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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


Horatio Alger and the Half-Blood President

July 26, 2009

3P-037 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 37th episode of Third Paradigm, entitled Horatio Alger and the Half-Blood President. In this show, we'll look at how form has triumphed over function – how diversity, or the inclusion of minorities at high government levels, has replaced the goal of a just system. A just system would result in representation that roughly corresponded to the population. But that would be a byproduct, not the goal. Justice begins with an honest understanding of how we, the US, treat others. What's enabled us, rich and poor alike, to be consumers of foreign-made goods while we produce little besides high tech weaponry? Equal opportunity within an imperial system is an agreement between thieves about how to divide the loot. We perceive politicians to be in positions of power. And they are – as long as the US is an empire. If we were electing politicians to do the unpopular, unlucrative job of bringing us back from the precipice of empire we're teetering on, I think we wouldn't care what color they were.

Besides our own Horatio Alger, the president who pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, we'll look at Condaleezza Rice and Sonia Sotomayor. We'll ask whether, by being the exceptions that prove the rule, their roles and positions have done their race, class, and genders any favors.

But first, let's hear two poems: Query by Jean Burden and Utopia by Wislawa Szymborska.


I asked the birds
who sing at night
where they learned their songs,
and what they sang about.

They said, "We learn from
birds who sing by day,
but what we sing about
is hard for us to say."

"Only those with beak
and wing can fathom joy
in dark and doubt.
The sky may turn to evening
and the sun to moon,
but we sing
of what you do not speak -
how night is sometimes noon,
how any season of the soul
can, with time, be coaxed to spring."

~ Jean Burden ~
From Poetry Magazine, Fall 2002

* * * * * * *


Island where all becomes clear.

Solid ground beneath your feet.

The only roads are those that offer access.

Bushes bend beneath the weight of proofs.

The Tree of Valid Supposition grows here
with branches disentangled since time immemorial.

The Tree of Understanding, dazzlingly straight and simple,
sprouts by the spring called Now I Get It.

The thicker the woods, the vaster the vista:
the Valley of Obviously.

If any doubts arise, the wind dispels them instantly.

Echoes stir unsummoned
and eagerly explain all the secrets of the worlds.

On the right a cave where Meaning lies.

On the left the Lake of Deep Conviction.
Truth breaks from the bottom and bobs to the surface.

Unshakable Confidence towers over the valley.
Its peak offers an excellent view of the Essence of Things.

For all its charms, the island is uninhabited,
and the faint footprints scattered on its beaches
turn without exception to the sea.

As if all you can do here is leave
and plunge, never to return, into the depths.

Into unfathomable life.

~ Wislawa Szymborska ~
From A Large Number, translated by S. Baranczak & C. Cavanagh

Wislawa says that no one stays on the island where all becomes clear. But I could use an occasional vacation to the Lake of Deep Conviction. Next Sunday I'll be on Bainbridge Island, which may be as close as it gets, the home of David Korten and YES! magazine. I'll be meeting with my friend Scott James, the founder of Fair Trade Sports, who teaches at Bainbridge Graduate Institute, which is a model school of sustainability. So next Sunday I won't be broadcasting a new show, but if I find any peaks with an excellent view of the essence of things, I promise to bring back some photos.

In Derrick Jensen's cornerstone book, The Culture of Make-Believe, he talks about the need for both carrots and sticks to keep a society in line. One of the carrots underlying American order, he says,

" the belief that with enough diligence, perseverance, pluck, and luck, you, too, can strike it rich. Anyone can. The next Bill Gates, we're told, is even now a teenager foregoing dates and basketball games so he can tinker on his computer and eventually invent the Next Big Thing. The Horatio Alger tale is an extraordinary piece of propaganda, for a number of reasons, undoubtedly the foremost of which has to do precisely with what the fable doesn't talk about."

