another exhaustive process also costing up to thousands of dollars. If you’re familiar with workplace abuse and sexual harassment, you probably know that arbitration clauses can also make it more difficult for the lesser party (like the landowners) to band together into a class action lawsuit in order to gain the leverage to take on the more powerful behemoth (like the gas industry). Tunkhannock attorney Aaron Hovan told ProPublica, “They basically are daring you to sue them. And you need to have a really good case to go through all of that, and then you could definitely lose.” Worse, landowners must clear all these obstacles within Pennsylvania’s 4-year statute of limitations. So, if a landowner realizes the company’s ripping them off too late or inherit a lease from an ailing relative who didn’t do their homework, well, they’re shit out of luck. In addition, even if the court finds the gas company liable for underpaying royalties in the state, it has little to fear. Since they’d only owe what they should’ve paid in the first place. Unlike states like Oklahoma, Pennsylvania doesn’t allow for any additional interest on unpaid royalties and sets a very high bar for winning punitive penalties.  

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But what about the economic benefits? Hasn’t natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale been a game changer in Pennsylvania? From my experience, I’d say barely because I didn’t see anyone get rich. Nor I know many people who worked in the gas fields. Besides, an NPR article from this year states that over the last decade, natural gas extraction has had little economic impact in the 8 most active drilling counties in Pennsylvania. In fact, economic growth sharply lagged state and local rates (at 1.7% vs. 10%) despite a sharp GDP rise that exceeded both (55%). Despite gas industry promises of local economies flourishing thanks to fracking, communities largely failed to reap the benefits. Why? Partly because gas companies sourced their labor, materials, and equipment elsewhere. According to a report from the Ohio River Valley Institute, “This extreme disconnect between economic output and local prosperity raises the question of whether the Appalachian natural gas industry is capable of generating or even contributing to broadly shared wellbeing.  And, if it is not, should it continue to be the focus of local and regional economic development efforts?” 

Former DEP secretary John Quigley said the Ohio River Valley Institute report is one of the first to show that the natural gas industry’s investments, like aggregate economic growth, doesn’t always mean more jobs for communities or increased personal income, especially if out-of-staters take many local jobs. He told NPR, “The impact of this industry on local economies has been vastly overstated. It’s been oversold and used as an excuse not to adequately regulate or enforce environmental and public health regulations.” And given how not much economically changed for the better in my own community during the gas rush, I’d have to agree. Despite witnessing wells drilled in my own neighborhood, I hardly know anyone who’s worked on a drilling pad. Nor did many landowners receive much money either. Add the fact I’m quite that the state doesn’t have an extraction tax and it’s very clear where the gas money’s going. And given where much of these companies are based in, I’m sure it’s Texas. 

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Nonetheless, the natural gas industry remains a very powerful force in politics within Pennsylvania. Between 2007 and 2018, the natural gas industry have spent $3 million in political contributions to candidates for statewide office and $69.6 million in lobbying costs. Energy companies have given generously to politicians from both parties which has profoundly influenced state policy and not for the better. It’s not uncommon in the state for regulators and politicians to work for natural gas companies after their jobs are done and vice versa. Marcellus Shale drillers enjoy steadfast support from the state’s Republican-controlled General Assembly, making passage of any legislative measures to rein in them obviously futile. As Republican state legislators have made growth and nurture of the gas industry a priority. They even blocked Governor Tom Wolf’s proposal for a severance tax on gas production and to this day Pennsylvania is the only state in the Marcellus Shale region without such a tax. Although the state does collect a separate impact fee tied to each new well’s development, but that doesn’t exactly cut it.   

 According to state attorney general Josh Shapiro’s grand jury report (no, not that one), state regulators and elected officials have consistently placed the natural gas industry over Pennsylvanians’ well-being throughout most of the first-generation development within the Marcellus Shale region. Shapiro told Penn Live, “It’s David and Goliath. It’s a rural family living next to a huge industry backed by billions of dollars and out-of-state investors, by bought science, by lobbyists and former officials who have amassed so much power that they act as though they are unaccountable.” His report chastised the state DEP over the shale boom’s history for failing to conduct water quality tests in response to citizen complaints, often failing to enforce a “presumption” that oil and gas activity within a certain distance of a home where contamination was proven, and showing long-term bias against issuing violations.  

One case I used in Deacon Hill to illustrate the natural gas industry’s influence in politics and public life is the case of Range Resources and the citizens of Mount Pleasant Township, Pennsylvania (no, not the one where we had Quiz Bowl matches at, of which I need to remind myself). Now out of all the oil and gas companies involved in the Marcellus Shale drilling rush, Range Resources was one of the earliest and best-known contenders and still remains the largest driller in the state. Yet, while EQT can safely put their name on a Pittsburgh Pridefest float and no one would bat an eye (save environmentalists, of course); Range couldn’t get away with that. Probably because it has one of the worst reputations, especially if you’re familiar with its activities in Washington County, particularly in regards to fracking contamination. I mean these people had a judge place lifetime gag orders over discussing fracking on seven- and ten-year-old kids in the Hallowich case. Anyway, Range Resources had drilled some of its first wells in Mount Pleasant Township under permit use zoning, giving them free rein to drill wherever they wanted. Fast forward to 2011, Mount Pleasant wants to adopt conditional use zoning, in which a planning commission and the board of supervisors must approve drilling of all new wells. All because residents complained of wells being near their houses, schools, or medical establishments, places where you don’t want people drilling for gas. Besides, most of neighboring municipalities already used conditional use ordinances to regulate drilling.  

Obviously, Range Resources didn’t like this and threatened to discontinue local operations or sue the Mount Pleasant Township if they didn’t get their way. As decision day approached for the board of supervisors to approve the new ordinance, Range unleashed an all-out PSYOPs-style propaganda campaign through two letters sent to over 300 Mount Pleasant Township leaseholders in a divide-and-conquer strategy to intimidate local officials. As resident Dencil Bachus told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “We are outraged. This is an effort by Range Resources to divide a community on the eve of a decision on an ordinance that affects them directly. It’s an attempt by the company to get what they want rather than operate within the [township government] process. It’s a divide-and-conquer public relations strategy.” Another Mount Pleasant resident told DeSmog Blog, “What’s going on here, it’s kinda like Love Canal. The intimidation from these corporations is astounding to me. I don’t know how they’re allowed to get away with it. I’d like to see them get nailed.” Mount Pleasant Township was far from the only municipality to find itself on the receiving end of Range’s wrath once it decided to assert itself in where the company can or cannot drill within its jurisdiction. And they’ve sued other townships who’ve followed Mount Pleasant’s lead. 

Then there’s the Act 13 debacle. Passed by the General Assembly during Governor Tom Corbett’s term in the early Tens, this was a love letter to the gas industry overhauling oil and gas regulation in their favor. And often at the public’s expense. Act 13 established the following: 

  • Gave the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission power to review local ordinances. This allows energy companies to legally challenge local ordinances that they don’t like through the PAPUC. This process allows state rules supersede local ordinances in regards to zoning. Not to mention, allow municipalities to permit oil and gas development across all zoning areas.  
  • Allowed private corporations engaged in natural gas storage and transportation use of eminent domain on a person’s remaining property without proper compensation (what the fuck?). That is, if the company has a right to the majority of the land. 
  • Instilled a “physician’s gag rule” that prohibited medical professionals from revealing information on fracking chemicals they receive from drilling companies. Thus, this allows doctors to research but if fracking had anything to do with what’s wrong with their patient, they couldn’t tell them.  

From 2012 to 2016, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court would overturn much of the law for various reasons. In 2013, the Court invalidated most of the zoning rules on grounds of violating the state constitution’s Environmental Rights Amendment assuring clean air and water for residents.  In 2016, the Court struck down the other two provisions because they’re utterly ridiculous to put in the books anyway. I think a doctor has a right to tell their patient what the hell’s making them sick, fracking or not. 

Even more disturbing is how natural gas companies have cracked down on anti-fracking activists. In Pennsylvania, there’s an organization called the Marcellus Shale Operators’ Crime Committee that allows the gas industry to swap information with local, state, and federal law enforcement about activists, protests, and potential threats. We shouldn’t be surprised since energy companies have a history of suppressing dissent whether over public health concerns, environmental impact, or workers’ rights (looking at you, West Virginia coal companies). Although reports of pipe bombs, charred debris, and gunshots fired at gas sites exist, very few anti-fracking activists have resorted to crime. While most are just law-abiding citizens. And yet, many have been subject to being branded as “ecoterrorists” as well as subject to law enforcement surveillance probes (with assistance by private security firms). One Lycoming County woman had a state trooper stop by her house over her anti-fracking activities. Luckily, she got off with a warning. That same trooper then crossed state lines into New York to accuse another activist of trespassing a gas compressor station site. Nonetheless, law enforcement’s connection to the natural gas industry raises troubling questions on police conduct and civil liberties. Should police use information obtained by private security firms, it can pose a threat to basic constitutional rights and make one ask why law enforcement’s devoting limited resources to tracking environmentalists. Seriously, don’t police have better things to do like track down actual criminals?  

