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“How the CIA’s LSD Mind-Control Experiments Destroyed My Healthy, High-Functioning Father’s Brilliant Mind”                                

By W. Henry Wall, Jr.


Excerpt published on AlterNet, August 8, 2012

Editor’s Note: The following is an excerpt from From Healing to Hell, a memoir in which oral surgeon and inventor W. Henry Wall, Jr. explores how a mind-control experiment destroyed his father, former Georgia senator and mental health advocate, Dr. W. Henry Wall, Sr. “Daddy” became addicted to the narcotic Demerol after a routine dental procedure. His dependency eventually landed him in prison, where he became a victim of the CIA’s MK-Ultra experiment. 



In March 1979 the revelation came. After Times Books published journalist John Marks’s nonfiction opus The Search for the Manchurian Candidate, a horrifying exposé of a Central Intelligence Agency program known as MK-Ultra that focused on attempts to find an effective mind-control or “truth” drug, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution featured a series of six articles detailing the book’s content. By the time I read the second page of the second installment I knew exactly what had happened to my dad. Stunned, I read it again slowly to be quite sure.

As Marks reported, the linchpin of the MK-Ultra program was the compound d-lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD. I had heard plenty about this hallucinogen through the 1960s headline-grabbing antics of Timothy Leary,  Ken Kesey,  Allen Ginsberg, and other derangement devotees. Sought by some as a mind-expander, at times the LSD experience or “acid trip” plunged other users into terrifying sensations and led to ghastly flashbacks that might persist for years.

More to the point as far as Daddy was concerned, its bad effects were said to be even greater for a person given the drug in “circumstances not conducive to pleasant feelings”—as when you were given it by someone you despised, when colleagues had turned against you, when you were in prison, when you were struggling to overcome a narcotic habit on your own while everything you’d built up for years was being auctioned off on the courthouse square. And I already knew from my pharma-cological studies how far-reaching could be the aftereffects of a bad LSD trip, unique to this particular drug.

At long last I had the logical explanation of the sudden onset of Daddy’s terror of being driven insane, of the mental derangement that persisted as paranoia and “episodes” for years after his release. All of the elements matched up.

And among the various names of scientists mentioned in the article one leapt off the page: “Dr. Harris Isbell, director of the addiction research Center at the huge federal drug hospital in Lexington, Kentucky.” A hospital they might call it, but it was a prison for narcotics offenders, with the nationally acclaimed Isbell heading the center’s program. The very man whom Daddy so despised for his cavalier attitude toward drug-dependent patients in his charge, the enthusiastic dispenser of potions who enticed prisoner-addicts to volunteer for his experiments.

Among Isbell’s reports of his chemical experiments, he boasted, according to Marks, of having kept seven men on LSD for 77 straight days. And in cases where the response was not all that he hoped for, he doubled, tripled, even quadrupled the dose, noting that some of the subjects seemed to fear the doctors. My god, who wouldn’t have feared them? Such torment hardly bears imagining.

To put it plainly, what Harris Isbell did to my father was to assault him with a poison that permanently damaged his brain. In this day of effective alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs, it’s unthinkable that America citizens’ taxes paid this man to destroy his hostages’ minds and lives.

Can you imagine yourself a respectable, middle-aged, recently prominent, heretofore sane, professional man, being told god knows what as the walls undulate around you, the drab hospital room glows with psychedelic light, the air hums with unearthly vibrations, and the faces of those around you constantly shift from human to animal to gargoyles and back to human again? It’s scarcely imaginable, but that was what happened to Daddy.

As he shuddered through these weird visual and auditory sensations, Daddy would often have felt nauseated, perspired profusely, and had “goose-bump” skin and a racing heart. His blood sugar would shoot up—bad news for a diabetic—and at times he would feel himself grow huge, then imagine he had shrunk to the size of his own thumb. No wonder he phoned Mother in a panic to report they were giving him something to make him lose his mind.

As the long days and nights dragged on, his fears and depression surely mounted. He told us little about it, but relatively normal periods probably alternated with acute panic reactions and repeated psychotic episodes—what we know today as “flashbacks.” Daddy had never heard of LSD and knew nothing about such experiences, let alone sought them.

Expecting to be paroled after four and a half months at most, he was kept in Lexington for eight, incarcerated a total of nine if you include his month in Georgia jails, with the final five of those months made nightmarish by LSD.

Further imagine, if you will, the insanity of making a man in the throes of such derangements responsible for another, more gravely ill person’s care. Surely the poor old black addict from Chicago with advanced TB deserved better. I don’t doubt for a minute that Daddy looked after him as best he could, but who could remain a balanced, thoroughly vigilant nurse in the grip of such mental torment?

It is a testament to the basically sound fabric of my father’s mind and constitution that he survived without taking his own life or that of any other.

The CIA’s ill-conceived covert Cold War scheme to find a mind-control drug for use on hostile leaders had caught my patriot father in its hateful web, as much a prisoner of war as if he were locked in a Communist prison. For 13 years afterward he would strive manfully to break free, but for all practical purposes his life was ruined. Once I grasped that much, I believed I understood why Daddy had been kept on in Lexington beyond the usual “cure” period referred to in his letters. The additional time was to allow Isbell to observe and record his behavior following the drug assault. Even when he was finally sent home, having received no treatment of any sort for his drug dependence, Isbell made no provision whatever for psychiatric or medical follow-up. I found it heinous beyond belief that this violated man, still prey to paranoid flashbacks, was simply turned loose to his bewildered family and whatever fate might overtake him.

On the one occasion when Isbell did invite Daddy to volunteer for his drug tests, Daddy refused outright. He never knew what persuaded his fellow inmates to sign up, but from Marks I learned the answer. Those who volunteered either got time off from their sentences or else were rewarded with the purest doses of their preferred drug—generally heroin or morphine. They were addicts, after all, and most chose their reward of choice. How much easier it was to get high in the safety of a clean hospital room where three meals a day were provided, as opposed to the dangerous daily struggle to cop a fix on the street. it’s not surprising that as word got out via the addicts’ grapevine, recidivism at Lexington approached 90 percent.

Once I learned of the reward system, it also seemed obvious that the politically astute Isbell would never have risked offering Daddy, a prominent narcotic-addicted physician sent there to break free of his drug, a reward in the form of that same narcotic. Had he presented Daddy with such an outrageous offer, Daddy would have done all in his power to blow the whistle on the man—fruitlessly, of course, in view of the CIA’s shield of secrecy. Isbell probably used that single offer to test the waters with Daddy, then backed off from further attempts at persuasion.

When Daddy turned him down, Isbell must then have ordered surreptitious dosing with the hallucinogen. How was it done? Daddy always thought it was in his food or something given him to drink. The easiest way might have been a tiny speck of LSD in the water pitcher beside Daddy’s bed. Odorless, colorless and tasteless, the chemical was undetectable other than by the mental derangement it caused.

God knows how many others at Lexington were also Isbell’s guinea pigs. To Daddy’s credit—and thanks to his resourcefulness—he caught on quickly enough to take himself out of the “experiment” by refusing all food and drink except for water and canned soup. But he still drank water, so though his dosage might have been reduced, he was probably still getting LSD.

And Isbell was only one of numerous scientists at prestigious institutions who accepted CIA grants to run LSD experiments on human subjects. Many students at various colleges and universities were paid to participate. The first medical centers to receive grants were Boston Psychopathic Hospital (later renamed Massachusetts Mental Health Center), New York’s Mt. Sinai and Columbia hospitals, the University of Illinois Medical School, Isbell’s own center at Lexington operating under the respectable cover of the Navy and national institutes of mental Health (NIMH), and the Universities of Oklahoma and Rochester.

While I knew I had found the answer to questions we had agonized over for so many years, I still found it hard to take in all that I had read. Could an agency of my own U.S. government truly have authorized and funded such reprehensible abuse of a loyal citizen and public servant, a sick man whose only crime was becoming dependent upon a painkiller his doctors had prescribed? Undoubtedly there was much more to be learned, but for the first installment this was more than enough.

I WENT BACK to read the first of the newspaper installments, pounced on the ones that followed day by day, and began to put all the known facts into place. Apparently the first U.S. concerns about behavior and mind control had arisen during the 1940s in the wartime Office of Strategic Services (OSS) created for intelligence work, about the same time that Germany’s SS and Gestapo doctors were experimenting on Dachau prisoners with mescaline, another hallucinogen. In the U.S. the OSS set up its own “truth drug” committee and tested mescaline, barbiturates and scopolamine before settling on a concentrated extract of marijuana as their best hope.

With an eye to persuading the Mafia to help protect New York’s harbor from enemy infiltrators and support the invasion of Sicily, an OSS captain named George White first used the doped cigarettes to loosen up a New York gangster. With that first modest success the U.S. government’s mind-control quest was underway. 

By 1946, revelations about atrocities performed by Nazi doctors impelled the Nuremberg war-crimes judges to draw up an international standard for scientific research that became known as the Nuremberg Code. It stated that no persons could be experimented on without their full voluntary consent, that all experiments should add to the good of society, and that no experiments could risk death or serious injury unless the researchers themselves served as test subjects. The following year brought sufficiently great concerns about the aims of Communist regimes that the U.S. Congress passed the National Security Act. Under one of its provisions the wartime OSS was succeeded by a new organization, the CIA. At the time, former President Herbert Hoover expressed sentiments fairly typical of the national outlook:. . .

We are facing an implacable enemy whose avowed object is world domination by whatever means and at whatever cost. There are no rules in such a game. Hitherto acceptable longstanding America concepts of “fair play” must be reconsidered. We must . . . learn to subvert, sabotage, and destroy our enemies by more clever, sophisticated, and more effective methods than those used against us.

Many of the CIA’s personnel were OSS holdovers, and while they could not quite sink to the chilling inhumanity of the nazi doctors, the CIA took up the mind-control work. Upright Mr. Hoover surely had no inkling of the lengths to which the embryo agency would go, once notions of fair play fell away. The CIA’s men would go on to experiment, as marks observed, “with dangerous and unknown techniques on people who had no idea what was happening . . . [They] systematically violated the free will and mental dignity of their subjects and . . . chose to victimize . . . groups of people whose existence they considered . . .less worthy than their own.”

The Nazis had abused Jews, gypsies and prisoners; the CIA experimenters would prey on “mental patients, prostitutes, foreigners, drug addicts, and prisoners, often from minority ethnic groups” (most of the Lexington subjects were black). Mentally defective persons by the very nature of their affliction could never have given fully informed consent, yet they too became subjects for some of the mind-control tests. In the end the CIA zanies would violate every precept of the Nuremberg Code.

