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. 

Terror in Kenosha

On Sunday, August 23, 2020, police were called to the scene at 5:11 pm in the Wilson Heights neighborhood of Kenosha, Wisconsin. The caller’s name remains unknown. During this time, a 29-year-old black man named Jacob Blake was trying to break up a “verbal altercation” between 2 women. He was unarmed and wearing a white tank top and black shorts. In the video, Blake walks in front of a gray van coming from the passenger’s side and heading toward the driver’s side. There are four officers visible and two closely follow behind him, their guns aiming Blake’s back. Many people are heard yelling. As Blake opens the driver’s side door, one officer snatches his tank top by the end, stretching out as he tries getting in. At least seven shots are fired in Blake’s back, that will eventually paralyze him from the waist down for life. The van’s horn blares. The officer keeps holding Blake’s shirt. A woman screams and is pushed away.

According to the Wisconsin Department of Justice, the officers tried to arrest Blake and attempted deploying a taser to stop him. But the taser “was not successful at stopping Blake” before he walked around the vehicle and opened the driver’s side door. The report says the officer named Shesky fired those seven shots and no one else. But since the Kenosha Police Department doesn’t wear body cameras, we can’t be 100% sure. Yet, according to the police, Blake has received immediate aid and has been airlifted to a Milwaukee hospital. According to Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul, Blake claimed to have a knife in his possession when the shooting occurred, which officials recovered from the floorboards of Blake’s van. But his three young sons were also inside and also witnessed the shooting. As civil rights attorney George Crump said in a statement, “We all watched the horrific video of Jacob Blake being shot in the back several times by Kenosha police. Even worse, his three sons witnessed their father collapse after being riddled with bullets. Their irresponsible, reckless, and inhumane actions nearly cost the life of a man who was simply trying to do the right thing by intervening in a domestic incident. It’s a miracle he’s still alive.”

As with the shooting of George Floyd back in May, crowds soon arrived to protest. Videos on social media showed demonstrations that included garbage trucks being set on fire, building windows near the courthouse smashed, and crowds clashing with police dressed in riot gear. Other accounts show an entire building and parking lot being burned during the night. Such activities led to county officials instituting a curfew until Monday at 7 am and the governor to deploy 125 National Guard troops to Kenosha. The scene intensified that Monday evening as organized marches outside the Kenosha County Courthouse gave way to rioting after the 8 pm curfew. According to Reuters, fires decimated much of the city’s black business district while protestors used bats to break traffic signs and signals. When the crowd reached 1,000 at a nearby park, police shot small beanbags and used “ear deafening audio” to disperse anyone refusing to move. Unrest spread to other cities including Madison, Portland, Minneapolis, New York City, and Seattle.

Unrest intensified after curfew again on Tuesday night. Protestors clashed with police officers outside the courthouse, which a metal barricade had blocked off. Tensions also rose at a nearby gas station where a group of armed men claiming to protect the property clashed with protestors. Online video footage shows people chasing after an armed 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse in an attempt to seize him and snatch his AR-15 style rifle he shouldn’t have been allowed to obtain. During the chase, Rittenhouse tripped and fell to the ground where he shoots a few of the people following him. Afterwards, he gets up, walks toward law enforcement officials, who don’t detain him, despite bystanders screaming he had just shot people. Two of the three were fatally hit while the third was admitted to the hospital with “serious, but non-life threatening injuries,” according to the Kenosha Police Department.

Rittenhouse is a self-proclaimed militia member with ties to law enforcement as a member of various law enforcement youth training programs. In January, he was front row at a Trump rally. His no longer publicly accessible Facebook profile show he’s a committed Blue Lives Matter supporter. A 2018 post on Rittenhouse’s page shows him asking to donate to the police advocacy nonprofit organization Humanizing the Badge on his birthday, writing “I’ve chosen this nonprofit because their mission means a lot to me, and I hope you’ll consider contributing as a way to celebrate with me.” Nonetheless, his affinity for the police didn’t stop him from committing any ill-advised right-wing vigilantism.

During a Wednesday afternoon press conference, Kenosha Police Chief Dan Miskinis tried shifting the blame of the shootings onto the protestors and the victims, stating that if they stayed inside, the shootings wouldn’t have taken place. “Everybody involved was out after the curfew. I’m not going to make a great deal of it, but the point is that the curfew is in place to protect. Had persons not been out in violation of that, perhaps the situation that unfolded would not have happened,” he said. Sure, trying to wrestle a gun out of someone’s hands was stupid. But blaming protestors for what happened is deeply irresponsible akin to blaming a rape victim for drinking too much or wearing provocative clothes instead of the rapist. Kenosha Sheriff David Beth responded to the concern that police didn’t arrest Rittenhouse when he walked past them. “I’ve been in a shooting before. In situations that are high-stress, you have such incredible tunnel vision. You have no idea what’s outside right here if you’re looking right here,” Beth said holding his hands up to gesture. Indeed, but this was the same department that didn’t hesitate to shoot Jacob Blake at the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing. Also, it was clear Rittenhouse shot those three people.

But Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian claimed he doesn’t want militia members to show up, saying, “I don’t need more guns on the street, in the community when we are trying to make sure we keep people safe. Law enforcement is trained. They’re the ones who are responsible. They’re the ones we have faith will do their job and make sure it gets done. That is why the curfews are there.” Compared to other Kenosha officials, he sounds rather reasonable. Unless you forget the fact that these protests are happening because at least one police officer acted the most unreasonably as shown by the bullet holes in Jacob Blake’s back. And despite a bystander yelling, “Hey, he just shot them,” law enforcement officials drove right past Rittenhouse instead of madly chasing him and arresting him.

Meanwhile, Rittenhouse left Wisconsin after the shooting and was arrested in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, which is 30 minutes away from Kenosha. To venture from your hometown to guard a gas station is highly suspicious and it’s likely he was there to shoot people. Even worse, video footage 15 minutes prior to the shootings show Rittenhouse walk up to an armored police car and chat with officers. A police officer pops out of one vehicle’s hatch and tosses bottles to Rittenhouse’s fellow militia mates, saying “We appreciate you guys, we really do,” before driving off. Since underage firearm ownership is a misdemeanor in Wisconsin, that cop didn’t even ask for ID. Unlike what you’d expect that same police officer to do when seeing a group of teenagers trying to buy booze at a liquor store.

Meanwhile, Rittenhouse left Wisconsin after the shooting and was arrested in his hometown of Antioch, Illinois, which is 30 minutes away from Kenosha. To venture from your hometown to guard a gas station is highly suspicious and it’s likely he was there to shoot people. Even worse, video footage 15 minutes prior to the shootings show Rittenhouse walk up to an armored police car and chat with officers. A police officer pops out of one vehicle’s hatch and tosses bottles to Rittenhouse’s fellow militia mates, saying “We appreciate you guys, we really do,” before driving off. Since underage firearm ownership is a misdemeanor in Wisconsin, that cop didn’t even ask for ID. Unlike what you’d expect that same police officer to do when seeing a group of teenagers trying to buy booze at a liquor store.

Now these police shootings of unarmed people color like Jacob Blake are way too common occurrence in the US that I can already blurt out a whole list of victims like Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castille, Antwon Rose, Stephon Clark, and more. And it’s a shame that a lot of the police involved in these shootings are still patrolling their local streets to this day. It should be clear that while police departments may contain a few bad apples, these bad apples are spoiling the criminal justice system because their departments and/or unions are protecting them from receiving any form of accountability. But while the police shooting of Jacob Blake angers me as it reflects the systematic racism at work in our criminal justice system, it’s not what truly pisses me off in this case. No, it’s the Kenosha police’s leniency toward Rittenhouse whom they let go home and sleep before arresting him the next morning. Letting a guy go home after someone screaming he shot people seems highly irresponsible to law enforcement regardless of circumstance.

Look, I am not a person who has a high view of gun ownership. In fact, I loathe guns and support reasonable gun control measures like permits, registration, and banning assault weapons. But even if I don’t approve of owning a gun for protection against an armed home invasion, I think it’s well within your rights to do so. Even if I’d more likely see your gun as a security blanket. On the other hand, I don’t have those same reservations for armed militias which I liken to irresponsible vigilantism. As John Oliver said, “Let’s be clear, a 17-year-old vigilante with a rifle cannot maintain order because a 17-year-old with a rifle trying to maintain order is himself the definition of disorder.” It’s bad enough when police misbehave when they shoot unarmed black and brown people on the slightest suspicion of wrongdoing. Or crackdown on anti-police protestors, even if they act out of hand. But letting armed civilians patrol locales with guns that I wouldn’t consider street legal just seems beyond the pale, especially if that’s a 17-year-old boy who shot 3 people. Given that we don’t live in the Old West, condemning vigilante-style violence should be easy for anyone.

Nonetheless, given that most of the US police forces are heavily white, male, and politically conservative, we shouldn’t be surprised that police leaders often see armed civilians as allies, maybe even informal deputies. As University of Arizona sociologist Jennifer Carlson writes, “Police chiefs articulated a position of gun populism based on a presumption of racial respectability. Good guys with guns’ were marked off as responsible in ways that reflected white, middle-class respectability.” This helps understand why armed anti-lockdown protestors can menace the Michigan State Capitol without incident while anti-police violence demonstrators have been met with crackdowns. Indeed, police see guns as a scourge when they’re in the wrong hands, which usually tend to be black and brown ones. And unfortunately, this gun populism isn’t a new phenomenon at all given the long history of deeply racialized gun politics in America. Officers have significant discretion in how they choose to react to different situations, which is often used in a racist and violent fashion. And the way police seemingly encouraged Rittenhouse’s vigilantism is a microcosm of some of the fundamental problems in American policing and gun politics.

Unfortunately, instead of unequivocally condemning Rittenhouse’s heinous actions and other incidents of right-wing violence, Donald Trump has defended him stating, “That was an interesting situation. You saw the same tape that I saw, and he was trying to get away [from protesters], I guess, it looks like, and he fell, and then they very violently attacked him,” Trump said. “I guess he was in very big trouble. He probably would’ve been killed.” Except that Rittenhouse shot his first victim in the back. Yet, Trump casts the boy’s actions as justifiable self-defense, which it certainly wasn’t.

On Saturday, August 29, 2020, a pro-Trump convoy opened fire on counter-protestors in Portland, Oregon with paintball guns and pepper spray that got one pro-Trump demonstrator killed. Donald Trump tweeted a video of their behavior that all-but-openly cheered them on. Two days later, he claimed, “Paint is a defensive mechanism; paint is not bullets. These people, they protested peacefully.” While video from that scene shows Trump supporters literally shooting at people with paintball guns, macing people, and driving through crowds in a way that could’ve created the next Heather Heyer. When Laura Ingraham asked Trump whether he wants his supporters to confront protestors, he replied, “I want to leave it to law enforcement, but my supporters are wonderful, hardworking, tremendous people, and they turn on their televisions and they look at a Portland or a Kenosha … they can’t believe it.” Apparently, in Trumpworld, Trump supporters can do no wrong. And when they do, there’s always an adequate justification.

