On the Commons

5 Worst Republican Lies About Income Inequality

Back in 2012, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney was asked asked whether people who question the current distribution of wealth and power are motivated by “jealousy or fairness.” In response, Romney insisted, “I think it’s about envy. I think it’s about class warfare.” Romney's opinion is far from unique—in fact, it comprises a clear distillation of the GOP's position on income inequality.

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How the Private Sector Is Destroying Our Personal Space

This article originally appeared at On the Commons, and is reprinted here with their permission.

The natural tendency of the private sector, when unrestrained, is to strip us of our personal physical and psychic space. The clearest examples may be found in the air travel and broadcasting industries. When it comes to air travel, private airline companies’ profits depend on maximizing revenue per cubic inch of space inside a plane.

Fifty years ago, when regulated airlines competed primarily on service rather than price expanding personal space was part of their strategy for attracting customers. As the Wall Street Journal reports seats on the first Boeing 707 were 17-inches wide, a dimension based on the width of a U.S. Air Force pilot’s hips. In the 1970s and 1980s seat width increased to 18 inches and in the early 2000s, seats on the new Boeing 777 and Airbus 380 were widened still further to 18.5 inches.

But the increased concentration resulting from airline deregulation reversed this dynamic. Today just four airlines control 85 percent of the national market. In many major airports, a single company may account for 80 percent of the flights. Their near monopoly power has allowed airline companies to boost revenue by adding a seat in every row and in some cases adding rows too. This is achieved by shrinking seat width and pitch and narrowing aisles.

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Airline Deregulation: How Ideology Triumphed Over Evidence in the U.S. Airline Industry

This article originally appeared at On the Commons, and is reprinted here with their permission.

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Five Steps to Save America's Incredible Shrinking Post Office

In July 2011 the United States Postal Service (USPS) management announced it would rapidly close 3600 local post offices and eventually as many as 15,000.  And shutter half the nation’s mail processing centers.

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Hidden Power Grab Stops Communities From Deciding Their Own Futures

In his 1996 State of the Union Address Democratic President Bill Clinton famously declared, “the era of big government is over.” And during his tenure he did everything he could to make that true—deregulating the telecommunications and the financial industries; enacting a free trade agreement severely restricting the authority of the federal government to protect domestic jobs and businesses; and abandoning the 75-year old federal commitment to the poor.

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4 Recent Victories for the Common Good

I’m not saying it’s time to break out the champagne and start chanting, “The people united will never be defeated”. But the past few weeks have brought us some heartwarming demonstrations that the popular will still has a bite.

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The South Has Been at Civil War for 150 Years

Lincoln is a magnificent movie. But as I left the theatre, to echo Paul Harvey, the late radio commentator, I wanted to know “the rest of the story.”

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I Might Be Disillusioned About Election 2012, But the Stakes for the Country Are Still Huge

As the presidential campaign reaches fever pitch—with Super Pac attacks appearing constantly on TV and both candidates sharpening their debate zingers—I feel guilty about my growing obsession with it all.

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Citizens United, Obamacare -- The Roberts Court Is Just Getting Started

In a democracy the majority wins. Which makes minority groups vulnerable. At the dawn of the Republic John Adams warned about “the tyranny of the majority.”

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The Sky Is Now Legally Protected, Thanks to a Texas Judge

“Texas judge rules atmosphere, air is a public trust”, reads the headline in the Boston Globe.  A tiny breakthrough but with big potential consequences.  And as we continue to suffer from one of the most extended heat waves in US history, as major crops wither and fires rage in a dozen states, we need all the tiny breakthroughs we can get.

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The Great Resurgence of Public Spaces

It’s a dark and wintry night in Copenhagen, and the streets are bustling. The temperature stands above freezing, but winds blow hard enough to knock down a good share of the bicycles parked all around. Scandinavians are notorious for their stolid reserve, but it’s all smiles and animated conversation here as people of many ages and affiliations stroll through the city center on a Thursday evening.

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Republicans Reverse a 150-year-old Trajectory in US and Enact Laws That Restrict Voting Rights

For its first 200 years the American Republic slowly, sometimes infuriatingly slowly and at horrific human cost (e.g. the Civil War) expanded the franchise.

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When Did the Catholic Church Endow Sperm With Inalienable Rights?

 Recent events make clear the need for a new language to describe the raging debate about sex and birth. Consider the problematic word that dominates our conversation: pro-life.

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Why the Super Bowl Is Socialist

OK.  It’s the Patriots vs. the Giants.  Between now and Feb. 5th a zillion words will be written about who will win the Super Bowl and why and how and by what point spread. With permission of all you sports fans out there  I’d like to offer a few hundred words to raise another question about this upcoming football contest. 

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5 Republican Lies About Income Inequality

 Recent comments by Mitt Romney, the probable Republican nominee for President all but guarantee the inequality issue will remain front and center this election year.

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5 New Rules for an Economy That Works

Jim Hightower likes to tell the story of the moving company in Austin whose slogan is, "If we can get it loose, we can get it moving." The thousands of people occupying Freedom Plaza in Washington and Zuccotti Park in New York, along with the tens of thousands others protesting around the country may have pried us loose from our cynicism and despair.

