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Tereza Coraggio

Third Paradigm is an out-of-the-box thinktank on community sovereignty and regenerative economics.

We look at how to take back our cities, farmland and water; our money, production and trade; our media, education and culture, our religion and even our God.

We present a people's history of the Bible and a parent's view on how to raise giving kids in a taking world.

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Past Shows


Third-Generation Lap Cats

December 14, 2008

3P-005 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Third-Generation Lap Cats – Show #5

Welcome to the fifth episode of Third Paradigm. Our title this week is "Third-Generation Lap Cats." Our essay is on economics, which continues questioning the existence of money, looks at whether loans, trade, or USAID have helped or hurt foreign economies. In one specific example, we'll focus on the Free Trade Agreement with Peru, which was the only FTA the Bush administration succeeded in passing last year. Then we'll ask whether it's helped us to be "the richest nation in the world." In my own family, my kids are third-generation pets of the empire, domesticated into dependency. My grandmother was the last one who knew how to grow things and make things. She made wine from her grapes and homemade noodles for her soup. She could catch and skin rabbits, and preferred wild hasenpfeffer to tame. She could sew any dress that my mother pointed out in a magazine, although my mother always wished for the store-bought. From my mother to me, these skills have waned as our ability to make money has waxed. Our society fosters dependence on money, and our educational system is essentially housebreaking the kids – it teaches them where the corporate food bowl is and to look down on those who empty their litter box. In our consumer culture, there are few still living who know how to survive in the real world. When the kibbles stop coming, will we fight over the remnants, or find our way out of the door? I'll introduce this discussion after a song about torture by generation Y, the kids who are questioning rather than negating, and a video about clubs that are all about laughing. But first, I'll read A Poem by Wislawa Szymborska:

hPhoto by ayumiyoshi1314,

I'm working on the world

I'm working on the world,
revised, improved edition,
featuring fun for fools,
blues for brooders,
combs for bald pates,
tricks for old dogs.

Here's one chapter: The Speech
of Animals and Plants.
Each species comes, of course,
with its own dictionary.
Even a simple "Hi there,"
when traded with a fish,
make both the fish and you
feel quite extraordinary.

The long-suspected meanings
of rustlings, chirps, and growls!
Soliloquies of forests!
The epic hoot of owls!

Those crafty hedgehogs drafting
aphorisms after dark,
while we blindly believe
they are sleeping in the park!

Time (Chapter Two) retains
its sacred right to meddle
in each earthly affair.
Still, time's unbounded power
that makes a mountain crumble,
moves seas, rotates a star,
won't be enough to tear
lovers apart: they are
too naked, too embraced,
too much like timid sparrows.

Old age is, in my book,
the price that felons pay,
so don't whine that it's steep:
you'll stay young if you're good.
Suffering (Chapter Three)
doesn't insult the body.
Death? It comes in your sleep,
exactly as it should.

When it comes, you'll be dreaming
that you don't need to breathe;
that breathless silence is
the music of the dark
and it's part of the rhythm
to vanish like a spark.
Only a death like that. A rose
could prick you harder, I suppose;
you'd feel more terror at the sound
of petals falling to the ground.

Only a world like that. To die
just that much. And to live just so.
And all the rest is Bach's fugue, played
for the time being
on a saw.

~ Wislawa Szymborska ~
Wislawa Szymborska
From Poems New and Collected, trans. by S. Baranczak and C. Cavanagh

My favorite line in the poem is about the crafty hedgehogs drafting aphorisms after dark. The image always makes me laugh. But ten years ago, Dr. Madan Kataria burst out laughing with no hedgehogs in sight. It felt good and inspired him to help form 3000 "laughter clubs" throughout India. "When you laugh, you change," explains Kataria. "And when you change, the whole world changes around you." This video shows the beginnings of laughter yoga.

[John Cleese – Laughter Clubs in India]

"At the height of laughter, the universe is flung
into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities."

Jean Houston

Kataria's example has spread to 53 countries now, including places and situations of overwhelming difficulty. There is "crying laughter" after tragedy, and healing laughter after the terrorist attacks of Mumbai. At times, I've wondered if some things should be out of bounds for laughter, which was my feeling when Harold and Kumar's Escape from Guantanamo came out. But then I thought, to picture the President using the Bill of Rights as toilet paper might bring the message home to a disaffected generation. In this same generation, however, there are many who are bringing awareness to their teachers and parents. Last weekend, Santa Cruz held a Human Rights Fair to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Universal Human Rights, also found at Wikipedia. At it, Amnesty International presented youth awards for essays, poetry, and music.

