Wawa or Sheetz? (A Pennsylvania Thing)

If you watch The Goldbergs, you know about Wawa. It’s that place of wonders where the JTP gathers to ponder life’s biggest question. It’s also one of the greatest dining-gasoline establishments in the fairest Commonwealth in these fruited plains.

But Wawa is not without its rivals and detractors. In the short video below, I explain the drama, extoll the virtues of Wawa and its chief rival, and do a little folk etymology/amateur bird-calling. It all makes sense in context.

Then, in the comments, I get trolled by my Mom…a very un-Goldbergs move, might I add. That leads to a second video, linked in the comments, about Joe Biden hating young people. He’s from Scranton, so it all connects.

Enjoy! (Like I even have to worry).

The Sub In Suburb: We’ve Been Building Suburbia on the Backs of the Urban Poor for 50 Years

I just posted an excerpt from and a link to a piece on Atlantic about the future of American cities.  Let me share again this salient point:

“That economic shift away from cities was the root cause of America’s urban collapse. Starting in the 1950s, the middle class – and the American Dream – migrated from urban neighborhoods to the suburbs. Industry and corporations soon followed.

Ester Fuchs, director of Columbia University’s Urban and Social Policy program, details the fallout in the latest issue of Columbia’s Journal of International Affairs:

America’s great cities were left in economic free fall, with concentrated poverty, unemployment, high crime rates, failing public schools and severely deteriorating physical infrastructure, including roads, mass transit and parks. Academics and policy makers agreed that cities were irrelevant to America’s economic future; they would become places for poor minorities who could not afford to move to the suburbs. Urban policy became code for social-welfare policy.


This is true in Allentown, and this is at the core of the current debate over the use of EIT (earned income tax) money from people who work in the City but don’t live there.  Where, oh where, should that money go?

In Pennsylvania, until 1962, the EIT stayed in the municipality (read: City) where it was earned.  Then legislators got together with academics and social planners and decided to punish poor minorities for wanting civil rights and jobs in Northern cities.  Low and behold, the EIT, from 1962 on, goes back to the places where workers live, regardless of where the earned income tax was, you know, earned.

The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania thus funded and directed the great subsidization of the suburbs, the chewing up of green space, and the decline and fall of urban cores.  That’s what happened in Allentown and surrounding townships.  Fifty years later, those townships feel entitled to the status quo and to the money their residents earn in Allentown.  Along comes legislation giving that money back to Allentown to help fund redevelopment, and the townships sue the City.

I hope this highlights what’s really needed: a Commonwealth-wide law directing all EITs back to the cities in which they are earned.  Thank you, townships, for highlighting that need. You are, perhaps, more progressive than people think.

Beerituality Panelists Discuss the Penn State Scandal and Wider Concerns

Friends, this is a re-post from the Beerituality blog.  Beerituality is a monthly gathering at the Allentown Brew Works in Downtown Allentown that aims to bring people together from across traditions “at the crossroads of the sacred and secular.”

Peter Schweyer, Bill White, Tammy Lerner, and Alan Tjeltveit @ Beerituality (November 17, 2011)

Last night’s discussion featured Peter Schweyer, a PSU grad, Allentown City Councilperson and the Chief of Staff for PA Rep. Jennifer Mann with experience in abuse legislation; Bill White, noted columnist for the Allentown Morning Call, a long-time advocate for abuse survivors and abuse prevention; Tammy Lerner, State Director and Vice President of Abolish Child Sex Abuse; and Alan Tjeltveit, Professor of Psychology at Muhlenberg College.

This was an extremely important night of engaging, educational, and candid reflection and dialogue about the wider context of sexual abuse in the midst of the Penn State scandal.

From Tammy Lerner’s organizational website, www.abolishsexabuse.org, a plea for legislative action: Please contact members of the PA House Judiciary Commitee, and demand they hold Public Hearings on H.B 832, H.B. 878, H.B. 549, H.B 1867 and H.B. 1895

Some of the things that struck me immediately:

  • the need to keep talking about this issue, and to encourage people to tell their stories in safe environments. Speaking out about abuse can help dispel the culture of shame we’ve built up around it, so that victims can be empowered to come forward and legal and civil recourse can be taken.
  • In Pennsylvania, coaches are not mandatory reporters.  In some states, they are. Legislation to make coaches mandatory reporters was introduced in Harrisburg this week.
  • In Pennsylvania, university police departments like those at Penn State or Lehigh University are the accredited law enforcement agencies on campus. Unlike other police departments, these don’t report to any elected official or body, but to Boards of Trustees. There are inherent conflicts of interest there on many levels.
  • The need for changes to statute of limitations laws for these kinds of crimes. Currently, if the criminal and civil statutes of limitations have expired before charges are brought, even admitted offenders cannot be named as such in newspapers or with respect to Megan’s Law. This is an area where better legislation can, indeed, help with prevention.

Thanks again to our excellent panelists for the interdisciplinary perspectives and conversation on this hard issue.  We were blessed to be able to assemble this panel.  In the larger context of advocacy and support, this conversation must continue.

Amazon Workers Left Out In the Cold: Excuses Expose Amazon’s Sustainability Issues

Cover of "Kindle Wireless Reading Device,...
How To Make Enemies and Exploit People

I’ve heard some people in this here Valley saying that Amazon was justified in keeping warehouse workers, often clad in nothing more than t-shirts and short, outside in the wee hours of the morning in the freezing cold for ridiculously long periods of time.  Oh, they’re not saying it exactly that way.  Remember, the evacuations at the warehouses were caused by fire alarms being pulled, and the alarms were pulled so that these workers could steal, so the narrative goes.  Sometimes people with throw the word “lazy” in there before “workers,” or maybe the occasional “thieving.”  So, you know, because some workers are allegedly stealing, everyone has to be exposed to extreme cold for close to two hours so some middle managers can get some iPod Nanos back.  Some of the workers, by the way, have been saying that the managers are the ones doing the stealing.

