Tikkun

How AIPAC Is Using Black Leaders to Erase Palestinian Suffering from the Democratic Party Platform

This is the story of how a powerful lobbying organization enlists black Americans – victims of oppression and state violence for centuries – to mask the suffering of another oppressed people. It is the story of how the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) strategically recruits and educates black leaders to defend Israel from critique. And it is the story of how Palestinians living under Israel’s occupation suffer in ways that reverberate upon America’s streets – where black bodies are bruised, bloodied and destroyed under the weight of police violence, mass incarceration, and disenfranchisement.

Keep reading... Show less

Judaism and Veganism: Time for a Reunion

A divinity student from a Presbyterian seminary approached me one day and made a surprising comment. “I’m so impressed,” he said, “with the emphasis that Judaism places on treating animals with compassion.”

Keep reading... Show less

The True Cost of a Cheap Meal

While perusing the items at a quaint antique store, I happened upon a catalog from the 1920s advertising farm-fresh food. It featured cabbage for two cents per pound, a dozen eggs for forty-four cents, and a half-gallon of milk for thirty-three cents. The shop owner told me that he was perplexed by the prices because, adjusting for inflation, it should cost roughly four dollars for a dozen eggs and eight dollars for a gallon of milk in today’s dollars. Consumers today pay less than half of what we would expect to pay based on historic prices.

Keep reading... Show less

Transforming the Approach to Food Deserts Can Lead to an Equitable Food System for All

The term “food desert” captured the public imagination from the moment it entered the conversation. From Main Street to the White House, it provided an evocative shorthand for the messy realities of poverty and dwindling economic opportunity affecting rural and urban communities across America. While criteria for what qualifies as a food desert vary, it is primarily defined by long distances from or low concentration of healthy food retailers in urban and rural areas, each of these imagined to diverge from some ideal number.

Keep reading... Show less

An Open Letter to Carlos Santana: Don’t Play in Israel in July

Dear Carlos,

Keep reading... Show less

Major Leader of the American Jewish Mainstream Does 180, Calls State of Israel a 'Failure'

While reading Ethan Bronner’s review of a new biography of Abba Eban, I was reminded of a time when in a rare moment I had the better of a verbal encounter with Eban. It happened about 30 years ago at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, which brought together leaders of American Jewish organizations, sometimes to hear from a visiting dignitary, in this case Eban, Israel’s eloquent voice for many years.

Keep reading... Show less

5 Things Atheists Have Wrong About Religion

Despite their emphasis on reason, evidence and a desire to see through false truth claims, many atheists hold surprisingly ill-informed beliefs about religion. Many of these myths go unquestioned simply because they serve the purpose of discrediting religion at large. They allow for the construction of a straw man i.e. a distorted and simplistic representation of religion which can be easily attacked, summarily dismissed and ridiculed. Others who genuinely believe these false claims merely have a limited understanding of the ideas involved and have never thoroughly examined them. But, myths are myths and they should be acknowledged for what they are.

Keep reading... Show less

Boiling Point: Why Do We Let Big Oil Send Workers to Their Deaths?

Picture this: You’re at the airport, about to board your flight. As you wait by the gate a pair of airline pilots chat nearby. They are your crew.

Keep reading... Show less

What If Jesus Had Been A Republican?

This story was republished from Tikkun.

Keep reading... Show less

GOP’s Secret Weapon: How Right-Wing Churches Turn the 99 Percent Into the Tea Party

Why does the Right keep winning in American politics, sometimes through electoral victories, sometimes by having the Democrats and others on the Left adopt what were traditionally right-wing policies and perspectives? Sure, I know that progressives won some important local battles in 2014: A few towns in California, Texas, and Ohio banned fracking. A few towns in Ohio, Massachusetts, Florida, and Illinois supported ballot measures to overturn Citizens United. Richmond, California, stood up to Chevron, and Berkeley stood up to “Big Soda.”

Keep reading... Show less

What If Jesus Had Been A Republican?

This story was republished from Tikkun.

Keep reading... Show less

5 Things Atheists Have Wrong About Religion

 Despite their emphasis on reason, evidence and a desire to see through false truth claims, many atheists hold surprisingly ill-informed beliefs about religion. Many of these myths go unquestioned simply because they serve the purpose of discrediting religion at large. They allow for the construction of a straw man i.e. a distorted and simplistic representation of religion which can be easily attacked, summarily dismissed and ridiculed. Others who genuinely believe these false claims merely have a limited understanding of the ideas involved and have never thoroughly examined them. But, myths are myths and they should be acknowledged for what they are.

Keep reading... Show less

Should I Quit My Religion? Some Questions for the New Atheists

I want your opinion about something. I’m a liberal religious person who doesn’t believe in doctrines, dogma or a supernatural God. 19% of members in my tradition identify as atheist, 30% as agnostic and the rest Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Christian, Pagan or otherwise. Many of us have been wounded by the bigotry, homophobia and dogma in the religions we grew up in and find refuge, support and community in my tradition. We come together on Sunday mornings to enjoy music and hear sermons about social justice, the power of community and how to live inspiring and meaningful lives. Some ministers may use the word God in an all-inclusive way but most choose to avoid the term because of its troubled history. Here’s my question for you: Should I abandon my tradition because liberal and moderate religion serves to justify the extremes? Is my participation in this religious institution providing legitimacy and credibility for fundamentalism, violence, oppression and bigotry done in the name of religion? I’m studying to be a minister in this tradition. It’s called Unitarian Universalism. Am I guilty by association? Should I jump ship? What do you think?

Keep reading... Show less

Is New Environmentalism the Answer or the Problem?

Take your well-disciplined strengths

Keep reading... Show less

Leading Dems Miss the Boat on Health Care

As we face the 2008 presidential campaigns, the stakes have never been higher for health care reform. Health care is pricing itself beyond the reach of lower-income and middle-class Americans with no cost containment yet on the horizon. Seniors with Medicare are paying much more out-of-pocket for their medical care now than when Medicare was enacted in 1965.

We already have a perfect storm as the U.S. health care "system" falls apart, and many public polls put access to affordable health care at the top of our domestic agenda.

Although we spend far more than any other country in the world on health care, we have little to show for it except high prices, decreasing access, variable quality, underuse of essential care by vulnerable populations, and a significant amount of unnecessary and inappropriate care for those who can pay for it. Our enormous private health insurance industry of 1,300 insurers competes to cover healthier and lower-risk enrollees with more limited policies each year, while denying coverage of sicker individuals or raising premiums to unaffordable levels. That shifts the burden of the more costly care of sicker people to the public sector, defeating the whole principle of insurance: to spread risk broadly. Meanwhile, as the private insurance industry no longer finds growth in the employer-sponsored and individual markets, it has been shifting its sights to privatized public programs, including Medicare and Medicaid. Here it has found generous subsidies and little oversight from friendly conservatives in government.

Now would be the ideal time for leading Democrats to advance a progressive agenda for health care, such as Teddy Roosevelt did as a Progressive, with his call for national health insurance in 1912. The Republicans have been weakened by scandals, cronyism and incompetence, and have no new or credible ideas for health care reform. They still offer up only warmed-over ideas such as tax credits, health savings accounts, and how the competitive market can fix our problems, while limiting government's responsibility for care of the poor -- blatant social Darwinism. As William Greider recently observed in the Nation, "Democrats have a splendid opening to be substantive and political and righteous for working folks,all at once."

But so far, with only one exception, the Democratic presidential candidates have been disappointing, if not derelict, in reforming the system. In their misguided efforts to avoid too much controversy and to build a "centrist consensus," they are completely missing the target even before starting. Although Democrats in Congress united behind reauthorization of an expanded State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), that effort has diverted them from the real challenge -- how to reform the system to make accessible and comprehensive health care affordable for all Americans. That would require taking on powerful stakeholders, especially the insurance and drug industries, in the medical-industrial complex, now one-sixth of our economy. All but one of the Democratic presidential contenders shy away from that battle, usually with the limp excuse that real reform is not politically feasible.


What Are the Leading Democrats Proposing?


In their rush to build consensus for universal coverage, all three leading Democratic presidential candidates avoid taking on the real culprit -- a failing private health insurance industry. There is abundant evidence of the industry's failures, such as premiums increasing by three and four times the rates of cost-of- living and median family income. Projections show that, at this rate, premiums alone will consume all of household incomes by 2025. Administrative overhead will become five to nine times higher than Original Medicare."Denial management" is a vigorous growth area within the industry, while proliferation of near worthless limited benefit policies under the guise of insurance (e.g. deductibles up to $5,000 or annual caps as low as $1,000), and successful avoidance of regulation by state and federal regulators for many years is standard. Even as employer-sponsored insurance declines, the insurance bureaucracy keeps expanding as it seeks to exclude higher risk enrollees and keep its "medical loss ratio" attractive to investors (the industry's often-stated goal is to keep at least 20 percent of premium revenue for overhead and profits).

Despite these mounting problems, the proposals for"reform"of each of the leading Democratic candidates would build upon the private insurance industry. Both Senators Hillary Clinton and John Edwards call for an individual mandate whereby everyone is required to buy health insurance. Senator Barack Obama stops short of universal coverage, except for children.

There are many more similarities than differences among their proposals. All would offer choice among plans and government subsidies for those unable to afford coverage. All would require employers to shoulder some of the costs of coverage. All would need additional funding ($110 billion a year for Clinton's plan), and all support new efforts to rein in "cherry picking" by insurers. However,how these objectives would be achieved remains unclear in every case. What does seem certain is that any of these Democratic proposals, if enacted into law, would provide yet another new windfall for the private insurance industry through government subsidies for those unable to pay for coverage.And nowhere in this "debate" does the issue of actual benefits appear. Would mandated policies cover all necessary health care for all enrollees? How about cost-sharing requirements?

These proposals are too general and nebulous to know how they would be implemented. The devil is always in the details, and market stakeholders lobby their interests very effectively in and out of revolving doors from their bases on K Street.