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Thus, my dear reader, the benefits and promised prosperity natural gas companies touted in order to drill into the Marcellus Shale turned out to be the stuff that dreams are made of. In other words, even if it did create jobs or benefit the reasons, those rewards weren’t as great as originally advertised. At least when you consider the high risks involved along with the gas companies’ lack of transparency and public dishonesty. The drilling process isn’t safe for workers as well as the surrounding community and environment. The royalty leases and contracts may not always give the landowner a fair deal. While their influence and campaign contributions make them a powerful force in government and law enforcement regardless of how much they contribute to the local economies, which is nonetheless extremely troubling. And whenever challenged, they will strike through almost any means at their disposal. Take it from me, you can’t trust these gas companies to regulate themselves.  

The Price We Pay for What We Don’t Know 

Disclaimer: this essay contains spoilers from The Lost Women of Ballantine Castle

My newly self-published novel on Amazon titled The Lost Women of Ballantine Castle chiefly centers on the disappearances of undocumented maids dating from the 1980s to the pre-Covid Trump era, the time the story takes place. Almost all of these maids are Hispanic, range from their late teens to their late twenties, worked for a Mrs. Bartlett at either her Ballantine Castle estate or The Commodore Hotel, and all disappeared while leaving the former. Anyway, despite its subject matter mainly focusing on undocumented immigrants and their vulnerable position in American society, I devoted a significant chunk of the story on racial violence against minorities and how little attention it receives in our society both in our history classes and in the media, especially if the victims were poor, had little to no legal standing in society, or in the maids’ case, both.  

However, there’s a critical flashback scene in the novel where a college archives intern at Ballantine Castle named Julia Scarnatti explores some records in a file cabinet where the estate’s curator told her not to open. Naturally, she does. Among her finds consists of a series of photographs dating from the 1920s, many depicting Mrs. Bartlett’s ancestor great-grandmother and her friends torturing and killing her black servants for basically no good reason. Naturally, Julia is horrified such people could commit such brutal acts. Later on, Agent Rashida Owens sees a black minister named Dr. Scott and addresses the matter to him (which her partner Beattie MacKillop found in Julia’s diary during an investigation into her disappearance and murder). Dr. Scott discusses how the Ballantines would engage in an all-too-common practice during the time called lynching and his description is nothing short of horrifying. One chilling passage is as follows: 

“Now I don’t like thinking white people as monsters. But it blows my mind how normal white men and women can live with, participate in, and defend such atrocities to their fellow human beings. Even reinterpret them so they wouldn’t see themselves or be perceived as less than civilized. These people who tortured, dismembered, and murdered our ancestors like this perfectly understood what they were doing and thought themselves as perfectly normal human beings. Few had any ethical qualms about their heinous actions. To them, lynching was the highest idealism in their service to their white race, a triumph of a horrid belief system defining us as less than human. These perpetrators of these crimes were just ordinary folks who’d go to church with their families and believed keeping black people in their place was nothing less than a way of combating a plague that if not checked, would hurt the community’s health and security.” 

So what do lynching black people back in the 1920s have to do with missing undocumented maids in the Trump Era? Well, while some forms of racial violence may fall out of favor due to momentous historical events like the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s to the 1960s, other forms of racial brutality don’t go away so easily. The brutality could also take another form like mass incarceration in connection with the War on Drugs, stand your ground and open carry laws, stop and frisk, the “welfare queen” stereotype, and lingering systematic racial disparities that never get resolved. Not to mention, racial violence extending to people with less legal protection than most Americans, namely the undocumented who are relentlessly demonized by right-wing news outlets as pathological criminals. And yet, they also perform variety of essential low wage work at a pittance in our country while living a very precarious existence prone deportation, family separation, and crime. As many Americans firmly but wrongly believe that undocumented immigrants aren’t supposed to be here and don’t have any rights (which isn’t exactly true).  

Sycamore Springs, Pennsylvania is a fictional city for no such place exists between Erie and State College. While the disappearance of undocumented maids at a Gilded Age era estate from the 1980s to the pre-Covid Trump Era is based on the 400-year-old Bathory child murders in Renaissance-era Hungary and the LaLaurie slave killings in antebellum New Orleans. Black lynchings, however, were an endemic feature during the Jim Crow Era when whites would flat out murder black people just for any excuse just to keep the local blacks in line. Sure, these killings were anti-black terrorism and hate crimes but the white establishment never prosecuted them mainly because local authorities often took part in them. Although whites could also be lynched as well as most famously demonstrated in the notorious Leo Frank case. According to the Tuskegee Institute, about 4,743 Americans were lynched between 1882 to 1968, including 3,446 blacks and 1,297 whites. Nonetheless, lynching was white society’s effort to maintain white supremacy in economic and political dominance after the American Civil War during Reconstruction and Jim Crow. Furthermore, lynching blacks was a way to emphasize the Jim Crow social order where whites acted together to reinforce their collective identity along with blacks’ unequal status through acts of violence. And despite being associated with the South, they also occurred in the North as Ballantine Castle entails. According to the great Ida B. Wells while sexual infractions against white women were widely cited, such victims with sexual assault allegations occurred only 1/3 of the time. Instead, the most prevalent accusation related to murder followed by a list of infractions like verbal and physical aggression, spirited business competition (like successfully competing in business against whites), and independence of mind among victims. If you think the infraction list consists of bullshit terms, you’re absolutely right. And tragically as of June 6, 2021, no federal anti-lynching legislation has passed both houses of Congress despite racial violence remaining a serious problem. 

Despite the prominent role lynching played in maintaining white supremacy in the United States during Jim Crow, most white students will never hear about it in their American history class. Until recently, racial violence incidents like the 1921 Tulsa Massacre weren’t even known in the American public consciousness. Only because of shows like Watchmen and Lovecraft Country. Obviously, American schools don’t teach students about racial violence during segregation because no one wants to see themselves as the bad guy, white people especially. Nor does it paint the US in a positive light. Nonetheless, given how white supremacy is still a major problem in the US within every part of our society, it’s a subject everyone must learn if only to dismantle the systemic racist infrastructure that perpetuates such violence against people of color. Particularly when it comes to police brutality and stand your ground laws. Lynchings may not be as accepted or prolific as they were under Jim Crow, but the legacy is still with us. And it’s important all students know that legacy. 

As I write in the summer of 2021, all over the United States, Republicans are up in arms over the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory and have sought to have such measures banned within their local schoolboards to their state legislatures. The Heritage Foundation has recently attributed a whole host of issues to CRT including the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests, LGBTQ+ clubs in schools, diversity training in federal agencies and organizations, California’s recent ethnic studies model curriculum, the free speech debate on college campuses, and alternatives to exclusionary discipline like Broward County, Florida’s Promise Program that some parents blame for the Parkland shooting (instead of lax gun policies that allowed the shooter to easily get them in the first place). The organization claimed: “When followed to its logical conclusion, CRT is destructive and rejects the fundamental ideas on which our constitutional republic is based.”  

With beginnings within the New Left school of American history during the 1970s and 1980s, Critical Race Theory’s crux is that racism is a social construct. Yet, unlike many white people would like to think, racism isn’t just a product of individual bias and prejudice, but also something embedded in systemic policies. Slavery, segregation, and Jim Crow are among the biggies that we learn in American history class. A good example Education Week discusses a 1930s practice of government officials drawing lines around areas deemed poor financial risks, often due to the inhabitants’ race. As a result, banks refused to offer mortgages to black people living in these areas. Today, despite facially-race blind policies, these same patterns of discrimination live on. For instance, single family zoning prevents building affordable housing in advantaged, majority white neighborhoods, and thus, undermines racial desegregation efforts.  

Ballantine Castle illustrates this through Sycamore Springs confining their black and Hispanic populations to the Sticks for much of its history, its history of black lynchings, racist law enforcement practices, and federal immigration policies, especially during the pre-Covid Trump era. CRT also has ties to other intellectual currents like works by sociologists and literary theorists studying the links between political power, social organization, and language. While its ideas have since informed other fields like humanities, social sciences, and teacher education. You could also see the same in Ballantine Castle in which Sycamore Springs’ harsh treatment of Latinos by the local police department leads to more undocumented maids disappearing at the titular estate. Mainly because the living undocumented maids are in no position to testify out of deportation fears. Donald Trump’s decision to cancel DACA resulted in FBI agents Beattie MacKillop and Rashida Owens having such a difficult time tracking down Estella Rodriguez in regards to her white roommate’s disappearance and murder. After all, as a Dreamer attending college within a city that’s got a Joe Arpaio-like police chief and a general hostility toward undocumented people among the general white population, Estella has no idea what Trump’s DACA cancellation might mean to her if she talks to law enforcement. So, when the cops and federal agents scramble for her testimony, Estella either shuts herself in her dorm room or runs off. In addition, the Sycamore Springs police department’s inexcusable actions during the white supremacist Charlottesville-style “America First” rally at Liberty Park results in a white counter-protesting student’s death and a heroic priest named Father Anthony Carlisle nearly losing his shit.  