Amazon and Amazon fans can spin this however they want. The fact remains that these procedures, and the culture that breeds them, are the definition of unsustainable business.  There’s really no better to handle rogue alarm-pulling (if, indeed, that’s what happened) than to let your workforce freeze in the early hours of a November or December morning in Pennsylvania?  That’s atrocious and unacceptable.  Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, really has no better way of cooling their facilities in the summer than farming out heat-sick workers to local ERs via a veritable concierge ambulance service?  Please.

Strike a blow for sustainability and stop buying from Amazon until they figure out how to run an ethical business on the supply side.

The Growing Economic Divide: Occupy Allentown on October 29

The Justice and Advocacy Committee of the Lehigh Valley Conference of Churches began planning a creative learning event about the growing Economic Divide in America long before we’d heard of #OccupyWallStreet, Occupy Together, or Occupy Allentown.  The Occupy movement affirms the the urgency of these issues for people of faith, and for all people.  Please join us at Zion’s Liberty Bell Church (also known as Zion’s Reformed UCC) at 620 W. Hamilton Street in Allentown on Saturday, October 29th.  Everything you need to know about workshop options, presenters, schedules, and registration is here.


Lehigh Valley Air Quality Facts a Little Hazy? I’m Here to Help.

The Lehigh Valley is the 13th-Smoggiest Medium-Sized Metro Region in the Country, according to a new report, Danger in the Air, produced by PennEnvironment.

There was a time when this would have been because of all of the industry booming here along our rivers.  These days, it’s mostly because of how much time most of us spend in our cars.  We’re a commuting metro region, and 1-78, the great East Coat conduit that cuts right through our valley, brings thousands of just-passing-through drivers who leave their emissions hanging in low elevation between our mountains. On hot summer days, those emissions interact with naturally-occurring volatile organic compounds, get baked by the sun, and make for unhealthy levels of smog in the region.

That the Lehigh Valley has air quality (and commuter) problems isn’t news.  What many folks don’t know, however, is that the air quality standards the EPA currently uses to warn the public about bad air quality days is, by most scientific accounts, sadly out of date.  Barack Obama has recently punted the issue to 2013, an awfully presumptive move at the moment.

Here in Pennsylvania, meteorologists at the Department of Environmental Protection produce air quality forecasts every day that specifically indicate the levels of fine particle pollution and ground-level ozone (o3) likely to be present in our air.   These levels are matched against the federal  Air Quality Index, a color-coded indicator meant to tell us when air conditions will be unsafe for various groups.  Green Days are supposed to be healthy for everyone.  Yellow Days are likely to be unhealthy for children, the elderly, and people with respiratory conditions.  Orange follows yellow, red follows orange, and Purple Days are unsafe for everyone. Maroon Days are extremely dangerous.

Working in accordance with these federal guide lines, which PennEnvironment and others have called out-of-date, the DEP announces Air Quality Action Days when levels for either pollutant (particle pollution, in this case, PM2.5, and ground-level ozone) are expected to exceed Code Yellow levels.  Once upon a time in the Lehigh Valley, residents could ride LANTA for free on Air Quality Action Days when orange levels were exceeded.  The “Ride Free On Red” program has been without vital state funding for some time, even though evidence compiled by LANTA and the Air Quality Partnership shows clear surges in LANTA use, especially among the elderly, on Code Red Days.

Why was this important?  Because ride-sharing, car-pooling, and mass-transit are essential to reducing ozone emissions (smog) generally and on Air Quality Action Days specifically.  There are other personal choices and behaviors that citizens can use to reduce their personal levels of smog production, and they can all be found at AirQualityAction.org, the online home of the Air Quality Partnership of Lehigh Valley – Berks.

As I said on television and in the press release accompanying the release of the report, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can and should play a lead role in demanding a much-needed change to federal guidelines, and should also make it easy for government agencies and state businesses to incentivize the kinds of commuter habits that would help us reduce ozone levels across the state.

All of this comes as some presidential contenders are pushing for the abolition of the EPA.  I saw one prospective voter question the validity of regulating “dust,” certainly not knowing the the regular of fine particle pollution (like the regulation of ground-level ozone emissions) saves lives.  Particle pollution doesn’t just dissipate to nothing.  It turns out that Kansas was wrong about that: dust in the wind ends up lungs, and so does ground-level ozone.  Both put our most vulnerable populations at risk, and reducing the occurrence of both here in the greater Lehigh Valley is the Air Quality Partnership’s main mission.

We’re at a critical economic, political, and environmental crossroads.   Our partnership needs increased participation from business, government, and health leaders.  We need new ways to fund projects like “Ride Free on Red,”  and we need public engagement in initiatives like our newest endeavor, the Share the Ride Challenge.  We continue to have great successes with regional educators and students, providing tremendous educational resources ate age-specific levels to primary and secondary public schools across three counties.

I’m an asthma sufferer, but as I said last week, our calls for continued education, advocacy, and support are not a case of special pleading.  We all breathe the same air, and most of us are just as culpable as the next person in the production of smog.  Our partnership exists to educate, to advocate, and encourage practical changes at corporate and private levels so that we all might breathe a little easier.  Please help us.