As the current front running candidate, Senator Clinton's plan is carefully crafted to appeal to centrist voters. Under the label of American Health Choices Plan, her individual mandate "assures affordable health coverage for all" through use of refundable tax credits, means-tested limits on premium payments to a percentage of income, promoting shared responsibility by large employers and tax credits for small employers, and expansion of Medicaid and SCH IP. Her plan adds in other trendy components as well in an effort to lower costs or improve quality of care,such as more emphasis on preventive care,disease management for chronic disease, expanded use of information technology,and health insurance purchasing pools. A new component in the Clinton plan is the proposed creation of a public Medicare-like plan intended to compete against the offerings of private plans. On the surface, this may appeal to some as a way to keep the private plans honest and even as a possible future route toward achieving publicly financed Medicare for all.


What's Wrong With the Leading Democrat's Proposals?


Though well intended, there are many problems with all of these proposals. Unfortunately, the reasons are more intertwined and complex than we can reasonably expect to have clarified through political discourse. Leading the list by far is the failure of these proposals to address the central problem blocking reform -- the private multi-payer system itself -- all in the name of political compromise, without even putting single-payer on the table. In the just-released Rockridge Institute Report on "The Logic of the Health Care Debate," George Lakoff and his colleagues describe how this kind of neoliberal thinking falls into the 'Surrender-in-Advance Trap' by continuing to support failed market-based policies because of political opposition to the economically and morally superior progressive approach: single-payer public financing.

All three leading Democratic proposals leave the private insurance industry in place. This is a bad idea for many reasons. The industry has already demonstrated its bureaucratic inefficiencies, profiteering by cherry picking and favorable risk selection, fragmentation of risk pools, and commitment to the financial bottom line rather than reliable coverage of comprehensive benefits. It is well known that 10 percent of the population account for 27 percent of all health care spending. The industry goes to great lengths to avoid these enrollees' preference in order to market their products to the healthier majority of the population. The industry has no mechanisms or prospects to contain costs and any expansion of private financing is inflationary.

The industry has failed the public interest. It is unwilling (and unable) to compete with such public programs as Original Medicare on a level playing field. It has only survived to this point by avoiding higher-risk enrollees, increasing cost sharing, raising its premiums to increasingly unaffordable levels, and hollowing out coverage that people can afford. It does no good to mandate coverage within adequate benefits.

The much-touted Massachusetts individual mandate enacted in 2006 is a case in point. Even in a state with relatively high regulation of insurers, this mandate is already failing. The "Massachusetts Miracle"has no chance of providing universal coverage for all state residents, premiums are higher than expected, benefits remain controversial and fall far short of covering essential care, and the costs of promised government subsidies will end up much higher than anticipated. Meanwhile,of course,administrative and bureaucratic complexities have been moved up another notch. This experience also shows that mandates cannot really be enforced (the state has already lowered its initial expectations of employers, and private insurers will always respond to more mandated benefits by raising their premiums).

After some years of trials, there is still not a single example of successful mandates, whether upon employers or individuals. As long as we depend on private financing, mandates will be non-starters, though popular with politicians and welcomed by the insurance industry.

The other trendy "extras"promoted by these Democratic proposals likewise stand little chance of success. An increased emphasis on preventive care is needed and a good idea, but this can not be expected to contain health care costs. There are a few instances where costs are reduced, such as smoking cessation and wide use of seatbelts, but in most instances, health care costs go up with implementation of screening and prevention programs as new illnesses are identified, requiring follow-up and treatment.

Better management of chronic disease is certainly needed. Institutions with integrated systems such as Kaiser Permanente and Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound have done pioneering work in this area, often with improved quality but not less costs. But "disease management" (DM) programs being promoted by commercial vendors to employers and health plans are a different story. Initially started by the drug industry in the 1990's with (a stake in expanding sales of their drugs), DM programs are largely disconnected from primary care and have yet to demonstrate any long-term cost savings. It is the same story for information technology. How can wider use of electronic medical records increase the efficiency of a multi-payer system with insurers which results in 17,000 different health plans in Chicago and more than 700 different insurance policies among 2,000 patients with depression in Seattle?

High-risk purchasing pools are another idea without any track record of success. Although 30 states have started high-risk pools, they still cover less than 200,000 people and are largely ineffective, plagued by extended waiting lists, high premiums, limited benefits, and shortfalls of state and federal funds.

A fundamental mistake of all incremental efforts now underway across the country towards universal coverage is the disconnect between insurance and health care. Here we find an increasing gap. Many people with insurance find cost-sharing an increasing burden with benefits decreasing and out-of-pocket costs taking ever larger bites from their household income. "Underinsurance" is defined by the Commonwealth Fund as medical expenses amounting to 10 percent of annual income or more (5 percent for adults below 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level,which is set at $41,300 for a family of four in 2007). Yet many millions of "insured" Americans are having to spend much more than that on health care. Two million people were forced into bankruptcy by medical bills in 2001, the most recent year for which data are available; three-fourths of them were employed and insured at the outset of their medical problems.

The Medicare-like public option is an interesting idea, but does not make sense for several reasons. We have yet to show that the political process can yield a level playing field for competition between public and private programs. Another round of government subsidies would give the private insurance industry yet another opportunity to further divide the risk pool, concentrating the sick in Medicare, which could threaten its future viability. We would likely march toward even more of a two-tier system than we have now, and Medicare would face an increased risk of becoming a welfare program for sick people with significant medical problems. It would perpetuate a role for private health insurance and accept the illusion that it provides a valuable adjunct to health care financing when it is already clear that it doesn't. The battle over the industry's future needs to be fought, as it inevitably will. The Medicare-like option would simply delay that battle, perhaps losing an opportunity for real reform. Whatever further structures were put in place to implement the Medicare-like plan could themselves add to the obstacles of replacing an obsolete private financing system. If Medicare became excessively saddled with the most expensive care of a smaller population without adequate funding, its conservative critics could correctly claim that, "The government program can't do the job."


What Should the Government's Role be in this Crisis?


We have a market-based health care system driving up its own costs beyond the reach of ordinary Americans, with government policies making things even worse through minimal oversight and regulation of the market. As the situation gets worse, we remain deeply divided over the role of government. On the Right, conservatives have been quite clear about wanting to downsize government, render it less capable, and, in the case of Medicare, privatize it and turn Original Medicare into a smaller welfare program. The Right has raised such fears over creeping socialism and "government run" programs that the Left shies away from activist government. All of the leading Democratic health proposals studiously avoid any implication of government intrusion, despite the far greater bureaucratic intrusion of privately-financed health care compared to simplified public financing.

What can we learn from history about the role of government as our health care crisis grows? In an address to the Republican Citizens of Washington County, Mary-land in 1809, Thomas Jefferson's answer was: "The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction is the first and only legitimate object of good government." Comparing our increasing gaps in income and opportunity today with those in the Great Depression, Joseph Stiglitz, Nobel Laureate in Economics and former chief economist of the World Bank, offered this perspective in 2004:

Markets do not lead to efficient outcomes, let alone outcomes that comport with social justice. As a result, there is often good reason for government intervention to improve the efficiency of the market. Just as the Great Depression should have made it evident that the market often does not work as well as its advocates claim,our recent Roaring Nineties should have made it self-evident that the pursuit of self-interest does not necessarily lead to overall economic efficiency.

But, instead of taking a progressive view of the responsibility of government to help solve our increasing problems of access, cost, quality, and equity of health care, we have the leading Democratic candidates perpetuating market approaches, with the already discredited notion that the insurance industry will respond to competition. They even take on some of the strategies of the Right, such as tax credits and purchasing pools, while offering up unpersuasive calls for cost containment, universal coverage, and improved quality of care. Despite conservative public policies favoring health care markets, as illustrated by continued over-payments and lack of oversight of private Medicare plans, these leaders remain unwilling to confront the insurance industry in the public interest.


Single-Payer National Health Insurance: The Only Effective and Sustainable Path to Universal Coverage


Only one of the six Democratic presidential candidates gets it right on health care reform. Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), as co-sponsor with Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) of House Bill 676, the U.S. National Health Insurance Act, has recognized for years that the private health insurance industry will always stand in the way of universal access to comprehensive health care.

This bill directly addresses the central problem of our health care system -- its private financing -- replacing it with a public financing system modeled after a reformed Medicare program.

A Medicare-for-All program would provide universal coverage of all necessary health care for all Americans coupled with a private delivery system. It would not be socialized medicine, but social insurance. Its extra benefits could be extended to the entire population by saving about $350 billion a year in administrative cost savings, monopsony (i.e., one dominant buyer) purchasing, and improved access with earlier diagnosis and treatment of illness. All Americans would have full choice of physicians, other licensed providers, and hospitals. Medical decision-making would stay with patients and their physicians with much less bureaucratic intrusion than we have today in our multi-payer financing system. With administrative and structural simplification, our system would be transitioned toward not-for-profit care in a more transparent and accountable way.

HR 676 is now endorsed by eighty-five sponsors in the House. It has received the support of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), and some in the business community are starting to view single-payer as a way to get out from under increasingly burdensome health care costs, to maintain a healthy workforce, and to better compete in the global economy. Poll after poll shows that about two-thirds of the public supports such a role for government in assuring health care for our population.

Health care reform should be a non-partisan issue. Health care is an essential need for all of us, regardless of age, gender, race, class, religious persuasion, or political

party. Everyone wins (except perhaps some corporate stakeholders in our market-based system) when we have a healthier population in a society that pulls together, instead of being split apart over economic and health disparities. Conservatives espouse principles of efficiency, responsibility, and eliminating waste. A single-payer system would be far more efficient than a multi-payer system, would have more leverage to reduce waste, and would provide a structure for more accountability than we have today. Everyone would contribute to its funding on a shared and equitable basis. Employers would pay a payroll tax in the range of 7 percent (less than they now pay), with further funding by a pro-gressiveincometaxaveraging2percentfor most taxpayers (less than they typically now pay for premiums, deductibles, and out-of-pocket costs). With all these advantages, it is remarkable (but no surprise) how silent the media have been, dependent as they are on corporate support, in publicizing the Kucinich candidacy and single-payer reform.