THE FIRST WIDESPREAD public concerns about MK-Ultra had been raised by the 1975 Rockefeller Commission’s hearings, with more information coming to light through congressional hearings led by Senators Frank Church and Edward Kennedy. Their findings prompted the New York Times to publish a front-page article headlined “Private institutions Used in C.I.A. Effort to Control Behavior.” Other national magazines—Time, for one—ran similar pieces, but if I ever saw any of those articles, they failed to stick in my mind. Not until I read the 1979 Atlanta series summarizing Marks’ book did I grasp the full horror of what had gone on.

In its early years the CIA was such a small, clubby, shadowy organization that few Americans even knew existed, but alarms about mind control—or brainwashing—arose within its close-knit ranks in response to the glassy-eyed 1949 confession of Józef Cardinal Mindszenty at his Budapest treason trial. Convinced with Hoover that the Communists were dead-set on world domination, the CIA honchos believed the Russians were using methods of mind-control to further that aim. Determined to be prepared to fight fire with fire, the agency accelerated its mind-control movement, with disastrous results for thousands of America citizens and ultimately, I believe, for America society as a whole.

In that same year of 1949 Dr. Robert Hyde of Boston became the first known America LSD tripper. It made him paranoid for a time, yet he went on to become a consultant to the CIA. After Dr. Hyde’s maiden hallucinogenic voyage, little was known about the mind-blowing drug when a rumor arose claiming that its sole manufacturer, the Swiss pharmaceutical concern Sandoz, had sold the Russians 50 million doses of LSD. Blind to the rumor’s absurdity and panicked at the thought of such a weapon in Communist hands, the CIA worked on its own plans for the chemical, as the U.S. Army was already doing.

By 1950, CIA teams were running secret chemical tests on North Korean prisoners of war hoping to achieve mind control, amnesia, or both. The year that followed was a crucial one for the mind- and behavior control impetus. Dulles, who had graduated from spying for the OSS to become the CIA’s director, vividly recalled a wartime meeting with Dr. Albert Hofmann, the Sandoz chemist who discovered LSD. Hofmann told Dulles that after inadvertently dosing himself with the drug he became so terrified that he “would have confessed to anything.” On the basis of that admission, Dulles authorized his CIA people to cooperate with U.S. military intelligence and British and Canadian teams in a behavior-control program first called Project Bluebird, later renamed Project Artichoke.

Responsibility for recruiting medical scientists for Artichoke went to the agency’s technical Services Staff (TSS), with instructions to enlist only those experimenters with no moral or ethical scruples about engaging in possibly lethal work. Around this same time the CIA also considered electroshock experiments and neurosurgical techniques for behavior control. Besides concentrated marijuana, drugs used in the CIA and army experiments included cocaine, heroin, PCP, amyl nitrate, psilocybin, hallucinogenic mushrooms, barbiturates, nitrous oxide, speed, alcohol, morphine, ether, benzedrine, mescaline, and a host of others. But LSD quickly became the favorite, as it had the most powerful effects.

Subjects who took it might become extremely anxious, lose contact with reality, and suffer severe mental confusion. They hallucinated and often became paranoid, experiencing acute distortions of time, place, and body image. The experimenters never knew what their subjects’ mood might be—anything from panic to bliss. The drug produced mental states similar to those known to occur in schizophrenia: intense color perceptions, depersonalization, psychic disorganization, and disintegration. The paramount effect was a breakdown in a subject’s character defenses for handling anxiety—bad stuff indeed, and just the kind of thing the CIA was looking for.

In April 1953, as Daddy’s modest Blakely enterprises collapsed, Allen Dulles and his former OSS colleague and now henchman Richard Helms put Helms’ protégé, a clubfooted Ph.D. chemist and former Young Socialist from Caltech named Sidney Gottlieb, in charge of Artichoke, rechristened MK-Ultra, with the specific aim of exploring “covert use of biological and chemical and radiological materials.” The initial MK-Ultra budget was $300,000, by no means small for the time. Eager to see for himself what LSD could do, Gottlieb focused on it, and to his victims’ eternal loss, MK-Ultra was off and running.

In spite of warnings that LSD was known to produce insanity that could last “for periods of 8 to 18 hours and possibly for longer,” the agency’s medical office issued a mind-boggling recommendation: all CIA personnel should be given LSD, across the board. Many agents took it, including the MK-Ultra gang. That fact alone should have raised red flags. How many of them were made crazy themselves? After who knows how many acid trips, would you or I trust ourselves to make wise decisions.

Elated with these beginnings in spite of a few observed “bad trips,” Gottlieb, who would eventually admit to 200 LSD trips of his own, then decided to test his favorite mind-bender on unsuspecting persons in other countries and made multiple trips abroad with a stash of LSD for the purpose. He knew his superiors approved the secret dosing of unwitting people, contending that if a subject knew what he would be given and when, it would affect his response and skew the test.

While Gottlieb and his gang continued their freelance chemical capers, they were beginning to want reputable scientific research to back up their theories. Scientists at NIMH were also interested in learning more about LSD. If any large-scale testing of the drug was to be done, however, money must be found to pay for it. Gottlieb quickly rose to the challenge. From their vast CIA treasure chest he and his MK-Ultra cohort arranged to channel enormous sums of agency money to select consultants at well-known medical or educational institutions, in the guise of grants from two foundations—the Geschickter Fund for medical research and the Josiah Macy Jr., Foundation. A third faked-up conduit, the Society for the Investigation of Human Ecology, would later come into play.

Although the CIA origins of the money were not made public, recipients were well aware of its true source, because Gottlieb and his  underlings often visited the project sites, and the researchers reported directly to them. The agency cloaked the project in utmost secrecy, knowing very well what a hue and cry would erupt if the America public caught wind of such nefarious goings-on. Secrecy about CIA involvement was definitely preserved at Lexington. Hungry for status and acclaim, the power-drunk Dr. Isbell enhanced his own professional standing by publishing articles about his activities, though taking care never to state that his subjects were federal prisoners.

Irrefutable evidence that Gottlieb understood the need for secrecy was the early agreement he made with his mentor Helms to keep no records of MK-Ultra activities. Before these co-conspirators retired two decades later, they would make strenuous efforts to destroy what few incriminating files did exist. Had they not missed some 130 boxes, we would never know the havoc they wrought.

Just after Daddy was transported to Lexington, MK-Ultra suffered what should have been a fatal setback, barely concealed by the agency’s clumsy efforts at secrecy. A Ph.D. biochemist named Frank Olson was one of the scientists assigned to the army Chemical Corps’ Special Operations Division (SOD) at Fort Detrick, Maryland, working on diseases and toxins that ranged from instantly lethal chemicals to bacteria capable of disabling without killing the targeted person. An anthrax specialist, Olson was actually on the CIA’s payroll, and he and his boss, lt. Col. Vincent Ruwet, were included in a three-day working SOD-CIA retreat at an isolated lodge in western Maryland.

Gottlieb was also present, and in the course of their stay undertook to try out his pet hallucinogen on the unsuspecting group. He laced a bottle of Cointreau with LSD and offered it to the others after the evening meal. When all but two of those present had swallowed their drinks, he told them what he had done—or so he would later claim.

Calamity was the result. While the other four Cointreau trippers became giggly and uninhibited, Olson went completely around the bend. Unable to make sense of what was going on, he couldn’t understand why the others were laughing and believed he was the butt of their jokes. Persistently agitated the next morning, he returned home in what his wife called a highly atypical state and told her he had been ridiculed by his colleagues for a dreadful mistake but refused to give details.

The following day, still deeply disturbed, he reported to work intent on resigning but was persuaded by Ruwet to wait. When his agitation continued and Ruwet called on the CIA for advice, the decision was made to get Olson to New York to see Dr. Harold Abramson, one of the MK-Ultra grant recipients who believed, eccentrically, in alcohol as a useful antidote for a bad acid trip. (Abramson had first come to Gottlieb’s attention when he proposed giving mentally sound patients LSD without their knowledge for “psychotherapeutic purposes.”)

In the role of Olson’s minders, Ruwet and Robert Lashbrook, another CIA man, went along. They made no objections when Dr. Abramson left Olson in the hotel room with a bottle of bourbon and a quantity of barbiturate pills—a combination which, taken in a large enough quantity, can be fatal. The night before Olson was to return to his family for Thanksgiving, he went out of the hotel in a delusional state to wander the streets. He threw away his wallet, tore up all his currency, believing it to be secret orders of some sort, and discarded his government identification. With daylight he, Ruwet and Lashbrook took a plane back to Washington, but once there Olson refused to see his family for fear he might turn violent. The situation was desperate. Ruwet left to allay the Olson family’s concerns, while Lashbrook returned to New York with their pitiably disturbed charge.

When Dr. Abramson saw the psychotic Olson and realized the problem was beyond his competence, he arranged for Olson to enter a Maryland sanitarium the next day, one that was considered secure by the CIA. After Lashbrook checked the two of them into a New York hotel room for the night, Olson phoned his wife to tell her he was better. Lashbrook would later report going to sleep only to awaken in the wee hours just in time to see Olson tear across their tenth-floor room at a run, then crash headlong through the drawn blinds and closed window. The tormented scientist plummeted to the sidewalk below and was found there by the hotel’s night manager, barely alive and mumbling incoherently. An ambulance was called, but he died before anyone could learn who he was or why he’d fallen.

After an in-house inquiry at the CIA, Lashbrook left the agency, while Gottlieb—who was taken to task only mildly—said that the drug had no serious side effects and that Olson’s death was just one of the risks of scientific experiments. He was allowed to continue his MK-Ultra activities for another 19 years.

The agency did its best to convince the Olson family that its despondent breadwinner had committed suicide. Ruwet always kept in touch with the family, and the CIA saw to it that Mrs. Olson received her husband’s government pension. But she was unable to forget that in the months before he died, something connected with his work had troubled her husband profoundly, and she refused to believe he would

intentionally abandon her or his three children. For a time, that was as far as the story went.

TWO DECADES LATER, after James Schlesinger was named head of the CIA in 1973, he issued orders that all CIA employees were to inform him of any “improper or illegal acts” the agency might have carried out. He must have had no idea how much damning information would pour in. While Nixon fought the Watergate scandal, Schlesinger fielded a spate of reports going back as far as the North Korean and Vietnam conflicts, including the very first schemes of Gottlieb and his loose-cannon squad. In the purge that followed Schlesinger fired at least 250 CIA employees before Nixon extricated him from the morass by appointing him Secretary of Defense. Gottlieb and Helms stayed on.

Schlesinger’s CIA successor, William Colby, was another former OSS man, well aware he had inherited a colossal nightmare. To his credit, he stuck to the job through an unprecedented public outcry until his mysterious death while boating on a Maryland river.

In December 1974, Seymour Hersh of the New York Times brought the Olson family’s tragedy to public notice, implying that the CIA had run rampant for years. At that point President Ford named Vice-President Nelson Rockefeller head of a blue-ribbon panel to investigate the whole mess, including MK-Ultra. When the Rockefeller Commission brought  its full report back to Congress and the President, included were recommendations for future avoidance of such scandals. Among its findings, the Commission verified that 22 years previously an unnamed civilian unwittingly given LSD by the CIA had plunged from a New York hotel window to his death. The facts were too congruent for the Olsons to ignore. Pressed by Olson’s daughter, Ruwet finally admitted what had happened, or at least gave her the CIA’s doctored version of events.