Critical Race Theory states that racism is part of everyday life so white and non-white people who don’t intend to be racist can nevertheless make choices fueling racism. There are plenty of examples in Ballantine Castle, particularly when Rashida Owens breaks up an altercation pertaining to police mistreating a black man outside a Starbucks in Sycamore Springs to her partner, Beattie MacKillop’s dismay. When Rashida climbs back in her car, Beattie glares at her FBI partner and says, “Why must you stop and waste our time?” As far as she’s concerned, they’ve just arrived to the city to investigate a white college girl’s disappearance, an assignment Rashida has clearly expressed doesn’t want to work on. Stopping police from using excessive force on a black man will only delay their investigation. Now Beattie doesn’t intend to be racist here. But she certainly comes across as this and her chiding Rashida over the incident fuels racism as well. Which is exactly the point. 

However, a lot of critics claim that CRT advocates discriminating against white people in order to achieve equity (except it doesn’t), mainly aiming such accusations at theorists calling for policies explicitly taking race into account. Yet, the disagreement fundamentally springs from different conceptions of racism. While popular notions of racism take individuals’ own beliefs into account, CRT emphasizes outcomes and calls for people to examine and rectify them. And no, neutral “color-blind” policies won’t eliminate the America’s racial caste system. Many white people obviously have a problem with this, especially since they mostly don’t want to seem racist. But they don’t want to think about racism whenever Colin Kaepernick takes a knee to protest against police brutality, which they consider as an attack on the flag and the military (except that it’s not). Because white people in general want to live their lives pretending that racism died out in the 1960s with the Civil Rights Movement (except it didn’t). Since racism is so ordinary that white people benefit from it and their refusal to dismantle the racist status quo and resistance to racist policies makes them complicit in racism. The idea that someone can be racist by doing absolutely nothing is very triggering to say the least. After all, no one wants to be the bad guy. 

Due to CRT’s popular representation in schools being far less nuanced, a recent poll by Parents Defending Education claimed some schools were teaching that “white people are inherently privileged, while black and other people of color are inherently oppressed and victimized”; that “achieving racial justice and equality between racial groups requires discriminating against people based on their whiteness”; and that “the United States was founded on racism.” As a result, much of the current debate chiefly springs not from academic texts, but from critics’ fears that students (particularly white ones) will be exposed to supposedly damaging or self-demoralizing ideas. Doesn’t help that whenever white people hear even a whisper of “white people” and “racism” they can absolutely lose their shit, completely blocking them from hearing anything else. If in their mind, America is the greatest country in the world, any criticism of their beloved country is a personal attack, especially from anyone who’s not white. Sure, they’re fine with “a more perfect union” or “making America great again.” But they can’t handle an entire field of black scholarship based on the idea that their sweet land of the free is inherently racist. And all I have to say to them is tough shit.  

As of mid-May 2021, legislation to outlaw CRT in schools has passed in Idaho, Oklahoma, and Tennessee as well as proposed in various other statehouses. The bills are so vaguely written that it’s unclear what they’ll affirmatively cover, whether they’re constitutional or violate free speech (I’d say yes on the latter two). Could a teacher who wants to talk about state-sponsored racism a la Jim Crow (which prevented blacks from voting or holding office while separating them from white people in public spaces) violate such laws? Although it’s extremely difficult to police what’s taught in hundreds of classrooms, social studies teachers fear such laws could have a chilling effect on educators self-censoring their own lessons out of concern for parent or administration complaints. One Tennessee English teacher notes: “History teachers can not adequately teach about the Trail of Tears, the Civil War, and the civil rights movement. English teachers will have to avoid teaching almost any text by an African American author because many of them mention racism to various extents.” The laws might also be used to attack other pieces of the curriculum like ethnic studies or “action civics,” which asks students to research local civic problems and propose solutions.  

In American history, cultural debates have focused on the balance among patriotism and American exceptionalism one end and the exclusion and violence toward Native Americans and African American enslavement on the other. As in our country’s ideals and practices. A current example that’s fueled much of the recent round of CRT criticism is the New York Times’ 1619 Project, which seeks to put slavery’s history and its effects as well as blacks’ contributions to democratic reforms front and center in American history. Nonetheless, we must understand that learning history isn’t always supposed to feel good. There are parts in our history that are downright painful, disturbing, and jarring to know about like slavery, native displacement and genocide, Jim Crow, racial violence, immigration restrictions, Japanese internment, and more. But they’re absolutely necessary to know about so we can grow and rectify such injustices as a society. For the old adage says, “those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” If we want to avoid the past’s mistakes and create a better society, then we must teach kids about race and racism. This goes especially for the students whose parents protest against the teaching of the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory and buy into whatever conspiracy theories or culture war garbage the right-wing media screeds into their heads. Knowing about the past is hard. Not knowing is even harder. The price we pay for what we don’t know could be steep, as we learned from all the police shootings and white supremacist demonstrations. And for too far too long, the price for our collective historical ignorance has been way too high. White people may have the luxury to forget about all the awful legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and segregation. But if they consist of the majority of who we elect into office at every level, it’s time they start as early as possible. 

Tragedy at Tree of Life

At 10:00 am on Saturday, October 27, 2018, a gunman opened fire during a shabbat service at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After several people barricaded inside the building and called the authorities, the shooter fired at police officers upon their arrival after he was detained in 2 confrontations. 11 people are now dead while 6 others were injured, including 4 police officers. Identified as 46-year-old Robert Bowers who carried an assault rifle and 3 semi-automatic handguns, he is now in custody and could be charged with a hate crime as soon as possible. Pittsburgh’s top FBI official said, “this is the most horrific crime scene I’ve seen in 22 years with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.” So far, the authorities haven’t yet confirmed any information on the perpetrator’s motive. Since initial eyewitness accounts can turn out to be wrong as the investigation unfolds. Though KDKA has reported that eyewitnesses heard the shooter shout, “All Jews must die” before firing during the morning shabbat service. Still, the shooting may have been the deadliest attack on Jewish people on American soil.

According to preliminary reports, Robert Bowers was an avowed anti-Semite with a number of posts on the far-right social networking site Gab. There, he blamed Jews for among other things, mass migration and climate change. Posts that appeared authored by Bowers include one written about an hour before the shooting stating, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics. I’m going in.”

The Tree of Life shooting comes amid a steady increase in anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes since the 2016 campaign and Donald Trump’s inauguration. And it represents a further intensification of the resurgence of toxic and at times, violent Anti-Semitism during this time. According to the FBI, in 2016, hate crimes had increased 5% since 2015, and 10% since 2014. And out of the 1,273 hate crimes for which FBI found religious hatred as a motivation which is 20% of the total, half were against Jews. In the last year for which complete data was available, the Anti-Defamation League found there have been 1,986 reported incidents in the United States that year, including acts of vandalism and physical violence. That figure was a 57% increase from 2016, which itself has seen a 35% uptick from 2015. The 2016-17 surge was the highest increase on-record since the ADL began reporting on them in 1979. As the 2016 presidential campaign reached fever pitch, over 800 journalists received a staggering 19,000 anti-Semitic messages on Twitter. During events like the 2017 Unite the Right in Charlottesville, Virginia, right-wing extremists openly recited Nazi slogans and carried Nazi paraphernalia.

Incendiary rhetoric has remained intense throughout 2018. Verbal attacks against liberal Jewish philanthropist George Soros whose political activities have become subject to far-right conspiracy theories, have reached fever pitch. In fact, just this month Donald Trump publicly blamed Soros for funding the activist opposition to now-Supreme Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination who’s been accused of multiple sexual assault allegations. More recently, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz and Campbell’s Soup executive vice president Kelly Johnson blamed Soros for financially supporting the Honduran migrant caravan making its way to the US border, accusing him of being in control of migrants and refugees. Soros was among the recipients of a series of mailed pipe bombs sent to prominent left-wing media outlets and politicians, including the Clintons and the Obamas.

Now I don’t know much about George Soros except he’s a rich old Jewish liberal with lots of money. However, tune into Fox News, and you’ll find plenty of right-wing conspiracy theorists claim that he’s the devil incarnate or the head of the Illuminati or New World Order. Yet, despite that I know full well he can’t be as nearly as terrible as conservative nutjobs make him out to be, rhetoric against Soros reflects a wider trend in anti-Semitic discourse: a conspiracy theory of imagined “globalists” secretly pulling the puppet-strings of the capitalist world order that’s been a populist rhetorical mainstay since at least the European not-so-Enlightenment in the 18th century. According to the Washington Post, Soros’ “name has become a synonym for a well-worn anti-Semitic canard: the idea that Jews are malevolent fomenters of social dissent, agitators slyly funding and masterminding protest, seeking to undermine a white, Christian social order.” Should the Tree of Life’s shooter’s anti-Semitic motivations be confirmed, it would be the culmination of a week of extraordinary right-wing violence.