Based upon its track record in recent decades, the private health insurance industry has proven itself not to be a reliable and useful base upon which to finance health care. The trend toward its demise is becoming more obvious, but is still denied by most policymakers, including many on the Left. As the number of incremental "re-form" proposals proliferate in an effort to rationalize the industry under the false guise of "market competition," we need to ask who our health care system is for: patients and their families, or the insurance industry? Our public policy to date supports the latter.


Hazards of Political Compromise


The Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act of 2003 (MMA) gives us a classic example of the hazards of political compromise. The central problem requiring action was the rapid escalation of drug prices and their decreasing affordability to seniors. The drug and insurance industries launched a full-court lobbying campaign, resulting in compromises such that the main problem was dodged. Instead of controlling drug prices, the MMA was a sell-out to the drug and insurance industries, providing lavish new

over-payments to private Medicare plans, prohibiting the government from negotiating discounted drug prices as is done so well by the Veterans Administration, continuing a ban on importation of prescription drugs, and establishing health savings accounts. This new structure may be with us for years. Even after the Democrats gained control of both houses in the 2006 elections, they have yet to rein in the large subsidies handed over to the drug and insurance industries.

The leading Democrats' health care plans, if enacted, are a prescription for failure by giving the private insurance industry another bonanza: a carte blanche opportunity to sell more limited benefit policies to healthy people and prevent a structural health care fix. They would further raise costs, increase bureaucracy, enrich market stakeholders at the expense of patients, families, and taxpayers, and perpetuate markets treating health care as just another commodity to be bought and sold. Wall Street would prosper as Main Street hurts.


So What Next?

The public health policy choice facing us is whether or not to replace a failing private financing system with public single-payer financing. Making the right choice is the only way to gain affordable universal coverage of necessary care for everyone. It is that simple. This is not an issue to be compromised away by politicians. We need a new structure to heal many of the problems of U.S. health care. We have an opportunity now to galvanize a grassroots movement for real health care reform that may not come again for a long time. The Democrats are poised to regain the Presidency in 2008, together with both houses of Congress. We need activist government and leaders, as we have had earlier in our history, to confront our health care crisis. It is a matter of moral, economic, and social urgency. As a nation, we are long overdue responding to Martin Luther King Jr.'s call to action, some forty years ago: "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and most inhuman."


The Zionist Dream is Becoming a Nightmare

Zionism's drive to create a state for the Jewish people was designed to serve two purposes. The most fundamental of them was to provide a refuge that would ensure the well-being and security of the Jewish people, wherever they were endangered by the ever-recurring historical cycles of murderous global anti-Semitism -- most recently, of course, the Holocaust. Beyond that, the Jewish state of Israel was to be a moral exemplar for all mankind, "a light unto the nations," the model of the kind of state that a liberal, well educated, sophisticated, and morally sensitive people -- "the people of the Book" -- could create.

The Zionist dream is becoming a nightmare. There is no place in the world where the Jewish people are more insecure than in Israel, in part, of course, because of the continuation of anti-Semitism, especially in the Islamic world, but also because of the policies and behavior of the Jewish state. As for its role of moral exemplar, today defenders of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians don't even bother to claim a higher morality; rather, they wish Israel to be judged as an "ordinary" state and typically complain bitterly that the West has a double standard, condemning Israel's human rights record but minimizing the even worse record of typical Arab autocracies. What a defense -- it's a long way from "a light unto the nations" to "better than Syria."

Zionism's "original sin" (in the language of many Israeli critics) was the political dispossession of the Arab peoples of Palestine, who had a more compelling historical case for political sovereignty over Palestine than did the Jews. True, Palestine had been the original Biblical homeland for the Jews, before the Romans had expelled them two thousand years earlier. But it hardly follows that this history gives the Jews an inherent right to the land in perpetuity, particularly in light of the incontestable fact that for thirteen hundred consecutive years the area had been largely inhabited by Arabs, and also because religious and historical claims to the land by both Muslims and Christians are no less powerful than those made by Jews.

Thus, the religious argument for Jewish sovereignty over Palestine is unpersuasive, and the argument based on previous possession of the land is even more so.

There is no place on earth that hasn't at one time or another "belonged" to a different people than its current inhabitants, and no place other than Palestine where it even occurs to anyone to argue that the passage of two thousand years is irrelevant to judging current land rights. Far worse, by blinding the Israelis -- and their equally unseeing supporters among diaspora Jews, especially in the United States -- to the reality of the conflict, these childish arguments have had devastating consequences for the Israelis and the Palestinians alike.

The tragedy is that these deeply flawed arguments for privileging Jewish claims to Palestine over those of its indigenous inhabitants were so unnecessary because by the early 1940s there was one incontestably good -- and sufficient -- argument. After the Holocaust, it was clear to people of good will everywhere that the creation of a Jewish state was now morally imperative, and that there was no practical place to put such a state other than in Palestine. True, this would create an injustice for the Palestinians, but one that could be mitigated by dividing the land of Palestine between the Jews and the Arabs. Tanya Reinhart puts it this way: "As an Israeli, I grew up believing that this primal sin our state was founded on might be forgiven one day, because the founders' generation was driven by the faith that this was the only way to save the Jewish people from the danger of another holocaust. But it didn't stop there."

Everyone knows, of course, that the Palestinians -- insisting on holding 100 percent of the land for themselves, regardless of the consequences for world Jewry -- refused to accept the UN's partition plan of 1947. What is not nearly so well known, however, is that Israel's first Prime Minister, David Ben Gurion, and most of the rest of the Zionist leadership also never truly accepted partition. Rather, they regarded their agreement to the UN plan as merely a tactical necessity, one that would later be reversed when Israel became militarily strong enough to resume its drive for Jewish sovereignty over all of the Biblical land of Palestine. And so they did, and so -- as Tanya Reinhart argues -- Israel continues to do today, in an only somewhat modified manner.

Thus, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is no longer a continuation of an historically unavoidable "Original Sin"; rather,it has become an avoidable, ongoing, and ever-worsening sin. Avoidable because there was a reasonable chance that the conflict might have been resolved long ago, had the Israelis acknowledged the inevitable harms done to the Palestinians by the creation of Israel as well as the subsequent expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians from their homes and villages, and resolved to do everything possible to make up for these injustices in any manner possible, short of abandoning the Jewish state in one part of the land of Palestine. Israel's failure to acknowledge its responsibilities and moral obligations to the Palestinians has turned a tragedy into a crime.

Tanya Reinhart, a professor emeritus at Tel Aviv University and a regular columnist in Israel's biggest daily newspaper, Yediot Ahronot, has written two recent books of blistering, unsparing, and entirely persuasive criticism of Israeli policies toward the Palestinians. The first, “Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948,” covered the 1999-2002 period; her most recent book, “The Road Map to Nowhere; Israel/Palestine Since 2003,” updates her analysis through early 2006.

Reinhart argues that under the administrations of both Ariel Sharon and current Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the real goal of Israeli policy has been, at a minimum, to unilaterally annex some 40 percent of the West Bank, including the most productive lands and most of the water resources of the area. Beyond that, Olmert is continuing the process of what Reinhart openly calls "ethnic cleansing" that began with the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinians in 1948. Reinhart contends that the brutality employed in the 1948 war is no longer feasible, if only because of the potential condemnation of the international community and the consequences it would have for Israel, so it is being replaced by the more indirect method of "slow and invisible transfer" -- that is, making life so miserable for the Palestinians that they give up and move elsewhere.

The tactics used to achieve this goal include the killing of more than two thousand innocent Palestinians as the result of Israel's indiscriminate attacks on "militants" or "terrorists" via bombs, missiles, artillery fire, and the like. Besides the killings, the Israeli government has imposed collective punishment and deliberate impoverishment of the entire Palestinian population by, as Reinhart describes, creating "a complex system of prisons... [pushing the Palestinians] into locked and sealed enclaves, fully controlled... by the Israeli army." This is done by the "Separation Wall" and other barriers, as well as by military roads, patrols, checkpoints, and roadblocks; the closing of Gazan trade and commerce with the outside world; and the repeated incursions of the Israel Defense Forces. Beyond even that, other measures seek to destroy the Palestinian economy and ordinary life, including the destruction of Gaza's main electrical power plant; the severe restrictions placed on Palestinian drinking and agricultural water; the daily humiliations and often severe hardships imposed by draconic Israeli laws against the free movement of Palestinians throughout the West Bank; the disruption of the private and public health systems -- and more.

Faced with this catastrophe, it is no wonder that the Palestinians have revolted; as Reinhart notes, international law and the Geneva Conventions "recognize the right of an occupied people to carry out armed struggle," although not to resort to terrorism against civilians. Even non-terrorist armed Palestinian resistance may not have been wise in practice, Reinhart concedes, but what alternatives did the Palestinians have? Many -- including Tikkun -- have proposed nonviolent strategies of resistance, but there is little reason to believe that approach would have been any more successful. Reinhart goes into great detail on the tactics the Israeli army, police, and intelligence services have used to suppress even nonviolent demonstrations -- including the use of tear gas, stun guns, rubber bullets, and occasionally even live fire.

Reinhart focuses primarily on the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians. She might well have added that the Occupation and repression have had devastating direct and indirect effects on Israeli institutions, society, and quality of life. As regularly discussed by the Israeli news media and academicians, these include the following:


Israeli Democracy: All of Israel's democratic institutions are in severe decline. The Knesset is widely regarded with contempt, as are politicians generally. The judiciary in general, and the Supreme Court in particular, have largely abandoned their imperative role of upholding law and human rights against widespread governmental abuses, so long as the government cites "security needs" as its justification. Not surprisingly, the power of the military and security services in Israel are greater than in any other Western democracy.