What it doesn't talk about is the norm that the exception gives the lie to. A modern version of the saga is Forest Gump, played by Tom Hanks, the man who, in Charlie Wilson's War, made covert wars good and sexual harassment cute. Tom Hanks may be the consummate propaganda actor – the one who doesn't even know he's being used. Bubba Gump's a likeable, everyday guy who's not too bright. If he can make it, the message is, anyone can, because America's just that kind of country.

When a black man goes to prison, it's a reflection on him, not society, even though over 10% of black males between 25 and 29 are incarcerated compared to 1.2% of white men the same age. The number of black men in prison has grown to five times the rate it was twenty years ago. Today, more African-American men are in jail than in college. In 1980, there were only 150,000 black men in prison and almost half a million enrolled in college. By the year 2000 there were almost 800,000 black men in prison and 600,000 enrolled in college.

We don't ask, "What's wrong with our society that race would determine, by a factor of ten, whether or not our sons would end up in prison?" Instead we say, "What's wrong with black men? Why don't they study hard and stay in school?" In 1980, 1 black man was in prison for every 3 black men in college. By 2000, 4 black men were in prison for every 3 black men in college. Black men, as a race, didn't devolve during that time to become lazy and lawless. What changed was society. No matter what our individual feelings and perceptions are, the US so-called justice system became 4 to 5 times more racially-divided since the '80's.

Isn't that shocking? But there's no arguing with this. Numbers don't lie. We could debate whether the injustice starts with the educational system, or the lack of good jobs due to trade laws, or the quantity of cocaine vs. crack that's considered a felony. We could differ on whether racial discrimination is a byproduct or a premeditated goal. But we can't argue that the system has had an increasingly discrepant impact. Anecdotes and human interest stories are opinions given flesh, but numbers are the stuff that facts are made of.

My youngest daughter was recently shocked to find out that a person could get the death penalty for killing only one person. She thought it would be reserved for serial killers. I didn't explain that the more people you killed, the less likely you were to ever be arrested. Those at the top of their game kill with the stroke of a pen, not the stroke of a sword. Those at the very top don't even work their own pens.

We've been talking about statistics vs. exceptions, and which one reveals the truth. Related to this, my World Affairs Book Club this week was reading Fareed Zekaria, host of CNN's Fareed Zakaria GPS and editor of Newsweek International. His book is The Post-American World, which I had only read to page 30 before I put it down. He starts out by asking a hypothetical fortune-teller in 2000 to predict the economic future for the decade. He gives him some clues, citing Iran and North Korea's nuclear grabs, Russia's hostility, Chavez' anti-Western campaign, and Gaza as a failed state ruled by Hamas. But against these unlikely predictors, he asserts, the world economy grew at its fastest pace in nearly four decades. Income per person rose 3.2%, faster than any other period in history.

Excepting what he calls "Hugo Chavez's insane rants," developing countries during this time moved soberly toward monetary and fiscal discipline. Globalization has given countries fresh opportunities to move up the ladder of growth and prosperity. But it's given those countries with oil and gas reserves a free ride, he claims, surfing the wave without having to play by the rules of the global economy. These countries – Iran, Venezuela, and Russia, are the "nonmarket parasites on a market world." Not all resource-rich countries are rogues, however. Canada is acting extremely responsibly with its tar sands. Dubai has become an efficiently-run, business-friendly entrepot. Saudi and the Gulf states have invested $1 trillion the last 5 years and may pony up another $2 trillion.

But there are some problems. Wealth leads to nationalism, which has always perplexed Americans. When the US gets involved abroad, it believes it's genuinely trying to help other countries better themselves. He writes, "From the Philippines and Haiti to Vietnam and Iraq, the natives' reaction to US efforts has taken Americans by surprise." Why do they reject us when we're there to help?