Tree of Life’s neighborhood of Squirrel Hill is usually considered Pittsburgh’s de facto Jewish community center. While the Tree of Life synagogue represents a powerful symbol of Jewish life. And the recent shooting reflects another disturbing trend such as the degree to which places of worship have been targets for acts of possible domestic terrorism. From synagogues to Christian churches and Sikh temples, these places have increasingly become targets for extremist violence within the last decade. Many of these have been explicitly white supremacist or right-wing in nature, targeting perceived liberals, ethnic minorities, or women. In each case, these attacks have been designed to maximize emotional effect. Since they’re community hubs designed for children, adults, and the elderly. By targeting a house of worship, the attacker commits a powerful symbolic transgression of profaning a sacred and communal space. Attacking a place of worship isn’t just an attack on worshippers but attack on the community itself. Examples include:

2008: Jim David Adkisson opened fire at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee during a community theater production of Annie. He killed 2 and wounded 7 others. Citing Unitarian progressive policies, Adkisson later told police he did so because he believed the Democrats were “ruining” the United States and that all liberals should be killed. He pled guilty and is currently serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole.

2012: An avowed white supremacists and Army veteran Wade Michael Page attack a gurdwaras or Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. He killed 6 people and wounded 4 more before killing himself. A longtime member of the white power music scene, Page had been on federal investigators’ radar for years before committing this deadly act.

2015: White supremacist Dylann Roof murdered 9 members of the congregation along with the senior pastor at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. Roof had written frequently and publicly about his desire to kill non-whites as he wrote in his prison journal, “I would like to make it crystal clear, I do not regret what I did. I am not sorry. I have not shed a tear for the innocent people I killed.” Since his 2017 conviction, Roof is currently on death row.

2017: Devin Patrick Kelley opened fire at First Baptist Church at Sutherland Springs, Texas, killing 26 in the deadliest church shooting in American history. Unlike the other perpetrators, Kelley didn’t have clearly defined political views or a specific agenda. But he did have a history of domestic violence which included fracturing his infant stepson’s skull in 2012. While the shooting precipitated by conflict with his mother-in-law who attended First Baptist. Kelley was killed during the attack.

Anyway, the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue is another indication that we must acknowledge that homegrown, right-wing, domestic terrorism is huge problem in the United States. While the 2008 election of Barack Obama as well as 2007 and 2008 economic collapses have created fertile ground for hateful, right-wing extremism. Despite the outrage of the conservative news crowd over the prophetic 2009 Department of Homeland Security report, we’ve had extremists occupy federal land in Oregon, pipe bombs mailed to Democratic Party leaders, and commit mass shootings targeting minority groups. Sure Fox News will coddle their old white conservative viewers by assuring that they’re okay and that everything is fine with white conservative America as long as certain outgroups don’t get their way. Despite that the Republican Party has sold their souls to Donald Trump. While Trump continues to pander to right-wing extremists and white supremacists as well as inspire and incite violence at his rallies and tweets. And yet, when it comes to properly labeling domestic terrorism as terrorism, the right-wing conspiracy theory mad cable news network is hardly outside the mainstream. Since all 24-hour news are reluctant rattle the status quo cages too much. Since a cable news network needs you to keep watching and will make sure to keep you glued to your TV by not suggesting that the US is rife with right-wing extremist terror. Despite the fact it totally is. Why? For one, they don’t want to alienate conservative viewers who might meet such notions with an all-consuming outrage. At the same time, they don’t want to stir liberal viewers in to activism that goes far beyond watching TV. And in our current American landscape, TV news is king. There are certainly good-faith arguments against label this kind of violence terrorism which mostly have to do with waiting for the FBI to issue that label, or the fact that terrorism definitions usually involve some organized, radicalized sect than lone wolf operators inspired by YouTube, Fox News, or Trump.

However, homegrown, right-wing domestic terrorism isn’t going away any time soon. Donald Trump keeps using incendiary rhetoric encouraging violence against vulnerable people. Though he’d strongly condemn the Pittsburgh attack and anti-Semitism, Trump has failed to do so at other key points in his presidency, particularly the racist violence in Charlottesville last year. Besides, for week, Trump has been stocking fears about the migrant caravan, because his appeal to his supporters is based on fear of immigrants and racial minorities. And because he doesn’t take responsibility for anything, Trump blames the media for fueling political divisions and hate in America and for unfairly casting him as a contributor to the current situation. Despite that Trump has made extremist right-wing views more acceptable in the Republican Party. As long as Republicans keep backing Trump up and refuse to acknowledge the clear and present danger of right-wing extremism within the US, domestic terror incidents will only increase and intensify, especially since they won’t support gun control.

Which brings me to another point. If we want to prevent mass shootings and acts of terror in the United States, then we need to enact strict gun restrictions. Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf has enacted a measure to keep firearms out of the hands of known domestic abusers. After all, mass shooters usually had a history of domestic abuse so it’s a step in the right direction. But state and local gun restrictions can only go so far. After all, while Chicago may have strict gun laws, its rate of gun violence is high. Mostly because many of the guns used to commit crimes are coming from outside its borders. So federal action is sorely needed. For if we don’t enact sensible gun laws to keep firearms out of criminals’ hands, we will see more mass shootings in the future.

To the Honorable United States Representative Conor Lamb of the Pennsylvania 18th District

Dear Congressman Lamb:

As your constituent of the 18th District, I have been satisfied with your efforts to represent the interest of Southwest Pennsylvania in ways your hypocritical sellout predecessor Dr. Tim Murphy ever could. Though you may not be my representative for much longer due to a new congressional map, I wish you the best of luck beating Keith Rothfus. As a liberal who supports gun control and environmental protection, I know you may not share my views on everything. But since I live in a heavily red district, I know I have to make due with whoever Democrat has a fighting chance in the polls and be as inoffensive to the electorate as possible. Unlike Murphy, your support for affordable healthcare and unions seems genuine while you appear very keen on fixing the opioid crisis ravaging our nation. From looking at your priorities list, you seem honestly committed for actions that benefit working Pennsylvanians and their families.

However, while your site states that you have a bias for action, I am not sure if any of your stated goals are feasible at the moment. You may be today’s Senator Jefferson Smith in Washington, but sometimes a fresh face with good ideas can only go so far. You may be willing to work with anyone to protect our people and bring good jobs. But so has any politician willing to work across the aisle for the greater good. Yet, sometimes it does not matter whether you are willing to work with those who do not agree with you. But whether those on the other side are willing to work with you. And from what I have seen with the Obamacare repeal nightmare last year and since, I honestly believe that as long as Donald Trump is in office and Republicans control both houses of Congress that our nation’s problems will not get better and even exacerbate in years to come.

Yet, if there is anything requiring direct action by our leaders in Washington, then it is on the matter of Donald Trump in the White House. I am painfully aware he enjoys a credible following among a significant contingent in the 18th district since so many in my community, neighborhood, and extended family have disturbingly supported him and continue to do so despite all the unconscionable things he’s said and done. I know you make it a priority not to criticize Trump by name in your public life out of reluctance to offend potential constituents and voters. However, as my US Representative who genuinely cares about the issues affecting working Pennsylvanians and their families, I strongly urge you do. Now you do not have to talk about Russia or Stormy Daniels. Nor do you need to address his other numerous scandals and controversies. But I do believe if you really care about and respect your Trump-supporting constituents, you need to at least tell them the cold, hard, truth they do not want to hear: that the man they see as their champion has no interest in solving their problems and is not on their side. Trump knows how to give wins to interest groups he actually cares about, many of these are large corporation who support unpopular measures such as letting health insurance companies discriminate against those with preexisting conditions, doing away with key environmental regulations protecting our access to clean air and water, letting financial advisers deliberately give their clients bad advice on their money, eliminating essential banking regulations that will pave way to another recession someday, getting rid of key labor protections like those against wage theft, and handing a sweetheart tax cut deal boosting corporate profits to record levels.

But more importantly, you need to address the undeniable fact that Donald Trump has never been the friend of ordinary working Americans and never will. Throughout his entire career he has reaped in millions from the remains of failing businesses at the expense of investors, small businesses, and American workers. For decades, according to a 2016 USA Today article, Trump has been subject to at least 60 lawsuits along with hundreds of liens, judgements, and other government filings documenting people accusing him of failing to pay them for their work. These include a Florida dishwasher, a New Jersey glass company, a carpet company, a plumber, painters, 48 waiters, dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, real estate brokers who sold him his properties, and even several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others. Since 2005, Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 Fair Labor Standards Act violations for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage according to the US Department of Labor at the time. In addition, USA Today’s review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens on wage theft claims filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies, or his properties since the 1980s. These range from a $75,000 claim by a New York heating and air conditioning company to a $1 million claim from a president of a New York City real estate banking firm. For Trump Taj Mahal casino project in Atlantic City, New Jersey Casino Control Commission records state that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, if at all. These comprise of workers who installed walls, chandeliers, and plumbing.

Nor do all these wage theft cases date from the 1980s. In May 2016, Trump Miami Resort Management LLC settled with 48 waiters at Trump National Doral Miami golf resort over failing to pay overtime for a 10-day Passover event. The lawsuit contended that some even worked 20-hour shifts. In Trump’s facilities at California and New York, bartenders and wait staff have sued with a range of allegations from not letting workers take breaks to not passing along tips to servers. And in January 2017, several contractors who worked on his D.C. Hotel project with renovating the Old Post Office on wage theft claims.