Democratic and Human Rights: There are many Israeli commentaries about the radical decline of values and ordinary moral norms and constraints. Among the consequences are the growth of (1) class and intra-Jewish ethnic and religious conflict; (2) organized and unorganized crime, including routine intra-Jewish violence; (3) anti-Arab sentiments and other forms of racism; and (4) the abuse of women, including white slavery. As academics like Aviad Kleinberg and journalists such as Tom Segev have concluded, "interest in human rights has never been so negligible," and Israeli society, gripped by "moral and political paralysis," is "gradually coming undone."

Economic Injustice: Israel has completely abandoned its earlier goal of creating a democratic socialism in favor of "rampant capitalism." Consequently, while some Israelis grow fabulously wealthy, other sectors of the society suffer through high unemployment rates, high inflation, and continuously widening income inequalities.

To add to the picture of this third-world style pathology, Reinhart notes that a 2005 World Bank report found Israel to be one of the most corrupt and least efficient Western states.

Education and Culture: Religious messianism and fundamentalism are on the rise. This together with the secular but primitive nationalism of Sharon and his successors has created an environment in which academic freedom is under severe attack, Israel's intellectuals are increasingly regarded with scorn, and the education system as a whole has radically declined, becoming increasingly government-controlled, politicized, and ineffective. As Adir Cohen, a chaired professor of education at Haifa University, recently wrote, the deterioration in the Israeli education system (as reported by a spate of recent studies) is accompanied by a national move in "an anti-cultural direction. The art institutions are being suffocated, the orchestras choked, the theaters closed down. ... Public libraries are in a terrible state. For 2,000 years we were People of the Book. Now we've become the country bumpkins."

Though it cannot be said that all of these problems are attributable only to the consequences of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nor that they would disappear if that conflict were settled, it is equally obvious that the conflict, the Occupation, and the repression of the Palestinians has played a major role in either creating or exacerbating them.

What Can the American Jewish Community Do?

Not only is Israel's democracy and society at stake, but even its basic security. As Reinhart puts it, Israel is a "small Jewish state...surrounded by two hundred million Arabs," and it "is making itself the enemy of the whole Muslim world. There is no guarantee that such a state can survive. Saving the Palestinians also means saving Israel." Sooner or later the most fanatical of the Islamic fundamentalists by one means or another are likely to acquire nuclear weapons -- and they may very well use them against Israeli cities, regardless of the obvious consequences to the Muslim world from Israeli retaliation. And that will be the end of Israel, and much of the Middle East.

Only serious pressures by the American government, including making continued political, economic, and military support contingent on the end of the Is-raeli occupation and repression of the Palestinians, can stop the Israelis from marching over this looming cliff. Given the confluence of rightwing ideology and domestic political realities in the United States, however, it is hard to imagine any American government imposing such tough-love policies on Israel without strong support from the American Jewish community. Reinhart argues that "Part of the reason why the pro-Israeli lobbies [in the U.S.] have been so successful... is the massive lack of knowledge about what is really happening in Israel-Palestine." However, matters are even worse: it is not so much innocent ignorance that accounts for the unwillingness of most of the American Jewish community to help save Israel from itself, for by now there has been considerable coverage -- even in the super-cautious American news media -- of what Israel is doing to the Palestinians and to its own best interests. Thus, the real issue is the willed ignorance -- the psychological need not to know -- of our community. The price -- to the Palestinians, to the Israelis, and to American national security -- is already unbearable, and it may well soon become apocalyptic.

A Different Take on Disengagement

If Ariel Sharon had been willing to negotiate a genuine peace agreement with the Palestinians in which Israel withdrew to the 1967 border (with slight border modifications along the lines suggested by Yossi Beilin in the Geneva Accord of 2003), one part of that agreement could have allowed all settlers to stay in their homes in Gaza and the West Bank as long as they agreed to be law-abiding citizens of the Palestinian state that would be governing that area. If they were not willing to give up their Israeli citizenship and live in peace with their neighbors,  they could voluntarily leave their homes and return to Israel.  That is the same choice that Arabs faced once Israel was established in a land that they once governed. It should have been the choice offered to Israeli settlers as well.

There never had to be the horrible scene of people being dragged from their homes.

So why did it happen?  Because Ariel Sharon's entire plan -- as explained to the Israeli public by his assistant, Dov Weisglass -- was to sacrifice the settlers of Gaza precisely in order to have the painful images that dominated the media, so that Sharon could argue "Of course no one can ask us to do this kind of thing to the 300,000 settlers in the West Bank, given the pain everyone has seen us go through in Gaza."

As Sharon's aides tried to tell the settlers, the Disengagement was intended to preserve the Occupation, not undermine it. And so, Sharon is moving ahead to finish construction of the Separation Wall and cut off from the West Bank the 150,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem (not to mention many other Palestinians living in proximity to the Wall), expropriate more and more Palestinian land, and "create facts" on the ground that will be hard to change.

There are some who celebrate this Gaza withdrawal as the first step in the process of dismantling settlements. Rabbi Lerner asks them the following: "At what point, how many years from now, while the Occupation continues of much of the West Bank, will you acknowledge that this was simply another part of the scheme that Sharon has--to hold on to close to 50 percent of the West Bank while offering Palestinians a state that will be neither economically nor politically viable, a state that, when they refuse it, or when they accept it and then ask for more, will be used as 'proof' that nothing will ever satisfy them?"  So, Rabbi Lerner argues, we should understand that all the pain was part of an elaborate ruse--and though the immediate victims are the Gaza settlers, the real victims are all the peoples of Israel and Palestine who will have to endure the ongoing suffering that the continuation of the Occupation guarantees.

This was not a move toward reconciliation and open-heartedness between two peoples, but a unilateral move by a pro-occupation government, aided by an international media that systematically tells the story from the standpoint of the Israeli government. When was the last time the media gave this kind of attention to the systematic uprooting from their homes of Palestinians by the Israeli occupation, though the number of those who have been uprooted far exceeds those of Israelis uprooted? When was the last time the media raised the issue of how many Israelis today are living in homes that belonged to Palestinians before 1948? 

We raise these issues not to challenge the right of Israel to exist or to flourish, but precisely for the opposite reason--because we believe that only when Israel opens its heart to the fate of the Palestinians and seeks a reconciliation based on justice and kindness and a spirit of generosity (not a unilateral decision by Ariel Sharon imposed on the Palestinian people) can Israel be truly secure.

This is the key lesson of a spiritual politics: that security comes not through power and domination, but through love and generosity. The forced withdrawal of settlers from their homes this past week did not generate a higher level of love or generosity of spirit from any of the different groups in the Middle East. Even the Palestinians in Gaza, relieved that they no longer will have to go through IDF checkpoints, couldn't feel that the withdrawal was a part of a new spirit of generosity by Israel. Why have it imposed rather than negotiated as part of a peace agreement?, they asked. And how generous was it when Israel decided to destroy the houses of settlers lest Palestinians occupying those houses be seen by right-wing Israelis as a "provocation" that might lead to new acts of violence? And how generous was it when Israel still insisted that it would control the borders of Gaza, including from the sea and by air, thus making Gaza an enclave without freedom of access to others in the world except through continued Israeli consent.

Is this what you'd call freedom? And if in this circumstance, Hamas would be able to say that it was not Israeli generosity but Israeli desire to avoid more conflict that had forced them to leave, and thus Hamas -- rather than Palestinian non-violence under Prime Mininster Abbas -- that deserved the credit for the withdrawal, would this really surprise Sharon, or rather be exactly what he wants -- a further 'proof' that abandoning territory to Palestinians would only lead to the extremists taking over, so certainly no one could ask for that in the West Bank? Thus, on every level, this had not been a move of spiritual wisdom, but a move calculated to increase Israel's ability to dominate the West Bank.

We don't pretend that in the contemporary world it is easy to get people mobilized around a spiritual politics when they've been so indoctrinated with the message that domination is the only common sense approach, that one can never trust the other, that the world is filled with fear and anger, and that one's only protection is to dominate the other before they dominate us. But at the very least, lets recognize how completely at variance with the deepest message of Judaism and of the other spiritual visions of the world is this "common sense" that guides American policy, Israeli policy, and the policies of most other countries in the world today. We can't condemn Israel without simultaneously acknowledging that the same condemnation is appropriate for every state on the planet, almost.  But we can lament how far Israel has strayed from the highest teachings of Judaism. For as God taught the prophets, "Not by might, and not by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of Hosts."

The Neverending Story

We know that our individual efforts to send money, sacred and important though they are, cannot come close to reaching the level of the tens of billions of dollars that will be needed to help the millions of people who have lost homes, work, and everything they own or with which they could make a living due to the tsunami. Only a full-scale governmental effort on the part of all the countries of the world, and most particularly the wealthy countries, could make much of an impact at this level of financial need.

So it is particularly distressing to find once again that those of us who live in the U.S. have to witness our own country giving a pathetically small amount of money (even after responding to pressure to increase its initial pledge tenfold, the U.S. is giving a tiny, tiny percentage of what is needed). The hundreds of billions of dollars being sunk into a war against Sunnis in Iraq is monies that could have been spent on providing the kind of advanced warning systems, and solid construction of buildings, that might have dramatically limited the damage and deaths caused by this terrible storm. Once again, the unequal distribution of wealth on the planet translates into the poorest and most defenseless being hardest hit.

Two weeks ago the United Nations issued a report detailing the deaths of more than 29,000 children every single day as a result of avoidable diseases and malnutrition. Over ten million children a year! The difference between the almost nonexistent coverage of this ongoing human-created disaster and the huge focus on the terrible tsunami-generated suffering in South East Asia reveals some deep and ugly truths about our collective self-deceptions.