Yet, whenever the protests over police shootings initially break out, Donald Trump and his allies are quick to exploit any looting, violence, or property destruction going on there. For instance, despite Portland police stating they have no suspect, this hasn’t stopped Trump from accusing left-wing protestors who “killed a lot of people,” and announcing that Homeland Security and Justice Department are forming a joint operations center to “investigate violent left-wing civil unrest.” Besides, early arrest data shows that the looters and vandals in these demonstrations aren’t activists but people with criminal records exploiting the situation. Even left-wing groups engaging in violence aren’t Democratic Party supporters but anarchists and far-leftist with disdain for the liberal establishment. In fact, former Vice President and current Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden forcefully condemned the violence erupting amid largely peaceful Black Lives Matter protests, saying, “Rioting is not protesting. Looting is not protesting. Setting fires is not protesting. It’s lawlessness — plain and simple.”

By contrast, many far-right militia groups taking to the streets either support Donald Trump openly or share at least some of his ideas. They don’t exactly act on Trump’s orders since he’s not that overt. Nor do they directly report to Trump. Instead, there are loose coalitions of right-leaning armed groups who take Trump’s decision to dilly dally with right-wing militia violence as permission to keep it up or even escalate. This is called “generalized incitement” and it has significant potential to make things worse. As violent extremism expert J. M. Berger told Vox, “It’s not necessarily a situation where he has a very cohesive cadre of followers who will be violent in a strategic way, but his words land in a variety of communities that are primed for violence. Some who act may not necessarily be supporters of Trump per se, but may be more inclined to act in an atmosphere of chaos. Some of them will be supporters, though, and that could be very problematic depending on the numbers.”

As president, Donald Trump has the world’s biggest megaphone. And unlike the incel and white supremacist online communities on message boards and chat rooms that can lionize mass killers, his not-so-subtle support for political violence goes out to hundreds of millions. Even if a much smaller percentage of Trump’s audience has any inclination for violence, the huge numbers at work make the risks unacceptably high. In fact, since Trump took office, a lot of far-right political violence has already happened. Remember what happened in Charlottesville and how Trump said there were “very fine people on both sides?” Even after Heather Heyer got hit by that car. And as we speak, it’s said that 2/3 of terrorists in the US are connected to right-wing and white supremacist extremism. The fact Trump incites violence as president is one of the many reasons why he’s so dangerous. It is one thing to tout oneself as a law and order candidate. But if that person is an incumbent president who not so subtly encourages diehard supporters to commit violent acts against anyone disagreeing with him, then the words “law and order” are rendered meaningless.

This Is Not a Hoax

Back in April, my sister fell deathly ill to the Coronavirus for a few weeks. She couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t breathe. She was constantly tired. She had never been so sick in her life. Had she not sought medical attention on my dad’s recommendation, she might’ve ended up on a ventilator. But when she did, she had a doctor check on her through tele-medicine every day. Now where did she get the Coronavirus? We’re not sure. After all, her boyfriend also got it, but he only had a cough and nothing else. My sister had asthma as a child and it’s part of why she experienced symptoms (despite being 26 at the time). But she also said a lot of people in Charlotte didn’t wear masks. And this was during the lockdown. Nonetheless, she made a full recovery. Now my sister might’ve had a milder case of Covid-19 compared to many cases (and I’m using “mild” loosely), but what she experienced was pretty damn serious and her symptoms might’ve gotten worse had she not sought medical care when she did. 

I held off talking about my sister for months because I didn’t want to disrespect her privacy. Yet, given that schools are opening at this moment when we’re in the middle of a pandemic, the worst I can experience from disclosing her time with Covid-19 is enduring her angry outbursts. But if hearing about my sister can convince anyone reading to wear a mask in and reconsider sending their kid to back school, I’ll gladly endure her constantly yelling at me. However, given that too many Americans don’t see why Coronavirus is such a big deal and why they should take it seriously, I feel compelled to use what I can.  And perhaps sharing what my sister went through can convince some people in my audience that I’m not just trying to score political points. I personally know someone who contracted Covid-19 and while following CDC guidelines is a bitch, but it could save other people’s lives. 

Now while Covid-19 may kill you, the root problem isn’t the disease itself. After all, diseases come and go. It’s that we have Cheetofascist in the White House who’s responded to the pandemic in perhaps the worst way possible. If you support Donald Trump as president, then for the good of our country, please stop. Bad Coronavirus policy is one thing. But Trump’s PR strategy is just plain unforgivable.  Whether it’s claiming it’s a hoax, that it’s disappearing, that it’s not as serious as Dr. Fauci claims, and that hydroxychloroquine is a very useful Coronavirus remedy is proving deeply damaging in this country. Because his Republican cult followers will blindly go along with whatever he says. As of August 2020, Covid-19 has killed over 180,000 Americans and the infection rate is higher than it was back when my sister contracted the virus. Our medical establishments don’t have the resources or the government support to combat high case numbers (thanks a lot for-profit system that shouldn’t exist).  

And yet, despite that the coronavirus outbreak is far from over, facilities and businesses have already reopened. While we debate whether to start school or sports back up, we must understand that fighting this thing depends on all of us. And if our leaders and our neighbors don’t take this pandemic seriously and put on a mask, we have no shot in hell in combating this virus in order so it’s under control. Complying with CDC guidelines during Covid-19 shouldn’t be controversial. Though we may expect some nutjobs not to comply, Donald Trump’s willingness to embrace wackjob conspiracy theories and his influence on a significant chunk of the American public has led to so much unnecessary harm, especially in red states with Republican governors and legislatures. And in an election year, the Trump administration is currently attacking the US Postal Service in order to prevent millions of Americans from voting by mail. Despite that people have mailed in their votes for decades. Anti-mask protestors call mask mandates a form of tyranny. Except mandates on stuff to keep other people safe aren’t tyranny, especially if they’re less fortunate than ourselves and/or can’t stay home. Take our essential workers who put their lives on the line every day to meet our basic needs and treat patients who contract the virus. If they get sick, many of them can’t get the treatment they need without running a massive bill. Hell, unless they’re doctors, nurses, or work for the government, most of them work paycheck to paycheck with no health benefits or paid sick leave. But if a pregnant woman can wear a mask giving birth, so can you. Unless you have any serious respiratory problems or are under two years old. 

If we want a possible end to the Coronavirus crisis, we must elect former Vice President Joe Biden in the next presidential election. Should Donald Trump be reelected, expect the Coronavirus pandemic to continue given his rhetoric, actions, and policies that botched the US response. Trump has no interest or capability in leading our country during a crisis like this and things will get worse. Though recovery may be long and hard under Biden, it will be virtually non-existent under Trump. Since it’s very clear that he’d rather have people die under his woeful mismanagement if it means retaining his own power. Even his own supporters who run a high risk dying from Covid 19 and depend on the postal service for their Social Security checks and prescription drugs. You can see this during the Republican National Convention when Trump incoherently spoke in front of a crowd not wearing masks and not sitting six feet apart from each other. At this point, we must accept that the Republican Party has ceased from being a functional political party and has transformed into a fascist cult of personality. And as long as Trump is in office, the Covid 19 pandemic will keep festering in the United States. There will be more infections and more people will die. We can’t afford four more years with this piece of shit in the White House.  

Celebrate the Stars and Stripes Forever with These Star Spangled 4th of July Craft Projects (Fifth Edition)

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Now we go to the crafts. Of course, given the Covid 19 virus and the lack of quality federal leadership, this 4th of July will be a rather disappointing one for many. After all, it’s summer and you can’t go to any beaches, bars, or restaurants. So you might as well stay home and watch Hamilton on Disney + which is what I’m planning to do anyway. Still, at least you can decorate your house in star-spangled red, white, and blue to show your patriotism. Also, vote for Joe Biden in November but that’s another story. Still, you can have a lot of fun with decorating. Hell, you can even make your own décor. So for your reading pleasure, I give you another treasury of patriotic 4th of July craft projects. Enjoy.

  1. Your neighbors will envy your patriotism with this star-spangled wreath.

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Uses American flag ribbons and decomesh. Love the bows.

2. Feel free to add flowers to your flags.

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Yes, the flowers are fake and seem straight from the cemetery. But feel free to stick them in the basket with the flags.

3. Put your flowers in this star-spangled pot.

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Okay, these red, white, and blue flowers are also fake. But you have to admire the pot’s red and blue stars.

4. A burlap wreath can use a few flowers.

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This has red, white, and blue carnations straight from the craft store. Great for your American door.

5. Show your American patriotism with this red, white, and blue ukulele.

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This has red, white, and blue carnations straight from the craft store. Great for your American door.

6. How about a wooden flag with zigzag stripes?

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Yes, it only has one wooden star. But come on, the American flag is very hard to copy. Seriously, it has like 50 stars on it.

7. Want an Uncle Sam clothes pin?

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These are in a more rustic style. Nonetheless, they’re adorable.

8. Rest your weary American head with this American flag burlap pillow.

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Then again, burlap’s not really very comfortable. So I guess this is more for decoration.

9. Celebrate the stars and stripes with this patriotic flower display.

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These flowers go with red, white, and blue jars. Tray says, “Faith, Family, Freedom.”

10. Missing fireworks? Try this wooden hanging.

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Consists of 3 wooden fireworks on a black wooden panel. And they’re red, white, and blue respectively.

11. Feel free to work on this American flag desk.

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On second thought, don’t do it. After all, it’s more for decoration. Whether indoor or outdoor, I’m not sure.

12. Make your 4th of July festive with these wooden firecrackers.

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Each one of these has stars and stripes to spare. Great to put outdoors. And even better, they never explode.

13. With this tree slice, show your love for America.

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This one is a wood burn that has 2 American flags on top. Also says, “God Bless America.”

14. You can’t have a 4th of July barbecue without these cooking implements.

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Then again, you probably can’t have a 4th of July barbecue period due to the coronavirus. Yet, these have red, white, and blue handles.

15. Perhaps a simple red wreath will do.

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This is a red burlap wreath. Still, don’t forget to add a blue bow with stars.

16. Grace your 4th of July table with this decomesh centerpiece.

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This one has a red, white, and blue hat on top. Love the shiny stars.

17. Care for a more flowery flag?

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This one consists of the stars and stripes made from crafted flowers. Great to hang in every American home.

18. Every American flag wreath must come with a large blue star.

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The star is metal but with a very ornate design. While an American flag drapes over the wreath.

19. You can’t have a 4th of July wreath without flowers.

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As you can see, the flowers are red. Also, don’t forget to add an American flag for good patriotic measure.

20. Care to receive a patriotic bouquet?

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These are made from red, white, and blue cloth. And yes, it includes an American flag in a flower pot.

21. Feel free to ride with patriotic fervor in this star-spangled bike.

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Okay, someone decorated their bike like this. Not sure if it’s adequately decked for a race though.

22. Well, this wreath is particularly flowery.

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Most of them are red and white. Though there are some blue ones on the left side.

23. Keep your plates and utensils together with this patriotic organizer.

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Decked with a blue bow with stars. Great for any 4th of July barbecue if there’s ever one in your neighborhood.

24. Nothing makes a fun 4th of July like this little red wagon.

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You can see it containing a jar with a pinwheel and American flag stars. Makes a great centerpiece.

25. Grace your 4th of July home with this American flag panel.

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It’s a circle panel with stripes and stars at the top. Great for any 4th of July home.

26. Perhaps you’d like a pinwheel vase.

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Make sure the pinwheels have American flags on them. Makes a great 4th of July centerpiece.

27. Perhaps a yarn wreath may please you.

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Consists of red and white stripes. While the blue area sports large white stars.

