Living Here In Allentown

For readers who don’t know, I live in Allentown, County Seat of Lehigh, in the Lehigh Valley region of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Allentown has been getting all kinds of attention lately for two reasons.  First is the urban redevelopment program happening here.  It is, I presume, the largest-ever public-to-private transfer of wealth in the history of Pennsylvania besides the Walking Purchase.  You can read about it all over The Morning Call in articles by Scott Kraus and Emily Opilo.

The second reason relates to the first.  Allentown’s Mayor, a sometime would-be governor and/or senator, is being investigated by the FBI.  You can read all about that at The Morning Call, too, and on the local blogs.

The extent to which Allentown’s revitalization is working is hard to pin down.  There are new restaurants, some new retail (not the hoped-for 30 new stores by Labor Day), and some new jobs. There is a (licensed) Starbucks where workers receive none of the benefits Howard Schultz gives to Starbucks employees.  Frankly, I’m surprised he allows these kinds of arrangements.  But hey, I get it.  Enlightened as he may be, he’s no Bernie Sanders.

I mention Fauxbucks because of what its presence says about reality.  Median incomes are simply not high enough downtown to convince national retailers to come here.  They’re not even enticed by free rent.  No Trader Joe’s.  No Whole Foods.  Not even an Aldi’s.  Three City Center can’t even fill out its storefront space with local merchants.

On one hand, Allentown’s even-less-than-hesitant gentrification is great.  I’d prefer local retailers and service businesses in a heartbeat over the pre-fabbed national chains.  The problem is that like those phony hipster-havens, and like the phony brick facades of all of our new buildings, the downtown phase of Allentown’s renewal hinges on gentrification.  Commercial is supposed to beget residential, and residential is supposed to beget more (“better”) commercial.  But with no real economic infrastructure to speak of in most of the downtown neighborhoods, it’s not clear what’s exactly begetting what.

One scenario is that local merchants, enticed by free or near-free rent, will set up shop downtown and provide the kind of authentic, local, walkable vibe middle-class millennials eat up with a spoon.  Having proven the concept, even through some lean years, these local merchants will be rewarded with higher rents they can’t afford.  The Green Pepper will become Chipotle, and so on.

This scenario assumes that these new merchants find sustained success even with all of the obstacles and even with the built-in competition looming on the Waterfront.

One thing I know.  The City’s school district is broke. It’s not yet broken, but it’s broke. Where are the plans to fund it?  Where are the millennial residents of Strata supposed to send their kids to school?  No year-round gym, no year-round music or year-round art for kids living above the so-called Arts Walk?  You can’t fix the City without fixing the schools.  And you can’t fix either of them by forking over tax dollars to a handful of developers.

If the downtown phase of Allentown’s renewal fails, look to the total disregard by developers and some City leaders for the school district, the lack of real living wages, and the ascendance of the mixed-use Waterfront as some reasons why.

The Valley Has 7 Top 100 Companies! Huzzah! Valley Wages are Down! Huzzzwhat?

The Lehigh Valley now boasts 7 of the Top 100 Employers in PA.

Wages are down in the Lehigh Valley.

These stories were posted within hours, and paint the picture: we are supposed to be grateful for whatever crumbs we manage to catch from the table of the power elites.

Alan Jennings, we know all about the Mayor of Allentown’s inner-life because of your pipeline to the Morning Call. Where are you on this?  It seems to me that the “edge of poverty” is more than a name for your organization’s blog.

D’etre and D’etat: The Difference Between Jesus and Church

I worked at a big fat church for a few years once.