Imagine if every single day there were headlines in every newspaper in the world and every television show saying: "29,000 children died yesterday from preventable diseases and malnutrition" and then the rest of the stories alternated between detailed personal accounts of families where this devastation was taking place, and sidebar features detailing what was happening in advanced industrial countries, like this: "all this suffering was happening while the wealthiest people in the world enjoyed excesses of food, worried about how to lose weight because they eat too much, spent money trying to convince farmers not to grow too much food for fear that doing so would drive down prices, and were cutting the taxes of their wealthiest rather than seeking to redistribute their excess millions of dollars of personal income." If the story were told that way every day, the goodness of human beings would rebel quickly against these social systems that made all this suffering possible, suffering far, far, far in excess of all the suffering caused by tsunamis and other natural disasters.

If we were being told this true story every day, we'd quickly find that the progressive forces seeking a new global reality would come to power in democratic elections, and that proposals, like Tikkun's Global Marshall Plan (which would have the U.S. lead the advanced industrial societies in a global consortium dedicating 5 percent of their combined GNP each year to alleviating hunger, homelessness, poverty, inadequate education and inadequate health care), would no longer seem "unrealistic" to most people on the planet, but immediate survival necessities.

One important reason that this doesn't happen, whereas the suffering from the tsunami does get the coverage, is that the tsunami can be seen as "natural" and therefore no one is being blamed, no one has to feel guilty about consuming a disproportionate amount of the world's resources, and no one is mobilized to challenge the existing systems of power which fund and control the mass media. However devastating, the tsunami's story line is safe and predictable and unlikely to challenge the current global distribution of wealth or power.

Most reporters and news editors have internalized their sense of what the top-management in their industry considers "newsworthy" and thus they didn't give much attention to the U.N. story and its dramatic and tragic dimensions. If you pressed them, they would probably say something like this: these stories about global poverty don't really interest anyone, because most people know that nothing can be done about it, given that everyone they know is more interested in getting their own material needs satisfied than in worrying about global redistribution of wealth – so there is no point in pursuing that story, because the kinds of changes needed to deal with it will never happen anyway.

Perhaps the reason that social change seems so unrealistic is because not only these news people but almost everyone else has been taught that others are only motivated by narrow material self-interest. Yet when we watch the response of the people of the world to this tragedy we see just the opposite – a huge outpouring of generosity. Millions of people are making contributions, and billions are showing signs of caring. And it is this way whenever we face a situation in which the official media lets down its normal "cynical realism" and tells us that it's OK to show our caring side.

Those who despair are mistaken – the goodness of humanity is always just a few inches from the surface, on the verge of being released. One reason why right-wing Christian churches have been so successful is that they give people a spiritual context within which to let out their caring sides without worrying that they will face cynical put-downs from others around them. One task for progressives interested in social change is to find the best way to facilitate that process in a progressive context, but that will require a new sensitivity to a spiritual framework that validates and supports that spirit of generosity within most people.

Yet in the rest of our lives, few of us are ever encouraged to show caring beyond our small circles of friends and families, and if we are urged to show caring, it is only for the victims of some kind of natural disaster, but not for the kinds of problems we could actually deal with through collective restructuring of the world's economic and political arrangements – because that would threaten the interests of the powerful. They are all too glad to divert our attention to the disasters that can't be changed, and to channeling our anger into anger at God instead of anger at our social system.

The Tikkun Community is proposing a Global Marshall Plan: let the U.S. take the lead in convincing the other leading industrial countries to jointly contribute 5 percent of their GNP for each of the next 20 years to eliminating global poverty, hunger, inadequate education and inadequate healthcare and to build the economic infrastructure of the third world to dramatically improve the well-being of the worst off in every respect from earthquake and tsunami preparedness to environmentally sustainable rebuilding of their agricultural and industrial base. This should be the center of a progressive spiritual "values-based" approach to politics: a recognition of the fundamental interconnectedness of all human beings on the planet. What the tsunami shows is that the caring for others necessary to support such a politics is already there in most Americans. Our task is to let that fundamental goodness be channeled in paths that would actually work to dramatically decrease suffering in all corners of our world.

Is Taking Psychedelics an Act of Sedition?

The disturbances of Sept. 11 have sent us reeling, driving many to seek relief from anxiety and depression through socially sanctioned psychotropics such as Prozac, Xanax, and alcohol. But some of the so-called psychedelic drugs (cannabis, LSD, peyote, psilocybin, ayahuasca, and MDMA or Ecstasy), targets of America's deeply misguided war on drugs, could have a more profound and healthful effect, if used responsibly.

The very idea of going off on a psychedelic "head trip" in this hour of national crisis might be seen as self-indulgent folly, or worse, an act of cerebral sedition. Yet a cold and sober look through the smoldering smoke of Ground Zero leads me to believe that, depending on individual circumstances, of course, there are now even more compelling reasons to sanction the practice of judicious psychedelic use.

If combat readiness is an issue, if your function is to evacuate a building in a hurry, screen airline passengers, detect the presence of microscopic pathogens, analyze forensic evidence that could lead to the apprehension of culpable or would-be terrorists, or execute a commando raid on an Afghan mountain, this is probably not the season for psychedelics.

But if you're not sure who the real enemy is, if you're inclined to ask more questions about the nature of the reality that's just swung out into a broad new arc, or if you're seeking solace and healing from trauma or debilitating stress, it could well be the time to venture out into new psychical frontiers by means of certain time-tested plants and chemicals. In fact, for some especially scarred, it might even be foolish not to, given that there might not be as much time to lose as we thought we had.

Perturbing the Brain

Granted, a state of war, or any other condition in which physical security is under threat, is not the ideal circumstance to explore inner realms. The removal of base concerns for food, shelter, and bodily safety has been a key factor in the evolution of human consciousness from such immediate distractions to plans for future (inner and outer) space exploration.

To paraphrase Terence McKenna, the late shamanologist and outspoken champion of psychedelic consciousness, if you remove stress and threat, add a lot of alkaloids, and perturb the brain, it will transcend three-dimensional space and unfold into a four-dimensional matrix. In an era in which Terror and the War Against It are being waged, the safe and supportive setting long advanced by psychedelic gurus and pundits would seem harder to provide.

But let us not suppose that psychedelics are only for the serene and that their impact on the psyche is purely pacific and unobtrusive. Because they dissolve boundaries to cognitive, emotional, and spiritual understanding, there is, in fact, something uniquely destructive about them, particularly the sort that effectively "kills" the ego through a symbolic death that blows the hatch on one's clinging obsessions and deconstructs one's entire perception of reality*a nuclear fission of the psychological world with impacts not unlike some of the far-flung effects of Sept. 11. Aldous Huxley's proposed invocation for psychedelic sessions includes the admonition: "Your ego and the [fill in your name] game are about to cease."

Deployed with ill intent, along psychotomimetic lines (the first use of LSD and mescaline earmarked by the scientific community), such an assault could wreak havoc on individuals and populations. The CIA tested LSD as a weapon for immobilizing enemies and extracting secrets from them. Conversely, hashish was allegedly used to induce visions of paradise and thereby stoke the courage of a secret order of Muslim guerrillas called the People of the Old Man of the Mountain, which terrorized Christians during the Crusades by stealthily killing their leaders; hence the term "assassins" from the Arabic Hashshashin for "hashish smokers." Subject to the wrong input, the vulnerability of the psychedelicized mind can be grossly abused. History is rife with such examples of the perversion of technology or magic.

Still, the CIA and the Saracen assassins were onto something, albeit in the most unwholesome of ways. Psychedelics are a weapon of war, the war of perceptions, priorities, and values. More readily than the reverse, they can be used to erode the will to use military force, so long as survival isn't at stake. How many thousands of Americans in the Sixties, tripping out on acid, grass, mushrooms, or mescaline, got a heightened sense of the utter absurdity of killing Vietnamese in their own country? Anti-war activists declared openly that LSD was a guerrilla weapon of pacifist resistance, and one that ultimately helped to end that war.

For Paul Krassner, a cofounder of the Yippies, taking acid was a political act, something he did on the occasion of his testifying at the Chicago Conspiracy trial. His new book, Psychedelic Trips for the Mind (High Times Books), celebrates the synchronicity of the crystallizing counterculture, a profusion of spontaneous acts of elation kindled by psychedelics that helped to consolidate the unified mind of a generation.

"The CIA originally envisioned LSD as a means of control," says Krassner, "but millions of young people became explorers of their own inner space with it instead. Acid was serving as a vehicle to help deprogram themselves from a civilization of inhumane priorities. Rand Corporation researchers speculated that LSD might be an antidote to political activism, but the CIA's scenario backfired."

The Great Beyond

If death is another name for the process of undoing to which all of our doings must and do lead, then the psychedelic experience is most certainly concerned with death, with endings that, if we could only see, become beginnings in other forms. McKenna once wrote that psychedelics anticipate the dying process, and just four month's from his own passage, he told a group at Esalen, "If psychedelics don't prepare you for the Great Beyond, I don't know what really does."

In revealing that the emperor wears no clothes, that things fall apart, psychedelics decrypt the death bound into things and offer us a chance to capture -- or recover -- the rapture of union, to snap out of the trance that sustains the illusion of our separateness. There is a diaphanous quality to things seen on the psychedelic, a sympathetic blurring of the lines, an overdrape of molecular fabric that suggests that we are a part of everything.

Such a vision proved to be the stuff of psychic liberation for the late Israeli Holocaust survivor Yehiel De-Nur, who tells, in Shivitti (Gateways Books and Tapes) of a miraculous breakthrough during a 1976 LSD-assisted psychotherapy session in Leiden, Holland with Dr. Jan Bastiaans, the psychiatrist who identified Concentration Camp Syndrome. During the session, De-Nur relived the hell of Auschwitz and then saw his own face over that of his tormenter, deducing that all of humanity -- including himself -- was complicit in the Nazi horror, that it could have been him on the other side of the dynamic, herding people into the ovens, that there was a collective burden of guilt for all to share.