28. Show your American patriotism with flowers.

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These flowers sit on rather lovely dowel vases. Consists of white daises along with red poppies and blue carnations.

29. Don’t like wreaths? Hang a star.

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This is a wooden star painted like the American flag. So lovely.

30. Nothing makes the 4th of July like this patriotic bust.

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This is a woman’s head decked with an American flag boo and red, white, and blue flowers. Also includes some stars.

31. You can’t celebrate Independence Day without a star-spangled star.

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It’s a blue wooden star with red and white stripes. Even has little pinwheels across it.

32. Show your love for Old Glory with this heart.

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It’s painted like an American flag with a star inside. Also says, “Olde Glory.”

33. Perhaps you prefer a more square wreath.

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This one uses a fabric with children on it. While there are some cloth flowers in the bottom corner.

34. Feel free to stick your American flag here.

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This is a wooden American flag stand. Yet, the flags used here are quite small.

35. Grace your American home with this wooden American flag.

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Made from wooden stars and stripes. Also covered with fabric and ribbons, too.

36. Show off your love for America with these patriotic bracelets.

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Made with silver rings and red, white, and blue beads. Great to wear for the 4th of July parade, which has sadly been canceled.

37. Bring in the 4th of July festivities with this decomesh wreath.

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Well, it’s mostly red with a large blue glitter star and other decor. Great for any American door on Independence Day.

38. Perhaps this wreath will make more of a spectacle.

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This one is mainly decorated with red, white, and blue ribbons and stars. Sign in center reads, “God Bless America.”

39. Top it all off with this crocheted patriotic hat.

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It’s mostly red, white, and blue with white stars near the top. Though I don’t think it’s suited for the summer.

40. You can add American flags to almost anything.

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This is a box with thermoses, jars, and lace. Includes American flags and flowers. So pretty.

41. How about include some flowers.

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This flower display is on a metal tray with a red gingham cloth underneath. One vase is blue with white stars.

42. Have a seat on this star-spangled chair.

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This wooden chair’s painted like an American flag. Great for the outdoors during fireworks.

43. Let freedom ring this 4th of July with this flower pot wind chime.

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Consists of flower pots of varying sizes and painted in a variety of ways. Has a golden jingle at the bottom.

44. Don’t like wreaths? Hang this Uncle Sam hat.

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Includes a whimsical bow in red, white, and blue. Great to hang on any American door.

45. You might want to own a piece of American postage.

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This is a framed design that’s meant to look vintage. Makes a great wall decoration.

46. You can find plenty inside an Uncle Sam hat.

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This one has some red, white, and blue firecrackers and stars inside. Might come with an invitation.

47. Show your love for America with these blocks.

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Says, “America Since 1776.” Also includes a painted American flag.

48. You wouldn’t find a more patriotic bouquet than this.

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Consists of an Uncle Sam vase with a couple firecrackers and blue flowers. So pretty.

49. Nothing makes your 4th of July than this American flag panel.

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Of course, this is a wooden panel. Perfect for the outdoors.

50. Care for a ragged old flag?

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This one is made from cloth strips in red and white. While the blue area has stars. So pretty.

51. Hope this can catch your American nightmares.

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As 2020 showed, this will probably failed. I mean we’re already in the midst of pandemic with leaders who are either too reluctant or too incompetent to do anything.

52. I’m sure you’ll find this an American lifesaver.

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But please don’t use it as such. Also includes a couple American flags.

53. How about these stars?

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This one has a red, white, and blue star on as stick. While you can see the twisty grapevine surrounding it.

54. You can see stars coming out this Uncle Sam hat.

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Well, the stars are red, white and blue, While the hat is wood.

55. Hope you’d enjoy this patriotic bouquet.

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Consists of a red vase with red and white flowers. Love the stars and ribbon.

56. How about a star-spangled bouquet?

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The flowers have petals and centers in red, white, and blue. Though I’m not sure why the vase has a crank.

57. Make your 4th of July special with this decomesh wreath.

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It’s decked like the American flag. Even includes stars in the blue area, too.

58. What color would you like your panel star?

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There’s one in red, white, and blue. All on seemingly rustic wood paneling.

59. Express your love for America with flowers.

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These flowers are all in red, white, and blue. While a burlap bow sits on top.

60. Don’t like wreaths? Hang this hat on your door.

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This is an Uncle Sam hat with a lovely bow. Perfect for any American door.

61. Perhaps this cloth wreath might suit your patriotic home.

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Consists of red, white, and blue strips put into an American flag. While the stars are of different sizes.

62. Perhaps you might prefer to hang a patriotic wreath like this.

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This is a crocheted wreath. Consists of American flags along with red, white, and blue stars.

63. Enjoy this patriotic bouquet this 4th of July.

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Consists of a striped burlap bags with red and white striped flowers that have starry blue centers. Also includes an American flag.

64. Perhaps a simple Uncle Sam hat will do.

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This one is made from cloth. Yet, it does posses a degree of flash that would make Elton John proud.

65. How about an American flag in stars?

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These are wooden stars depicting the stars and stripes. All siting on a wooden stand.

66. This all-American truck will suit your fancy.

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This one has flowers inside and is painted like an American flag. There’s even a star that with a panel that says, “Family.”

67. Care for an American flag flower?

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This one can be put in your hair. Consists of petals with stripes and stars.

68. Any true American Christian would want a cross like this.

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It’s a wooden star-spangled cross. And yes, it’s got holes for stars.

69. Keep yourself clean this 4th of July with some red, white, and blue soap.

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It has some pieces inside for a more transparent look. And yes, it’s red, white, and blue.

70. Keep your 4th of July table lit with these lanterns.

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Come in red, silver, and blue. The silver is supposed to stand for white.

71. Want to sit in this flag chair?

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Painted in red, white, and blue. Says, “1776” on top.

72. A simple wreath can always be flashy.

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This one’s wrapped in burlap. Has many flashy stars and a couple small American flags. Love the bow on the bottom.

73. You’ll find plenty of flags in this truck.

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This vintage red truck sits on a lunch box and in front of an American flag. For many, it’s the height of patriotism.

74. Show your love for liberty with this bow.

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This one has a red, white, and blue flower made from ribbons. So pretty for one’s hair. Though mainly for a young girl.

75. You’ll find a lot bursting from this firecracker.

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This one is wooden and star-shaped. Also consists of red, white, and blue stars.

76. Don’t like wreaths? Hang this patriotic star.

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This one is metal with red, white, and blue points. Has a daisy in the center.

77. Sometimes it takes a simple red star.

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Don’t forget to put a blue and white ribbon around it. Got to be a patriotic American.

78. Feel free to don these patriotic earrings.

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These have red, white, and blue buttons. Perfect for the parade that’s unfortunately been canceled. So has the barbecue.

79. Show your love for the land of the free with this display.

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This one has stars and letters on sticks you can put in your flower planters. While the letters spell, “Liberty.”

80. Show your love for the land of the free with this heart.

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This is a wooden heart hanging that’s depicted like the American flag. Includes burlap bow.

81. Show your American love with this pillow.

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Has the US in an American flag. Says, “Land that I love.”

82. Lay your head on this star-spangled pillow.

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Has an American flag painted on it. Noticed how they didn’t get all the stars.

83. Perhaps you’d want a more rustic wreath.

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This one has berries and a decomesh bow. Includes 3 American flags.

84. There’s nothing more American than a flag of denim and ribbons.

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This is in the Betsy Ross style. And no Betsy Ross didn’t design it. Yet, it has a pocket.

85. A simple garden flag will do.

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Make sure it’s burlap with stars and stripes. Else, it’s not quite American.

86. Hope this star shines in your life.

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This one seems like it’s taken from the American flag. Even has a bow to match.

87. A 4th of July wreath can use a few flowers.

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This comprises of red, white, and blue flowers. Also includes an American flag for obvious reasons.

88. Feel free to stick your flag in this dowel.

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Seems like a banister top you can put flags in. Great for table displays.

89. There’s nothing more American than a star-spangled star.

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This one is made like the American flag. Great to put outside or anywhere, really.

90. You can put some daisies in an Uncle Sam hat.

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See how it makes for a patriotic bouquet. Makes a great barbecue centerpiece.

91. A burlap wreath can always be festive.

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This one has a large star and berry branches. All in red, white, and blue.

92. A simple flag will do.

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This is a wooden flag hanging. Very minimalistic. Says “stars & stripes forever.”

93. Make your 4th of July special with this grapevine flower wreath.

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The flowers are on the bottom right and top left. Also has letters that spell, “USA.” All in red, white, and blue.

94. Perhaps the more flowers the better.

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This wreath has red poppies, daisies, and blue flowers. Includes 4 small American flags.

95. How about hang a pair of flip flops?

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These are wooden, by the way. So don’t wear them in the shower.

96. Sometimes one flag is all you need.

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This one is rustic with some gold stars around it. Got to like the burlap bow, too.

97. Show your love for America with this Uncle Sam block head.

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This guy’s made from wood with a gold star on his hat. And yes, he’s adorable with his yarn beard.

98. Care for a more nautical wreath?

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This one has a couple red, white, and blue bows with a matching anchor, ship’s wheel, and starfish. Also, is that dried seaweed?

99. Celebrate independence with this 4th of July ribbon wreath.

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You can see how it uses a variety of red, white, and blue ribbons. Also includes glitter stars.

100. You’ll be captivated by these patriotic cats.

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These are made from felt with big eyes. Both wear star-spangled ribbons. So cute.

Salute the Red, White, and Blue United States of America with These Patriotic 4th of July Treats (Sixth Edition)

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Now that Father’s Day is over, we go into the Fourth of July. Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 outbreak, almost all municipal Independence Day events in the United States are canceled. So you’ll most likely see no parades, no concerts, no outdoor shows, no regattas, no picnics, and no local celebrations. And the only fireworks you’ll see are the your neighbor shoots off in his back yard. Yeah, it’s kind of depressing. But we all must make sacrifices. Still, you can at least make some 4th of July treats even if they’re just for yourself. And on July 3, a movie version of Hamilton will stream on Disney+ so you can no longer have any excuse about seeing due to being poor. So for your reading pleasure, I give you another assortment of star-spangled 4th of July treats. Enjoy.

  1.  Put some strawberries and blueberries on your cupcake.

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This one has cake filling that’s red and white striped. Also, don’t forget the whipped cream.

2. Nothing makes the 4th of July like these star-spangled cookies.

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You’d almost think these are a work of art. Include slices of an American flag and red, white, and blue stars.

3. Care for some red, white, and blue cheesecake?

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These are in jars with red, white, and blue filling. Topped with raspberries and blueberries.

4. No full-blooded American can resist a flag cookie.

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This one depicts a flag waving. Perfect for your Independence Day dessert platter.

5. Make your 4th of July worthwhile with these extreme patriotic cookies.

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This one depicts a flag waving. Perfect for your Independence Day dessert platter.

6. No 4th of July party is complete without a cake like this.

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This one has fruit roll up stripes on the side, blueberries on top, and whipped cream everywhere else. So pretty.

7. Celebrate the stars and stripes with these little cheesecakes.

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Each one has some blueberries and as strawberry slice on top. Perfectly simple to make, don’t you think?

8. This 4th of July, have your desserts on a stick.

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Consists of strawberries and blueberries. While the stars are cakes on a stick in icing and sprinkles.