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Why Is the Most Wasteful Government Agency Not Part of the Deficit Discussion?

 In all the talk about the federal deficit, why is the single largest culprit left out of the conversation? Why is the one part of government that best epitomizes everything conservatives say they hate about government—- waste, incompetence, and corruption—all but exempt from conservative criticism?

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Why Is Multi-Billion Dollar Telecom Time Warner Fretting About a Small City in North Carolina?

Thanks to Christopher Mitchell, Director of the Telecommunications as Commons Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance for contributing to this article.  You can, and should follow his reporting on public networks at www.muninetworks.org.

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The Tragic Death of the Aral Sea

I recently joined a delegation of over 60 international organizations from 30 countries to travel to the Aral Sea, along with my colleague from Food &Water Watch International Policy Director Darcey O’Callaghan.

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Rescuing a River from Ruin

The eyes of the world are on Temacapulin. So declared a banner at an anti-dam rally. Solidarity is probably the single best hope for the 500 residents of this sleepy Mexican town on the brink of being submerged.

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The Couchsurfing Culture Is Spreading Across the Planet

The gift economy is alive and global among an improbable network of "Couchsurfers" who stay in strangers' homes when traveling. The idea got its start when Casey Fenton impulsively booked a flight to Iceland because of a cheap online airfare, and then realized that he didn't know anyone there and had no idea what to do there.

So he found a list of email addresses for students at the University of Iceland in Rejkevik, and sent out emails asking if he could crash with them on their couches. He got lots of invitations and had a fantastic weekend with utter strangers.

When he got home, Fenton and three friends created a website to try to systematize the idea. The result was "Couchsurfing," a new way of meeting people while traveling while enjoying free lodging. People register online and provide some information about themselves, and then either offer a place for other registered Couchsurfers to stay, or explore available couches in selected cities. The site does not charge anyone for helping arrange the connections. In fact, it expressly forbids hosts from charging their guests (upon penalty of expulsion from the site's registry).

Call it semi-organized gift exchange. It's a Web-assisted gift economy for travelers that thrives simply because people are basically good and enjoy meeting strangers from other places. Couchsurfers understand that they are not just getting a free bed; there is an implied social contract that they will spend some time eating or drinking or touring the city with the host. Some hosts take visitors to parties or tourist sites, others just meet them for coffee.

To help visits go well, the Couchsurfing site has all sorts of tips for guests and hosts, suggesting ways that people can have a happy, safe visit. Both hosts and guests are rated by their counterparts, which helps to identify bad actors and reliable, generous CouchSurfers.

Interestingly, Couchsurfing doesn't demand a tit-for-tat reciprocity. There is no direct exchange of hosting for surfing. People are free to host or Couchsurf without any quid pro quos or elaborate calculations of "points." The idea is simply to help people meet interesting strangers while traveling, and share with them.

Since its launch in 2003, Couchsurfing has become an international phenomenon. The site has attracted 1,930,000 million registered Couchsurfers from around the world, and it has facilitated 2,086,778 "successful surf or host experiences." (The site keeps elaborate statistics of number of Couchsurfers, languages spoken, etc.) Couches are offered in 230 countries and 73,339 cities. There are 154,682 registered Couchsurfers in the United States, 20,823 in Australia, 230 in Tanzania and 28 in Antarctica.

Originally a volunteer project, Couchsurfing has evolved into a virtual nonprofit that operates with no physical office; its staff interconnect through the Internet. The project is unabashedly positive in outlook and even idealistic. Its "vision statement" declares: "We envision a world where everyone can explore and create meaningful connections with the people and places we encounter. Building meaningful connections across cultures enables us to respond to diversity with curiosity, appreciation and respect. The appreciation of diversity spreads tolerance and creates a global community."

If it all sounds a little corny, the testimonials from Couchsurfers are generally glowing. One Couchsurfer wrote, "We had a great experience couchsurfing in Asheville, North Carolina. We connected with an awesome couple who let us stay with them, even offering us a bed in their roommate's room and feeding us a yummy home cooked meal. There is no money exchanged, and people only bring gifts or offerings if they so desire. We bought the ingredients for the meal we shared and left them a nice note."

Others rave, "Couchsurfing has totally changed my way of traveling and of living. I have learned how to trust people, how to appreciate their stories and diversity." Another called the Couchsurfing scene "a conglomerate of well-intentioned people, of good karma, and you just have to jump in to enjoy it."

Couchsurfing has become so popular in some locations that there are local groups who host visiting Couchsurfers. The connections often persist over time, and grow into a new sort of international network of friendship, pleasure and trust. What's amazing about Couchsurfing is how quickly it has scaled and how durable and trustworthy it generally is. It just goes to show that a gift economy can grow to international scale, thanks to the Web, and be every bit as satisfying as the Holiday Inn, and cheaper.

Citizen-Led Groups Leading the Way for New Water Policy

With the onset of climate change deepening the world water crisis, discussions about how to manage our water systems, which once seemed wonky, are suddenly attracting increased public attention.

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