Leaderless democracy

No, not the kind that continues to bottle us up in debt-ceiling kabuki. The other kind:

What was the occupiers’ one demand? They never said. And as they practiced a leaderless form of democracy, there was no one to say. The movement did have a slogan, “We Are the 99 Percent,” informed by recent economics research exposing the gap between the top 1 percent and everyone else. Yet the occupiers didn’t seem particularly inspired by the technical solutions that economists proposed. When Joseph Stiglitz, the World Bank’s former chief economist and a critic of unregulated capitalism, came to Zuccotti Park to complain about how financial markets had “misallocated capital,” he looked adorably out of place in his collared dress shirt and khakis, surrounded by activists in kaffiyehs, baseball caps, and hoodies.

Journalists trying to understand this inchoate insurgency turned for answers to Graeber, a seasoned veteran of the global justice movements of the late 1990s and early 2000s and a central figure in Zuccotti Park. It helped that he was a witty commentator with a knack for summing things up crisply. He’d been the one to suggest the language of “the 99 percent,” which he’d adapted from an article by Stiglitz. Graeber was also, as some of his fellow occupiers were surprised to learn, a major anthropological theorist. Starting as an expert on highland Madagascar, Graeber had become a free-range thinker specializing in questions of hierarchy and value but interested in virtually everything. He’d recently written a 600-page ethnography of the protests against neoliberal globalization—protests he’d joined himself.

Leaderless decision-making is the route to the real possibility, messy and littered with threat and chaos though it is. And that’s just the point – Graeber was absolutely correct about the limited political horizons [most] people come to expect. And of course we are taught this, to make nice, to play well with others, even if they actively mean us harm. And make no mistake, there are actual antagonists in our midst and we’re definitely not talking about the horn-hatted, shirtless spear holders. These are people in suits, and many of the issues that stir madness within those impatient with a complicit media or corrupt pols are seen only as rounding errors by the faceless conglomerati.

No one will be allowed – that is, given permission – to do anything about climate change, income inequality or anything else. Some call it anarchy, but being stuck with oppressive systems is a refusal to re-imagine. It’s fear – fear of messes, fear of change, fear of losing security – as if. Meanwhile, tides are lapping. Leave the grand historical narrative to Marx.

Lines on the map

Actually, little pairs of lines, close together, with cars on them, all fastened together to move a lot of people from here to there:

The state Senate vote authorizing initial funding for California’s high-speed rail project was hailed by backers Friday as a pivotal step in building the controversial project.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, who had made repeated trips and telephone calls to California to push for the project, called the vote a “big win” for the state.

“No economy can grow faster than its transportation network allows,” LaHood said in a statement. “With highways between California cities congested and airspace at a premium, Californians desperately need an alternative.”

It is unclear when construction on the largest infrastructure project in the country can begin. The state still needs a series of regulatory approvals to start the first 130 miles of track in the Central Valley. The plan also faces lawsuits by agriculture interests and potential opposition by major freight railroads.

Passing this funding was really hard to do, and not only because the money will go toward building the route in a very rural area, where not many people are. But the whole point of the line is to connect S.F. and L.A. via high-speed rail, and it’s going to go through some rural areas as these two cities are very far apart. Have a look at a map. But it’s easy to demagogue hsr, as it is health care, as it is education, but these are long-term needs that require attention, commitment – and fortitude to stand up to all the whiners that would prefer to give the money directly to already rich people.

Not to mention all the people who will be working to build this route. People need jobs for the whole thing to work. Come on. Better conservatives, please.

Truly Rapid Transit


While our friends on the right keeping yelling about how backwards, unsafe and unfreedom it is to not sit in your car alone and imbibe talk radio, our friends on the Right Bank are doing something other than idling on the way to work.

Yet the Réseau Primaire de Transport du Grand Paris (primary transport network of greater Paris) may be coming to life. This week, the government opened public debate on the project, revealing the extensive studies it has completed on potential alignments for the rail corridors, including proposed station sites. And the Sarkozy Administration has committed to €4 billion to the Société du Grand Paris, the semi-autonomous organization that will build the project and invest in eight major development sites that will have prime access to the network.

If the program is approved, the Société would take on 40 years of debt financing to sponsor the €21.4-23.5 cost, to be paid back mostly through deals made on real estate in station areas.

The project would encompass 155 km (96 miles) of new lines that would be added to the existing automated 5.5-mile Line 14 Metro that currently runs along a southeast-northwest route through Paris. Three routes would be offered: a 50 km Blue Line from Orly Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport, via the existing Line 14; a 75 km Green Line from Orly Airport to Charles de Gaulle Airport, via the La Défense financial district west of Paris (with 21 km shared with the Blue Line); and a 60 km Red Line from La Défense to Le Bourget Airport, via the southern and eastern suburbs. Commute times for suburban residents hoping to reach destinations outside of Paris will be decreased significantly, with average train speeds a very respectable 40 mph thanks to few stations (give or take 40, depending on the final alignment chosen) and very high frequencies thanks to automation. At peak hours on some segments, trains will arrived every 85 seconds.

As Atrios points out, this project will cost about three months of Afghanistan, plus you get the trains at the end. And less dead people, at least theoretically.

And though that hurts, it’s not the real kicker. No, the further insult here is the constant badgering by the craven morons standing guard against this kind of progress. To hear mass transit constantly demonized in the U.S., one might think that the idea of not getting everywhere by private car represents the end of civilization as we know it. Well, you know what? It would! And not a moment too soon. Something’s got to change. But this is precisely where our confederate republican brethren have drawn the line – in calling this kind of change exactly what it is and opposing it for that very reason.

Maddening. But speaking of remaining calm in the face of staggering idiocy, the neighborhood around the Chatelet stop is a nice area.