9. How about some cake with your fruit kabob?

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Each is on a toothpick you use for sandwiches. Includes blueberries and strawberries.

10. Chill out this 4th of July with a patriotic sundae.

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Each has a cherry on top with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. While each cone top’s covered with icing and sprinkles.

11. Care for a cone?

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These have cake inside them and are covered with sprinkles. Perfect if it’s too hot for ice cream.

12. Let your platter soar this 4th of July with these eagle cookies.

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These have cake inside them and are covered with sprinkles. Perfect if it’s too hot for ice cream.

13. Grace your 4th of July dessert platter with this tear away American flag cake.

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Sure it’s not an exact representation. But come on, the American flag is a very complicated one to imitate anyway.

14. Cool down this 4th of July with these red, white, and blue ice cream sandwiches.

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Each one has graham crackers, ice cream, and chocolate. Simple to make. Perfect for a summer day.

15. Got a plain white cake? Add some sparklers.

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Not the ones you get from the fireworks store. These little decorations resemble truffula trees. Bottom covered in sprinkles.

16. There’s nothing more patriotic than a Rice Krispie American flag.

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This one uses the Betsy Ross pattern. Because that star arrangement is way simpler than the one we have on the flag now.

17. Bet you can get this flag to jell on a sparkler.

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It’s a jello flag. Not sure if it works wonders to have a sparkler on it. In fact, it could melt it.

18. Give your little ones a marshmallow firecracker this Independence Day.

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Each of these is decked with fruit roll up stripes and a cookie star on a stick. A simple dessert to make on a summer’s day.

19. Celebrate the stars and stripes with some no-bake lasagna.

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This is a dessert lasagna and uses no pasta, meat, or tomato sauce. Though it has white chocolate shavings, blueberries, and strawberry bits on top.

20. Want a high end dessert? This strawberry cheesecake poke is just for you.

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This one has strawberry and blueberries in a star pattern. Also covered with white icing.

21. Feel free to take a banana firecracker.

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This one has icing with sprinkles and a cherry on top. A perfect healthy option for a 4th of July dessert platter.

22. Enjoy your 4th of July with some red, white, and blue nachos.

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This one has a rather intricate salsa dip. Perfect for parties and fireworks.

23. Show your love for America with these heart shaped flag cookies.

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The white dots on the blue are dots instead of stars. Great for any dessert platter. So pretty.

24. Make your 4th of July festive with this confetti cupcake.

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You can see how it has blue and red cake on the inside as well. Covered with icing and sprinkles.

25. An ice cream sandwich cake should be red, white, and blue.

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This one has red and blue layers with the ice cream inside. Top has blue icing and sprinkles.

26. You can’t have a 4th of July without presidential cookies.

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Okay, these are for President’s Day. But who celebrates it anyway, especially since we have an orange cartoon supervillain in the White House?

27. Bring in Independence Day with this star-spangled parfait.

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This one has chocolate, star cookies, and star chips. Perfect for any patriotic dessert platter.

28. If you love New York, this 4th of July cake is for you.

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This one has the New York City sky line. While an American flag is draped over.

29. Of course, it’s as American as well, an apple.

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This apple is sliced with blueberries in the left corner. A perfect healthy patriotic snack.

30. Show your love for America with this fruity cake.

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Includes raspberries and blueberries. While the white mostly consists of white icing.

31. Perhaps you might prefer a patriotic fruity parfait.

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This one has a layer of blueberries, ice cream, and strawberry slices. While a blueberry sits on a whipped cream top.

32. Show your patriotic pride with this fancy American eagle cake.

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This one has 3 tiers with an American flag draped over. While a silver bald eagle sits on top. I’m sure some flag-waving patriot would want to run with this.

33. Nothing makes you a flag-waving patriot like these star-spangled cookies.

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Includes flipflops, ice cream, buntings, the US, and stars. Great for any patriotic dessert platter.

34. You’ll be bursting for these firework cupcakes.

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This one uses Twizzlers and red filling. Kind of creative since I haven’t seen any treat like it.

35. Perhaps you might like a parmesan cheddar star bite.

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These seem like bread. Uses basil. Great for a 4th of July barbecue if you get my drift.

36. Anyone up for an eagle ice cream treat?

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This one has a cashew beak you can eat from a cone. And yes, it’s a patriotic American treat.

37. Impress your guests with this bald eagle cheese ball.

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This one has an eagle with olive eyes, a pepper beak, and feathers made from nuts and mozzarella. Perfect as an appetizer platter with crackers.

38. Have some fun with Uncle Sam mustache pops.

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So you can test yourselves to see who has the dankest chocolate stache in red, white, and blue. Great for kids.

39. You’ll be star spangled for these star cookies.

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These have American flags on them. The stars are white sprinkles by the way.

40. Your guests will adore this patriotic candy tray.

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This one contains all kinds of candy in red, white, and blue. Though I like the cookies the best.

41. You’ll find this patriotic cake with a bow on top.

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Seems to be its own patriotic present. White with red stripes and blue stars.

42. You can’t have a patriotic trifle without a fruity star.

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Contains strawberries, blueberries, whipped cream, and sprinkles. Great for any 4th of July dessert platter.

43. How about this fruity American flag?

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I’m sure this consists of cookie. Blackberries are on the blue part. While almond slices take the white.

44. I’m sure nobody can resist this all-American lunch.

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This one has ham barbecue inside a cornbread star. Perfect for any 4th of July party.

45. You’ll go crazy for these firecracker cupcakes.

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These consist of red, white, and blue cake filling inside. While M&Ms, sprinkles, whipped cream, and a pinwheel sit on top. Also, don’t eat the pinwheel.

46. You’ll be craving for this patriotic parfait.

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Each has a layer of ice cream, blueberries, and strawberries. Great for a hot summer’s day.

47. Perhaps you’d like these stunning firework cupcakes.

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These consists of pretzels stemming from the icing. Also covered with red and blue sprinkles.

48. Grace your patriotic platter with this American flag cake.

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This one consists of a jagged blue square and red stripes. While the sides are graced with red, white, and blue stars.

49. Treat yourself to these patriotic butter blue velvet cookies this Independence Day.

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Each one is blue with icing and sprinkles. Great for any dessert platter but might require an explanation.

50. You’ll have a blast with these firecracker cupcakes.

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Each one has red, white, and blue firecrackers on them. Not sure if they’re edible or not though. But the cupcakes are chocolate.

51. Care for a red velvet cupcake?

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These look smaller. While each one has 3 blueberries on top. So pretty.

52. Wet your guests appetites with these deviled egg stars on sticks.

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I’m sure the eggs are hardboiled and molded into the stars. Make great appetizers though.

53. Perhaps a simple blue velvet cake will do.

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This one has white icing on top with red and white decorations. Great for any patriotic platter.

54. Bring out your patriotic pride with these star cookies.

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Each of these has a unique red, white, and blue design. Come in 2 sizes and several decorative varieties.

55. Want a slice of a patriotic ice cream roll?

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It’s a vanilla ice cream with a blue star inside. Also covered with red sprinkles.

 

56. You might find these all-American cookies quite folksy.

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Yes, these are professionally made. But you got to appreciate the artistry with the decorating.

57. Hope you’ll show your American love with these heart cookies.

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These have a star cut out at the corner. Not to mention contain an American flag design.

58. Celebrate the stars and stripes with these patriotic pops.

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They’re star Rice Krispie treats on a stick. All covered in red, white, and blue icing. Great for kids.

59. Anyone would crave for these Americana cupcakes.

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One side consists of red, white, and blue flowers. The other has American flags.

60. These pretzels make a fine patriotic snack.

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These are partially covered. Some have red icing. Some have blue. All have white sprinkles.

61. Who’s ready for some patriotic funnel cake.

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Even has some strawberries and blueberries inside. Perfect for any Independence Day barbecue.

62. Perhaps a simple treat will do.

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This is a berries and cream panna cotta. Not exactly sure what it is. A cheesecake?

63. Endear your patriotic self to some star sandwich cookies.

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Contains blue and red filling. Because you can see it in the stars.

64. Uncle Sam wants you to eat this pizza.

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This one has Uncle Sam in cheese. A great American tribute if I even saw one.

65. You can use a rather patriotic fruit tray.

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Reserved just for foods that are red, white, and blue. Though I’m not sure about the grapes.

66. Hope you enjoy some red, white, and blue ice cream sandwiches.

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These consists of red and blue cookies, too. Some even have sprinkles.

67. Want a slice of some patriotic ice cream pizza?

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If it has a chocolate crust, chunks, and drizzle, sign me up. Also covered in sprinkles.

68. Don’t forget to grab a patriotic truffle.

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Okay, these more or less resemble peanut butter balls. And mostly consist of peanut butter and star sprinkles.

69. This cake is all star spangled.

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This one has stripes and an eagle on the bottom. While it’s blue with stars on the top.

70. Feel free to take one of these patriotic cookie cups.

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Each of these has red white and icing on top with sprinkles. Great for any 4th of July dessert platter.

71. Get a load of some star cake sandwiches.

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These are white vanilla stars with blue and red filling. Feel free to add a rocket but don’t eat it.

72. Help yourself to some red, white, and blue fruit salad.

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Just as long as the fruits are all that color. A fine addition for any 4th of July barbecue.

73. Want some patriotic pretzels?

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These are dipped and drizzled with red, white, and blue. Make for a great all-American snack.

74. Nothing makes the 4th of July like this patriotic firecracker cake.

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It’s just as red, white, and blue inside as the outside. Covered with icing and sprinkles.

75. Treat your 4th of July with these patriotic cookie bars.

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Has chocolate chips inside. Covered with drizzle and sprinkles.

76. Best you don’t light these cupcakes.

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These have a red firecracker on top. Also covered in icing and sprinkles.

77. Perhaps you might want to help yourself to these cupcakes.

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These have a variety of red, white, and blue decorations. Love the pinwheel flowers the best.

78. You’ll be struck by these starry cupcakes.

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They also might apple filling inside. After all, what’s more American than apple pie?

79. Perhaps you’d like these blue cookie treats.

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Each of these are covered with icing and sprinkles. Not to mention, the red star. So pretty.

80. Care for a fruit cup?

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Some have strawberries. While other have blueberries inside. All have whipped cream, sprinkles, and a cookie star. Or two.

A Nation in Crisis

One thing you can be certain about while living through the Trump years is that whenever you think this illegitimate and criminal presidential administration has hit rock bottom, rock bottom somehow has a deep basement that must now be some sleazy underground city at some point. Apparently, as the Trump crew descend further from the moral limbo stick since the 2016 presidential election, it has been one crisis after another each one being worse than before. As of June 2020, we’re in the midst of a major pandemic that has killed 100,000 Americans and without any form of capable, compassionate, or any unifying leadership.