Far from being a "bad trip" in which he recoiled at identifying with a fiendish executioner, the epiphany catalyzed a redemptive rebirth for his stricken soul, dissolving the victim/perpetrator dichotomy.

Israeli Raves

A 30-year belief in the power of psychedelics to confer such transformations spurred Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS; see www.maps.org) to submit an historic protocol for MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of patients afflicted with chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) brought on by criminal deeds. The protocol, approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on November 2, 2001, surprisingly with no snags over the issue of neurotoxicity, will be used for the first U.S. study ever to evaluate if MDMA can have actual mental health benefits.

The FDA ruling may clear the way for an Israeli study of the efficacy of MDMA-assisted psychotherapy in the treatment of PTSD caused by terrorism or war. MDMA manufactured by Israeli syndicates is used in raves and clubs there, as well as by a growing colony of disaffected young army veterans and other Israeli escapists settling in Goa, India. The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) suspects the Israeli mafia of being, along with dealers in Holland, behind the spike in worldwide MDMA production, some of it smuggled as "Ecstasy" tablets -- often by Hassidic couriers -- into the United States, hence the Israelis' hesitation to proceed with MDMA research until the United States approved a protocol for it first.

Now, however, according to Jorge Gleser, Deputy Director of Mental Health Services at the Israeli Ministry of Health, the Ministry will welcome the submission of a slightly revised version of the MAPS protocol. If approved, the study will probably be supervised by Dr. Moshe Kotler, former chief of psychiatry for the Israeli Defense Forces.

Doblin was in Tel Aviv fresh from meetings with Gleser and Kotler when he learned of the Sept. 11 attacks. News of the disaster brought home his sense of "Zionist duty to bring psychedelics to Israel," a nation he sees as a traumatized society where a succession of shocks over the last century has left many of the people "frightened and unable to trust, even when trust should be given." Declares Doblin, "I honestly believe that psychedelics used sensibly and therapeutically can help bring peace to the Middle East, by reducing both personal and social conflicts."

Those in power who could take hemispheric strides toward peace and accommodation if they surrendered their armor and reactionary impulses are not likely to use MDMA, LSD, or other psychedelics, in therapy or otherwise. But Doblin holds out the hope that they can learn by example, by seeing that more and more people can go through the psychedelic ego death and rebirth without losing touch with their cultures.

Dr. Charles Grob, a child psychiatrist at UCLA, who in 1994 conducted the first FDA-approved study of the effects of MDMA on human volunteers, asserts that MDMA's capacity to promote empathy could have a powerful impact on geopolitical affairs. "Well, you're not going to get Sharon and Arafat to take MDMA together," he grants, "but let their children get together one day to do it in a medical setting and have a mutually empathetic experience, seeing the humanity of the other side." Grob thinks that MDMA could have a healing effect on Americans rocked to varying degrees by the Sept. 11 attacks, by fostering empathy for the families of victims, and, less directly, for the bereft and disenfranchised anywhere in the world.

MDMA has already proven to be a bonding agent on a vast scale, within the rave movement, which is international in scope, and pacific, empathic, and celebratory in nature. Just as LSD was a bedrock for the Yippie ethos nearly two generations ago, Ecstasy could well become the social glue for a new activism, should an urgent and well-articulated need arise. MDMA dissolves boundaries for the individual's immersion into a communal group mind, according to author and media theorist Douglas Rushkoff in an essay entitled "Ecstasy: Prescription for a Cultural Renaissance" (included in Ecstasy: The Complete Guide by Dr. Julie Holland, Inner Traditions).

"On E, lies are inefficient," he writes, "and the peculiarities and weaknesses they are meant to obscure no longer seem like offenses against nature." Hence the doors of perception are cleansed, but without blowing them off their hinges. MDMA is unique among so-called psychedelics for leaving the ego unthreatened by inducing a pervasive sense of peace and trust that enables fruitful self-inventory, therapeutic healing, and a powerful feeling of appreciation for one's fellows.

Ironies of the Drug War

Prior to Sept. 11, the nation was beginning to enjoy an increasingly rich dialogue about the role of psychoactive drugs and the impact of the War on Drugs, led most notably by Bill Maher of ABC's "Politically Incorrect," whose comic quips roasting government drug policy complemented the dignified propriety of calls for reform by the Republican Governor of New Mexico, Gary Johnson. Nick Bromell, author of Tomorrow Never Knows: Rock and Psychedelics in the 1960s (University of Chicago Press), observed, optimistically, in a June 2001 essay on the "New Cultural Assent to Drug Use" in The Chronicle of Higher Education that "more and more Americans are unwilling to take a hard line against drugs if that means simplistically refusing to consider why people actually take them."

The ironies of the drug war are everywhere today. "If [Sept. 11 hijacker] Mohammed Atta had been a dope dealer," Grob complains, "we would have been on him. Since he was only suspected of terrorism, he eluded our watch. Our preoccupation with illegal drugs has contributed to our head being in the sand. Last spring we gave $43 million in food aid to the Taliban for suppressing poppy production. It's affected our value system, our ethics, our intelligence-gathering ability. The government could tax drugs to subsidize its war on terrorism."

Grob, who objects to Ecstasy use at raves and clubs, says he does not advocate an open market for all drugs, but notes, "Controlled drugs are completely out of control! Anybody can do them under any circumstance, whereas trained professionals can't. Who's being controlled?"

Recent trends in medicine are redrawing the map of human consciousness as an interaction of specific biochemical agents and processes. The new study of neurotheology is examining the causal relationship between brain chemistry and spirituality. Dr. Rick Strassman, author of the briskly selling DMT: The Spirit Molecule (Inner Traditions; see www.rickstrassman.com) focuses the search for a biochemical catalyst for spirituality on a single endogenous compound, DMT, the most powerful hallucinogen known.

In the early 90s, he conducted FDA-approved research on human subjects with the material. In his book, he posits the theory that blasts of resident DMT from the pineal gland at key moments of stress, including birth and death, are responsible for spiritual awakenings. Contemplation of the grisly carnage of September 11 has strengthened his belief that upon death, bodies should not be disturbed, so that this process is able to play out and facilitate the soul's transfer to a noncorporeal state.

Funnily enough, in a May 2001 cover story that examined "How We're Wired for Spirituality" ("This is your brain on God") Newsweek managed to dance around the issue of psychedelic drugs as mediators of mystic states. The magazine's religion editor, Kenneth Woodward, strained reason when he wrote that the emotions of "losing oneself in prayer * have nothing to do with how well we communicate with God." Such a dismissal of peak experiences is tantamount to saying that the flush of joy felt by a child in the realization of his parents' love could never translate into a deepened understanding and appreciation of life.

Recently, no less an authority on religion than Huston Smith has said, "If religion cannot be equated with religious experiences, neither can it long survive their absence." As he and others, including myself, have documented, extraordinary changes in brain chemistry induced by psychotropic substances can, under the proper circumstances, occasion such experiences.

The going may be rough, of course, though that, says Smith, is no reason to discount the results. In Cleansing the Doors of Perception (Council on Spiritual Practices; see www.csp.org), he points out that religious experiences in general have fearsome properties. Those brought on by psychedelics are no different. "The drug experience," he writes, "can be like having forty-foot waves crash over you for several hours while you cling desperately to a life raft which may be swept from under you at any moment." Thus, he refutes the claim that the expansive relief from ordeal that some psychedelic experients feel is an invalid path to religion, because we do, after all, accept battlefield conversions and those made in the throes of physical crises.

Peak Experiences

Nor should we discount drug-abetted awakenings because they're one-time affairs. Echoing the great religion scholar William James, Smith notes that the ephemeral nature of peak experiences sparked by psychedelics makes them no different from any other sort of mystic encounter with the mysterium tremendum. Such soul-rocking events are indelible in spite of their transient nature, whether you're a born-again Christian or an acid mystic turned Buddhist monk. But the degree to which they will affect you over time, and the tenacity of your newfound conviction, depend on how well you integrate the often alien or otherly vision into your daily life.

So long as such stormings of heaven are outlawed and dismissed, the greater the likelihood for relapse from the cosmic consciousness they engender to the coarse materialist outlook that is consensus reality. It takes a prolonged commitment to mindfulness to prevent the sort of recidivism epitomized by Yippie Jerry Rubin's high-profile conversion to yuppiedom, just as it will require high vigilance and honesty to ensure that profiteering doesn't befoul the surging waters of heart-felt patriotism, as has already begun to occur just weeks after Sept. 11.

With religion-inspired hatred on the loose, many see religion itself as a culprit for the Sept. 11 troubles, and point to psychedelics -- or entheogens, divine-generating agents -- as a means of bypassing religion to get to the wellspring of spirituality. Because they produce the primary experience on which faith is inspired, "entheogens prove that no intermediary is necessary," states Clark Heinrich, author of God Without Religion (yet unpublished) and Strange Fruit (to be published in the US by Inner Traditions), a speculative history about the role of the Amanita muscaria mushroom in several world religions. After his own drug-induced awakening, the late British Ecstasy advocate, Nicholas Saunders (see www.ecstasy.org), surmised that religions may very well have been invented to explain entheogenic experiences.

Still another nondenominational yet transcendental usage seen for psychedelics is as a tool of hyper-ratiocinative perception, a means to deconstruct media charades and help the intellect to cope with ambiguity and uncertainty, according to Erik Davis, author of Techgnosis: Myth, Magic + Mysticism in the Age of Information (Three Rivers Press).

"I wouldn't necessarily want to trip in the aftermath of Sept. 11," concedes Davis, "but I can now use my psychedelic training for coping with the epistemological cyclone of a cataclysm such as this. I grew up in the cushiest reality in the history of the planet. Now I see demons pouring over the lip of my existence, but I've learned through psychedelics how to breathe through it and not believe its story."

