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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


Sovereignty: The Right to Do No Wrong

August 23, 2009

3P-040 Show Information (includes MP3 download link)

Welcome to the 40th episode of Third Paradigm, entitled Sovereignty: The Right to Do No Wrong. I think that sovereignty is one of the most misunderstood concepts in the English language, not to mention misspelled. I'm not throwing stones, mind you. There but for the grace of spellcheck go I. But spellcheck doesn't help with understanding what it is, and neither does Wikipedia.

Wikipedia gives the rather imperialist definition of sovereignty as the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a territory. It doesn't mention people who might live in that territory. It wages the debate between the divine right of kings, where might makes right, and the social contract, where right supposedly makes might. Arguing the first is Bodin, who says that civil wars create a craving for strong central authority, such as absolute monarchies. He admonishes that the sovereign must not be hedged in by rules, must be able to rule without his subjects' consent, and cannot be subject to his own laws, because that would be illogical. On the side of the social contract, Hobbes argued that to overcome the nasty, brutish and short quality of life, the people must join in a commonwealth and submit themselves to a sovereign power that will compel them to act in the common good. His legal maxim says there is no law without a sovereign. It skips right over the idea that people might rule themselves.

But Utah Philips asks, what use is a law: the good people don't need 'em and the bad people don't follow 'em? Anarchists = sovereigntists by any other name.

Wikipedia goes on to say that nations, claiming the right of self-determination can establish sovereign states, but have to be recognized by other nation-states in order to be sovereign. This seems rather like a catch-22 . You only have the right of self-determination if we determine you to. International laws also determine when a state can claim sovereignty over a territory. What's the difference between a state and a territory? Nothing but a word with a military behind it. Gotcha!

Continuing the name game, if you're a federation like the US, the national government has sovereignty over the state. But if you're a confederation like the Iroquois, the state government is sovereign over the national. The Iroquois were neither a confederacy of dunces nor of slaveowners. Confederacy has become simultaneous with slavery even though Lincoln told Virginia she could keep her slaves if she didn't secede. But both the state and the national government can simultaneously be sovereign, the article claims, because they both flow from the people. I'm coining this a confuderation of deuces. Caught between Iraq and a hard budget in California, who needs divine right for a royal flush?

David Cobb of Democracy Unlimited Humbolt County defines sovereignty as the question of who rules. They've just concluded their conference on deep democracy. People came from communities all over, including Santa Cruz, to organize against corporate sovereignty. David Korten's book title, When Corporations Ruled the Earth , phrases this phase optimistically in the past, like the age of Jurassic, Inc. At the opposite end of the spectrum from corporate sovereignty is "food sovereignty." This is the global movement to prioritize food security. It defines sovereignty as what rules rather than who. Food is the ultimate common good, and should be our guiding principle.

As hard as that is to argue, I'd like to propose that there's a principle even more universal than the right to food. I think that there's one human right on which all other human rights rest. My definition of sovereignty is the right to do no wrong. This is the sovereignty that we don't have, and that we'll never have until we restore it to those we've deprived of it. In the rest of this episode, I'll explain why we don't have it, and how we could recapture it, bit by bit, and bite by bite.

I had this conversation on Bainbridge Island, with my friend Scott James, founder of Fair Trade Sports . I was delighted to have lunch with Scott, after emailing back and forth for the last few years. I thought we were going to talk about his fair trade soccer balls but the conversation ranged from Bilderberg to the Bible to the motherplucker, a defeathering device that Scott has designed. I'll talk about the ways in which Scott's concept of sovereignty jives with mine, and we'll include a short interview after the show. But first, let's read two poems: Writing What I've Seen by Yuan Mei, and View #45 by Thomas Centolella.

Writing What I've Seen

All things that live
must make a living.
There's nothing got
without some getting.

From fabled beast to feeble bug
each schemes to make its way.
The Buddha, or the Taoist sage?
Unending in his labor;

and morning's herald, the rooster, too
can he not cock-a-doodle-do?
I hunger, so I plot to eat;
I'm cold, and would be robed....

But great grand schemes will get you grief.
Take what you need, that's all.
A light craft takes the wind
and skims the water lightly.

~ Yuan Mei ~
From I Don't Bow to Buddhas: Selected Poems of Yuan Mei, trans. J.P. Seaton

* * * * * * *

View #45 - After Hokusai and Hiroshige

I dreamt half my life was spent
in wonder, and never suspected.

So immersed in the moment
I forgot I was ever there.

Red-tailed hawk turning
resistance into ecstasy.

The patrolmen joking with the drunk
whose butt seemed glued to the sidewalk.