Outraged, the Olson family went public and sued the U.S. government. They received a personal apology in 1976 from President Gerald Ford and a compensation award of $750,000 from Congress on condition that they never speak publicly of the matter again. By this time Director Colby had revealed enough agency secrets that Richard Helms was convicted of perjury and given a suspended jail term and a $2,000 fine, which his buddies paid because in CIA circles ratting on one’s colleagues “simply wasn’t done.” After Colby’s death George H. W. Bush replaced him to serve in the job for one year. Neither Gottlieb nor the CIA ever admitted any wrongdoing. But no matter how fervently the CIA spooks hoped they’d quashed their dirty little story, there was still more to come.

Forty years after Frank Olson’s death, Harvard professor Michael Ignatieff, an international authority on human rights and former classmate of Olson’s son Eric, took up the Olson case and in a New York Times piece raised many troubling questions about the official version of events. As Ignatieff reported, many years after the tragedy Eric Olson had gone to New York and visited the hotel room from which his father was said to have thrown himself to his death. Already suspicious of the official account, young Olson discovered that the room was too small to allow anyone to run at the window, the window sill too high and too obstructed for anyone to go over it with enough force to crash through a closed blind and window. Still in search of a credible explanation, Eric Olson, his brother, and his mother called on both Gottlieb and Lashbrook but got nothing out of either of them. 

Frank Olson’s passport indicated several trips to Europe in the summer of 1953, and according to Ignatieff’s account, a British journalist  with good reason to know told Eric how during that summer Olson had told a London psychiatrist he was deeply troubled by secret U.S.-British experiments he had witnessed in Germany. The journalist’s guess was that Olson had seen some truth-serum and interrogation experiments that ended in the death of one or more “captured Russian agents and ex-Nazis.” Furthermore, the CIA files turned over to the Olsons by Colby supported Mrs. Olson’s recollection of her husband’s disturbed state of mind that summer and fall, when agency personnel had raised official doubts about Frank Olson’s security clearance.

After Dr. Olson’s death his body had been embalmed, and the CIA told the family the casket must be closed because of the body’s brokenup condition and many facial lacerations caused by window glass. Yet in 1994 when Eric had his father’s body exhumed he found it almost perfectly preserved, with no facial lacerations. George Washington University forensic specialists who examined the remains found evidence of a fist-sized blow to the dead man’s left temple and concluded it could only have occurred before his fall.

On the basis of all he had learned, Eric Olson was convinced that rather than committing suicide, his father had been murdered by the CIA—rendered defenseless by a knockout punch, possibly with the aid of some drug, then thrown from that hotel window. After further investigations led him to believe that the CIA brought in contract killers to do the job, he saw the scenario as a cover-up to keep the troubled scientist from airing his deep anxieties about what the agency was doing. Definitive answers may never be known—suffice it to say that Gottlieb and MK-Ultra destroyed another useful life and forever wrecked another family’s peace.

Back in 1954, while the Olsons mourned their loss and Daddy was released from prison, Eli Lilly & Co. in Indianapolis had succeeded in synthesizing “in tonnage amounts,” giving the CIA a more than ample supply for MK-Ultra and future grant recipients. The army and other military services continued their own mind-control experimentation, with cooperation from other U.S. government agencies including the Food and Drug Administration and the Bureau of Narcotics.

After the Bay of Pigs debacle in Cuba, President Kennedy and his brother, attorney general Robert Kennedy, had agreed that Allen Dulles must be replaced at the CIA. In 1961 John A. McCone was named to the position, while durable Richard Helms was put in charge of Clandestine Services and Gottlieb kept his job running MK-Ultra. Strong objections about the program were raised two years later when, after some substantial digging, the inspector general McCone appointed, John Earman, strongly recommended that MK-Ultra be shut down, declaring that many in the agency viewed its work as “distasteful and unethical.” When McCone put certain elements of the project on hold, Helms bombarded him with demands to continue the unwitting mindcontrol tests. Subsequent agency-funded tests sucked a young professor 

named Timothy Leary into its web, and the rest of the LSD story, as they say, is history.

By 1966, when Helms was finally promoted to director of the CIA, Gottlieb knew he could breathe easy and go on with the business, as Gordon Thomas would declare in his CIA exposé Journey Into Madness, of “devising new and better ways to disorient and discredit, to maim and kill.” 

The world was already learning more than it wanted to know about LSD, as a cover story in Life reported: “a person can become permanently deranged through a single terrifying LSD experience.” Yet another senate subcommittee was convened to address the growing LSD problem among the young, but Robert Kennedy, now a U.S. senator, objected to suggestions that all LSD experimentation be curtailed…amid rumors that his wife Ethel had undergone LSD therapy, which could explain her husband’s resistance, he said, “. . . we have lost sight of the fact that [LSD] can be very, very helpful in our society if used properly.”

It might have seemed by this time that much of the world had gone mad. The poet Allen Ginsberg was urging every America over the age of 14 to drop LSD for “a mass emotional nervous breakdown.” In response to the public uproar, Sandoz called in all the LSD it had supplied to U.S. researchers. But the FDA would not back down from its involvement in LSD research. Instead, it moved to set up a joint FDA-NIMH body known as the Psychomimetic Advisory Committee and put at least one of the CIA’s grant-recipient foxes in charge of the henhouse when it named Harris Isbell to the new committee.

By 1968, possession of LSD had become a misdemeanor and sale of the drug a felony. Two years afterward it was listed as a Schedule I drug—a drug of abuse with no medical value. A Bureau of Narcotics pamphlet issued in 1969 stated as a matter of history that the CIA’s dissemination of LSD through the scientific and intellectual community was responsible for the alarming popularity of the drug. Even though people all over the country and especially disaffected young people were resorting to it, the CIA continued to deny any suggestion that it had promoted a market for the drug. But if not the CIA or the army, then who? The late John Lennon certainly gave credit to both.

Once other entrepreneurs learned how to produce LSD and moved it onto the black market beyond the CIA’s and FDA’s control, the psychedelic era was under way. As the Grateful Dead’s tripping followers were to declare, it would be a long, strange journey indeed.

Dr. W. Henry Wall, Jr. is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon and award-winning inventor with more than 19 medical patents. In From Healing to Hell, Dr. Wall, Jr. reveals the ordeals he faced as a young adult and the tragic story of his father, a victim of the C.I.A.’s unlawful MK-Ultra human experimentation program. The program, which began in the 1950s, tested the effects of LSD, hypnosis, and electroconvulsive therapy on U.S. and Canadian citizens. It is considered one of the greatest tarnishes on modern American history.

“We do not target American citizens . . . The nation must to a degree take it on faith that we who lead the CIA are honorable men, devoted to the nation’s service.” — Richard Helms, former CIA director & advocate for dangerous LSD experimentation on humans.

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It’s Not a Fairytale: Seattle to Build Nation’s First Food Forest

Forget meadows. The city’s new park will be filled with edible plants, and everything from pears to herbs will be free for the taking.
February 21, 2012
Seattle's new food forest, Beacon Hill fruit trees

Hungry? Just head over to the park. Seattle’s new food forest aims to be an edible wilderness. (Photo: Buena Vista Images/Getty Images)

Seattle’s vision of an urban food oasis is going forward. A seven-acre plot of land in the city’s Beacon Hill neighborhood will be planted with hundreds of different kinds of edibles: walnut and chestnut trees; blueberry and raspberry bushes; fruit trees, including apples and pears; exotics like pineapple, yuzu citrus, guava, persimmons, honeyberries, and lingonberries; herbs; and more. All will be available for public plucking to anyone who wanders into the city’s first food forest.

“This is totally innovative, and has never been done before in a public park,” Margarett Harrison, lead landscape architect for the Beacon Food Forest project, tells TakePart. Harrison is working on construction and permit drawings now and expects to break ground this summer.

The concept of a food forest certainly pushes the envelope on urban agriculture and is grounded in the concept of permaculture, which means it will be perennial and self-sustaining, like a forest is in the wild. Not only is this forest Seattle’s first large-scale permaculture project, but it’s also believed to be the first of its kind in the nation.

“The concept means we consider the soils, companion plants, insects, bugs—everything will be mutually beneficial to each other,” says Harrison.

That the plan came together at all is remarkable on its own. What started as a group project for a permaculture design course ended up as a textbook example of community outreach gone right.

Friends of the Food Forest undertook heroic outreach efforts to secure neighborhood support. The team mailed over 6,000 postcards in five different languages, tabled at events and fairs, and posted fliers,” writes Robert Mellinger for Crosscut.

Neighborhood input was so valued by the organizers, they even used translators to help Chinese residents have a voice in the planning.

So just who gets to harvest all that low-hanging fruit when the time comes?

“Anyone and everyone,” says Harrison. “There was major discussion about it. People worried, ‘What if someone comes and takes all the blueberries?’ That could very well happen, but maybe someone needed those blueberries. We look at it this way—if we have none at the end of blueberry season, then it means we’re successful.”

” ‘Last Call at the Oasis’: Why Time Is Running Out to Save Our Drinking Water” by Tara Lohan

 A new film provides a much-needed wake-up call for Americans: Our false sense of water abundance may be our great undoing.

This article was reproduced from the current issue of an excellent, free “social awareness” internet site called “AlterNet”.  Sign up with “AlterNet” to receive future issues via email.  

Photo Credit: Shutterstock/Ev Thomas
The first voice you hear in the new documentary Last Call at the Oasis is Erin Brockovich‘s — the famed water justice advocate whom Julia Roberts portrayed on the big screen.

“Water is everything. The single most necessary element for any of us to sustain and live and thrive is water,” says Brockovich as her voice plays over clips of water abundance — gushing rivers and streams. “I grew up in the midwest and I have a father who actually worked for industry … he promised me in my lifetime that we would see water become more valuable than oil because there will be so little of it. I think that time is here.”

The film then cuts to images of water-scarce populations in the world: crowds of people at water tankers, stricken children, news reports of drought in the Middle East, Brazil, China, Spain.

The images are heart-wrenching and alarming … and so are the ones that come next, which are all in the U.S. Water parks, golf courses, car washes, triple shower heads, outside misters — all point to our folly when it comes to water.

We live with a false sense of water abundance and it may be our great undoing. Even though the film opens with Brockovich’s prophecy that water is more valuable than oil, Last Call at the Oasis mostly focuses on how we’ve yet to grasp this news. The film, which is the latest from Participant Media (Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc., Waiting for Superman), delves into our addiction to limitless growth, our blindness to pressures from global warming, and the free pass that industry and agriculture get to pollute.