In sum, these actions paint a picture of Donald Trump’s sprawling organization consistently failing to pay small businesses and individuals before tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. Sometimes Trump’s team financially overpowers and outlasts much smaller opponents by draining their resources that some give up the fight or settle for less, some declare bankruptcy, and some end up out of business entirely. Of course, Trump and his associates have shrugged off these wage theft claims on the excuse that they did a terrible job despite that he often offered to rehire those same contractors again. But the sheer number of companies and others he hasn’t paid either suggest two things. His companies have a poor tract record hiring workers and assessing contractors. Or more likely as alleged in dozens of court cases that Trump’s businesses renege on contracts, refuse to pay, or consistently attempt to change payment terms after the work is done.

Mind-boggling wage theft practices is just one way Donald Trump has screwed his over ordinary Americans. Though he has done well after his multiple Atlantic City casino bankruptcies, his own casino employees have collectively lost millions of dollars in retirement savings after Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts’ value plummeted. According to a class action lawsuit filed against the company following its 2004 bankruptcy, starting in 1996, THCR encouraged its employees to invest their 401(k) savings in company stock. That same year, it sold $1.1 billion in junk bonds to offset Trump’s personal debt and buy more ill-fated casino properties in Atlantic City. Then when the stock price neared its nadir amid bankruptcy, the company forced its workers to sell at a huge loss. More than 400 employees lost more than a combined total of $2 million from their retirement accounts. One worker who put $1,000 into her 1997 retirement account had her savings withered to just $59 by 2004. Trump has never had to declare personal bankruptcy but the company he set up to operate his Atlantic City casinos went through numerous corporate restructurings to reduce its debt load. Since Trump used his company as a means to of transferring his personal debt, issuing rounds of junk bonds to build cash that would erase them. As he prospered, his companies floundered. In other words, he put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to his casinos while collecting millions of dollars in salary, bonuses, and other payments. Any burden of his failures fell on his investors and others who bet on his business expertise. While Atlantic City casino employees had their retirement savings wiped out, the share price rose from $.57 to $2.04/share, and Trump kept his $2 million salary after THCR emerged from bankruptcy, and took in more than $44 million in compensation over the course of 14 years he served as the company’s chairman.

Despite how many publications like the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and others have done stellar work on reporting Donald Trump’s history of corrupt business practices which have left a trail of destruction and destruction in its wake, especially in Atlantic City. But I was deeply disappointed by how little the televised media and our leaders in Washington have touched upon his sordid history of corruption and abuse of power which I strongly believe are the core of his character and give an idea of what he really thinks about his white working class base. To him, they are just a means to the end meant to be cast aside once they’re no longer useful to him. I know their racial resentment and anxiety over demographic change was the main reason why so many of them voted for this unrespectable con artist to the presidency. But I think another big reason why he is in the White House today is the fact that many Americans don’t seem to take corporate crimes as seriously as they should since they hurt those with the least resources to defend themselves. Yet, when corporate executives steal from their employees and use their company to leverage debt and free themselves from responsibility for their bad decisions, ordinary working Americans suffer. And that is especially the case when workers are underpaid and in precarious situations that will result in termination if they ever dare complain or challenge their bosses. Trump’s crimes may be egregious but he’s far from the only man in Corporate America who’s screwed over his investors and employees. Wage theft is so endemic in this country that the average American has either been a victim of it or knows someone who has. And even when caught, employers who steal from their workers usually face little or no consequences. Since no Wall Street banker has been convicted for causing the Great Recession, I think addressing Trump’s shady business practices is a conversation is sorely needed on Capitol Hill and in our public squares, at least to make an example out of him.

I know criticizing Donald Trump in front of your constituents won’t be easy for you. I understand you don’t want to alienate potential voters. Yet, if not enough people in Congress don’t address Trump’s abuses of power and corruption as a businessman, including what he did to Atlantic City, then I deeply fear he might be on his way to winning a second term as president. Since the Constitution limits presidents to serving two terms, it’s very possible that Trump won’t need his white working class base anymore to retain power in the White House. I really don’t want to face the prospect of a Trump reelection victory. I have been through that nightmare once in my life resulting me crying myself to sleep afraid of what would happen to me and waking up early when I couldn’t sleep anymore. As a young woman on the autistic spectrum, I was almost inconsolable over the notion of losing my Medicaid coverage when the American Healthcare Act passed the House until the Senate’s ACA repeal plan died on the floor last summer. Since finding a job is difficult for me at the moment, I don’t ever want to go through that again. And since Medicaid is so essential for fighting the opioid crisis in this country which is now a national emergency, neither do you.

I know you are a good man and are nothing like the good for nothing piece of shit in the White House. You have made sacrifices to your country such as your time in the Marines and you support the welfare of those who served. And I do believe you care about ordinary Americans and their families. However, being a true advocate for your constituents shouldn’t just be about making stump speeches on what potential voters might want to hear. Though I know you do your best to fulfill the promises you’ve made. I am aware you don’t want to cause controversy among the public in Southwestern Pennsylvania. And considering you won your seat in a highly-contested special election by 755 votes, I wouldn’t blame you.

However, there comes a time when you must state the inconvenient truth that might make your constituents view you as a pariah in anger, which may put your political future at risk. Yet, if you want to prove that you’re truly on your constituents’ side and that you’re willing to put their interests first, then you must make a compelling, respectful, honest case to prove that Trump is taking them for suckers and has no intention to fix their problems. His history as a corrupt businessman who’s exploited employees and investors to enrich himself perfectly illustrates this. In fact, I have compiled a blog post in The Lone Girl in a Crowd highlighting decades worth of his corruption scandals with links if you’re interested. Yet, however vague and substance-lacking they were, Trump campaigned on some ideas similar to yours and promised similar things which unlike you, he had no intention to deliver. Many voters in the 18th District fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Living in a rural area, I witnessed the worst of it with people in my community flaunting Trump signs everywhere I went, of which I found deeply distressing. But even then, I knew Trump was working his art of the con since I had been conducting research on his past and building a case against him. Nonetheless, if you truly respect Trump voters, then you must tell them the truth, even if it brings you fits of rage from potential voters already sold on his brazen lies and false promises or costs your nascent career. Your constituents in Southwest Pennsylvania deserve nothing less.

Asking you to criticize Donald Trump at the risk of losing your career may not be the wisest of requests. Yet, with the Republican Party so deep in his support for this unrespectable man, I am desperately pleading you to stand up to him on behalf of the people in your district. Yet, while you denounce him as a fraud, assure your voters you will work with him if that’s possible and do everything you can to protect them against his cruel and hostile policies that only benefit him, his allies, and his corporate backers. Trump may value loyalty of his subordinates and supporters, but that doesn’t mean he will return the favor for he’s known to stab people in the back once they cease being useful to him or suddenly become a liability. And though he will provoke controversy to please his base, he will not go out of his way to help his supporters in any meaningful way that doesn’t benefit him in return. Since you’ve been a Marine, I’m sure you can show him what true loyalty means as you represent constituents who may not have voted for you and may not be able to give you anything in return.

To the Honorable United States Senator Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania

Dear Senator Toomey:

I am writing to you today to strongly urge you to oppose the Better Care Reconciliation Act which will gut the Affordable Care Act, slash Medicaid by $800 billion, leave 22 million uninsured, and roll back protections for those with pre-existing conditions. Drafting of the BCRA was conducted through a highly partisan, secretive, and undemocratic process despite being one of the most consequential pieces of legislation. There is no state where a majority support it. Healthcare is a fundamental right which the federal government should guarantee to all Americans. Legislation to deprive people of healthcare and lower their quality of life is unconscionable. To vote for such an atrocious bill that will only hurt most Pennsylvanians on so many levels. Your unwillingness to even meet with your constituents on the BCRA only highlights your cowardice on this piece of legislation. You can say that recent Medicaid growth is unsustainable (it’s not). You can claim that the ACA is collapsing (contrary to what most experts believe). But even if both were true, to support the BCRA is inherently inexcusable regardless what you believe in.

Senator Toomey, I know your mind is made up and you will more than likely vote for this morally indefensible healthcare bill. After all, you have never been keen on government intervention in providing healthcare for all Americans. I agree the Affordable Care Act does not cover everyone and does not do enough to make healthcare more affordable. But there is no doubt that the ACA has expanded coverage to 20 million more Americans and improved coverage for millions more. It has also saved lives. The BCRA does nothing to fix the ACA’s flaws and even significantly weakens many of the law’s provisions such as essential health benefit requirements, a ban on pre-existing conditions, and barring lifetime or annual caps. Furthermore, the bill would drastically reduce Medicaid funding and other subsidies. All of this will significantly raise premiums, deductibles, and out of pocket costs as well as leave millions of Americans with no access to adequate care. In addition, these provisions will lead to almost a million Americans losing their jobs, medical facility closings, and widespread economic ruin in communities nationwide. Statewide 731,000 Pennsylvanians will lose their insurance while countless more will be left with more expensive but inferior coverage. Without the coverage they have, thousands will die because they couldn’t receive the care they needed including the elderly, children, people with disabilities, the chronically ill, women, veterans, substance abusers, the mentally ill, and the poor. Many of them are Medicaid recipients who may not be able to get coverage through their employer or the individual market. And despite what you think about it, it’s an indispensable program and possibly their only lifeline. Nobody should be denied healthcare regardless of who they are, especially if receiving medical treatment is a matter of life or death. And for many, without healthcare, they may be able to get a job or live an independent life with dignity.