Orchestrated Cataclysm

In a subtle sense, Sept. 11 has had the effect of a virtual psychedelic experience, breaking up the world and reorganizing it. In this respect, says Krassner, the event was "an instant 'trip' for many who are now face to face with what to do with their lives, what their concept of God is." In the wake of the attacks, we have witnessed that a cataclysm can have a positive outcome. A tangible new sense of tighter community has come into being, woven from the supplest fibers of the human spirit rebounding from the obliteration of the old order.

For those with the courage to trust, the psychedelic experience can orchestrate a sort of manageable in-house cataclysm -- wreaking only epistemological havoc, not mortal carnage -- and one that can heal by enlivening these same regenerative psychical tissues. Used wisely, psychedelics can thus open the heart to compassion and enable the mind to decouple itself from neurotic or burdensome patterns.

Because of this potential for unsettling the already shakable self, if only temporarily, the tool of psychedelic consciousness is certainly not an imperative, and not for everyone; it must be utilized, managed, and regulated skillfully. In order to fill the sensorium with as much preternatural light as can be metabolized, and liberate the psychedelic experience from the underworld darkness of proscription, the practice should be sacramentalized and institutionalized under the administration of the scientists, doctors, psychologists, and spiritual leaders most knowledgeable about its propensities and potentials.

Psychedelic sessions would then be structured and guided by the collective wisdom generated from centuries of shamanic ritual, as well as from modern clinical research and lessons learned from more informal practices. Select, certifiably pure psychedelics could then be placed once again in the service of private therapy for individuals, couples counseling, and the treatment of drug or alcohol dependency, depression, and other mental maladies.

And they could also be shared in settings for congregational worship, as the Native American Church uses peyote and the Santo Daime and Uniao de Vegetal churches in Brazil use ayahuasca.

On a more massive scale, I can envision devoting a single day in the near future on which, say, five million people worldwide took a good healthful dose of MDMA (or hashish, psilocybin) and opened up their hearts and minds to each other and to the universe. Such a rite of pure Dionysian grace, involving communal song, dance, and invocations of prayer, would strum the invisible wires of the emergent global consciousness network, striking a harmonious chord from Chicago to Bangkok, Sydney to Sao Paolo, London to Delhi, Durban to Tehran.

What immediate effect this would have on our disposition toward the war would most certainly not be a tauter clench on lethal weaponry but rather a quickened pulse in the bond of human kinship we've begun to feel more acutely in the wake of Sept. 11. Such a communal connection, kicked home by a deep, soul-tickling intoxication with the Breath of (all, nonpartisan) Life, would strengthen the resolve to oppose terror in all of its guises, not just those our respective governments don't like. The weapon that psychedelic consciousness brings to the War on Terrorism is as a perceptual laser that dissolves the blind rage of which it is a symptom, dispelling the rumor of our disparateness.

By deploying psychedelics sensibly, not for jaunts of recreational escape but for mindful meditations, more and more people would come to appreciate the treasure of life here and now, in a time and place of war or not -- and know, as William Blake observed, that such "gratitude is heaven itself." Humanity's failure to exploit such opportunities for life's gratuitous graces will only prolong the condition of war.

Charles Hayes is author of Tripping: An Anthology of True-Life Psychedelic Adventures (Penguin); see www.psychedelicadventures.com. His work has appeared in Shaman's Drum, Oxford American, High Times, and E Magazine.

When Healing Becomes a Crime

There is another cancer war -- against "unproven" alternative cancer therapies. But is the medical standard of proof a double standard?

In February 2001, a federal government-sponsored report under the auspices of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) was published finding "noteworthy cases of survival" among cancer patients using the Hoxsey herbal treatment. After seventy-five years, Uncle Sam is finally giving a state nod to what is arguably the most notorious alternative cancer therapy in American history.

In the 1950s at the height of organized medicine's crusade against the Hoxsey Cancer Clinics, the American Medical Association crystallized the medical establishment's sentiments in its supremely influential Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). "It is fair to observe that the American Medical Association or any other association or individual has no need to go beyond the Hoxsey label to be convinced. Any such person who would seriously contend that scientific medicine is under any obligation to investigate such a mixture or its promoter is either stupid or dishonest."

The recent NIH report marks a surprising reversal in the longstanding medical civil war between conventional and alternative approaches. After a long exile, alternative therapies are now ascendant, riding a crest of popular demand, scientific validation, and commercial promise. The face of cancer treatment may soon become almost unrecognizable as valuable alternative therapies begin to permeate mainstream practice.

If Harry Hoxsey had lived to witness this apparent sea-change in medicine, he might likely feel very mixed emotions. He would heartily cheer the grassroots surge propelling the movement, the same kind that once carried his Hoxsey Cancer Clinics to unmatched heights of popularity and validation. He would be exhilarated by the philosophical conversion of his enemies. But he would also be cynical, suspicious that a clinging monopoly was fighting to save face and above all keep its corner on the cancer market. But then, Hoxsey survived decades of being "hunted like a wild beast" only to see his clinics padlocked without the scientific test he relentlessly sought. He died a broken man, anguished over the future he felt was robbed from humanity. Yet the Hoxsey treatment did live on, thriving as an underground legend, still attracting more patients today than any of the other banished therapies, irrepressible after all.

The astonishing saga of the rise and fall and rebirth of Hoxsey provides a classic case history of the corrosive medical politics that have long prevented the fair investigation of promising alternative cancer therapies. Paradoxically, this long-standing denunciation has not been based on the objective scientific evidence that is supposed to determine the acceptance or rejection of medical therapies. Rather, the dismissal typifies the kind of pre-factual conclusion that has characterized "scientific" medicine's century-long pattern of condemnation without investigation.

In fact, the unspoken reason for the renaissance of alternative cancer therapies is sadly obvious: The medical establishment has largely lost its celebrated "War on Cancer" based on surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. But what has remained hidden from most people is the existence of the other cancer war: organized medicine's zealous campaign against "unorthodox" cancer treatments and their practitioners. Over the course of the twentieth century, innovators such as Harry Hoxsey advanced more than one hundred alternative approaches, at least several of which have seemed to hold significant promise. Yet rather than inviting interest and investigation from mainstream medicine, their champions have been ridiculed, threatened with the loss of professional licenses, harassed, prosecuted, or driven out of the country.

The facts clearly reveal that a consortium of interests has consistently condemned these treatments without investigation: the American Medical Association (AMA), the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the American Cancer Society (ACS), as well as certain large corporations that profit from the cancer industry. It is important to emphasize that this confederation of interests known as organized medicine consists principally of medical politicians and business interests, not practicing doctors. Physicians themselves have often objected to the unscientific rejection of alternative therapies and to restrictions on their own freedom to research or administer them.

The news blackout and disinformation campaign muffling this scandal have been so effective that most people do not happen into the underground of "disappeared" therapies until the fateful moment when they or their friends or relations are diagnosed with the dread disease. Usually only while fighting for their lives do patients discover the plethora of alternative cancer therapies claiming to offer hope and benefit, though with little if any scientific evidence to support the assertions. The story of Hoxsey sheds disturbing light on the many anecdotes of "people who got well when they weren't supposed to," as cancer surgeon Dr. Bernie Siegel terms these remarkable remissions in the netherworld of alternative therapies.

The Hoxsey Legend

In 1840 Illinois horse farmer John Hoxsey found his prize stallion with a malignant tumor on its right hock. As a Quaker, he couldn't bear shooting the animal, so he put it out to pasture to die peacefully. Three weeks later, he noticed the tumor stabilizing, and observed the animal browsing knee-deep in a corner of the pasture with a profusion of weeds, eating plants not part of its normal diet.

Within three months the tumor dried up and began to separate from the healthy tissue. The farmer retreated to the barn, where he began to experiment with these herbs revealed to him by "horse sense." He devised three formulas: an internal tonic, an herbal-mineral red paste, and a mineral-based yellow powder for external use. Within a year the horse was well, and the veterinarian became locally famous for treating animals with cancer.

The farmer's grandson John C. Hoxsey, a veterinarian in southern Illinois, was the first to try the remedies on people, and claimed positive results. His son Harry showed an early interest and began working with him at the age of eight. When John suffered an untimely accident, he bequeathed the formulas to the fifteen-year-old boy with a charge to treat poor people for free, and to minister to all races, creeds, and religions without prejudice. He asked that the treatment carry the Hoxsey name. Finally, he warned the boy against the "High Priests of Medicine" who would fight him tooth-and-nail because he was taking money out of their pockets.

Hoxsey planned to go to medical school to bring the treatment to the world, but soon found he had been blackballed after secretly treating several terminal patients who pled for their lives. With a local banker backing him, he founded the first Hoxsey Cancer Clinic in 1924, championed by the chamber of commerce and high school marching bands on Main Street.

As early word of his reputed successes spread, Hoxsey was invited to nearby Chicago, headquarters of the newly powerful AMA, to demonstrate the treatment. Grisly and indisputable photographic proof of the terminal case Hoxsey treated verifies that the patient recovered, living on for twelve years, cancer-free.

Hoxsey then claimed that a high AMA official offered him a contract for the rights to the formulas. The alleged agreement assigned the property rights to a consortium of doctors including Dr. Morris Fishbein, the AMA chief and editor of the JAMA. Hoxsey himself would be required to cease any further practice, to be awarded a small percentage of profits after ten years if the treatment panned out. Invoking his Quaker father's deathbed charge that poor people be treated for free and that the treatment carry the family name, Hoxsey said the official threatened to hound him out of business unless he acquiesced.

Whatever may have happened, that's when the battle started. The AMA first denied the entire incident, then later acknowledged the patient's remission, though crediting it to prior treatments by surgery and radiation.

Yet one thing was certain: Hoxsey had made a very powerful enemy. By crossing swords with Fishbein, he alienated the most powerful figure in medicine. The AMA promptly dubbed him the worst cancer quack of the century, and he would be arrested more times than any other person in medical history.