The narrative of the film, which is directed by Jessica Yu, is driven by interviews, historical footage and some outstanding cinematography. We’re taken to Las Vegas, so often the starting point for discussions of our impending water crisis. We see a receding Lake Mead, learn that Hoover Dam may be close to losing its ability to generate power as water levels drop, and that the intake valve for Las Vegas’ water supply may soon be sucking air.

We hear from Pat Mulroy, Las Vegas’ infamous water manager, about a plan for the city to pipe water over 250 miles from a small agricultural community. The town of Baker, population 150, looks to be on the sacrificial altar for Sin City. As Mulroy says, it is a “project out of sheer desperation.” But that will be little consolation to the folks in Baker. Or to the rest of us. Because what we learn next is that “we’re all Vegas.”

Phoenix and LA also face water pressures, as the Colorado River strains to meet growing demands. The film shows hotspots like the California’s Central Valley, where 7 million acres of irrigated agriculture have turned near desert into the source of one-quarter of the nation’s food — at a steep environmental price.

California is often warned it will be the next Australia, where a decade of drought has devastated the agricultural sector. At the peak of Australia’s drought, the film tell us, one farmer committed suicide every four days. We meet families who are struggling to save their farms, faced with having to slaughter all of their animals. The scenes of heartbreak in Australia are one of the few times in the film the narrative ventures outside the U.S. Mostly the storyline is focused on America’s own evolving plight.

We see Midland, Texas where a community is stricken by cancer from hexavalent chromium in its drinking water. A reoccurring voice throughout the film is Brockovich, who works as a legal consultant all over the U.S. for communities that often find themselves powerless in the face of industry pollution. “There are 1,200 Superfund sites the EPA can’t deal with,” says Brockovich. “The government won’t save you.”

For all our clean water laws, we aren’t very good at enforcement. From 2004 to 2005 an investigation found that the Clean Water Act was violated more than half a million times. It’s not just industry, but pesticides like atrazine, which we learn can be detected in the rain water in Minnesota when it’s being applied in Kansas. In Michigan we see another awful side to Big Ag, the liquid waste from factory “farming,” known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. These CAFOs threaten drinking water with chemicals, antibiotics and growth hormones.

So what do we do in the face of these threats to our drinking water? Apparently we buy bottled water — which the film details is not only potentially less safe (it has different regulations from tap water) but is environmentally destructive as well.

There are a few bright spots in the film, including strides that have been made in Singapore and other places to recycle water for drinking. (We could at least start in the U.S. by recycling water for re-use in toilet flushing, irrigation and other non potable uses.) And we get to see a hilarious behind-the-scenes look at an advertising company trying to come up with a campaign to pursuade Americans to drink recycled water. Porcelain Springs anyone?

If you don’t know much about water issues, the film is an essential wake-up call. And judging from the way Americans use water, this film looks like it should have a large audience. It covers a lot of ground, but how well?

Last Call offers a few solutions but — except for a segment on recycled wastewater — little about how to traverse the tangled political, social and economic pathways to achieve them. In fact, at times its ‘stars’ show the exasperation and resignation that comes from years spent seeing the tires spin in the same wheel ruts,” writes Brett Walton at Circle of Blue. “With so many problems to choose from, some worthy candidates are excluded and some issues are insufficiently explored, but the writers make good use of the material they have selected. They explain technical issues, while never losing sight of the lives that are affected.”

Overall the film is beautiful and compelling but misses the mark in one important place — it fails to address energy in any meaningful way. There are split-second clips of tap water being lit on fire (fracking!) and what looks to be a flyover of a mountaintop removal mining site, but the filmmakers never talk in depth to any of the people who live in our energy sacrifice zones in this country. What about the devastation in Appalachia and the growing threats from fracking and tar sands extraction?

The issues of energy and water are inextricably linked. It takes energy to move and treat water and it takes water to keep our lights on and our cars running. The more we ignore the reality of our fossil-fuel addiction, the more we become tethered to a future of climate chaos — droughts, floods and more turbulent storms. It’d be nice to see a film about U.S. water issues that starts in West Virginia, Pennsylvania or Nebraska instead of Las Vegas. This is the most significant lost opportunity in a film that will hopefully have a large reach across the country as it imparts its other important messages.

Look for a screening near you and check out the trailer below.


 “Veterans and Brain Disease”,  Published: April 25, 2012



He was a 27-year-old former Marine, struggling to adjust to civilian life after two tours in Iraq. Once an A student, he now found himself unable to remember conversations, dates and routine bits of daily life. He became irritable, snapped at his children and withdrew from his family. He and his wife began divorce proceedings.

This young man took to alcohol, and a drunken car crash cost him his driver’s license. The Department of Veterans Affairs diagnosed him with post-traumatic stress disorder, or P.T.S.D. When his parents hadn’t heard from him in two days, they asked the police to check on him. The officers found his body; he had hanged himself with a belt.

That story is devastatingly common, but the autopsy of this young man’s brain may have been historic. It revealed something startling that may shed light on the epidemic of suicides and other troubles experienced by veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His brain had been physically changed by a disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or C.T.E. That’s a degenerative condition best-known for affecting boxers, football players and other athletes who endure repeated blows to the head. In people with C.T.E., an abnormal form of a protein accumulates and eventually destroys cells throughout the brain, including the frontal and temporal lobes. Those are areas that regulate impulse control, judgment, multitasking, memory and emotions.

That Marine was the first Iraq veteran found to have C.T.E., but experts have since autopsied a dozen or more other veterans’ brains and have repeatedly found C.T.E. The findings raise a critical question: Could blasts from bombs or grenades have a catastrophic impact similar to those of repeated concussions in sports, and could the rash of suicides among young veterans be a result?

“P.T.S.D. in a high-risk cohort like war veterans could actually be a physical disease from permanent brain damage, not a psychological disease,” said Bennet Omalu, the neuropathologist who examined the veteran. Dr. Omalu published an article about the 27-year-old veteran as a sentinel case in “Neurosurgical Focus”, a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The discovery of C.T.E. in veterans could be stunningly important. Sadly, it could also suggest that the worst is yet to come, for C.T.E. typically develops in midlife, decades after exposure. If we are seeing C.T.E. now in war veterans, we may see much more in the coming years.

So far, just this one case of a veteran with C.T.E. has been published in a peer-reviewed medical journal. But at least three groups of scientists are now conducting brain autopsies on veterans, and they have found C.T.E. again and again, experts tell me. Publication of this research is in the works.

The finding of C.T.E. may help answer a puzzle. Returning Vietnam veterans did not have sharply elevated suicide rates as Iraq and Afghan veterans do today. One obvious difference is that Afghan and Iraq veterans are much more likely to have been exposed to blasts, whose shock waves send the brain crashing into the skull.

“Imagine a squishy, gelatinous material, surrounded by fluid, and then surrounded by a hard skull,” explained Robert A. Stern, a C.T.E. expert at Boston University School of Medicine. “The brain is going to move, jiggle around inside the skull. A helmet cannot do anything about that.”

Dr. Stern emphasized that the study of C.T.E. is still in its infancy. But he said that his hunch is that C.T.E. accounts for a share — he has no idea how large — of veteran suicides. C.T.E. leads to a degenerative loss of memory and thinking ability and, eventually, to dementia. There is also often a pattern of depression, impulsiveness and, all too often, suicide. There is now no treatment, or even a way of diagnosing C.T.E. other than examining the brain after death.

While the sports industry has lagged in responding to the discovery of C.T.E., and still does not adequately protect athletes from repeated concussions, the military has been far more proactive. The Defense Department has formed its own unit to autopsy brains and study whether blasts may be causing C.T.E.

Frankly, I was hesitant to write this column. Some veterans and their families are at wit’s end. If the problem in some cases is a degenerative physical ailment, currently incurable and fated to get worse, do they want to know?

I called Cheryl DeBow, a mother I wrote about recently. She sent two strong, healthy sons to Iraq. One committed suicide, and the other is struggling. DeBow said that it would actually be comforting to know that there might be an underlying physical ailment, even if it is progressive.

“You’re dealing with a ghost when it’s P.T.S.D.,” she told me a couple of days ago. “Everything changes when it’s something physical. People are more understanding. It’s a relief to the veterans and to the family. And, anyway, we want to know.”

Nicholas D. Kristof

[I invite you to visit my blog, “On the Ground”. Please also join me on Facebook and Google+, watch my YouTube videos and follow me on Twitter.]

On the Ground (Nicholas Kristof’s Blog):

  • Derek Boogaard: A Brain ‘Going Bad’ (December 6, 2011)
  • Duerson’s Brain Trauma Diagnosed (May 3, 2011)

Related in Opinion:

Nicholas D. Kristof: A Veteran’s Death, the Nation’s Shame (April 15, 2012)

  • Room for Debate: Should the U.S. Leave Afghanistan Now?(April 3, 2012)
  • Room for Debate: How Can We Prevent Military Suicides?(November 20, 2011)

If I could, I’d get print copies of this to every high school in the nation– Enough for each student and each teacher to have their own! Here’s my personal kicker: the global warming disasters could easily end up trumping this looming permanent economic serfdom. OK, that said, this is a brilliant article, authored by a very fine teacher. Tom Barella is truly an educator in the original sense of the word: he leads his students away from darkness in the process of illuminating the road ahead for them… 

Tom Barella: The Most Disenfranchised Group In America? It’s Not Who You Think

It is America’s teens. With each passing minute, their future is being foreclosed upon thanks to the unfathomable debt being dumped on them by the sorry adults governing the country these last 40 years.

How are teens responding? They’re not. Seems they’re not aware of their existential fight. I should know. I teach 100 of them each year about investing and finance at a leading public high school on New York’s Long Island. Their mindset upon entering class that first day is one of blissful ignorance.

Won’t the renewed interest in financial literacy education in the aftermath of the economic crisis clue-in the teen masses? According the Jump$tart Coalition, only four states have made a dedicated financial literacy course a high school graduation requirement. And the headwinds against further progress are strengthening. As we fall in OECD’s country education ranking, the chorus grows for more focus on core skills. After all, it is more important that Johnny be able to read than appreciate the power of compound interest. Add on the budget woes being felt at all levels of government and it’s easy to see how even well-meaning schools may view a state financial literacy requirement as just another unfunded mandate.

While Utah, Missouri, Tennessee, and Virginia should stand up and take a bow, if we look closer at what constitutes financial literacy education, we see a whole other problem. We’re not leveling with our teens. To be sure, Virginia’s learning standards address earning, spending, saving, and investing. They explore banking, credit, and insurance. Yet, no matter how hard I searched, I couldn’t find this standard:

Students will be able to understand that the national debt and deficits are the prior generations’ way of passing down the cost of the benefits they’ve received.

I couldn’t find this one, either:

Students will be able to use sound budgeting techniques to assess the likelihood that the average American household can save enough money to pay its share of the annual deficit and interest on the national debt.