Featured Topic — Third–Generation Lap Cats

Now we'll move on to this week's essay on Third Generation Lap Cats. In last week's feature, we looked at the concept of money, and what money actually represents. Rather than being a unit of exchange – a symbol that facilitates trade – we saw it as an arbitrary unit of advantage. What it creates is a one-way conveyer belt that takes products out of one economy and delivers them to another, with nothing but money going the other way. To continue with this theme, we'll first ask whether the money going into other economies is a benefit to those who live there. We'll look at a specific example in the Free Trade Agreement with Peru. Then we'll ask whether being the richest nation in the world serves us, here as the castle crumbles. For three generations now, we've been the royal house cats, performing corporate tricks for our kibbles and treats. Could we survive in the wild if we joined with our feral friends? How dependent have we become on our home cat advantage? And finally, we'll propose a slow and gradual way out of the royal mess we're in, which requires us to rethink everything from how we housetrain our kittens to how we sharpen our claws. But first, we'll start with Peru.

If we want to stop wars before they start, the place to focus is on trade agreements, which have nothing to do with actual trade. They represent the collusion of investors and the US government with the investors and governments of other countries. Since these people are a microfraction of each population, there needs to be a rationale. This goes something like this: it makes sense to bring products to a market thousands of miles away because they can pay more. More money equals a higher quality of living. A high tide floats all boats. But how does it really work?

Trade Doesn't Make the GRADE

Peruvian economists did an analysis called GRADE that took the money that the Peru-US Free Trade Agreement, called the TLC, would bring into Peru, and broke it down by rural and urban areas. It showed that the TLC would take 158M from poor populations, and make 575M for city-dwellers. The Sierra highlands, with the most extreme poverty, would lose 100M, while Metropolitan Lima, where the wealthiest live, would gain 350M. From a distance, it looks like the TLC brings money into Peru, but it makes the rich richer at the expense of the poor. Products and agriculture used for subsistence are assigned no value under trade agreements – only products that are sold. It therefore counts sustainable communities and families as worthless. The GRADE analysis demonstrated that the TLC would exacerbate the rural to urban migration, overburdening population centers with greater unemployment. The $7-billion in trade between Peru and the U.S. may have swayed Congress, but to Incan mathematicians, shipping food 4000 miles away in order to buy food from 4000 miles away doesn't compute.

On July 11-12, millions of Peruvians marched, occupied public buildings, and blockaded roads and airport runways in a nationwide mass protest involving teachers, miners, agro-export workers, textile and industrial workers, students, and small merchants. Premier Jorge Del Castillo said the strike wave was against democracy, and called for a "strong hand" against the protesters and unions, or this "extremist conduct" would scare away investors. Political analyst Eduardo Toche said "the only short term measure to maintain control was the militarization of the country."

Suicidal Parasites and Crazy Anarchy–Mongers

President Garcia's response to the protests was to call the teachers "parasites" and the grassroots leaders of the most impoverished areas "crazy, suicidal, and resentful." He had already issued decrees that classified strikes as illegal attempts at extortion and the detention of public officials as kidnapping. They also declared that members of the armed forces or police who injure or kill someone in the line of duty cannot be held legally responsible or tried in court. Trade unions and civil society groups called these decrees a legal framework for harsh repression of protest. Castillo's retort was that "Democracy is not disorder, and the country does not belong to the anarchy-mongers."

The US Ambassador said that the protest would have no effect on passing the TLC and he was right. Congress voted for it, including our own representative Sam Farr. Since then, the violence against farmers and civilians has so intensified that Congress has been embarrassed into delaying ratification. My friend David Bayer is an agroecologist in Peru's Ica Valley, where asparagus exports are king. He's planted 3500 trees at his own expense on hills that have been deforested. He just sent photos of the deplorable housing for asparagus growers, without water or sanitation. They labor 14 hrs a day, off the books of the agroexporters, and speak Quechua, which doesn't translate into labor or human rights. According to David's calculations, within 10 years all the aquifers will go dry, since this desert area is inappropriate for such a water-intensive crop. It was, however, perfectly adapted to Northern California around the Sacramento River, until USAID teamed with the U of Davis. Using taxpayer "humanitarian aid" and government grants, they conspired to flood the US market with cheap Peruvian asparagus until California growers couldn't compete. Rather than money being a rising tide, it's sunk them into poverty and environmental disaster, and lowered us to being dependent on the exploitation of others.

