Different Shades of Green


Last month marked the 15th anniversary of the settlement of Plotkin vs. General Electric, the landmark “greenwashing” lawsuit I filed in 1993. At the time, GE was misleading consumers by selling phony lookalike energy efficient light bulbs that were in fact just old fashioned incandescent wolves in green packaging.

I took no money from the case. But I required G.E. to make labeling changes and to pony up $3.25 million dollars in consumer refunds and donations to environmental and public service groups. The labeling changes made it easier for the manufacturers of real energy efficient light bulbs, which were just then entering the marketplace, to distinguish their products on the shelves.  read more »

Is Obama's Urban Focus Bad News for the Rest of the Countryside?


To much of the media, Barack Obama is the ultimate dream president, a sophisticated urbanite whose roots lie in top-tier academia and big-city politics. This asset could also become a glaring weakness, blinding him to the fundamental aspirations for smaller places and self-government that have long animated the American experience.  read more »

The Former East Germany: Is It Time for Red Nostalgia?


2009 marks the 20th anniversary of the reunification of East and West Germany into one country. Germany was divided into two separate nations with competing economic and political ideologies. Now it’s time to reassess the results of this melding of two very different systems and the impact on the urban environment.

Emerging from the ashes as one of the world’s most powerful economies, Germany may be the quintessential example of the triumph of capitalism over communism. Yet now with Frankfurt’s powerful banking sector reeling from the global economic meltdown, reticent Marxists may well be coming out of the woods to proclaim the death of capitalism.  read more »

Don't Mess With Census 2010

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The announcement last week that Congressional Black Caucus members plan to press President Obama to keep the 2010 census under White House supervision, even if the former Democratic Governor of Washington, Gary Locke, is confirmed as Commerce Secretary, brought back memories of a movie I’d seen before — a bad movie.  read more »

Bernanke: Junkmeister Hides the Truth


Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the Senate Budget Committee on Tuesday (March 3, 2009), the day after it was announced that AIG would be back at the federal teat for another $30 billion. The generally subdued Senate was nonetheless forceful in getting Bernanke to admit several things:  read more »

Urban Inequality Could Get Worse


President Obama's stated objective to reduce inequality, as laid out in public addresses and budget plans, is a noble one. The growing income gap – not only between rich and poor, but also between the ultra-affluent and the middle class – poses a threat both to the economy and the long-term viability of our republic.

But ironically, what seems to be the administration's core proposal, ratcheting up the burden on "rich" taxpayers earning over $250,000, could have unintended consequences. For one thing, it would place undue stress on the very places that have been Obama's strongest supports, while providing an unintended boost to those regions that most oppose him.  read more »

Democrats Could Face an Internal Civil War as Gentry and Populist Factions Square Off


This is the Democratic Party's moment, its power now greater than any time since the mid-1960s. But do not expect smooth sailing. The party is a fractious group divided by competing interests, factions and constituencies that could explode into a civil war, especially when it comes to energy and the environment.

Broadly speaking, there is a long-standing conflict inside the Democratic Party between gentry liberals and populists. This division is not the same as in the 1960s, when the major conflicts revolved around culture and race as well as on foreign policy. Today the emerging fault-lines follow mostly regional, geographical and, most importantly, class differences.  read more »

The Panic of 2008: How Bad Is It?


Just how bad is the current economic downturn? It is frequently claimed that the crash of 2008 is the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. There is plenty of reason to accept this characterization, though we clearly are not suffering the widespread hardship of the Depression era. Looking principally at historical household wealth data from the Federal Reserve Board’s Flow of Funds Accounts of the United States, summarized in our Value of Household Residences, Stocks & Mutual Funds: 1952-2008, we can conclude it’s pretty bad, but nothing yet like the early 1930s.  read more »

The Decline of Los Angeles


Next week, Antonio Villaraigosa will be overwhelmingly re-elected mayor of Los Angeles. Do not, however, take the size of his margin – he faces no significant opposition – as evidence that all is well in the city of angels.

Whatever His Honor says to the media, the sad reality remains that Los Angeles has fallen into a serious secular decline. This constitutes one of the most rapid – and largely unnecessary – municipal reversals in fortune in American urban history.  read more »

What Does “Age of Hope” Mean in the Mississippi Delta?


It was during the inaugural days that an article appeared in The Washington Post about the predominantly black Mississippi Delta going for Obama – no surprise! But juxtaposed in the same time period there appeared in a Kentucky newspaper the story of predominantly white Menifee County, my birthplace – deep in the heart of Appalachia – defying the red sea of Kentucky all around it and also going for Obama.  read more »