Or this one:

Students will understand the impact of low growth and high unemployment on their career prospects and future living standards.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised that I couldn’t locate:

Students will assess how the savings and retirement goals of Americans are impacted by the Federal Reserve’s prolonged zero-interest rate environment.

I decided a long time ago to tell my students the unvarnished truth. They’re owed nothing less. During our unit on bonds, I begin the most memorable lesson of the year by displaying the U.S. debt clock on the big screen. An A+ is offered to any student who can simply write down the amount of debt. Students quickly realize that the challenge can’t be met as the clock spins frenetically.

We write down our best estimate for the debt and then do a little research to learn about the components of the federal budget. We return to the debt clock toward the end of the class, perhaps a half hour later. Even today where big numbers are regularly bandied about, it’s humbling to learn that at an increase of $2.5 million per minute, the debt has increased $75 million in just 30 minutes!

I conclude with a sincere apology on behalf of the adults who’ve put the nation’s future in jeopardy and dimmed the light of their futures. Impotent as my apology may be, it nonetheless shows that at least some adults are remorseful. At 14 and 15 years of age, the students understand. And with knowledge comes power. Except in this case, there’s a final insult. At their tender ages, they are years away from even being able to cast a vote for reform. In the mean-time, we’ll give ’em an extra few thousand of debt each year for good measure.

The most disenfranchised group in America? That would be today’s teens.

Major General Smedley Butler

I very much appreciate the reminder of the enormity of our US “secret history.” There is such a deep need to know the truth, now more than ever. At its inception, this nation was blessed with an incredible treasure of natural resources, along with one other huge advantage: these resources were far more easily accessed than they were in most of the world, according to my high school American History teacher. But I guess there’s no such thing as “enough” for the truly greedy. Does anyone else remember when the word “democracy” was replaced in the media by the word “capitalism?” This probably occurred about the time the McCarthy hearings destroyed our identity as a nation based upon the higher values invoked by its founders, replacing it with the lesser ideal of promoting ourselves as an economic system which claimed to be the opposite of the economic system known as “communism.”

A couple of months ago, I shared a posting from a profoundly insightful collection of digitized historical quotes by Joe Moreno. I had not realized that our ruthless exploitation of other countries had been so thoroughly accomplished so long ago. Apparently corporate profit interests have dictated US policy, priorities and troop movements almost since the founding of this nation. I felt sick at heart over the endless, and shameless, lies we were all spoonfed for so long:


“I spent 33 years and four months in active military service and during that period I spent most of my time as a high class thug for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism. I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street. I helped purify Nicaragua for the International Banking House of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for the American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for the American Fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927 I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested. Looking back on it, I might have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”

At an earlier period of my life, I was blessed to find my way into a silent meeting for worship one fine Sunday morning. That was the beginning of a seven year period of worship and study with the American Society of Friends: five years with the Florida Avenue Meeting in Washington, D.C., one year at the Walnut Street Meeting in Berkeley, CA, and one year with the Lake Street Meeting in San Francisco, CA. I reproduced Parker Palmer’s speech here because it is a wonderfully articulate description of the interior spiritual journey he navigated during his work at Pendle Hill Residential Study Center from 1974 to 1985.

A Great People to Be Gathered: The View from Pendle Hill

by Parker J. Palmer

In the olden days, when I was here, Quakers did not applaud at lectures. Remember those days? I was asked to give my first Monday evening lecture before I had gone to one of them, so I didn’t know about the “no applause” thing. I was given this grand introduction, I walked up front, and the place was just dead as a tomb and I thought, “Holy moley! I’ve already done something wrong.” So it is a little shocking to get so much applause from Quakers.

But I am very grateful for this opportunity. Giving this talk gives me a chance to repay a very small part of the great debt I owe to Pendle Hill, a place where I did some of the hardest and most important learning of my life, learning that I think was unlikely to happen anywhere else.

I arrived here as a 35- year-old in the fall of 1974 with my wife, Sally, and our children, Brent, Todd, and Carrie. I came to Pendle Hill as an adult student for a year-long sabbatical. That year eventually stretched into 11 years, during which I served as dean of studies, teacher, and writer-in-residence.

I have a vivid memory of our first community gathering in the Upmeads living room. Douglas Steere spoke to us that night, and his words were prophetic. I quote them as best I can from memory: “All of you made a big decision in coming to Pendle Hill. You left your homes for at least a while, you left friends and maybe some family members behind. Some of you left your jobs and your sources of security. All of you are taking some sort of risk. So I am sure that all of you have good reasons for coming here, and you know exactly what they are. But if you keep your eyes and ears open, in a few months you will learn the real reason you came!”

It has been 35 years since then, and I am still learning why I came to Pendle Hill. What I want to share with you this afternoon is an account of my sojourn at this place, and how the transformation I experienced here continues in my heart today. I hope you will receive it both as an expression of my gratitude and as a challenge to expand Pendle Hill’s reach and deepen its ministry over the next 80 years.

I arrived here knowing next to nothing about Quakerism. This may seem odd for someone who studied religion in college, spent a year at Union Theological Seminary, and received a PhD from Berkeley in the sociology of religion. However, it does not seem quite so odd when you remember that Quakers have often been reluctant to verbalize their beliefs in the public square, preferring to communicate through action.

One of my favorite stories from my years as dean of studies involves a student named Li Chengshi. He arrived here from the People’s Republic of China in the fall of 1981, soon after China opened up. After he had had time to rest from his long trip, I sat down as his consultant (or advisor) to get to know him. He looked a bit disoriented, so I asked him how he was feeling. “Well,” he said, with some consternation, “I had no idea Pendle Hill was a church.”

Back home Chengshi was the deputy director of the Bureau of Water Conservancy and Hydroelectric Power for the People’s Republic of China and he was, of course, a member of the Communist Party. International relations were part of his portfolio, so his government wanted him to improve his English and learn more about U.S. culture by spending some time at a U.S. educational institution.

How had he gotten to Pendle Hill? Through two Quakers whom he had met when they were in China advising on water conservancy projects. They said, “Oh you must go to Pendle Hill because it is a place where the workers study and the scholars work.” Chengshi said, “These Quakers did wonderful work and I liked them a lot, so I asked them for names of some U.S. schools where I might spend a year. They said, ‘Oh you must go to Pendle Hill. It will remind you of the Chinese Communist ideal, because it is a place where the workers study and the scholars work. So you would feel right at home.’ But they never said a word about Quakerism being a religion.”

As often happens for people who come to Pendle Hill, Chengshi spent a year reclaiming his own deep and rich spiritual life, a life that had been suppressed by living in a time and place where it was not safe to express his own truth. (I might add that this has been, is, and will continue to be true for capitalists as well as communists.) Chengshi was one of the kindest and most generous people I have ever known, and during his time here he recovered the deep spiritual roots of his own Confucian tradition.

Chengshi was also funny, another mark of the spiritual person. He had been trained as an engineer, and he told me that he was one of many educated people who had been sent from the cities to work in rural China during the Cultural Revolution. I asked him where he had been sent and he told me he had worked on a pig farm. When I asked him what that had been like, he grinned at me and said, “Well, it was pretty hard on us. And it was very hard on the farmers. But it was really horrible for the pigs!”

But I digress. Why did I come to Pendle Hill if, like Chengshi, I had no idea of what Quakerism was all about? Five years prior to coming here I had worked as a community organizer in Washington, D.C. The deeper I got into that work, the more I realized that I was trying to lead people towards something I had not experienced in any real depth, a place called community. So Sally and I cast about for an intentional residential community that would be hospitable to a family of five. When we stumbled across Pendle Hill—with its educational program and ongoing life of shared meals, work, decision-making, and worship—we knew we had found a place that was just right.

And it was exactly that—for the first week or two!

I soon became vexed and distressed by what everyone around me was calling the heart of Pendle Hill’s life: meeting for worship. I was a church-going person. For me, worship was about hearing readings from sacred texts, listening to a preacher expound, singing a few hymns, and greeting each other with a handshake as a token of peace. If there was any silence, it was because someone had missed his or her cue.

So the deep silence of meeting for worship was unnerving. And when people spoke out of the silence, they sometimes said things I had never heard in church. I remember, for example, one fine spring morning in the barn, with the windows wide open, when a particularly vocal bird broke into extended song. It was not long before a dear friend whom I came to love, rose to speak about the “bird within.” I could not ever remember reading about such a thing in Rudolf Bultmann or Karl Barth, nor did I remember hearing any of my distinguished professors lecture on such a subject. I began to wonder what planet I had landed on.

I soon began to express my consternation in personal conversations and classes, a theme that carried into my first term paper. As many of you know, Euell Gibbons was a student at Pendle Hill. He wrote his first term paper on “Stalking the Wild Asparagus,” which became a very popular book that made his career. My first term paper was more like “Stalking the Misguided Quakers,” which took me nowhere in terms of a career. But writing that paper required me to stop babbling and give form to my vexation. I used the paper to call into question the Quaker version of the inner journey, on the grounds that it was prone to be uninformed and undisciplined and could easily lead to quietism and narcissism, evading the world’s problems and becoming obsessed with ourselves, all the while fortifying ourselves with the fantasy that all of this has God’s blessing.

Fortunately, Pendle Hill was a community full of people who knew how to invite a malcontented lip-flapper into a friendly conversation. With great patience, they helped me see that while my concerns did have some merit, they might not be the whole story.

Something else was going on with me, and these Friends helped me embrace it. I came to understand that the threat I was feeling from the silence of meeting for worship had nothing to do with Quakerism being a bogus form of religion. It came from the fact that, in the silence, the religious scaffolding that had upheld my life was collapsing—a scaffolding that had been handed down to me or had been constructed intellectually instead of arising from the grounded experience of my life.

You all know Margaret Fell’s famous account of what George Fox said the first time she heard him speak: “You will say, Christ saith this, and the apostles say this; but what canst thou say? Art thou a Child of Light and hast walked in the Light, and what thou speakest is it inwardly from God?” And then there is the British poet and songwriter Sydney Carter with his marvelous couplet, “Your holy hearsay is not evidence/ Give me the good news in the present tense.”

So during my first year at Pendle Hill, I asked myself, “What can you say experimentally on the basis of your own experience? What good news arises from your life in the present tense?” It was a new and challenging question for me, and at first the only answers I could come up with were very short ones: nada, zippo, zilch.

Before coming to Pendle Hill, I had discovered the books of Thomas Merton. Merton once told the novices of the Abbey of Gethsemani, “Men, before you can have a spiritual life, you’ve gotta have a life!” Well, I had a life, so I had the main ingredient for a spiritual life, but I did not yet have a spiritual life that I was aware of. I knew nothing of the inner mystical tradition that informs both monasticism and Quakerism. I had never been taught to read my personal experience through spiritual lenses. I had never been helped to understand that what I know from being in the world as me, with you, is a critical element of a living religious faith. I had always been in settings where it was unnecessary to live or think that way. Belief had simply been handed down to me or had arrived through reading and thinking.