A coral quince blossom in winter,
pink as a lover's present.

And tilting my bamboo umbrella
against the warm slant

of rain, was I not a happy peasant
crossing the great bay on a bridge that began
who knows when, and will end
who knows when?

~ Thomas Centolella ~
From Views from along the Middle Way

My music we played today can be downloaded free at The red-tailed hawk turns resistance into ecstasy, the cops joke with the drunk, and he's a happy peasant. The international coalition, Via Campesina, or Way of the Peasant, is reclaiming the dignity of subsistence farming. In "Writing What I See," Yuan Mei says, "All things that live must make a living." Subsistence is taking what you need and skimming lightly. It's also the ultimate act of ecstatic resistance to empire.

So how we could re-claim our right to do no wrong, and why do we need to? In my episode A 2020 Vision, I lay out a gradual plan to become a confederacy of counties. California is too big in size, population, and economic scale to make the transition to skimming lightly. To accomplish county sovereignty, I've suggested that we collect all federal and state income and sales tax at the county level, the way we do property taxes. We'd then disburse them to those agencies but with a one-week lag-time. For the taxes that came in Monday through Friday, we'd transfer them the following Weds to the federal and state governments

There are several advantages to this. One is that we could fund our local governments without debt just from the float. Right now, schools have to submit budgets two years in advance proving to the state they can be solvent, just to get our own money back – as if we're the ones spending like a profligate sailor. More textbooks! Damn the torpedoes! Our schools have to agree to military recruiting to get back our money, speaking of damn torpedoes. Local collection, on the other hand, would put the power of the pursestrings back at the county level. And if the feds don't like it, they'd have to show us the place in the Constitution that mandates federal taxes. According to Zeitgeist, that statute doesn't exist.

Next, my plan calls for 2% more of each tax to be retained by the county each year. In the year 2011, we'd keep 2% of each tax we collect, but by the year 2020, we'd keep 20%. This would force federally-funded programs to compete for dwindling resources. It's like an incremental Jubilee that would free us entirely over the course of 50 years, but would give everyone time to adjust. Maybe, in the end, the military would need to have a bake sale to buy a bomber.

How could that money be distributed so it wouldn't create the same needier-than-thou competition we're in currently? Municipal deficits have pitted aid organizations against one another. Everyone's vying to show that their group is more victimized and oppressed than the next. Rather than survival of the fittest, it's survival of the loudest. You've seen our city council meetings; the world has now seen our city council meetings. The sad thing is that that woman was coherent compared to some. So how do you shift the debate from who you save first to where you start first in order to save everyone eventually? That's what I've been puzzling out lately. Here's my answer: fund the proposals that would give the most number of people the freedom to stop doing harm.

This would start an interesting sort of competition. Rather than arguing over who's been victimized the most, we'd want to show who's doing the most victimizing. But this wouldn't be a matter of blame or finger-pointing - exactly the opposite. We'd show what institutions leave us little choice. Politics are a way of forcing other people to do what we believe is right instead of taking responsibility ourselves. It rests on the assumption that some of us are more enlightened than others. The right targets pregnant teens, gays, and people on welfare. The left targets the so-called privileged and affluent. This plan says, before you force anyone else to do right, first look objectively, without guilt, at the harm you're doing. Look at what forces you into unhealthy compromises. What would help you get out of this bind?

I often hear people talk about privilege, and I wonder who they mean. It seems like before you can be privileged, you'd have to be secure. A friend once said that the only difference between him and a street person is a certain number of paychecks. How many can you stand to lose? Is that security? Is that affluence? Every time that someone else loses their home, does that make us more equal? Next Thursday I've been invited to co-interview Vivek Chibber, expert on economic sociology and empire in India. I'll post the interview here with next week's show, where I'll talk about Ellen Frank 's book, The Raw Deal: How Myths and Misinformation About the Deficit, Inflation, and Wealth Impoverish America . Let's break for Chris Pierce with Keep On Keeping On, and we'll return to the question of whether someone without the right to do no wrong can ever be free, much less privileged.

[Chris Pierce – Keep On Keepin' On]

We've been talking about how to implement an incremental Jubilee, where we could not keep on doing wrong. So how do you do it? Can you save enough for retirement or college without putting money in banks or the stock market? How do you buy a house or pay down a mortgage without working for a corporation? If we only bought green, organic, fair-trade, eco-brands not owned by multinationals, would there be anything left to buy? Is there such a thing as an ethical insurance company? All of these are questions of privilege, if you consider shelter and security to be so. They're only relevant to someone who has money, and who cares about what their money is doing to people in other countries. The left tells us, don't worry about what you're doing in other countries. Your first obligation is to the poor in your own community. Both ethically and strategically, I disagree. What our money does abroad creates poverty here. It destroys sustainability there, forcing factory work, agricultural exports, and migration, and destroys sustainability here through monetary dependence and competition with slave-wage labor.