On Thursday, May 25, 2020, a 46-year-old black man named George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Powderhorn community. While Floyd was handcuffed and lying face down on a city street during an arrest, a white Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin kept his knee on the right side of Floyd’s neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. 2 minutes and 53 seconds of that time occurred after Floyd became unresponsive. Officers Tou Thao, J. Alexander Keung, and Thomas K. Lane participated in Floyd’s arrest. Keung held Floyd’s back. Lane held his legs. Thao looked on and prevented an onlooker’s intervention as he stood nearby. Local police arrested Floyd, accusing him of using a fake $20 bill at a market. According to them, Floyd resisted arrest. While some media organizations stated that a nearby business security camera doesn’t show this. While the criminal complaint filed after the incident later said that body camera footage showed Floyd repeatedly saying he couldn’t breathe while standing outside the police car, resisted getting in, and intentionally fell down. Several bystanders recorded the event with their smartphones with one showing Floyd repeating, “Please,” “I can’ breathe,” “Mama,” and “Don’t kill me.” Though Minnesota law allows knee-to-neck restraints under certain circumstances, law enforcement experts have criticized Chauvin’s use of the technique as excessive. The next day, all 4 officers were fired.

Two autopsies of Floyd were conducted, both ruling his death a homicide. The Hennepin County medical examiner’s autopsy report states that George Floyd had died from a cardiac arrest while under law enforcement restraint. While noting significant conditions such as, “arteriosclerotic and hypertensive heart disease; fentanyl intoxication; and recent methamphetamine use.” Dismayed, Floyd’s family commissioned a private independent autopsy which found that the, “evidence is consistent with mechanical asphyxia as the cause” of Floyd’s death, with neck compression restricting blood and oxygen to the brain, while back compression restricted breathing. Naturally, at the Minneapolis Police Department’s request, The FBI currently conducts a federal civil rights investigation as we speak. The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) is looking into possible Minnesota statute violations. On May 29, Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death (which I suppose was part of a compromise). Though Hennepin County district attorney, Michael O. Freeman promised to bring charges against the other 3 officers. As of June 2, 2020, there have been no indictments or charges filed against the accomplices.

Naturally after George Floyd’s death, demonstrations and protests within the Twin Cities erupted. Though initially peaceful on May 26, violence interfered as a police precinct and 2 stores were set on fire while many stores suffered looting and damage. Some demonstrators clashed with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Additional protests sprung up in over 200 throughout all 50 states as well as internationally. Such has revealed the pent-up anger over institutional racism nationwide. Given how black people have been subjected to violence by the state and white people for most of American history, this isn’t anything new. While mass demonstrations against state violence have also been a fixture in US politics all the way from the Civil Rights Movement. Scenes from Minneapolis, Atlanta, Brooklyn, and many other cities are just the latest chapter.

And to no one’s surprise, we already have political leaders and others subsuming the protestors’ perfectly legitimate grievances and questioning whether they’re appropriately registering their anger. Such is also a pattern in these moments. Demonstrations become so visible and visceral in the news coverage that they become the story. So the structural problems being protested start fading into the background. Indeed, politicians violence at the protests and for good reason. Since any bodily harm and property damage is of course, worrisome. But their concerns demonstrate the fundamental asymmetry that the protestors are pushing back against. The state has a monopoly on legitimate violence, which is often directed on black people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Philando Casile, Sandra Bland, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, and the list goes on. When they die, the police officers responsible too frequently face no repercussions because the powers that be protect them. Should the men who killed George Floyd go to prison for their crimes, they’ll be exceptions to the unjust and longstanding rule.

Yet, should anger and frustration from centuries of racial oppression compels a peaceful protest to become “violent” (even if most of the reported attacks have been directed against property), that other kind of violence becomes the dominant story. So far as politicians are concerned, it’s a disruption to the natural order that must be corrected. The systematic racism that’s led to so many black lives being cut short becomes secondary. But it really shouldn’t because wanton police violence is a real problem America must grapple with. Otherwise, this will happen again.

Though we should keep in mind that many of these folks decrying the protestors for expressing their anger over police shooting unarmed black people without consequence are the same people who freaked out over Colin Kaepernick taking a knee during the national anthem. The then backup quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers destroyed no property, harmed no one, and expressed his anger over these police killings peacefully and appropriately. And yet, white people still got angry at him for stupid shit like disrespecting the flag or the troops that he’s no longer playing in the NFL. On the other hand, I have seen several demonstrations involving white men carrying guns I think should be banned that have received considerably tame coverage by mainstream media outlets and heroic praises from Fox News. One of these was an act of terror regarding these guys putting an Oregon wildlife refuge under siege for roughly three weeks. Some of these protests feature people with affiliations in Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate groups. And unless something really awful happens like the violence in Charlottesville, most of them aren’t arrested, tear gassed, beat up, or subjected to rubber bullets. Nor do their guns get confiscated. Most of them usually go home to their families and their lives without consequence unless an online outing results in them being fired. But even then there are exceptions like if you work for Fox News, Brietbart, OAN, Sinclair, or the Trump administration. And if they do face criminal charges, they’ll get sympathy from the jury and likely acquittal.

Unless you live under a rock or watch a steady diet of Fox News (which you shouldn’t), it’s painfully obvious that the American criminal justice system is prejudice against black Americans who are much more likely to be subjected to state-sanctioned violence in the US compared to their white counterparts. According to recent study by Rutgers, the University of Michigan, and Washington University in St. Louis, black men face 1 in 1,000 odds of being killed by police in their lifetimes. But that’s only the most extreme form of discrimination. In both ways big and small, the criminal justice system is biased against black Americans. As a 2018 Washington Post article lists:

  • Black people are about twice as likely as white people to be pulled over by law enforcement for a traffic stop
  • Black and Latino drivers are much more likely to be searched once they are pulled over by the police
  • The murders of white people are more likely to be solved than the murders of black people
  • White people make up less than half of America’s murder victims, yet 80% of the convicted murderers sentenced to death had killed a white person
  • Black Americans are much more likely to be arrested and charged for drug-related crimes, despite no significant disparity in how much those populations actually use narcotics
  • Potential jurors who are black are much more likely to be dismissed by prosecutors than potential white jurors
  • White defendants are substantially more likely than black defendants to have their most serious charge dismissed as part of a plea bargain
  • Even when black men and white men are convicted of the same crime, the black men can expect a prison sentence that is 20% longer

This can go on, but you see the point. Racial discrimination is pervasive in every facet of American society, especially in criminal justice that manifests in every step from arrest to incarceration. And sadly, George Floyd’s brutal killing is only the extreme example of how the state exerts its power over black Americans, which is why those protesting his death want to remedy.

And of course, racism doesn’t just manifest its inherent ugliness in American institutions. Some of its white people as you can see with the vigilante killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Trayvon Martin in Florida. Black people deal with the kind of suspicion leading to these guys’ deaths all the time. According to a recent Pew poll, 65% of black people said that someone acted suspicious toward them because of their race, compared to just 25% of white Americans. Such figures suggest a deep level of persistent prejudice. And quantifying racist attitudes because many people don’t want to admit holding them.

A 2017 Pew Research survey provides a useful proxy: as 54% of white Americans claim that black people who can’t get ahead are mostly responsible for their own condition, while only 35% correctly blame racial discrimination. Among black Americans, the numbers are flipped with 59% citing racial discrimination while 31% said people were responsible for their own problems. If you to understand the different worldviews of the protestors and the people who criticize the demonstrations for getting out of hand, that data is a good place to start. Hell, if you’re white, go to your family gathering and observe all the racist dog whistles within your relatives’ conversations. Many of my aunts and uncles voted for Trump, which I see as not just insulting but utterly disgusting, morally repugnant, and disgraceful, regardless of their rationale. Also, if you live in a white neighborhood, take note of all the Trump signs going up as the November nears, which I see as going against America, my Catholic faith, and basic human decency. Now I know you don’t have to be conservative or even a Trump supporter to be racist. After all, look at Hollywood every awards season when there’s an “Oscars so White” controversy with white mediocrity getting the statuettes and masterworks by people of color getting ignored.

As par with the criminal justice system being racist, studies found that black Americans were less likely to have their complaints against law enforcement officers compared to those of white people. This was especially when those complaints pertained to excessive force. Not to mention, there’s a long track record showing how rarely police officers are arrested, much less convicted, when they kill someone in the line of duty. From 2006-2011, only 41 police officers were arrested for murder or negligent homicide in the line of duty. Meanwhile, over the same period, police officers committed more than 2,700 “justifiable” homicides. Thus, either US law enforcement are almost always justified in the most extreme use of force or there are systematic obstacles to holding police officers accountable when they kill one of their constituents.

So given how rarely complaints about police violence are taken up and prosecuted by the same criminal justice system enabling these law enforcement officers, protests akin to what you see in Minneapolis and across the US are one of the few tools available to people wishing to register their opposition to these institutional prejudices. It’s a tradition going back years and reaching its zenith during the civil rights era. The forceful police violence displays shown through cell phone videos on and social media have energized a new era of civil action, beginning with the Ferguson protests and continuing to this day. We should note that many, if not most of these protests remain nonviolent. They operate on a philosophy pioneered by Mohandas K. Gandhi and adopted by Martin Luther King Jr. In the US: peacefully and publicly register one’s discontent with injustices and allow the state’s response, usually militant and sometimes violent, to speak for itself. However, it can be difficult to maintain nonviolence in large groups. And we shouldn’t be surprised that huge demonstrations have resulted in some bad actors getting the spotlight. But before politicians seize on those incidents as representatives of this entire anti-police violence movement, we must know the full story remains unknown.

Minnesota officials stressed that they believe many of the violent protestors caught on news cameras leading to such negative comments, aren’t actually local residents. That alone should be a warning against letting the protests overshadow the problem they’re protesting. Nonetheless, these protests will eventually end. But the problem of America’s racist past and present will remain.

However, if we must wait out the storm during 2020, we must be wary of Donald Trump. Sure, he may be an ignorant orange cartoon supervillain who’s being trounced in the polls by Joe Biden. Yes, he’s a narcissistic psychopath willing to burn our American democracy to the ground to save his own skins. And yes, he’s turned our great country into an utter disaster area. But we must not underestimate him nor take his pitfalls for granted. Trump is no political genius. Yet, he’s a master at exploiting political divisions with his race-baiting demagoguery and self-glorified theatrics. However, what makes him successful is what makes him dangerous. He knows only one thing and very well. Division is all he sees. Discord is all he knows. And all he can do is escalate. As the King Midas of strife, he turns the country he’s supposed to lead into the thing he believes we are, what he is himself.

When we mistakenly elected Donald Trump, we elected a political arsonist. Yet, as bad as things have been, his presidency’s sole consolation as the dearth of what little dry timber, out of date newspapers, oil, and gasoline we had. The economy hummed along though income inequality exacerbated. We faced few foreign crises that resulted into anything substantial. Domestic divisions mostly remained on social media. Of course, this doesn’t dismiss real disasters or excuse the Trump administration’s exceptionally cruel policies. Kids were thrown into cages. Toxins were dumped in our streams. While mismanaging Hurricane Maria proved lethal for many Puerto Ricans and created such a mess that paper towels couldn’t remedy. But it could’ve been worse. However, the pandemic that Trump fed with his administration’s erratic mismanagement has left over 100,000 Americans dead, which is more than twice as many lives we lost in Vietnam. And the count keeps rising. The economy is in freefall since stay at home orders and social distancing measures has resulted in closed businesses and 40 million Americans out of work. Our societal fabric has been cut while our culture is at war over lockdowns and facemasks as the federal government has epically failed to chart a path toward a safe future. We’re essentially a nation interrupted, aching for the normalcy we lost, unsure of the future we face. Though a lot of that normalcy might’ve led to the crisis in the first place.