So meeting for worship, along with some good folks in the Pendle Hill community, did me the great service of surrounding me with silence and compassion—without which silence can feel like benign neglect—so that my make-believe theology could collapse and I could clear away the rubble. And that same silence and compassion, along with the classes I took during my student year here, gave me the time and the tools necessary to start rebuilding my theology from the ground up, the ground of my own being. Eventually, I was able to reclaim Christianity as my own tradition by realizing that I had, in fact, experienced such key elements as forgiveness, grace, and the kind of death and resurrection that come in the midst of life. I am forever grateful for that reclamation because, as the years have gone by, I have found myself standing in need of all of those spiritual gifts time and time again.

My student year at Pendle Hill was actually more like half a year. During 1974–75, Pendle Hill was looking for a new dean of studies. Encouraged to apply for the job by several people on the administrative staff and Board, and feeling called to this communal way of living and learning, I decided to toss my hat into the ring during Christmas break. There were four candidates, as I recall, and all of them were Quakers who had a history here—all of them except me. All of us had our advocates, and all of us had people who kept saying, in their Quakerly way, “That name would not have occurred to me!” (which is actually one of my favorite Quaker phrases).

I understood why my name would not have occurred to some people. After all, I was a non-Quaker who was applying for a post that had been occupied by some of the great figures of contemporary Quakerism. But even so, the months that followed were hard for me. It was then that I started to learn that Pendle Hill is not only a little bit of heaven on Earth but a little bit of that other Zip Code as well. Yes, dear Friends, politics happen, even in Quaker institutions.

From where I sat, part of the problem was that Pendle Hill’s Board had to choose a dean by the spirit of the meeting—and at that time, the Pendle Hill Board numbered something like 80 people, more than were in residence here. So as Pendle Hill searched for a new dean in the spring of 1975, the sheer number of people involved meant that there were a whole lot of interviews, sidebar conferences, back room conversations, and pari-mutuel betting! (I was delighted to learn that Pendle Hill was able to downsize its Board last year to a maximum of 24 people. I would call that a good move, and it took only 79 years!)

One of the great gifts of community is the chance to see yourself in the mirror of another person, and by forgiving that person, to forgive yourself as well.

I experienced a lot of conflict around me and within me as I moved from being a sheltered student to an exposed job applicant. But I am grateful for that experience. In fact, I am grateful for all the hard times I had here. They taught me a great deal about myself and about community. The most important thing I learned about community is that conflict is not the end of it but the doorway into something deeper. Jean Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche network, who may know more about true community than anyone on the planet, has a very simple definition: community is a continual act of forgiveness. I am grateful for the fact that my emergent experiential theology was forged in the crucible of community and forgiveness.

During my early years here, I began to understand that reality is always better than fantasy—even when the reality is very, very hard—because reality, if you read it right, will never let you down. I also began to understand that God is a God of reality who wants us to live in the midst of its challenges, witnessing as we are called and able, and picking ourselves up when we fail and fall. God does not want us floating above the fray in a hot air balloon. I know that for certain. Trust me: I have been up there and I never got religion, only vertigo!

In the midst of these hardships, I wrote a couple of lines about the reality of community that people seem to remember, which pleases any writer. I have heard these lines quoted back to me so often that I think they are as close as I will ever come to immortality. The first one is Palmer’s definition of community, which came to me during my first year here: “Community is that place where the person you least want to live with always lives.” The second line came to me during my second year. I call it Palmer’s amendment to Palmer’s definition: “And when that person moves away, someone else arrives immediately to take his or her place.” What I am referring to, of course, is the fact that in the closeness and intenseness of community there is always someone on whom to project that which you cannot abide in yourself. One of the great gifts of community is the chance to see yourself in the mirror of another person, and by forgiving that person, to forgive yourself as well.

Hard times in community can also provide a few laughs.

As I said, I was not a Quaker when I applied to be dean of studies, an understandable cause for alarm among some Board members. One Board member who liked me and wanted me to become dean felt certain that with a name like “Parker Palmer” I must have a Quaker dangling silently somewhere on my family tree. She believed that finding this person would help me cross over into the Promised Land. So she invited me to her house in Swarthmore for high tea while she combed her genealogical library looking for ancestors I did not know I had. She opened many books, tried many names and places and dates, and asked many questions. It was a lovely but fruitless afternoon—my family tree was Quaker-free. Finally convinced that I was not kidding about the fact that my ancestors were Methodists, free-thinkers, circus people, and possibly a horse thief, she sent me back into the cold world with the knowledge that I had lost the genealogical lottery. My Dad used to say that the whole secret of life is proper selection of ancestors, but in this case he was wrong: I got the job despite my genealogical deficits, and I am forever grateful.

Some of the most vital things I learned at Pendle Hill I did not learn in a class. I learned them because of the way life was structured in this place during the period 1974–85. I am thinking especially about all the ways the Quaker Testimony of Equality was embodied here. I was 35 years old when I became dean of studies. I was married with three children, and I had a PhD, but my base salary was identical to that of an 18-year-old who came to work in the kitchen while seeking a long-term path for his or her life. Pendle Hill understood that people with families had special needs, so on top of my base salary we received a modest cash increment for each child. But the message of the shared base salary was clear: all of us in this community do work that is challenging and worthy, and none of us is more valuable or important than anyone else.

But even more than the shared base salary, the great equalizer I remember involved Pendle Hill’s work program. We had a weekly workday when everyone turned out to do some of the larger jobs together. In addition, all of us had daily meal jobs. In my case, the folks who assigned work details quickly found out that putting me on food prep was not a good idea, so I was consistently assigned to wash dishes after lunch. As dean of studies, I had off-campus responsibilities that many of the other staff members did not: giving talks, attending certain meetings, and raising grant money. But for every day I was off-campus, I had to find someone to replace me on the lunchtime dish-washing line. Then, when I returned, I had to do double-duty, covering that person’s job as well as my own for as many days as I had been gone. As my 11 years went by, this hidden curriculum slowly did its leveling job on me. I came to value people more for their gifts than for their rank or status. I became more perceptive about the wide variety of human gifts, with some people shining in class, some on a challenging work project, some in meeting for business as we untangled knotty problems, some in the simple acts of kindness they doled out every day. All of this was quite a contrast to the culture of the upper-middle class community where I had grown up and to the culture of academic life where I had spent so many years before coming to Pendle Hill.

I was deeply challenged by this hidden curriculum of equality, and my inward responses to it were sometimes downright unquakerly, but looking back, I recognize all of this as one of the best parts of Pendle Hill in the education of Parker J. Palmer. Since I am a white male with a good education who has long been surrounded by privilege, it is not hard to figure out what one of my shadows might be and is: an overweening sense of entitlement. Pendle Hill did not totally eliminate that shadow in me—any more than life has made me totally color-blind or devoid of all racism. But my experience here diminished my sense of entitlement considerably. I have found it is enormously liberating to walk through the world not thinking that I deserve more than the next person, or at least thinking that less often than I would have if I had never come here. A sense of entitlement, I have learned, is a crimped and cramped form of self-imprisonment. I am grateful to Pendle Hill’s hidden curriculum for helping me realize that the door to that cell is unlocked.

The classes I took here as a student were an important part of my personal reclamation project, spiritually, intellectually, and professionally. Two of those classes, and their teachers, represent two critical poles of the educational energy field that I learned about at Pendle Hill.

One pole is represented by Eugenia Friedman’s brilliant poetry classes. Under her guidance I overcame the bad taste left in my mouth by the academic habit of chewing live poetry to death. More importantly, I began to get clues to the inner search by finding probing questions and real nourishment in poetry, which I continue to draw on and share with others in my life and work to this very day. I now understand what William Carlos Williams meant when he said, “It is difficult to get the news from poems; yet people die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.” He is talking about the good news that comes from within.

The other pole of this energy field is represented by Steve Stalonas’ classes on nonviolent social change—brilliant, passionate, and sometimes off the wall, just like social change itself and just like Steve himself! Prior to taking Steve’s classes I knew little about nonviolence, but I think I had pictured it as a noble form of passivity. I soon came to understand that nonviolence is a form of deep engagement with the world, requiring more courage, more intelligence, more strategic sensibility, and a larger repertoire of proactive moves than violence ever has.

So there I was, standing at the intersection of the inward search and the outward reach. That is when I began to understand what I now call “life on the Möbius strip.” What is inside us keeps flowing out into the world, and what is outside us keeps flowing in. Whether we know it or not, we are continually engaged in a process of co-creating reality—inwardly and outwardly and with one another. So here at Pendle Hill I got started on what is perhaps the central spiritual question of my life: as I stand at that point of co-creation on the Möbius strip, where inner and outer continually merge and co-create, how can I make the best possible choices about that exchange, choices that are on balance more life-giving than death-dealing? In this moment and in this place, how can I help to co-create something of heaven on Earth instead of adding to the hellish mess?

As I sat in meeting for worship, and in meeting for business, I saw how important it was to bring what I regard as my inner leadings into the community where they could be tested in a gentle but compelling way. It is the essence of sanity, is it not, to know that not every voice from within is the voice of God, a sanity that some of our political leaders have yet to achieve. I need a community where I can say, “Here is what I think I know, here is what I think I am hearing. Help me test my leading over the long haul. Stay with me and help me sift and winnow Truth.”

The community I need is one in which others do not presume to know what my leading is, but can speak from a deeply inward place about how they see the world and God at work in it—a community that through testimony, witnessing, and asking honest, open questions of each other, can do what I have come to call “weave a tapestry of Truth” to which all can contribute and by which all can be tested and corrected. When this process is going on, I have a strong visual image of us weaving this tapestry together, with people contributing threads, withdrawing threads, finding their last contribution corrected or checked or amplified or enriched by the next contribution, drawn more to this part of the tapestry than that. It is a demanding but edifying and animating process. In Pendle Hill’s meeting for worship and monthly meeting for business, I found myself alternately illumined, tested, challenged, and affirmed, stopped in my tracks and then sent forth again.

One fine spring day, as I was walking through the breezeway between the Barn and Chace, I had an epiphany when I saw a plaque out there with a quote by Martin Buber engraved on it: “All real living is meeting.” My epiphany had to do with that little word “meeting.” Meeting for worship and meeting for business as I experienced them at Pendle Hill bore no resemblance to the kind of meetings we wish we could avoid and do our best to endure because they are so devoid of meaning.

Quaker meetings at their best are spaces where that which is deep within us meets that which is deep between us, where something of the living presence—of that which is deep within the structure of reality—is revealed. One of my favorite Taoist poems, “The Woodcarver,” ends with the line, “From this live encounter came the work that you ascribe to the spirits.” A Quaker meeting is meant to be a live encounter from which arises real work and real life.