Senator, you were elected to the US Senate to represent the interests of your constituents first and foremost. But your recent cowardly behavior suggests you’re more willing to throw Pennsylvanians under the bus for the good of the party. If you’re willing shut people out of a town hall for fear of your constituents protesting over legislation that will have a damaging impact on their lives, then perhaps you shouldn’t be a US Senator. You have a duty to vote against a wretched healthcare bill that most people in your state don’t want and will certainly ravage the state. People will die. People will lose their jobs. People will get sicker. Hospitals will close down and put communities in economic ruin. Our state’s problem with opioid addiction will exacerbate because more people won’t be able to afford treatment. Vote for the BCRA with your party and I guarantee you will have blood on your hands if it ever becomes law. I sincerely hope your name is dragged through the mud for your advocacy and support for the BCRA which will only provide worse care for Americans or no care at all. And I hope that Pennsylvanians will remember what you did within the next 5 years so they can kick you out of office by the time your term is up.

I absolutely do not care what your or your party’s views on healthcare are. Nor do I care about your negative perception of the ACA as an extension of big government. Because despite what you think, for profit healthcare is an American travesty that discriminates against the poor and must die. There is nothing you can do to convince me that free market healthcare is the best system since I’ve known countless cases where it has failed. And as someone on the autism spectrum, I will cling to my Medicaid coverage so tight that you’ll have to pry it from my cold dead hands. To support such a system that denies people access to the healthcare they need is inherently morally indefensible and violates Americans’ right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And all that matters much more to me than any of your free market ideas you prize most highly. Well, your free market praises can go straight to hell for all I care. It deeply horrifies me that politicians like you could ever craft, let alone campaign for legislation that consists of nothing but heartless cruelty to those most vulnerable. And in the least transparent as well as most partisan and undemocratic way possible, I might add. I’d like to think my government representatives would at least have a heart not to play politics with mine or anyone else’s healthcare, especially a sick child’s. But I know full well, it’s certainly not the case. And I know it’s not the case with you which is a shame. However, if you are willing to support legislation that will only lead to pain and suffering, then may that be on your soul for the rest of your days. And may your vote for the BCRA ruin your career and reputation. Because I don’t think you’d deserve nothing less.

To the Honorable United States Representative Tim Murphy of the Pennsylvania 18th District

Note: I was going to e-mail this to my congressman on his website as a way to express my righteous indignation at his voting for the monstrosity known the American Healthcare Act. But since it’s rather long and the language is so colorful and direct, I thought it would be better to publish this piece on my blog and open to the public. Of course, this is probably not a good way to treat a US Congressman. However, in my defense, he pretty much deserves to be humiliated as much as any of the 217 Republican Congress responsible for passing this morally reprehensible bill. Even more so if that particular congressman is none other than House Speaker Paul Ryan. As a citizen, I believe it is our duty to hold any Republican who supported the AHCA accountable. Since I can’t write 217 blog posts for each GOP congress member who did, then I hope my piece to Murphy sets an example. A legislator voting to deny Americans healthcare is inherently unacceptable and there is no justification for it. People’s lives are at stake depending on whether it becomes law and we cannot let that happen. The AHCA is an absolute moral disgrace and any legislator who supported it must never live it down.

Dear Congressman Murphy:

I am writing to you to express my seething moral outrage and disgust on your vote in favor of the American Healthcare Act on May 4, 2017. You claim you voted but repeal the Affordable Healthcare Act in order to save Southwestern Pennsylvania. But in reality, you voted for a bill casting tens of millions of people off their health insurance, slash hundreds of millions from Medicaid, and send premiums through the roof for older and poorer Americans. The AHCA is a bill of unspeakable cruelty as well as a policy depicting nothing but appalling disdain for the human dignity among the most vulnerable and a flagrant violation of this nation’s ideals.

Voting in favor of such morally indefensible legislation virtually destroys your credibility among your constituents as their US representative. Your support for this bill expresses that you would put the interests of your party, your donors, and your career over those of the very people you were elected to represent. It absolutely horrifying that you could even think your vote in favor of the AHCA was your way of rescuing Southwestern Pennsylvania from the ACA when the AHCA is significantly worse. The AHCA is not an important first step to fixing our nation’s broken healthcare system. But it breaks it down even further by making healthcare even more unaffordable and inaccessible for Americans. And it undoes many of the ACA regulations and consumer protections that have significantly improved and increased healthcare coverage for millions of Americans. I understand that the ACA needs fixed since it does not lower healthcare prices nor cover everyone. However, any ACA replacement bill that does away with these protections as well as deny and worsen coverage for Americans like the AHCA is absolutely unacceptable. Your vote for the AHCA did not rescue Southwestern Pennsylvania. But instead you condemned and sold out Southwestern Pennsylvania. If this bill is ever made into law, people will die and blood will be on your hands.

Looking at your website, I see headlines of articles regarding your advocacy for people suffering from disabilities, drug addiction, and the mentally ill. Under the AHCA, states can apply for waivers to opt out of ACA regulations and protections, allowing insurance companies to deny the very care these people need. They can eliminate required coverage for mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and prescription drugs. They can offer policies with annual and lifetime limits. They can deny coverage to those with preexisting conditions like mental illness and disability. It even sabotages Medicaid which a lot of the people you claim to champion depend on. It is a disgrace that the Schizophrenia & Related Disorders Alliance of America recognized you as “Exceptional Legislator.” It is an appalling shame that the National Association of Psychiatric Health Systems recognized you as “Mental Health Champion.” Your vote for the AHCA was a profound betrayal to these people since they are among the most vulnerable in society. It is deeply cruel of you to call yourself their champion but are willing to throw them under the bus. Well, you can consider yourself their champion no longer. If you truly are, you would have vehemently opposed this legislative travesty in the first place. As a “Mental Health Champion,” you should have voted against it even at the expense of your career. Twenty-one of your fellow congressional Republicans were willing to do just that. Sure you may claim that you secured $15 billion for mental health and addiction treatment in the AHCA, but that is a very empty gesture. Nor does it shield anyone suffering from addiction or mental illness from being turned away from the very treatment they need. You have lost any semblance of credibility in order to be a “Mental Health Champion.” Now you are just another lapdog for the Trump administration.

I do not care what you believe in or why you voted for the American Health Care Act. What your views makes no difference to me, especially in matters of life or death. Even as a Republican congressman, your support for the American Healthcare Act is completely inexcusable on so many levels. As a lawmaker, you were charged with representing your constituents’ interests, which the AHCA completely goes against. Most Americans do not want it especially if it puts their healthcare access in jeopardy. Practically every organization in the medical establishment condemned it. The AHCA is a vicious piece of legislation threatening people’s access to healthcare which is irresponsible, inexcusable, and dangerous. This goes especially for an “Exceptional Legislator” and a “Mental Health Champion” like you, which you completely failed to live up to when voting for that morally indefensible bill. Twenty of your colleagues from your own party understood that, including four from Pennsylvania. They may not be in good shape in 2018 but they are significantly better people than you will ever be.

Whether you like it or not, your vote for the American Healthcare Act illustrates that you advocate a healthcare vision that demeans human life and is indifferent to human suffering. May you never be allowed to forget it and may you have to live with your vote for the AHCA for the rest of your days. I sincerely hope you are held responsible for what you have done, especially if the wretched bill becomes law. Let your name be dragged through the mud wherever you go. May the disabled, addicted, and mentally ill spit on you for selling them out. And may your constituents greet you with the anger and revulsion over your betrayal that you deserve. As my congressman, I have lost all respect for you and nothing else on your record could ever change that. There is nothing you can do to redeem yourself for not even Jesus could ever forgive what you did. If you have to support legislation threatening Americans’ access to affordable healthcare, then you are not worth the blood that flows in your veins.

Dig Into These Groundhog Day Treats

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Groundhog Day is a cultural holiday on February 2nd which revolves around a certain rodent coming out of its burrow to see its shadow, which will determine the weather conditions in the coming weeks (not really). If it sees its shadow, then it’s 6 more weeks of winter. If it doesn’t, early spring or so the legend says. If it comes out of its burrow situated on the wrong side of the road, then it’s basically roadkill (just kidding, but that one is probably true). Now I am no believer in rodent weather meteorology and I can even say that human meteorologists aren’t accurate on the local news. Hell, the closest thing I come to when celebrating Groundhog Day is basically watching part of The AMC marathon of Groundhog Day starring Bill Murray when Punxatawney Phil not only sees his shadow on that particular day but every day. Yet, in some parts of Pennsylvania, Groundhog Day is taken very seriously. In the southeast part of the state, Groundhog Lodges celebrate the holiday with fersommlinge, social events in which food is served, speeches are made, and one or more g’spiel (plays or skits) are performed for entertainment. At this event, only the Pennsylvania German dialect is spoken and those speaking English must pay a fee in a bowl at the center table. Yet, the largest Groundhog Day celebration is in Punxsutawney where crowds of as much as 40,000 gather to see Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow. This event has been a town staple since 1886 and is still going strong, especially since the move Groundhog Day. There’s also a lot of partying going on in the area as well. So if you need to make some treats for Groundhog Day, then come no further than me for some suggestions. So without further adieu, I give you some Groundhog Day treats for your viewing pleasure.