Now that protests and riots have erupted over the newest round of lynchings, there’s blood on the streets, cars mowing through crowds, buildings on fire, bodies being buried, police casually firing on the very people they’re sworn to protect. While all of us are trapped at home see things we can’t unsee are forced to reckon what the country has always sought to delay. As James Baldwin noted, “There are too many things we do not wish to know ourselves.” But thanks to smartphone cameras and viral videos, we see who we truly are and we see who are leaders truly are. Yet, Congress can’t resolve small disputes, let alone fundamental fractures. While Donald Trump is eager for the storm to come since he doesn’t know how to fight the virus. He does know, however, how to fight his own countrymen.

Fortunately, few Americans like want violence in our lives. And we may still be a better country than Donald Trump thinks we are. Cable channels and social media feeds may bombard us with sensationalized violence and destruction, the nonviolent remain true to the story and are the vast majority who risk their bodies for justice, sweep up broken glass, absorb blows from batons and inhaling tear gas simply as an act of solidarity. They make America great. Yet, as our lives turn into nightmares, we are scared, hurt, mistrustful, and divided. And it’s an election year. The kindling is everywhere. The United States of America is a country on the verge of war with itself and so badly needs the leadership it doesn’t have, a empathetic president who truly wants peace.

Staring Down the Coronavirus Pandemic

Since the Coronavirus outbreak has compelled us to retreat from our social lives and stay at home, I’ve mostly been confined to my house save for the occasional walk. Indeed, I’ve adjusted quite well to quarantine. But there are still things I miss. For instance, I miss going to church. I miss going to a library, Barnes & Noble, the movies, my grandma’s, and so many other places. However, I can be grateful that I could social distance and not worry about going out too much. Since aside from a morning walk, I usually stay indoors anyways. And I’m not the one in my house going out for groceries or visiting my grandma either.

Yet, what has occupied my mind since I started social distancing hasn’t been how I’ve been faring since I know if I come down with it, most of it pertains to how much our national embarrassment has epically fucked up. When it comes to Donald Trump’s presidency, rock bottom always appears to have a basement. But he is a man who’d rather blame God for his own misdeeds than take any responsibility for them. Yet, since that will get him in trouble with the Christian Right, he’ll blame literally anyone else that goes against him. Anyway, Trump has handled the Covid-19 situation about as abysmally as you’d expect. For God’s sake, the guy has had since January to do something about it. Actually he had plenty of time before that. Not to mention, he continues to incur massive damage in coronavirus response efforts because he’s more concerned with his own image and getting reelected.

The US problems in handling the coronavirus pandemic began in April 2018, when the Trump administration started disbanding the pandemic response team while repeatedly calling for CDC budget cuts. By the time the coronavirus came to the United States, officials had to rebuild a coordinated response team they had dismantled a couple years before. You don’t have to be psychic to realize that such actions are terrible ideas. After all, the Obama administration set up the pandemic response team in order to prepare for one, which experts said would be inevitable. Nonetheless, doing away with some regulation, agency, or any other government function, it doesn’t lead to anything good. Unless it deals with something that’s incredibly obsolete.

As early as November 2019, national security experts warned Donald Trump about Covid-19’s expected spread throughout the United States. In January, trade adviser Peter Navarro warned the White House that the novel coronavirus could kill half a million Americans, shortly after the cases began spreading through China. As time passed, Trump minimized the problem in his messaging, did little to address testing shortages, and delayed declaring a national emergency to unlock aid funding. Furthermore, Trump and the federal government repeatedly ignored opportunities to mitigate the virus’ spread through extensive testing. Hell, he’s even called the coronavirus a hoax on many occasions. And while his tune has changed in recent weeks (though I’m not so sure about that), experts say the early sluggish response will likely have lasting effects on the virus’ spread in communities and how deadly it’s become.

In January 2020, the Trump administration restricted travel to China, the day after the World Health Organization declared a global health emergency. Though Donald Trump often cites this as an early, decisive move on stopping virus, it was already spreading within US borders. And at best, the government only bought time it didn’t use particularly well. Given that we have a complete sociopath in the White House whose chief worry is mainly his own self-image. And beyond that decision, Trump has mostly downplayed the coronavirus’ severity from the beginning and largely failed to take early widespread actions that could’ve slowed the disease’s spread in the country. Instead, Covid-19 is now projected to kill tens of thousands of Americans. Yet, as US officials warned of major disruptions ahead by late February, Trump insisted that the virus was contained in the US and that, “it’s going to disappear. One day, it’s like a miracle, it will disappear.” Except that it totally did the opposite.

Even in March as people began dying in Washington state and elsewhere, Trump administration officials assured the public that the US was “way ahead of the curve” on preparing for the virus, saying that “the vast majority of Americans are not at risk for this virus,” and the Trump campaign refused to cancel campaign rallies. Finally, in mid-March, Donald Trump agreed to recommend social distancing around the country and declared a national emergency, which unlocked $42.6 billion in funding to help states get more resources as medical supplies in some states were already running thin (like he had any choice). Nonetheless, supplies are still difficult to come by, which experts have said is partly due to Trump’s dismantling of the pandemic preparedness team before the crisis. Nevertheless, Trump stated that “I don’t take responsibility at all,” in the nation’s slow response. So he’ll blame someone else whether it’s the Chinese, WHO, Democratic governors, Dr. Anthony Fauci, or anyone else that could serve as a convenient scapegoat.

Still, while social distancing has been official Trump administration policy, that hasn’t stopped Donald Trump from inciting chaos in the country. Tweeting sentiments like “Liberate Michigan,” and other states with governors he doesn’t like, he has encouraged anti-social distancing and anti-stay-at-home orders rallies in the United States calling the state-based measures too draconian. Fox News has also promoted these protests on air. Funded and organized by conservative groups like Freedom Works, these ill-advised events have somehow attracted thousands of people. Some of these have posted links and images on Facebook downplaying Covid-19’s seriousness. While other leaders have advocated against following CDC guidelines, like a ban on big gatherings and recommending face masks. While these protests draw some Tea Party parallels, some take the feel of 2016 Trump campaign rallies with participants wearing MAGA hats and waving flags emblazoned with Trump’s stupid face. Some may wear masks. While many do not nor do they stand 6 feet apart from each other. They’re also quite selfish since they complain about needing to buy fertilizer for their gardens, new furniture, or a haircut. Some want to go golfing, a massage, or their nails done. You’ think these protestors want businesses to open back up so they can go back to work. But it’s not the case. Rather they’re protesting to demand other workers to return to their jobs to endanger themselves in order to serve them and their nonessential desires. For these same people will never protest for better wages, or more worker protections. They’re just fighting to force poor people to go back to doing their hair and selling them makeup, furniture, and other fancy things. Let us note that these people are selfish and irresponsible assholes who don’t care if people die just as long as they get their stuff.

In any case, these anti-lockdown protests tap into Donald Trump’s main message on the coronavirus pandemic: Blame the governors for this crisis, not him. As Trump ratchets up his reelection efforts, his argument is an effort to put the brunt of responsibility for the coronavirus catastrophe on his political opponents’ shoulders while maintaining he has “total authority” over the pandemic and the states facing it. It’s an argument that resonates in rural, redder parts of the country, which the pandemic hasn’t hit as hard as blue, urban areas yet. It’s a message of division designed to pit Republican-voting areas against their Democratic-voting neighbors, even rural Republicans against urban Republicans. All this to activate the white rural Trump voters of 2016 and whom he’ll need again in 2020. For some on the right, the plan seems simple: vilify Democratic governors and agitate the end of shutdown orders. Then “reopen the economy” and spur a massive turnaround in the nation’s economic projects just in time for Donald Trump to cruise to reelection in November. Should the pandemic recede, he can claim entire responsibility. But if people keep dying, he can just blame Democratic governors.

Fortunately, that strategy is more likely to blow in Donald Trump’s big orange face. The public (including a vast majority of Republicans), largely supports social distancing measures. While new polling suggests half of Republicans are concerned that stay-at-home orders and social distancing measures will be lifted too quickly. In fact, research shows that Americans began social distancing before their government urged them to do so. And they likely wouldn’t stop if they were lifted. Thus, the anti-shutdown protests don’t mirror public opinion. Not to mention, in order for Trump to benefit from their potential impact, the coronavirus needs to spare rural American (which it isn’t). Besides, in many rural areas, even a relatively small number of coronavirus cases can stretch rural hospitals and health networks to the limit. Not to mention, coronavirus rates in Idaho and South Dakota are also increasing.

Nonetheless, the coronavirus pandemic has revealed how messed up the United States really is. Though a virus doesn’t discriminate in who it infects or kills, black people, Latinos, low wage workers, the elderly poor (well, poor people in general), those our healthcare system has historically neglected, and those pummeled with our racism. Though we are all in this together, not everyone is exposed at an equal risk. If you live in a dense urban center, depend on public transportation, work in a low wage and unpredictable job without enough protections or adequate health insurance, you are undeniably most “in it.” Not because you didn’t shelter fast enough or washed your hands enough times. But because we live in a country with a story riddled with redlining, undervalued care, and the insidious legacy of slavery.

Yet, even worse, this pandemic has been absolutely crushing to low income workers who are either risking their lives to keep society going and feed their families or are unemployed. A recent survey from Pew reported that just over half of low-income adults in the US had someone in their household who had either lost their job or hours. Making matters worse, just 23% of low-income people had enough money saved to cover 3 months’ expenses in case of financial emergency. And as of April 2020, 22 million people have filed initial claims for unemployment insurance over the past several weeks. However, this Pew study suggests those already in difficult financial circumstances ahead of the pandemic are bearing the brunt of economic damage. And not surprisingly, many Americans weren’t in as strong financial position as they may have appeared. Thus, we shouldn’t be shocked that 53% of low-income workers reported that they’d have trouble paying some of their monthly bills. In addition to Covid-19 fatalities being disproportionately prevalent among people of color and those in poverty, all this puts additional pressure on family members who still have jobs to keep working and possibly fall ill themselves. Grocery stores have reported that employees have started to die from Covid-19. And so have public transit workers responsible for getting people to work.

So when the pandemic ends, should we go back to normal? Oh, hell, no. Because as the coronavirus has ravaged our country and overwhelmed our healthcare system, we are confronted with some stark realities of inequality and economic duress. We may call our “essential workers” heroes, but after it’s over, will we remember them and treat them as such? With that, I’m not so sure. After all, we’ve referred to first responders as such on 9/11 and it took 18 years to pass a law guaranteed to fund their medical care for their injuries. We’re often told to support our troops as they go off to war and remember their sacrifice whenever they die or march in a parade. Yet, the VA is an utter bureaucratic clusterfuck that might be run by 3 of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago friends behind the scenes, while veteran homelessness is a thing. And if they’re found undocumented, well, their service record won’t save them from possible deportation. Now we’re putting healthcare workers, maintenance workers, drivers, grocery, gas station, and pharmacy employees, garbage collectors, and other “essential” people on the heroic pedestal. Many of them work for low wages with no health benefits and no form of paid leave of any kind. They’re also spending considerable time away from their families and possibly exposing themselves to the virus that might eventually kill them. If we want to anything to honor these heroes’ sacrifice, perhaps we should remember what they did for us and maybe make sure they’re treated as valued members in our communities. Some ideas include at least establishing healthcare as a right and providing a single-payer public option for those earning below $1 million per year, raising the minimum wage to at least $15 per hour, mandating paid sick leave, safer conditions, and collective bargaining rights so they can organize regardless of their employer’s union stance. When it comes to crises like this, normal won’t save us. Rather let the coronavirus provide us the opportunity to build a better world and get Donald Trump out of the White House in November. Seriously, he’s a psychopath who’d willingly have people get sick and die for the economy and increase his reelection chances.