A person who's working on both sides of the equation is Scott James, founder of Fair Trade Sports. I first heard of Scott when my daughter Olivia won a fair trade soccer ball in an essay contest about chocolate. Chocolate and sports balls, it turns out, have a lot in common – a high incidence of forced child labor. Think about this juxtaposition next time you see kids eating chocolate or playing sports. As we enter the school year, students will start selling chocolate to fundraise for sports equipment, in order to make it accessible to minorities and low-income kids. It's likely that the cocoa beans were harvested in the Ivory Coast by children kidnapped into slavery. And the sports balls were probably stitched by street kids in Pakistan where 1 out of 3 kids works instead of going to school – the highest rate of child labor in the world. Could there be a more graphic illustration of the danger of prioritizing community?

I started getting Scott's savvy and informative blog. An ex-Microsoft guy, he calls himself a free-marketer, which means that he does free marketing for groups like the Not For Sale campaign. Not for Sale is a coalition group of global abolitionists, started by David Batstone's book of the same name. They fight against human trafficking in all forms. We started corresponding about child labor in rubber and automotive tires, which is a particular concern of mine with the Stop Firestone campaign in Liberia. Besides this, Scott's pioneering the kind of company I've wanted to start – one that's for-people not for-profit. Inspired by Paul Newman 's precedent, he donates all profits to charities. As one indication of his leanings, his children are named Justice and Mercy. So I knew it would be fun to meet Scott when we went to Seattle.

What I didn't expect is that the conversation would turn to killing chickens. Of the eggs we incubated in the spring, half of them were, predictably, coming up roosters. Before our vacation, Calcifer was finding his crow. We'd been trying to hush him at 5:30 in the morning, but we knew we couldn't leave him for the week. After four emergency calls to our knacker-man, we were down to the last day. Some brave students came over and we researched the internet. Do you know that you can't watch a youtube on humane chicken slaughter without showing that you're 18, but the same page flashes a trailer for Halloween, a human slasher movie?

We caught Calcifer in a volleyball net, and improvised a kill cone from a golf club cover. I'll spare you the rest of the details, but it didn't go as planned. Do you know that feeling when you've done something awful and the only way out of it is to keep on going? My husband says the look on my face, mouthing the words, "Help Me!" is etched forever in his memory. When it was over, I was shaking and resolved never to go through that again, and never to let anyone else go through it. We need an Urban Slaughter Support Group.

Scott nodded knowingly throughout my story. It turns out they have such a thing on Bainbridge. He and some other backyard poultry enthusiasts help each other out, and initiate newbie's. He's designed something called the motherplucker, which has a youtube although I haven't found it yet. They rotate it around backyards or small farms and have done up to a hundred chickens in a day. But for Scott's more public persona, freeing children not chickens, stay tuned or check out the interview here.
We've finally completed the entire pencil sketch version of the
"True Cost of Coal" poster. Now all that remains is to render
the final drawing in graphite and ink and make it beautiful.

We'll end with a last song I heard at Music Mosaic at I found them because of something called Grant4Change at They're giving $10,000 away to the project with the most votes to create positive, lasting change. There's a volunteer design group called the Beehive Design Collective that does amazing, intricate illustrations of social problems. You might have seen their display last year at SubRosa. This year, they've been working on a series on Mountaintop Coal Removal , and the grant could pay to print and ship 10,000 posters. If you'd like to vote for their project before August 31st, go to and sign up. Try not to get distracted by the other 292 inspiring projects, including fair trade jewelry that profits mining communities, the Cambodian Photography Project, or One Dress, 365 days. A member of the Uniform Project is wearing the same dress reinvented daily for a year, using homemade, vintage, or donated accessories. All money raised goes to fund uniforms and school expenses for kids living in the slums of Mumbai. Check them all out at, and let's look for new ways to fund the rest of them.

This has been Tereza Coraggio with Third Paradigm. Thanks to Skidmark Bob for production and editing, and to for music. A special thanks to a listener named Maya, who made my day yesterday at the Farmer's Market. She recognized my voice when I was talking to a vendor and told me how much she enjoys the show and the progression it's made from the beginning. There's nothing as inspiring as finding out that people you don't even know are listening. Our ending song is If Ever There's a Reason by Derby.

[Derby – If Ever There's a Reason]

Thanks for listening.