As I reflected on “meeting” in this sense, I began to think about the Pendle Hill curriculum. As dean of studies, I shared responsibility with the rest of the teaching staff for a set of courses in which students were not propped up like dummies in a row while a professor lectured nonstop. The adult students who came to Pendle Hill would have bailed out of such classes. They were not looking for grades: they were looking for meaning and purpose. Pendle Hill teachers were responsible for creating the conditions for a real meeting—a meeting in which students, the subject, and the teacher could have a live encounter; a meeting in which the result would be learning that had something of the living presence in it. In that moment it occurred to me that at Pendle Hill we not only had a “meeting for worship” and a “meeting for business.” Every time a class met, we also had a “meeting for learning.”

I was deeply challenged by this hidden curriculum of equality. My experience here diminished my sense of entitlement considerably.

Thomas Merton has a line in one of his journals that says, “April 7th, 1948: I had a pious thought this morning, but I’m not going to write it down.” I will never be able to write a line like that! I started writing about my epiphany on the day I had it. The result was a bulletin called “Meeting for Learning” that was published and sent out to Pendle Hill’s mailing list in 1976. When that bulletin went into the mail, I was sure that people in the wider Quaker community would start sending me historical stuff on the history of the phrase “meeting for learning.” The words felt so natural to me that I was quite sure I was reinventing the wheel. After a year or two went by and no one had said anything, I asked a knowledgeable friend about it. He told me that, as far as he knew, the phrase had never been used before.

In many ways the work that has consumed me for the past 15 years is a direct result of my time at Pendle Hill and of the impact of Quaker faith and practice on my life. I am referring not only to my writing, but to the project my colleagues and I created back in the mid-1990s, which eventually became a nonprofit called the Center for Courage & Renewal. Some of my colleagues from the Center are at this gathering, including Valerie Brown and Judy Sorum Brown.

Thanks to very able leadership of the Center, people younger and smarter than I, the work it does has had quite a reach. We now have 180 facilitators around the country, in 30 states and 50 cities, as well as in Canada, Australia, and Korea. We offer a long-term retreat series for a wide variety of people, including K–12 teachers and school leaders; faculty and administrators in higher education; physicians and other health care professionals; clergy and lay leaders; heads of nonprofit organizations; as well as philanthropists, attorneys, judges, and others. More recently we have been developing programs for citizens who want to help renew U.S. democracy, which is the topic of my latest book, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. Our programs have reached some 40,000 people over the past decade.

In our programs, a circle of 20 to 25 people journey with each other through a facilitated series of five to eight three-day retreats, spread across a year and a half or two years. That gives us time to have more than a mountaintop experience, time to go deeply inward in the context of the community. Our goal, in all this work, is to make a safe space for people to listen to the Inner Teacher and rejoin soul and role, to bring selfhood, identity, and integrity more fully into our lives and work in the world. If this sounds familiar, it should. The seeds of this program were planted in me here at Pendle Hill.

When I was on staff at Pendle Hill, there were two perennial topics of conversation that had a lasting impact on me. The first was that Quaker faith and practice have a great deal to offer the larger society, but that Quakers too often hide their Light under a bushel. And that helps explain the fact that too many people associate the word “Quaker” with a grain that comes in bushels—which is not a good thing! So the work of the Center for Courage & Renewal is, in some ways, my effort to take some of that Quaker light and share it with the larger world.

The second topic that grabbed my attention was the idea of a program called “Pendle Hill on the Road.” Most of the talk focused on visiting Quaker meetings with Pendle Hill-style enrichment programs. I am very glad that there is a lot of good work going on these days, like this marvelous thing called “Quaker Quest,” aimed at deepening the spiritual lives of Quaker meetings and their outreach. But I had an image of taking Pendle Hill on the road in a way that would involve a lot of people in addition to Quakers, including folks who have no interest at all in organized religion. (Not that Quakerism is all that organized, but you know what I mean.)

So that is what the work of the Center of Courage and Renewal is all about: Pendle Hill on the Road. Quakerism is not the only wellspring of this work, but it is one of them. I am deeply grateful to this place for handing me the dowsing rod that allowed me to find the living water that Quakerism draws upon.

I have a vivid memory of a friend who spoke in meeting and gave me an image I have never forgotten, just as I have never forgotten “the bird within.” This friend said, “We seem to think we will find unity by going upwards toward the generalizations and abstractions that we can agree on. But that does not work. It robs us of our own traditions and our own stories. It flattens our rich variety and dulls everything out. But if each of us will go down into the depths of our own story, of our own well, as far as we are able, we will find the unity we seek in the living water that feeds all of the wells.” That, I believe, is the path to true self and true community, and it is part of the mission of both Pendle Hill and the Center for Courage & Renewal.

I am going to end with a small story that has big meaning for me. Back in the day, a wonderful man named Robin Harper was head of buildings and grounds—and I am delighted that Robin is here today. As many of you know, Robin was and still is a conscientious war tax refuser. Not only did this mean the possibility of prosecution and imprisonment, but tax resistance made very heavy demands on his life. He had to be employed by people who would agree not to withhold any taxes, which shrinks one’s job opportunities dramatically, and he could not own any real property that could be seen by the I.R.S. as capable of being turned into cash. But he has never done time because his integrity is so self-evident, not unlike that of John Woolman. When I was a young man here, I shared Robin’s abhorrence of war (as I do to this day), but I could not imagine taking the risks and making the sacrifices required of me. I was at that stage of moral development where I had very high ethical aspirations and equally high levels of guilt about the way I continually fell short. One day I went to Robin and told him of my dilemma. “I believe what you believe,” I said, “and I want to put my beliefs into action, but I just cannot bring myself to do what you do.” Robin responded plainly, simply, and with great compassion. “Keep holding the belief,” he said, “and follow it wherever it may lead you. As time goes on you will find your own way of resisting violence and promoting peace, one that fits with your gifts and your calling.” That is Quakerism at its best. That is community at its best. That is teaching at its best. That is friendship at its best.

Even at age 71, I know that I still have a long way to go in tracking the leading that Robin helped call me to. But far from being discouraged by that fact, I have had such a remarkable adventure trying to follow the Light this far that I am eager to know where it might take me next. As I go, I am ever-grateful to Pendle Hill and the grace that led me here for getting me started down a path that has taken me deeper and deeper into life.

Parker J. Palmer lived and worked at Pendle Hill as a student, dean, teacher, and writer-in-residence from 1974 to 1985. He is the author of nine books including A Hidden Wholeness, Let Your Life Speak, The Active Life, The Courage to Teach, and Healing the Heart of Democracy (forthcoming), and is founder and senior partner of the Center for Courage & Renewal. This article is an edited transcription of the Fourth Annual Stephen G. Cary Memorial Lecture, delivered at Pendle Hill on November 2010, as the keynote for Pendle Hill’s 80th anniversary celebration.

Friends Journal, January 2012

This is the most cogent analysis of  the global wealth crisis I’ve seen yet. The truth of this mind-boggling situation, as with anything else in human affairs, cannot be confined to a simplistic statement of raw facts and figures, though excellent, meaningful stats do make a brief appearance here. There is really no explanation at all without a clear and detailed picture of the human dimension, the movers and proactive drivers of any major development in human affairs. For me, the big “Uh-oh…” came when the U.S. Congress, under relentless pressure from George Bush and cronies, voted to just hand over, no strings attached, $700 billion to Wall Street traders who were “too big to fail,” as if there actually could be such a thing. The U.S. public screamed, wailed and gnashed its teeth against such an atrocity for weeks before the actual vote occurred; I for one would like to see an analysis of this nature directed toward the U.S. Congress who were either incredibly more stupid and naive than its constituency, or practising from a level of corruption undreamt of by a reasonably canny U.S. population. Or both.

The 1% Are the Very Best Destroyers of Wealth the World Has Ever Seen

Our common treasury in the last 30 years has been captured by industrial psychopaths. That’s why we’re nearly bankrupt. 

by George Monbiot

If wealth was the inevitable result of hard work and enterprise, every woman in Africa would be a millionaire. The claims that the ultra-rich 1% make for themselves– that they are possessed of unique intelligence or creativity or drive – are examples of the self-attribution fallacy. This means crediting yourself with outcomes for which you weren’t responsible. Many of those who are rich today got there because they were able to capture certain jobs. This capture owes less to talent and intelligence than to a combination of the ruthless exploitation of others and accidents of birth, as such jobs are taken disproportionately by people born in certain places and into certain classes.(Illustration by Daniel Pudles)

The findings of the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, winner of a Nobel economics prize, are devastating to the beliefs that financial high-fliers entertain about themselves. He discovered that their apparent success is a cognitive illusion. For example, he studied the results achieved by 25 wealth advisers across eight years. He found that the consistency of their performance was zero. “The results resembled what you would expect from a dice-rolling contest, not a game of skill.” Those who received the biggest bonuses had simply got lucky.

Such results have been widely replicated. They show that traders and fund managers throughout Wall Street receive their massive remuneration for doing no better than would a chimpanzee flipping a coin. When Kahneman tried to point this out, they blanked him. “The illusion of skill … is deeply ingrained in their culture.”

So much for the financial sector and its super-educated analysts. As for other kinds of business, you tell me. Is your boss possessed of judgment, vision and management skills superior to those of anyone else in the firm, or did he or she get there through bluff, bullshit and bullying?

In a study published by the journal Psychology, Crime and Law, Belinda Board and Katarina Fritzon tested 39 senior managers and chief executives from leading British businesses. They compared the results to the same tests on patients at Broadmoor special hospital, where people who have been convicted of serious crimes are incarcerated. On certain indicators of psychopathy, the bosses’s scores either matched or exceeded those of the patients. In fact, on these criteria, they beat even the subset of patients who had been diagnosed with psychopathic personality disorders.

The psychopathic traits on which the bosses scored so highly, Board and Fritzon point out, closely resemble the characteristics that companies look for. Those who have these traits often possess great skill in flattering and manipulating powerful people. Egocentricity, a strong sense of entitlement, a readiness to exploit others and a lack of empathy and conscience are also unlikely to damage their prospects in many corporations.

In their book Snakes in Suits, Paul Babiak and Robert Hare point out that as the old corporate bureaucracies have been replaced by flexible, ever-changing structures, and as team players are deemed less valuable than competitive risk-takers, psychopathic traits are more likely to be selected and rewarded. Reading their work, it seems to me that if you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a poor family, you’re likely to go to prison. If you have psychopathic tendencies and are born to a rich family, you’re likely to go to business school.

This is not to suggest that all executives are psychopaths. It is to suggest that the economy has been rewarding the wrong skills.

As the bosses have shaken off the trade unions and captured both regulators and tax authorities, the distinctionbetween the productive and rentier upper classes has broken down. Chief executives now behave like dukes, extracting from their financial estates sums out of all proportion to the work they do or the value they generate, sums that sometimes exhaust the businesses they parasitise. They are no more deserving of the share of wealth they’ve captured than oil sheikhs.