The Wonderful World of Vintage Postcards (Eighth Edition)

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Though I usually do postcards before this time, I had some things going on for me during the summer that I didn’t do a lot of blog posts recently. Anyway, this October, my family and I plan on going to Charlotte to see my sister who lives there. We plan to stay for a weekend during the middle of the month. So perhaps I might want to get some old vintage postcards. No, not the ones you normally. More along the lines of those that come across as tacky, insane, weird, or laughably bad. Since we can all use a laugh now and then. So for your reading pleasure, I give you another assortment of terrible old timey postcards. Enjoy.

  1. Need to do a bit of landscaping?

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Cause you need the proper lawn implements and extension cord. Doesn’t hurt to do it in Bermuda shorts and flats.

2. Jane Irwill is designed to be lived in.

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Jane enjoys singing on the mic. Kim wishes she’d stop and so she can steal the song from under her.

3. Want to advertise? Picture your product here.

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Of course, they have to put a woman in a swimsuit for extra sex appeal. So I guess the product advertised here is the air mattress.

4. You can always enjoy going to the laundromat.

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Because you can’t necessarily afford a brand new washer and dryer. Hope you have plenty of coins and patience.

5. Nothing makes your day like wearing a colorful hat.

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But Susie thinks she looks like an idiot in hers. She wouldn’t even want to be caught dead wearing it at a Jimmy Buffett concert.

6. “Want to see my matching Wrap-Sak?”

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She’s talking about the robe. But it comes with a matching head towel to dry one’s hair. Still, despite having perfect hair, she doesn’t seem to like brushing it.

7. You’ll find these shakers easy to use.

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Since they contain plastic lids you can easily open and close. Available in 4 different colors.

8. Take a look at these giant airplane controls.

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I don’t think these work by the way. But these women seem unusually impressed.

9. Anyone can look sexy in a long fur coat.

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Though we in the 21st century don’t really think so unless you’re living in a polar region. Still, the background is atrocious.

10. “Look, Mommy, I can vacuum all by myself.”

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Of course, you’d never see me with my mom like that. Because I loathe vacuum cleaners. More like huddling in the corner with my ears covered.

11. “At Heinz we have more than 57 varieties around the world.”

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Though the world to them seems shaped like a giant football. Someone must’ve really messed up here.

12. “I just love painting my boat.”

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Seriously, I don’t think people like painting anything. Nor do I think a swimsuit and sailor hat are proper painting attire.

13. R & R toys make them in all sizes.

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That penguin is way too big for that little girl. But she’s thrilled to have it just the same.

14. Slow down for the Tallahassee Safety Patrol.

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So they stare at a wall in long rain coats. You can see they have a token female by looking at their legs.

15. Care for a duck lamp?

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Basically depicts a desert rock formation and two male mallard ducks flying. Wonder if anyone thinks they’re a couple. Then again, they could just be good friends.

16. With a propane grill, you can be the most talked about host in the neighborhood.

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Maybe in the 1960s this guy might have some pride in his grill. However, I’ve seen way bigger and crazier grills than that at Home Depot.

17. There’s always room for a hairdryer.

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Though I don’t think this hairdryer is at all portable. Because I could hold one in my hand.

18. Get women’s attention with a Hollywood Wolf Whistle.

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Guess it’s a horn you put on your car. Though I’m not sure if women will go for it.

19. Care for a fancy piggy bank?

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Sure these porcelain piggy banks may be pricey and fancy. But they’ll keep your money safe by scaring the hell out of potential robbers.

20. Is your car seats falling apart. Get Shadburn’s Auto Upholstery?

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This ad was probably made on a budget. Also, the woman looks more disgusted than anything.

21. 4 Track storm windows will always protect your house.

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Presented by a woman who’s not wearing pants. So the viewer can see her legs in high heels and pantyhose.

22. Commemorate your baby’s first shoes by casting them in bronze.

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You can sue them as bookends, on picture frames, or on wall displays. Seriously, why would anyone do this?

23. Get the World’s Largest Match Book.

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From BAD POSTCARDS: “The name “Dick Sampson” is printed at the bottom right corner making it seem like this gal’s name is Dick. Why the Hawaiian-themed outfit? What’s with that hat/strainer thing? How many matches are in each World’s Largest Match Book? So many questions.”

24. These cushions will make your home a palace.

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Maybe a harem considering how the woman’s dressed. And she doesn’t seem too happy wearing her skimpy purple outfit.

25. No one can have enough pillows on the couch.

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But Pauline has so many that she can only lie on her couch in this position. Still, they bring a lot of color on a dull gray couch.

26. Any kid would love these fuzz covered plastic creatures.

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Maybe the dog in the middle. But the pig and bear seem quite terrifying to me.

27. Display your reports with Rediform.

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Who knew business can produce so much happiness? Probably someone who enjoys doing memos. Still, why does Miss Rediform even exist?

28. At Hewlett Packard, we have all kinds of machines.

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Though this woman in her lab coat has little idea on how many of these machines work. Since they require all kinds of gears and screws.

29. Any man looks sharp in a gray suit.

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Even Trevor the neighborhood psycho killer. Any young woman dating him on any given night is never seen again since.

30. Kids are always proud to stand in their long raincoats.

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For these boys like to show off all the different colors. Though a few of them look like they’re dressed in trash bags.

31. Have a pen stand that’ll suit your tastes.

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Available in 2 big varieties. One is what can resemble your kid’s art project at school. The other are nightmarish depictions of cartoon characters that can scar you for life.

32. A water softener is a girl’s best friend.

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I don’t think most little girls would say that. Since most of them don’t know what the hell a water softener is.

33. Breathing problems? Have this Monaghan Life Saver on you.

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This looks like a something you’d attach to a respirator. Wonder if you should just go with an inhaler instead.

34. Christmas is always a time for cheer.

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From BAD POSTCARDS: “‘TWAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS AND THE WEIGHT OF SANTA’S CARCASS ON THE ROOF TOTALLY CRUSHED OUR HOUSE.”

35. Take a slice of Ohio Swiss cheese?

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The cheese looks like plastic to me. But at least it comes with saltines.

36. Hey, look, twins.

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Caption: “A NATIVE ALASKAN DARLING dressed in fur parka, trimmed with white fox and her best friend, a Semoyian Puppy.” Still, I don’t buy the girl being an Alaskan native due to her blue eyes, blond hair, and white skin.

37. Keep your lawn maintained with a red riding mower.

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Don’t look now. But Barry’s waving to Myrtle and her son Jack. Little does Jack knows what’s really going on between Barry and his mom.

38. Perhaps you might want something from Australia.

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Most of these are stuffed animals. Yet, you’ll find a boomerang and a hat to wear in the Outback. Still, where’s the diggery-doo?

39. Store your ingredients in these Tupperware canisters.

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Great for hiding the weed in. But don’t let anyone know that or they’ll call the cops.

40. Any girl would delight in these “Mama” dolls.

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On second thought, unless you want to traumatize a little girl in your life, I advise against giving her one of these. Seriously, they’re straight from the realm of nightmares.

41. A straw hat should always have flowers on them.

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Yet, none should don a disembodied woman’s head. Because that’s just disturbing. Available in multiple colors and styles.

42. Water your plants with this KWH mistblower.

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It’s so safe your kids can use it and look like they’re vanquishing their enemies with space age weapons. Said to have deep penetration, steady output.

43. Got a boring house? Just add awnings.

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Actually, the awnings really don’t do anything. Home still looks quite dull. Maybe it needs a paint job.

44. Your lawn can look like this.

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Just add a lawn sprinkler and mow it regularly during the warmer months. Well, as long as you live in California. If you live where I do, it’s not necessary. Also, you won’t have palm trees.

45. Reach for the moon.

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So they were raising money just so three guys can go to the moon? Just save steadily here, I guess. Seriously, this makes no sense.

46. Any little one would enjoy riding a large polka-dotted horse.

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Though the toy horse kind of looks kind of terrifying. Like the purple swan, though.

47. You can’t go boating without a portable minifridge.

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Even to today’s minifridges, this is extravagant. Even includes a freezer.

48. Simple Simon goes near the barbs.

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From BAD POSTCARDS: “Picking your nose is especially grand/When you have a pipe cleaner for a hand.”

49. “Seeing things in Linden, Tenn.”

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They’re basically going with “our town sucks so here are some pictures of cute animals.” At least that’s how I see it.

50. Perhaps you’d like a modern minibar.

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It’s basically a desk for alcoholics. Includes a cocktail shaker and shot glasses.

51. Everyone can use some paper towels.

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I’ve seen those paper towel dispensers at school. Let’s just say I don’t have nice things to say about them.

52. Dualette Sylvania is the big-screen TV that simply moves with you.

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From BAD POSTCARDS: “Carries his portable tube to upscale events. Sexy.”

53. The Tit twins will always boost your business.

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BAD POSTCARDS comment: “Amazing. I wanna see one go up in flames when the motor grease drips onto the controller and an overloaded circuit sparks a fire. And it would still be moving .”

54. Greetings from Kansas.

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Don’t worry about the coyote at the fence. It’s taxidermy so it won’t hurt you, But it will haunt your dreams.

55. Thin mints or merry mints?

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The merry mints come in all kinds of colors. Though I’ll just stick to the thin mints, especially the Girl Scout variety.

56. Nobody could resist a baby doll like this.

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For the love of God, kill it with fire. Since I guarantee it’ll haunt your dreams.

57. “Portraits become precious beyond price.”

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Here little Emily marvels at all the people she’s killed while she maniacally laughs. It’s a sight of horror that knows no bounds.

58. Someone wants to paint the house today.

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But letting a dog help isn’t really a good idea. Still, hope they don’t mistake the paw prints for something more sinister.

59. Perry’s Nuthouse offers free Maine Bear hugs.

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Don’t worry the bear here’s made from wood. A real black bear would simply maul you and leave you for dead.

60. This dog is out on the town.

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Though the dog’s expression doesn’t match the saying on the post card. Still, like the lamp posts.

61. Perhaps you might want to stay in a hotel room like this.

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Man, that’s really tacky. The pink isn’t bad but the wallpaper is just frightful.

62. “I trust Duraclean for my rugs.”

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From BAD POSTCARDS comment: “I cherish my French heirloom carpets so much I don’t even let anybody walk on them! ;)”

63. Anyone in the mood for water ski?

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By the way, this postcard is from Wisconsin. Yes, Wisconsin. Don’t ask me why.

64. Arachnaphobes, abandon hope all ye enter here.

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Because people will be freaked out by a giant spider. This is from an Arizona amusement park.

65. Fall is thrashing time.

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Meaning that it’s time to harvest the hay and put them in bales. Still, the scenery doesn’t really excite me.

66. Wonder why nobody’s visiting this campground.

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Maybe because there’s a skunk lurking around. Though it only sprays when threatened.

67. This guy better wake up before that pheasant runs away.

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Because birds don’t stay around forever. Still, not sure if he can shoot well with a bow and arrow.