1. Nothing would please your party guests more than these adorable groundhog popping cupcakes.

I'm not sure if the groundhogs are edible. Yet, I am absolutely certain that the green icing will make your tongues green for awhile. Still, adorable.

I’m not sure if the groundhogs are edible. Yet, I am absolutely certain that the green icing will make your tongues green for awhile. Still, adorable.

2. See that these cupcakes depict Punxsutawney Phil coming out from his little den.

Of course, the icing seems like it's either yellow snow or light brown dirt. Yet, at least the groundhogs are basically cuter than the real thing (which isn't much to look at).

Of course, the icing seems like it’s either yellow snow or light brown dirt. Yet, at least the groundhogs are basically cuter than the real thing (which isn’t much to look at).

3. Nothing hits the spot this Groundhog day than some groundhog pudding.

Now I like how this cute groundhog looks with his face, paws, and ears being made from vanilla wafers. Still, I bet the eyes, nose, and teeth are icing.

Now I like how this cute groundhog looks with his face, paws, and ears being made from vanilla wafers. Still, I bet the eyes, nose, and teeth are icing.

4. Treat your kids this Groundhog Day with these tasty groundhog cookies.

Now these are just so cute. Wonder where they could get those groundhog cookie cutters. Still, would be a shame seeing them get run over by a car, wouldn't it?

Now these are just so cute. Wonder where they could get those groundhog cookie cutters. Still, would be a shame seeing them get run over by a car, wouldn’t it?

5. No Groundhog Day party is complete without a cake of Punxsutawney Phil rising from the ground.

Now this cake groundhog seems to resemble a bear with buck teeth. Or one of those animals from Whack-A-Mole. Still, this should feed plenty of your guests.

Now this cake groundhog seems to resemble a bear with buck teeth. Or one of those animals from Whack-A-Mole. Still, this should feed plenty of your guests.

6. Nothing graces a Groundhog Day party table than acorn pretzels.

I like how these pretzels are filled with peanut butter and are half covered in chocolate. Can I take one, please?

I like how these pretzels are filled with peanut butter and are half covered in chocolate. Can I take one, please?

7. Of course, you don’t always need pretzels to make acorns.

Now these are made of Hershey's kisses, peanut butter chocolate chips, white icing, and vanilla wafers. Seem to have the same effect as peanut butter sandwich cookies from my Thanksgiving post.

Now these are made of Hershey’s kisses, peanut butter chocolate chips, white icing, and vanilla wafers. Seem to have the same effect as peanut butter sandwich cookies from my Thanksgiving post.

8. Now you can’t make candy groundhogs without Almond Joy can you? Or at least I think it’s Almond Joy.

Now these groundhogs sure are cute. However, I think that Almond Joy bars are disgusting since they're filled with coconut. Then again, these could be peanut cookies with nuts on top of them.

Now these groundhogs sure are cute. However, I think that Almond Joy bars are disgusting since they’re filled with coconut. Then again, these could be peanut cookies with nuts on top of them.

9. Celebrate your Groundhog Day with this one of a kind cake of Bill Murray.

Because if you're Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, every day is Groundhog Day. Of course, we've all seen the movie have we? I mean it's on AMC on February 2 for 24 hours, since it's kind of the point.

Because if you’re Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, every day is Groundhog Day. Of course, we’ve all seen the movie have we? I mean it’s on AMC on February 2 for 24 hours, since it’s kind of the point.

10. This groundhog cake is staring right at me.

I'm not sure if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow through the chocolate dirt. Yet, I can't help thinking how adorable he is, which is a lot of what I can say about most groundhogs, particularly Gus who was the spokesman for the Pennsylvania Lottery.

I’m not sure if Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow through the chocolate dirt. Yet, I can’t help thinking how adorable he is, which is a lot of what I can say about most groundhogs, particularly Gus who was the spokesman for the Pennsylvania Lottery.

11. For those who don’t like cake, then here is a nice Groundhog Day fruit tart.

I call this a tart because it seems like it's on a smaller plate. Yet, I'm sure this groundhog looks as if it's been run over or something. Somehow it looks like either a bear or possum.

I call this a tart because it seems like it’s on a smaller plate. Yet, I’m sure this groundhog looks as if it’s been run over or something. Somehow it looks like either a bear or possum.

12. For your Groundhog Day party, how about some groundhog pizza to make it more festive?

Now this contains tomato sauce, olives, peppers, tomatoes, and cheese. Yet, it seems to resemble a groundhog's insides for some reason. I don't know why.

Now this contains tomato sauce, olives, peppers, tomatoes, and cheese. Yet, it seems to resemble a groundhog’s insides for some reason. I don’t know why.

13. Wake up in the morning to these Groundhog Day jelly donuts.

Of course you can tell they have jelly in them because there are fruit in the their eyes. Best treat you can give to your neighborhood Punxsutawney police officer. Seriously, they'll need it.

Of course you can tell they have jelly in them because there are fruit in the their eyes. Best treat you can give to your neighborhood Punxsutawney police officer. Seriously, they’ll need it.

14. Have your kid eat lunch on Groundhog Day with this one of a kind groundhog lunch sandwich.

Okay, now the ground is made from a whole wheat tortilla while the groundhog is made from bread. The grass is of lettuce and cucumber. And the white stuff of cheese. Yet, I'm sure your child will love it since it's so cute.

Okay, now the ground is made from a whole wheat tortilla while the groundhog is made from bread. The grass is of lettuce and cucumber. And the white stuff of cheese. Yet, I’m sure your child will love it since it’s so cute.

15. Now let’s see if this little guy could see his shadow.

Now it seems that Punxsutawney Phil is coming out of his den as if it's an egg shell. However, I like how they use a flower and snow just to blend both possibilities.

Now it seems that Punxsutawney Phil is coming out of his den as if it’s an egg shell. However, I like how they use a flower and snow just to blend both possibilities.

16. Treat your kids this Groundhog day with these groundhog cake pops.

Of course, you have sprinkles for the hair as well as M&Ms for the cheeks and ears. As for the eyes and nose, I bet you they're candy. Still, adorable.

Of course, you have sprinkles for the hair as well as M&Ms for the cheeks and ears. As for the eyes and nose, I bet you they’re candy. Still, adorable.

17. Of course, you can’t have Groundhog Day without these groundhog heart cookies.

I like how the ears are made from chocolate chips and the eyes from icing and peanut butter chips as well. Yet, I'm not sure using a raisin for a nose is a great idea. Because I don't like raisins.

I like how the ears are made from chocolate chips and the eyes from icing and peanut butter chips as well. Yet, I’m not sure using a raisin for a nose is a great idea. Because I don’t like raisins.

18. Will Punxsutawney Phil see his shadow over the giant wall of chocolate bundt?

Now I like how this person used flour for snow on this chocolate bundt cake. And I think the groundhog in the center is just so adorable.

Now I like how this person used flour for snow on this chocolate bundt cake. And I think the groundhog in the center is just so adorable.

19. Now you can make your Groundhog Day cupcakes with Oreos and M&Ms for the groundhog’s face.

Now these M&Ms can come in many different colors so there are plenty of groundhog kinds to choose from. I'll take the one with the blue cheeks, please.

Now these M&Ms can come in many different colors so there are plenty of groundhog kinds to choose from. I’ll take the one with the blue cheeks, please.

20. Nothing makes Groundhog Day better than a cheese ball of Gobbler’s Knob.

Sure I think the groundhog might not be edible but there aren't a lot of Groundhog Day food ideas on Google Images. So I'll take it.

Sure I think the groundhog might not be edible but there aren’t a lot of Groundhog Day food ideas on Google Images. So I’ll take it.

21. As a side dish for your Groundhog Day dinner, have a helping of these little groundhog buns.

I like how they're in these little cups as if they're coming out of their dens. Also like their cute little ears, too.

I like how they’re in these little cups as if they’re coming out of their dens. Also like their cute little ears, too.

22. Entertain your guests this Groundhog Day with these cookies of Punxsutawney Phil coming out of his den.

I like how they used the teddy bear heads and made them pop out of their holes. Also like the use of sugar and icing as if it was dirt. Still, these are adorable.

I like how they used the teddy bear heads and made them pop out of their holes. Also like the use of sugar and icing as if it was dirt. Still, these are adorable.

23. Now nobody should celebrate Groundhog Day without these dirt pudding bowls.

Of course, these groundhogs are made from sandwich cookies, chocolate chips, almonds, peanut butter chips, and icing. Still, the Oreo dirt can also stand in for asphalt. Just saying.

Of course, these groundhogs are made from sandwich cookies, chocolate chips, almonds, peanut butter chips, and icing. Still, the Oreo dirt can also stand in for asphalt. Just saying.

24. Wake up from your den this Groundhog Day morning with this groundhog face pancake.

He many not be able to see his own shadow, but he may be able to see yours. Still, you have to admire how this person used bananas, marshmallows, and chocolate chips for the features.