World Bank and IMF are Midas Machines

There are two opposite ways of defining security, and one is always sacrificed as the means to the other. If the accumulation of money is seen as the goal, then it's profitable to put as much distance as possible between producers and consumers, threatening food security. This is the pro-development model of foreign aid, which is also pro-dependency. The World Bank and IMF can be seen as Midas machines that chew up lives and spit out profits. The other model is food sovereignty, in which the ultimate goal is to be a subsistence farmer in a world of people doing the same thing. In this paradigm the purpose of money is to turn it back into a unit of trade. A food-backed economy would do the opposite of Rumpelstiltskin – it would spin gold into straw. It would have the opposite effect of the Midas touch, by taking money and turning it back into life. Later we'll elaborate on how to do that.

If money is a measure of advantage, and the US is the richest nation in world, doesn't that make us the most advantaged people? Well, yes and no. A pro-development model of charity is also pro-dependency. In the same way, the most developed countries are also the most dependent. We have an advantage in accessing the products of other people's labor, but we're at the greatest disadvantage in using our own labor to make what we need.

Pulling a Rabbit Out of the Home Equity Hat

Financial independence is an oxymoron, as we're quickly discovering. We're all working for the three C's – capitalism, commercialism and consumerism – when we should be working on the three S's – small-scale sustainable. The shift from one to the other, however, can't happen with a snap of the fingers. Those who've had good jobs and made good money are still mired in mortgage debt, insurance payments, property taxes, and bills. We've been tricked into putting our savings for our kids' futures and our own retirement into the stock market, with the government ready to exact steep fines if we try to extricate it. In the meantime, it's evaporated.

The corporate reaction to economic downturn is to lay people off. Unemployment in California is already over 8%. Even large, stable employers are going into a second round of cuts in the same quarter. In this market, no one is hiring. What's going to happen? We can't pull a rabbit out of the home equity hat like last time. If we don't have jobs, we won't be able to refinance. It's possible that even those with equity in their homes may be forced to sell. With no job security, those who are still employed won't be spending. The unemployed, uninsured, and homeless will be like that scene in the Titanic where everyone's defending their own lifeboat. Is this what we want, no matter which side of the lifeboat we're on?

Teaching New Software Engineers Old Tricks

I hear that Obama has a New Deal package where we're going to build roads and bridges. But during the last New Deal, we had a lot fewer software engineers. How are we going to make that transition? We don't have the skills or the tools in our society to make that leap. We're accountant and lawyers and other kinds of house cats, not welders. If we're going to learn new tricks as old dogs and cats, we need time to do it. We also have to pay off these debts we were tricked into.

So here's my idea. Corporations are chartered by the public. They're under trust to serve the public interest responsibly. If they funnel money to investors when times are good but cut and run when times are bad, the public has no reason to tolerate them. It's essential to our survival to keep employment high over the next decade. Unless companies rehire their laid-off workers and stop laying off more, they should lose their charters.

Of course, companies have to cut costs or they can't survive. So the government should authorize cuts for salaried employees, whether unionized or not, by the following formula – 1% for every $10,000 of salary. Someone who made $10,000/yr would make $9,900. Someone who made $50,000 would make $47,500. 100K would become 90K, 200K would be 160K, and 500K and above would be cut in half. This would save the company more than laying off 10% of their staff. It would protect the value of their stock. And if it still didn't make them profitable, they could do it again.

Preparing the Ground for a Softer Crash Landing

The important thing, socially, is that no one would be totally out of work. Mortgages could still be paid. The future would be predictable and we could focus on bringing the cost of living down. We could start educating our kids to be those welders and farmers. But also, the workweek would need to be reduced by 10% to 36 hrs. For the other 4 hrs, employees would invest their services in their communities, free of charge. As our high-flying economy lost altitude, we'd be preparing the ground for a softer landing than the crash we're heading for now.

On next week's show, we'll pick back up on religion with A People's History of the New Testament, which looks back 2000 years at the view from the political underbelly of the Roman Empire - the occupied territory of Judea. In this context, we'll ask who Jesus' message was good news for. We'll also look at Ecuador's decision to default on their foreign debt – and who this is good and bad news for. And we'll play the video trailer from the Global Oneness project, which may be the true meaning of Christmas.

This has been Tereza Coraggio as your host of Third Paradigm, broadcasting from Free Radio Santa Cruz. Thank you to Skidmark Bob for production, editing and music. And thank you to Upstart Radio, now broadcasting Third Paradigm at Check out the great collection of artsy U's on their website. We'll leave you with a song by the band Nico Vega called Wooden Dolls. Thank you for listening.

[Nico Vega – Wooden Dolls]