For about five minutes of those few years, the staff was charged to “live in the republic of ideas.”  I wrote what follows earlier today, but it strikes me as the difference between the Kingdom of God’s raison d’etre and the raison d’etat so many churches live and ultimately die by:

It occurs to me that our use of terms like “industrial” or “industrialized” nation reveals rather efficiently the willingness of our power elites (political and economic) to sacrifice most of us for personal gain; to spiritually, emotionally, and economically destroy the creative, academic, merchant and truly small-business class (let’s call it the bourgeoisie) right along with the cynically styled “working class.” We bourgeoisie and/or proletarians freely mingle, and not-so-freely mimic the choices of the power elites (be they Clintons or Romneys) with what we’re told are consumer “choices” but are really the gasping acts of hanging-on desperately performed by human agents too exhausted from surviving to enact true human agency. This is purely diabolical; if there is a God in heaven, that God must not endorse this system. Surely, the central Christian image of God not in heaven but on a cross is in reaction to the system that enslaved Judea, that murdered John the Baptizer, that found Jesus guilty of blasphemy and sedition. That Christ’s message — God is for the margin and not for the power structures we worship — brought about his death at the hands of those power structures isn’t only a sort of proto-theological poetry, it is the essential Christian fact, the essential Christian witness, the essential Christian claim about the nature and person of God. That Jesus spoke of a kingdom different from those of the Sanhedrin and Rome and Washington and Wall Street and Seattle isn’t some spiritual-only conceit. What Christ called the Kingdom of God is not so-called Christendom, not the so-called Church; it is a physical network of willing rebellion.

Response to The New York Times’ Julian Bond Obituary is also Post-Mortem On Bill Clinton, Good Guy

Many people rightly took The New York Times to task for its obituary of Julian Bond last week.  His great-grandmother, a slave, could not have been a “mistress” of his white great-grandfather, her owner.  The power dynamics of slavery allow only for rape.

This week marks 17 years since Bill Clinton’s admission of a sexual relationship with Monica Lewinsky.  It occurs to me that Clinton’s lecherous persona would not be tolerated in the Office of President, in primaries, on social media, were he rising now. That the Left gave him an intentional pass was, of course, the chorus of Clinton-hating conservatives then.  That progressives today question the possibility of consent when one party is the Most Powerful Man in the World is important, not just because it births another irony about the daylight between them and reactionaries regarding sex in general.  More to the point:  The Bill Clinton presidency would be impossible as a native development now.  By 2015’s standards, he is a predator.  The degree to which his inherent power muted the personal agency of Miss Lewinsky is a debate worth having, considering the limitations it assumes for the later.  There are implications for feminism here, of course, but also for the wider issues about cycles of power and abuse.

Hillary and the Clinton-Industrial Complex

By now, you’ve likely heard about the interaction between Hillary Clinton and Black Lives Matter advocates that took place over the weekend.  The advocates rightly questioned Clinton on her support (and her husband’s implementation) of policies that led to the mass incarceration of more black men than ever lived under slavery in this country in what has become the prison-industrial complex’s near-final solution to the natural outputs of centuries of systemic racism and injustice as praxis.

While Bill and Hillary Clinton gained political capital through their expertly cynical navigation of the so-called third way New Democrat ethos (a tough, Nixonesque liberalism that seldom met a Republican proposal it didn’t like, consume, and implement), hedge fund managers gleaned more concrete riches from the transformation of America’s penal system into a network of privately held plantations.

Some, like George Zoley, give to Republican causes and candidates (Marco Rubio is a Zoley favorite).  Others, like Jeremy Mindich, masquerade as progressives. $32,400 to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee?  Another $32,400 to the DNC Services Corp?  He even supports ActBlue.  (Credit to this piece at Vice for concisely connecting these dots.  Click through to learn how you, too, are probably investing in for-profit prisons without even knowing it).

For Americans living in poverty, the Clintons’ 90s were a race to mandatory sentencing, three-strikes-you’re-out law and order.  For the Clintons themselves, not so much.  Hillary Clinton is so far above the strictures of law, she saw fit to keep state secrets on private email servers, shielding them, perhaps, from the prying eyes of our first Black president, a man she necessarily and clearly resents, all the while risking national security because she simply couldn’t be bothered to do otherwise.  Is it any wonder China reads the email of top US officials the way Ted Cruz reads The Drudge Report?

In good 90s fashion, the irony of the Clintons’ role building up the prison industrial complex is staggering.  So too Hillary’s detachment, encountering the Black Lives Matter movement with the same wonder with which George H. W. Bush scanned his first campaign-trail groceries.  Three weeks to speak out on Ferguson.  That’s apparently how long it takes to convene a focus group.  How about a grand jury?