He many not be able to see his own shadow, but he may be able to see yours. Still, you have to admire how this person used bananas, marshmallows, and chocolate chips for the features.

25. If you don’t like groundhog pancakes for breakfast, I’m sure these groundhog donuts will catch your fancy.

Actually these Groundhog Day doughnut treats are better suited for dessert than breakfast. Yet, they still use the same kind of sandwich cookies as the previous pudding ones.

Actually these Groundhog Day donut treats are better suited for dessert than breakfast. Yet, they still use the same kind of sandwich cookies as the previous pudding ones.

26. Experience how Punxsutawney Phil gets out of his den with these Groundhog Day push pops.

Of course, these are probably mostly made from icing and cake as well as other toppings like sprinkles for grass. Still, this is very cute.

Of course, these are probably mostly made from icing and cake as well as other toppings like sprinkles for grass. Still, this is very cute.

27. Whether it be 6 more weeks of winter or an early spring, you can’t have a Groundhog Day dinner without a groundhog hotdog.

As seen here, you can use your groundhog hotdog in buns or mashed potatoes. Yet, I'm not sure how they got the ears.

As seen here, you can use your groundhog hotdog in buns or mashed potatoes. Yet, I’m not sure how they got the ears for these though.

28. If you’re not keen with the groundhog getting out of his den, here are some cupcakes with its face on them.

Now these seem to resemble all kinds of rodents like wood chuks or beavers. Still, they're adorable with their chocolate chip and icing eyes as well as buck teeth.

Now these seem to resemble all kinds of rodents like wood chuks or beavers. Still, they’re adorable with their chocolate chip and icing eyes as well as buck teeth.

29. Come out of your den this Groundhog day with this little sausage rodent in rice.

Of course, it seems to be in with some veggies and grapes. Yet, I'm sure it's made from ground beef. I just used "sausage" because it's shaped that way.

Of course, it seems to be in with some veggies and grapes. Yet, I’m sure it’s made from ground beef. I just used “sausage” because it’s shaped that way.

30. Treat your guests this Groundhog Day with these pop up groundhog cookies.

Of course it's fair to say that these groundhogs are made from candy bars or chocolate. Yet, they're still quite adorable. And the cookies actually look like dirt.

Of course it’s fair to say that these groundhogs are made from candy bars or chocolate. Yet, they’re still quite adorable. And the cookies actually look like dirt.

31. Nothing makes a Groundhog Day dinner complete than a groundhog meatloaf.

Now despite being made from ground meat, this one doesn't look very pleasant for some reason. Yet, you have to love its whiskers.

Now despite being made from ground meat, this one doesn’t look very pleasant for some reason. Yet, you have to love its whiskers.

32. If you can’t create groundhogs, then I suppose bear cookies will do just fine.

Well, of course, some of the crumbs serve as dirt as well but light soil means clay. Also, the cupcake is covered in green sprinkles for grass.

Well, of course, some of the crumbs serve as dirt as well but light soil means clay. Also, the cupcake is covered in green sprinkles for grass.

33. Looks like there are a lot of groundhogs popping from this cake.

I like how all the groundhog cake pops are attached to this green cake, which I think is charming. Also, those groundhogs are quite cute if I do say so myself.

I like how all the groundhog cake pops are attached to this green cake, which I think is charming. Also, those groundhogs are quite cute if I do say so myself.

34. Of course, you can’t do wrong on Groundhog Day with these pop up cookies.

If these were Halloween cookies, they'd work well as tombstones. Yet, I guess chocolate covered cookies were used for groundhogs.

If these were Halloween cookies, they’d work well as tombstones. Yet, I guess chocolate covered cookies were used for groundhogs.

35. If you don’t have any chocolate pudding perhaps chocolate chips and ice cream can substitute for dirt just fine.

Of course, I'm not sure if chocolate ice cream would make this taste better. However, I do like how they used vanilla wafers as groundhogs and almond ears.

Of course, I’m not sure if chocolate ice cream would make this taste better. However, I do like how they used vanilla wafers as groundhogs and almond ears.

36. Of course, you don’t need icing for a groundhog cupcake if you can use a Snicker’s bar.

 And I suppose the teeth are made from candy corn possibly left over from Halloween. Not to mention, the grass and snow probably consist of coconut. Yet, each setting is to highlight the 2 possible outcomes.


And I suppose the teeth are made from candy corn possibly left over from Halloween. Not to mention, the grass and snow probably consist of coconut. Yet, each setting is to highlight the 2 possible outcomes.

37. If you’re in the mood for ice cream on February 2nd, perhaps try this groundhog sundae.

This might contain chocolate ice cream, chocolate pudding, whipped cream, and a nut bar. Still, it looks pretty cute but may cause diabetes or a sugar high.

This might contain chocolate ice cream, chocolate pudding, whipped cream, and a nut bar. Still, it looks pretty cute but may cause diabetes or a sugar high.

38. These groundhog donuts are certainly a real treat.

Now white donuts symbolize 6 more weeks of winter while chocolate ones stand in for early spring. Either way, the groundhogs are very adorable with the buck marshmallow teeth and chocolate chip eyes and noses.

Now white donuts symbolize 6 more weeks of winter while chocolate ones stand in for early spring. Either way, the groundhogs are very adorable with the buck marshmallow teeth and chocolate chip eyes and noses.

39. Of course, these marshmallow teddy bears would make fine groundhogs for these cookies.

Of course, these sugar covered marshmallow candies are hardly edible stuff. Yet, these cookies look so adorable just the same.

Of course, these sugar covered marshmallow candies are hardly edible stuff. Yet, these cookies look so adorable just the same.

40. Of course these peanut sandwich cookies should do nicely for your Groundhog Day cupcakes.

Of course, the chocolate icing is already sprinkled with green sugar that would've been better put to use on Saint Patrick's Day. Still, I'm sure they're cute enough for kids to love.

Of course, the chocolate icing is already sprinkled with green sugar that would’ve been better put to use on Saint Patrick’s Day. Still, I’m sure they’re cute enough for kids to love.

How to Survive in Southwestern Pennsylvania-A Guide to Outsiders

1. Team jerseys not to wear on football game day: Baltimore Ravens, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Oakland Raiders, and maybe New England Patriots or whoever else the Steelers are playing that day.

2. Team jerseys not to wear on Hockey game day: Philadelphia Flyers or whoever else the Penguins are playing against.

3. As for Division I college teams, usually most will be for Pitt or Penn State, though there is a sizable minority who will root for West Virginia. (In my house, it’s pretty much for Pitt.)

4. When traveling on the highway during spring and summer, road construction crews will be a common sight.

5. When going through Pittsburgh, do not use the Parkway during rush hour since it will be jammed packed full of traffic.

6. As with soft drinks it’s always referred to as “pop” not soda nor coke. Also, in these parts, coke is usually seen as cocaine, which is illegal.

7. Expect drunk sports fans to be everywhere on game day since most towns in the region tend to have more bars than churches.

8. Haluski, kielbasa, and pierogies aren’t considered ethnic food in the region and will be served even at concession stands.

9. Don’t expect our country roads to be great places to drive on for there will be potholes, cracks, and other road condition issues.

10. When pronouncing Youghiogheny as in the River, remember that the first “o” is short and the “u” is silent. It’s also known as the Yough, which everyone refers to it anyway.

11. You will only be able to buy alcohol at the local state store since most local stores can’t sell booze here because it’s Pennsylvania.

12. If it stops raining on a cloudy day, always be prepared it will start  again.

13. In the winter, everyone will be mostly concerned with road conditions, delays, and closings, especially when it snows.

14. There’s a good reason why it’s said that Pittsburgh is a drinking town with a football problem and vice versa.

15. There are some parts of Fayette County I wouldn’t advise you to show your face. Same may be for Greene County as well.

16. In this area, California can be a town or a university (though not always of great repute) while Indiana is a county (and home to IUP a well known party school if you know what I mean).

17. Profanity and drinking are great traditions in this region.

18. You might want to stay away from certain areas in the Mon Valley, while you’re at it. I mean some places may be nice but it’s still kind of a shithole.

19. If you go to Ohio State, you may be surprised of what the people of Jeannette think of Terrell Pryor.

20. You might not want to go hiking in the woods the Monday after Thanksgiving (especially since it’s a day when most area children don’t have school).

21. You might want to make sure your fly’s zipped when someone tells you that “Kennywood’s open.”

22. There’s a big difference between the Immaculate Conception and the Immaculate Reception which even a child will know but will call both instances nothing short of great miraculous significance.

23. Don’t ask me why there are 4 country music stations on the radio.

24. For those who think the area seems any way similar than what was depicted in The Deer Hunter, prepare to be disappointed or in utter shock.

25. Expect many people to be decked with the black and gold on game day, especially in the fall.

26. The Primanti Bros. Pittsburgher is actually not as good as they say it is.

27. Eat n’ Park is a nice place to eat with your family and they actually have smiley face cookies for the kids.

28. Shooting deer is serious business here so be thrilled that there’s no hunting on Sunday.

29. Yinz and yunz are second person pronouns in the plural tense.

30. If there’s a closed country road, go another way since it will take months before Penn DOT will show up.