68. Feel free to sit on the world’s largest chair.

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I’m sure nobody could really sit on it. Still, it’s a great way for this town to attract tourists.

69. Don’t feel bad. Things could be worse.

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Not sure about having dogs in jail though. Also, are they supposed to be in Mexico?

70. Sometimes you have to let yourself go.

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Though this just overdoes it. Her bra’s even showing from her falling dress.

Insane in the Ukraine

In mid-September 2019, according to The New York Times, an unidentified internal Trump administration whistleblower filed a complaint about “multiple acts” by a shitty excuse for a president Donald Trump. The whistleblower in question is part of the US intelligence community and filed this complaint back in August, which was passed to their inspector general. That inspector general determined it credible and a matter of “urgent concern” – legal standard normally requiring notifying congressional oversight committees. He then concluded the complaint, “relates to one of the most significant and important of the DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.” However, Trump’s acting national intelligence director stepped in to block key congressional committee chairs from receiving the whistleblower complaint’s details, which remain murky. An act some legal analysts claim is breaking the law.

Now despite the murky details, the whistleblower’s complaint reportedly involves a broader set of events than a single phone call. But not surprisingly, the Trump administration is trying to prevent further info from coming to light. For some time, it’s been rumored Donald Trump tried pressuring Ukraine’s government into launching an investigation of former Vice President and current Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden, possibly by withholding military aid to the country unless they complied. On August 28, 2019, Politico reported that the Trump administration was, “slow-walking $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine.” According to the site, Trump had personally asked his national security team to review the program, supposedly to ensure the money was being spent on American interests, writing, “The funds for Ukraine can’t be spent while they’re under review and the money expires at the Sept. 30 end of the fiscal year.” Now it’s not confirmed if the whistleblower complaint has anything to with this Ukranian debacle, but both cases seem closely related.

Naturally given Donald Trump’s affinity for Russian President Vladmir Putin and Russia’s war with Ukraine, critics instantly accused him of supporting Putin’s policies again. On September 5, 2019, Washington Post editorial claimed they’ve been told that Trump was trying to force the Ukranian government to investigate Joe Biden. They write:
“Some suspect Mr. Trump is once again catering to Mr. Putin, who is dedicated to undermining Ukrainian democracy and independence. But we’re reliably told that the president has a second and more venal agenda: He is attempting to force Mr. Zelensky to intervene in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by launching an investigation of the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden. Mr. Trump is not just soliciting Ukraine’s help with his presidential campaign; he is using U.S. military aid the country desperately needs in an attempt to extort it.”

During a September 2 press conference in Warsaw, Associated Press’ Jill Colvin asked Vice President Mike Pence, “Can you assure Ukraine that the hold-up of that money has absolutely nothing to do with efforts, including by Rudy Giuliani, to try to dig up dirt on the Biden family?” Pence conspicuously didn’t make that kind of assurance. Instead, he replied, “as President Trump had me make clear, we have great concerns about issues of corruption.” However, the notion that the Trump administration has any great concern about corruption issues is basically akin to Pig Pen having any concern about personal hygiene. Because we all know that Trump and his cronies engage in corruption on a regular basis that the swamp he’s promised to drain has now become a reeking cesspit of hazardous waste. Hell, the only time the Trump administration shows any concern about corruption is when it pertains to someone they don’t like because it makes them look bad. So naturally, they’re looking for dirt.

On Friday, September 20, 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that, during a July phone call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, Donald Trump pressured him “about eight times” to work with his sell out lawyer Rudy Giuliani on an investigation into Biden’s son, Hunter. That Thursday, Giuliani tweeted that if Trump told Ukraine to “investigate corruption that affects US” he’d just be “doing his job,” and complaining that “the Biden Family… bilked millions from Ukraine.” He even later confirmed that he himself has been trying to get Ukraine to investigate Biden. Strange Trump didn’t call the Ukrainian government to investigate his own campaign manager Paul Manafort back in 2016, because he actually bilked millions from the Ukraine and is serving prison time for it. However, if Trump did this as president, it would be a shockingly corrupt use of his foreign policy powers. Since he’s basically demanding a foreign country intervene in the 2020 election by digging up dirt on a potential opponent, or have its security put at risk.

The idea that Donald Trump’s team would try getting the Ukranian government to investigate Joe Biden’s family isn’t just theoretical. Even Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani has openly admitted he’s been doing just that. As he told the New York Times in May, “We’re not meddling in an election, we’re meddling in an investigation, which we have a right to do.” Ukraine-related corruption has already played an outsized role in Trump scandals. Paul Manafort’s prosecution for financial and lobbying crimes related to his work for a former Ukranian regime was a major part of the Mueller probe. And during the summer of 2016 back when Manafort was Trump’s campaign chair, he was plagued by reports that the Ukranian government was looking into his payments. So Donald Trump’s team apparently has the idea to try and cook up a similar scandal involving Joe Biden.

The details relate to Joe Biden’s ne’er-do-well son Hunter who joined a Ukrainian natural gas company Burisma’s board in 2014. Now the company’s owner was under investigation for corruption and money laundering. Two years later, Ukraine’s prosecutor general Viktor Shokin was fired, after pressure from Vice President Biden and other Western officials along with many Ukrainian officials and citizens. Biden just happened to have the loudest voice. Shokin has reportedly claimed he was pushed out because he was investigating Burisma’s payments to Hunter Biden. However, the New York Times writes, “there is no credible evidence that Biden sought Shokin’s removal in order to protect Hunter.” Instead, the rationale was said he wasn’t doing enough to investigate the corruption. Now, in an effort to cause political problems in Biden’s 2020 campaign, Giuliani has been pushing the new Ukrainian government to open an investigation into the Biden matter, as well as whether there was any foul play in the earlier Ukrainian Manafort investigation. Giuliani confirmed he was doing all this to the Times back in May. The effort continued through August. But Giuliani was cagey in Trump’s personal role in the scheme. He told the Times in May that Trump supports his endeavors and “he basically knows what I’m doing, sure, as his lawyer.” In August, he told the Times he was just acting as a private citizen. Despite that State Department officials were involved in Giuliani’s communications with Ukrainian officials for some reason.

Now that Donald Trump has all but openly admitted that he pushed Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, Congress must impeach him. Impeaching Trump over Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia investigation would’ve been an attempt to address past offenses. Impeaching Trump over these calls would be an attempt to halt what surely resembles an ongoing attempt to hijack American foreign policy in service of his reelection. Democrats are obligated to stop this before it gets any further. Sure, impeachment is virtually guaranteed to fail in the Republican-controlled Senate so there’s no real chance of actually removing Trump from office. Public opinion about the Russian scandal became more set along partisan lines as time went on, making it unlikely that drawing attention to it would galvanize the public against Trump in 2020. Since that would risk distracting Democrats on which Trump is genuinely unpopular like on healthcare and climate change and jeopardize the House Democratic majority with marginal gain.

But the new Ukraine scandal challenges this logic. There is now an obvious and immediate pragmatic upside to impeachment: stopping an ongoing abuse of presidential power that could undermine the 2020 election’s integrity. Thanks to an intelligence community whistleblower, investigative journalists, and Donald Trump’s own public statements, Trump seems to have repeatedly attempted to convince the Ukranian government to open an investigation into Hunter Biden’s Ukraine business dealings and Joe Biden’s alleged involvement in protecting his son from prosecutorial attention. But there’s no evidence of illegal conduct by either Biden in the Ukraine dealings. Hunter’s partnership with a corrupt Ukranian oligarch was arguably unethical. But there’s no reason to believe his dad was involved in it. Still, even if either Biden was implicated in anything illegal, Trump’s actions would still be as impeachable. Because he’s trying to get a foreign power to investigate a potential political opponent on the pretense of turning Biden’s fake Ukraine scandal into “her emails” 2.0. Thus, he actively working to weaponize the presidency to boost his political fortunes.

Hell, it may be even worse. Donald Trump himself has linked the Biden issue to US to Ukraine aide. On Sunday, he told reporters, he “had every right” to push Ukraine about Joe Biden because “we don’t want a country that we’re giving massive aid to be corrupting our system.” If Trump threatened to condition aid to Ukraine on its Biden investigation, then he’s been nakedly twisting US foreign policy to suit his own ends. This is a grotesque and seemingly ongoing abuse of power with potential implications for an election’s integrity next year. Whereas the Russia investigation an attempt to find out exactly what happened in a prior election, the Ukraine scandal reflects Trump’s contemporary and future-looking behavior. Given that the goal is no longer retrospective accountability, this dramatically changes the logic of impeachment. Since it’s now about stopping his current behavior. The hope would be that impeachment would bring so much attention and scrutiny to Trump’s Ukraine push that he can’t get away with undermining another election.

Any impeachment proceeding would be the story in American politics, sucking up media attention and congressional investigative resources. A House majority vote to impeach would lead to a trial in the Senate, attracting more scrutiny even if Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refuses to take the proceedings seriously. The aim would be to prevent Trump from making some kind of shady, behind-the-scenes agreement with some Ukrainian authorities and make him think twice about any other similar scheme for using his powers for electoral gain. Such level of attention seems like the best available tool for preventing Donald Trump from continuing his efforts to undermine the 2020 election. Moreover, such high levels of press coverage and partisan furor would also make it harder to imagine the Ukrainian government would make any corrupt deal with Trump. Democratic posturing would serve as a counterweight to Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, signaling the country’s leadership that any cooperation with Trump’s inappropriate demands could seriously fray relations with the US in the next administration. Under this logic, it doesn’t matter if impeachment will invariably fail in the Senate. Just shining a light on Trump’s misbehavior will limit his freedom to act. Because if you have a president actively trying to abuse his power in order to invite foreign meddling in the next presidential election, you need to do what you can to stop him. Impeachment is the biggest and most powerful tool in the Democrats’ inventory. Because impeaching Trump is about signaling that his conduct is unacceptable as well trying to impose accountability on him and setting a standard for future ones.

Should impeachment be used not only to signal disapproval but actually work to head off an ongoing threat to American democracy, then the normative power of the proceedings might be reestablished. They won’t just be futile raging at American politics’ debased nature under Donald Trump, but an effective means of actually changing these politics for the better. For Trump’s impeachment to actually serve as a means of accountability to show future officeholders that misbehavior carries costs, there needs to be actual bite to them. Otherwise, they really risk sending the opposite intended signal that nothing really matters and that the president can do whatever he wants as long as at least 34 senators support him. But if impeachment can plausibly constrains Donald Trump, preventing him from engaging in abuse of power for political gain, then the Trump administration’s lesson would be that actions carry consequences, that Congress’ ultimate constitutional power can still be used to rein in a president even in a political environment seemingly defined by extreme partisanship. Furthermore, impeachment sends the strongest and most high-profile signal possible that Trump’s actions are unacceptable, both now and to future presidents.

Nonetheless, Donald Trump’s behavior in this Ukraine situation should worry anyone who cares about the health of American democracy. If this isn’t impeachable behavior, then I don’t know what is. Could impeachment potentially rein in Trump? I’m not sure since Trump never learns from his misconduct. But it will limit him on what he can get away with. Will a formal impeachment inquiry hurt the House Democrats’ chances to retain the House? Who knows. But seeing how the Ukraine scandal drove a painful reality home of an emboldened Trump appearing to meddle in an upcoming US election again, right before our eyes, Congress must impeach.