The rest of us are invited, by governments and by fawning interviews in the press, to subscribe to their myth of election: the belief that they are possessed of superhuman talents. The very rich are often described as wealth creators. But they have preyed on the earth’s natural wealth and their workers’ labour and creativity, impoverishing both people and planet. Now they have almost bankrupted us. The wealth creators of neoliberal mythology are some of the most effective wealth destroyers the world has ever seen.

What has happened over the past 30 years is the capture of the world’s common treasury by a handful of people, assisted by neoliberal policies which were first imposed on rich nations by Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. I am now going to bombard you with figures. I’m sorry about that, but these numbers need to be tattooed on our minds. Between 1947 and 1979, productivity in the US rose by 119%, while the income of the bottom fifth of the population rose by 122%. But from 1979 to 2009, productivity rose by 80%, while the income of the bottom fifth fell by 4%. In roughly the same period, the income of the top 1% rose by 270%.

In the UK, the money earned by the poorest tenth fell by 12% between 1999 and 2009, while the money made by the richest 10th rose by 37%. The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, climbed in this country from 26 in 1979 to 40 in 2009.

In his book The Haves and the Have Nots, Branko Milanovic tries to discover who was the richest person who has ever lived. Beginning with the loaded Roman triumvir Marcus Crassus, he measures wealth according to the quantity of his compatriots’ labour a rich man could buy. It appears that the richest man to have lived in the past 2,000 years is alive today. Carlos Slim could buy the labour of 440,000 average Mexicans. This makes him 14 times as rich as Crassus, nine times as rich as Carnegie and four times as rich as Rockefeller.

Until recently, we were mesmerised by the bosses’ self-attribution. Their acolytes, in academia, the media, thinktanks and government, created an extensive infrastructure of junk economics and flattery to justify their seizure of other people’s wealth. So immersed in this nonsense did we become that we seldom challenged its veracity.

This is now changing. On Sunday evening I witnessed a remarkable thing: a debate on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral between Stuart Fraser, chairman of the Corporation of the City of London, another official from the corporation, the turbulent priest Father William Taylor, John Christensen of the Tax Justice Network and the people of Occupy London. It had something of the flavour of the Putney debates of 1647. For the first time in decades – and all credit to the corporation officials for turning up – financial power was obliged to answer directly to the people.

It felt like history being made. The undeserving rich are now in the frame, and the rest of us want our money back.

Published on Tuesday, November 8, 2011 by The Guardian/UK
© 2011 Guardian News and Media Limited

George Monbiot is the author of the best selling books The Age of Consent: a manifesto for a new world order and Captive State: the corporate takeover of Britain. He writes a weekly column for the Guardian newspaper. Visit his website

Jackson Square Webcam

Jackson Square is the heart of the New Orleans’ French Quarter. The rounded portals in the upper right-hand corner mark the front facade of St. Louis Cathedral. The view is from the Cabildo side, and the very exclusive Pontalba Apartments are opposite, as I recall.

Why is the Most Wasteful Government Agency Not Part of the Deficit Discussion? | Common Dreams.

This is a very timely and interesting article for me, a reminder of why so many of us should not have been horribly surprised at the Supreme Court’s re-definition of corporate entities as possessing the legal rights of human existence (though with none of the responsibilities, apparently). It seemed to come out of nowhere at the time, but that really isn’t true. President Eisenhower warned us of the impending corporate takeover of the Defense Department, and it must have been just around the corner when he did. A rock solid pattern of high-ranking revolving-door Pentagon corruption, as detailed in this article, has prevailed for decades. And that, plus the insidious criminality of the “bought and paid for” Reagan and Bush administrations, made the complete takeover of the United States, by the organized forces of corporate greed and corruption, a genuine inevitability.

Just as Democracy cannot flourish in the current corporate generated power vacuum, so the practice of capitalism requires the lively existence of a strong, healthy, literate middle class. Absent that, a new inevitability begins to gather momentum… whether on the national stage or at the global level. I don’t know exactly what form it will take, but when the greedy, power-mad titans are reduced to fighting one another for control of the last available resources of money and ownership, the outcome is most likely to be an extremely bleak one: something along the lines of “1984”, perhaps?

Why is the Most Wasteful Government Agency Not Part of the Deficit Discussion? Republicans ignore incompetence, bloat and corruption at the Pentagon.

by David Morris, via “Common Dreams”

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?

Of course, I’m talking about the Pentagon. Any serious battle plan to reduce the deficit must take on the Pentagon. In 2011 military spending accounted for more than 58 percent of all federal discretionary spending and even more if the interest on the federal debt that is related to military spending were added. In the last ten years we have spent more than $7.6 trillion on military and homeland security according to the National Priorities Project.

In the last decade military spending has soared from $300 billion to $700 billion.

When debt ceilings and deficits seem to be the only two items on Washington’s agenda, it is both revealing and tragic that both parties give a free pass to military spending. Representative Paul Ryan’s much discussed Tea Party budget accepted Obama’s proposal for a pathetic $78 billion reduction in military spending over 5 years, a recommendation that would only modestly slow the rate of growth of military spending.

Indeed, the Republican government battering ram appears to have stopped at the Pentagon door. This was evident early on. As soon as they took over the House of Representatives, Republicans changed the rules so that military spending does not have to be offset by reduced spending somewhere else, unlike any other kind of government spending. It is the only activity of government they believe does not have to be paid for. Which brings to mind a bit of wisdom from one of their heroes, Adam Smith. “Were the expense of war to be defrayed always by revenue raised within the year … wars would in general be more speedily concluded, and less wantonly undertaken.”

The Tea Party revolution has only strengthened the Republican Party’s resolve that the Pentagon’s budget is untouchable. An analysis by the Heritage Foundation of Republican votes on defense spending found that Tea Party freshmen were even more likely than their Republican elders to vote against cutting any part of the military budget.

What makes the hypocrisy even more revealing is that the Pentagon turns out to be the poster child for government waste and incompetence.

In 2009 the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found “staggering” cost overruns of almost $300 billion in nearly 70 percent of the Pentagon’s 96 major weapons. What’s more, the programs were running, on average, 21 months behind schedule. And when they were completed, they provided less than they promised.

The Defense Logistics Agency had no use for parts worth more than half of the $13.7 billion in equipment stacked up in DOD warehouses in 2006 to 2008.

And these are only the tips of the military’s misspending iceberg. We really don’t know how much the Pentagon wastes because, believe it or not, there hasn’t been a complete audit of the Pentagon in more than 15 years.

In 1994, the Government Management Reform Act required the Inspector General of each federal agency to audit and publish the financial statements of their agency. The Department of Defense was the only agency that has been unable to comply. In fiscal 1998 the Department of Defense used $1.7 trillion of undocumentable adjustments to balance the books. In 2002 the situation was even worse. CBS News reported that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld admitted, “we cannot track $2.3 trillion in transactions.”

Imagine that a school district were to reveal that it didn’t know where it spent its money. Now imagine the Republican response. Perhaps, “Off with their desktops!”

How did Congress’ respond to DOD’s delinquency? It gave it absolution and allowed it to opt out of its legal requirement. But as a sop to outraged public opinion Congress required DOD to set a date when it would have its book sufficiently in order to be audited. Which the Pentagon dutifully did, and missed every one of the target dates. The latest is 2017 and DOD has already announced it will be unable to meet that deadline.

Adding insult to injury, last September, the GAO found that the new computer systems intended to improve the Pentagon’s financial oversight are themselves nearly 100 percent or $7 billion over budget and as much as 12 years behind schedule!

The Pentagon is not just incompetent. It is corrupt. In November 2009 the Pentagon’s Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), the federal watchdog responsible for auditing oversight of military contractors, raised the question of criminal wrongdoing when it found that the audits that did occur were riddled with serious breaches of auditor independence. One Pentagon auditor admitted he did not perform detailed tests because, “The contractor would not appreciate it.”

Why would the Pentagon allow its contractors to get away with fraud? To answer that question we need to understand the incestuous relationship between the Pentagon and its contractors that has been going on for years, and is getting worse. From 2004 to 2008, 80 percent of retiring three and four star officers went to work as consultants or defense industry executives. Thirty-four out of 39 three- and four-star generals and admirals who retired in 2007 are now working in defense industry roles — nearly 90 percent.

Generals are recruited for private sector jobs well before they retire. Once employed by the military contractor the general maintains a Pentagon advisory role.

“In almost any other realm it would seem a clear conflict of interest. But this is the Pentagon where…such apparent conflicts are a routine fact of life”, an in-depth investigation by the Boston Globe concluded.

U.S. military spending now exceeds the spending of all other countries combined. Knowledgeable military experts argue that we can cut at least $1 trillion from the Pentagon budget without changing its currently expressed mission. But a growing number believe that the mission itself is suspect. Economic competitors like India and China certainly approve of our willingness to undermine our economic competitiveness by diverting trillions of dollars into war and weapons production. Some argue that all this spending has made us more secure but all the evidence points in the opposite direction. Certainly our $2 trillion and counting military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan and Pakistan have won us few friends and multiplied our enemies.

Defense experts Gordon Adams and Matthew Leatherman, writing in the Washington Post offer another argument against unrestrained military spending:

“Countries feel threatened when rivals ramp up their defenses; this was true in the Cold War, and now it may happen with China. It’s how arms races are born. We spend more, inspiring competitors to do the same — thus inflating defense budgets without making anyone safer. For example, Gates observed in May that no other country has a single ship comparable to our 11 aircraft carriers. Based on the perceived threat that this fleet poses, the Chinese are pursuing an anti-ship ballistic missile program. U.S. military officials have decried this “carrier-killer’‘ effort, and in response we are diversifying our capabilities to strike China, including a new long-range bomber program, and modernizing our carrier fleet at a cost of about $10 billion per ship.”

For tens of millions of Americans real security comes not from fighting wars on foreign soil but from not having to worry about losing their house or their job or their medical care. As Joshua Holland, columnist for Alternet points out, 46 states faced combined budget shortfalls this year of $130 billion, leading them to fire tens of thousands of workers and cut off assistance to millions of families. Just the supplemental requests for fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan this year were $170 billion.

What is perhaps most astonishing of all is that cutting the military budget is wildly popular. Even back in 1995, when military spending was only a fraction of its present size, a poll by the Program on International Policy Attitudes reported that 42 percent of the US public feeling that defense spending is too high and a majority of Americans were convinced that defense spending “has weakened the US economy and given some allies an economic edge.”

This March Reuters released a new poll that found the majority of Americans support reducing defense spending.

The next time you hear Republicans insist they want to ferret out government waste and reduce spending and stamp out incompetence ask them why the one part of government that exemplifies everything they say is wrong with government is the one part of government they embrace most heartily.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License

David Morris is Vice President of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, based in Minneapolis and Washington, D.C., which focuses on local economic and social development.