Wealth will also put more stress on resources. Poor people are lucky to get 40 liters of water a day, as opposed to an American's 400, but they'll start demanding more as they get richer, leading to water wars. And agricultural produce is now so expensive that developing countries face a growing political problem of food inflation. Feeding a population of 8 billion by 2025 will require crop yields of four tons per hectare instead of the three we get today. We need more crop efficiency, Monsanto.

With listeners to the independent media, I can skip the editorial comments I gave to each of these claims. But the last one was the breaking point. If development has lifted more people out of poverty than ever before, why are we in a global food crisis? Why do 1 billion people, 1 out of every 6, now suffer from chronic hunger, more than ever before? And if developing countries are exporting food, why are they unable to afford their own crops? The group answered, "Why do you keep saying the same things? Zekaria says there's not a food crisis. Shut up and read the book." They said this, however, in nicer words.

It's not the first book club I've been kicked out of. I've been politely disinvited from any number of Bible studies, precisely because I had read the book. I've liked and respected my book club people, who are kind and funny and smart. But you can't change a lifetime of C-spam and CNN with a pithy rant, no matter how well-peppered with statistics. I could have quoted the World Bank that food prices have risen 83% over the last three years, which puts that 3.2% rise in income in perspective. I could cite charts showing that we produce 1.5X what's needed to feed all the world's people, and that production has risen over 2% a year while population growth has dropped to 1.1%. I could quote from Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved that 80% of production is consumed by 20% of the population, diverted into biofuels and luxury crops. But I think, with respect, it's just time to start a new book club that reads from the alternative press. Let's call it Economics as if our Lives Depended On It. And now let's break for Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova with When Your Mind's Made Up from the indie film Once.

[Once – When Your Mind's Made Up]

That was Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova with one of my family's favorite songs from one of our favorite movies, called Once. I've been surprised at how many of my kids' friends have seen and loved this movie, which is so low-key and different from the special-effect blockbusters. Really, nothing happens in it, but there's something very genuine about the people. My family's also been rewatching Juno, this time with the director's cuts. It has the same quality of ringing true, but I'm still suspicious that it was funded by the right2lifers.

Now let's look at our own Horatio Algers, who show that with pluck and luck, even a poor black kid with an absentee dad can become the President. Or a black girl from segregated Birmingham can grow up to be the Secretary of State, and be rated by Forbes as 2005's most powerful woman in the world. And a Puerto Rican girl from the South Bronx projects could become a member of the Supreme Court.

Senator Leahy ended his list of Sotomayor's accomplishments by saying "America's a great country, isn't it?" As if the one has anything to do with the other. When three people out of 86 million blacks and Latinos reach the highest public office, we don't credit it to their personal strengths as individuals. We see them as representing their races, and their achievement as a sign of America's progress and generosity. But when one out of 10 young black men goes to prison, up from one out of 50 20 years ago, we don't see them as representing systematic racial injustice that's gotten worse. Instead, we blame the black men. The President blames them, the other 20 million, by setting himself up as proof that they have no excuse not to be better students, better citizens, and better fathers. The wise Latina blames them, the other immigrants, voting against them in 83% of cases, with Republicans 95%, for the government 92%, and denying race claims 83%. And George Bush's Secretary of State needs no statistics to show whose side she was on.

Was the grilling of Sotomayor intended to keep her off the bench, or was it to insure that she'd be a "good nigger?" I use that term intentionally to shock listeners. Putting her on the defensive for any bias insures that any liberal ruling will be second-guessed. When has any candidate been cross-examined on his corporate holdings? Have we pounded them about the conflict of interest created by their investments or bank accounts or spouses' jobs? Have we asked whether their life experience makes them able to judge people in context? And finally, when statistically, a representative number of minorities deserve to be in office, are the few allowed in screened to create buy-in for a system that discriminates at home and destroys abroad?

This has been Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for production, music, and editing. We go out with a song to a man who stood up to a racist system, which didn't land him in the White House or the Supreme Court. This is Peter Gabriel with Biko.

Thanks for listening.