Hoxsey quickly found himself opposing Fishbein's emerging medical-corporate complex. As late as 1900, medicine was therapeutically pluralistic and financially unprofitable. Doctors had the highest suicide rate of any profession owing to their extreme poverty and low social standing. Fishbein's AMA would engineer an industrialized medical monoculture. What radically tipped the balance of power was an arranged marriage between big business and organized medicine. Under Fishbein's direction, the AMA sailed into a golden harbor of prosperity fueled by surgery, radiation, drugs, and a sprawling high-tech hospital system. The corporatization of medicine throttled diversity. The code word for competition was quackery.

It was easy for the medical profession to paint Hoxsey as a quack: he fit the image perfectly. Brandishing his famed tonic bottle, the ex-coal miner arrived straight from central casting as the stereotype of the snake-oil salesman. When the AMA coerced the pathologist who performed Hoxsey's biopsies to cease and desist, Hoxsey could no longer verify the validity of his reputed successes. Organized medicine quickly adopted the stance that his alleged "cures" fell into three categories: those who never had cancer in the first place; those who were cured by prior radiation and surgery; and those who died. In exasperation, Hoxsey attempted an end run by approaching the National Cancer Institute. In close collaboration with the AMA, the federal agency refused his application for a test because his medical records did not include all the biopsies.

Meanwhile Hoxsey struck oil in Texas and used his riches to promote his burgeoning clinic and finance his court battles. Piqued at Hoxsey's rise, Fishbein struck back in the public media, penning an inflammatory article in the Hearst Sunday papers entitled "Blood Money," in a classic example of purple prose and yellow journalism. Outraged, Hoxsey sued Fishbein. In two consecutive trials, Hoxsey beat Fishbein, standing as the first person labeled a "quack" to defeat the AMA in court. During the trials, Hoxsey's lawyers revealed that Fishbein had failed anatomy in medical school, never completed his internship, and never practiced a day of medicine in his entire career.

By now Fishbein was mired in multiple scandals, including his effective but unpopular obstruction of national health insurance at a time when doctors had become the richest professionals in the country and the Journal the most profitable publication in the world. Drug ads powered JAMA, but its biggest single advertiser in the 1940s was Phillip Morris. (Camel cigarettes had the largest booth at the AMA's 1948 convention, boasting in its ads that "More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.") Enmeshed in controversy, Fishbein's stock was trading low, and, shortly after his first loss to Hoxsey, the AMA chief was deposed in a humiliating spectacle.

But ironically Hoxsey's stunning dark-horse victory against the "most terrifying trade organization on Earth" only ended up bringing the house down. He immediately faced a decade-long "quackdown" by the FDA.

By the 1950s, Hoxsey was riding what was arguably the largest alternative-medicine movement in American history. A survey by the Chicago Medical Society showed 85 percent of people still using "drugless healers." Hoxsey's Dallas stronghold grew to be the world's largest privately owned cancer center with 12,000 patients and branches spreading to seventeen states. Congressmen, judges, and even some doctors ardently supported his quest for an investigation. Two federal courts upheld the therapeutic value of the treatment. Even his archenemies, the American Medical Association and the Food and Drug Administration, admitted that the therapy does cure certain forms of cancer. JAMA itself had published the research of a respected physician who got results superior to surgery using a red paste identical to Hoxsey's for skin cancers including lethal melanoma, a skin cancer that also spreads internally.

Medical authorities escalated their quackdown in the McCarthyite wake of the 1950s. On the heels of a California law criminalizing all cancer treatments except surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, the federal government finally outlawed Hoxsey entirely in the United States in 1960 on questionable technicalities. Chief nurse Mildred Nelson took the clinic to Tijuana in 1963, abandoning any hope of operating in the United States. It was the first alternative clinic to set up shop south of the border. Mildred quietly treated another 30,000 patients there until her death in 1999. Like Hoxsey, she claimed a high success rate, but her contention is unverifiable since the treatment has yet to be rigorously tested.

Hoxsey never claimed a panacea or cure-all. He maintained that the Dallas doctors used his clinic as a "dumping ground" for hopeless cases, and that the great majority of patients he got were terminal, having already had the limit of surgery and radiation. He said he cured about 25 percent of those. Of virgin cases with no prior treatment, he claimed an 80 percent success rate. Seventy-five years after Hoxsey began, why do we still not know the validity of his claims?

The "Unproven Treatments"

Organized medicine has systematically dismissed alternative cancer therapies as "unproven," lacking the rigorous scientific proof of clinical trials. But if the Hoxsey treatment is unproven, it's not disproven. Like virtually all the "unorthodox" cancer therapies over the course of the twentieth century, it was politically railroaded rather than medically tested. However, over the last few decades, controlled laboratory tests have shown all the individual herbs in the internal tonic to possess anti-tumor and anti-cancer properties, as I documented in detail in my recent book on Hoxsey, When Healing Becomes A Crime. Though the formula has never been tested as a whole entity, clearly there is a credible scientific basis for looking at it. Organized medicine has not disputed the effectiveness of the external remedies since 1950, and the red paste (Mohs treatment) is listed in Taber's Medical Encyclopedia as a "standard treatment," though it is seldom used.

After all, plants are the cornerstone of pharmaceutical drugs. The very word drug derives from the Dutch term droog, which means "to dry," since people have historically dried plants to make medicinal preparations. It is well proven that many botanicals possess powerful anti-cancer properties. Numerous primary pharmaceuticals derive from plants, as do several major chemotherapy drugs, such as Taxol from the Pacific Yew tree, Vincristine and Vinblastine from the Madagascar periwinkle, and Camptothecin from the wood and bark of a Chinese tree. About 30 percent of chemotherapy drugs altogether are derived from natural substances, mainly plants. A quarter of modern drugs still contain a plant substance, and about half are modeled on plant chemistry.

During Hoxsey's era, surgery and radiation were primitive and excessive. Both were solely local treatments, reflecting the profession's belief that cancer was a local disease. As such they could address just a quarter of all cases, claiming to cure only about a quarter of those. With the advent of toxic chemotherapy drugs in the 1950s, organized medicine at last acknowledged cancer as a systemic disease, which Hoxsey and the other "unorthodox" practitioners had been asserting throughout.

Clearly, conventional cancer treatments have an important place in medicine and save lives. But since the 1950s, evidence has steadily accumulated that surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy are far less effective than the public is being led to believe. Investigative journalist Daniel Greenberg, writing in the Columbia Journalism Review in 1975, produced the first widely reported exposé showing that cancer survival rates since the 1950s had not progressed, and that improvements from 1930 to 1950 were mainly a consequence of improved hospital nursing care and support systems. Greenberg found that even the valid improvements were very, very small, and that there had been no significant advancements in treating any of the major forms of cancer.

By 1969, Dr. Hardin Jones had already released a shocking report on this issue at the Science Writers Convention, sponsored by the American Cancer Society. Jones, a respected professor of medical physics from the University of California at Berkeley and an expert on statistics and the effects of radiation and drugs, concluded that "the common malignancies show a remarkably similar rate of demise, whether treated or untreated." Joining the fray, Nobel laureate James Watson charged that the American public had been sold a "nasty bill of goods about cancer." This eminent co-discoverer of the DNA double helix remarked bluntly that the War on Cancer was "a bunch of shit."

These "proven" cancer treatments are themselves largely unproven. The standard of proof for therapeutic efficacy is in fact a double standard. Surgery was grandfathered in as standard practice early in the twentieth century without randomized, double-blind clinical trials, which only became widespread in the 1960s with the advent of chemotherapy. Its dangers and limitations have since been only superficially acknowledged or studied, and little is known about its efficacy in relation to a baseline marker of no treatment.

Like surgery, radiation therapy was grandfathered in without rigorous testing. Radiation is carcinogenic and mutagenic. In the few tests comparing radiation treatment against no treatment, according to Jones, "Most of the time, it makes not the slightest difference if the machine is turned on or not." Jones went even further, saying, "My studies have proved conclusively that untreated cancer victims actually live up to four times longer." Radiation is often combined with surgery despite the fact that tests have generally shown it made no apparent favorable difference. A recent study with patients with the most common form of lung cancer found that postoperative radiation therapy, which is routinely given, actually raises the relative risk of death by 21 percent, with its most detrimental effects on those in the early stages of illness. Nevertheless, radiation is used on about half of cancer patients.

It was into this disappointing setting that chemotherapy entered as the next great hope of cancer treatment. Chemotherapy drugs are poisons that are indiscriminate killers of cells, both healthy and malignant. The strategy is quite literally to kill the cancer without killing the patient. By the mid-1980s, prominent members of orthodoxy published unsettling assessments that could no longer be dismissed. Writing in Scientific American, Dr. John Cairns of Harvard found that chemotherapy was able to save the lives of just 2 to 3 percent of cancer patients, mostly those with the rarest kinds of the disease. By medicine's own standards, at best chemotherapy is unproved against 90 percent of adult solid tumors, the huge majority of common cancers resulting in death. Moreover, true placebo controls have been almost abandoned in the testing of chemotherapy. Drug regimen is tested against drug regimen, and doctors hardly ever look at whether the drugs do better than simple good nursing care. Because chemotherapy drugs are outright poisons, many carcinogenic, the drugs themselves can cause "treatment deaths" and additional cancers. One study among women surviving ovarian cancer after chemotherapy treatment showed a one-hundred-fold greater subsequent incidence of leukemia over those not receiving chemotherapy. In some studies, when chemotherapy and radiation were combined, the incidence of secondary tumors was about twenty-five times the expected rate. Nevertheless, chemotherapy is given to 80 percent of patients

Amazingly, 85 percent of prescribed standard medical treatments across the board lack scientific validation, according to the New York Times. Richard Smith, editor of the British Medical Journal, suggests that "this is partly because only one percent of the articles in medical journals are scientifically sound, and partly because many treatments have never been assessed at all."

A hundred years from now, medicine will likely come to regard some of these "proven" cancer treatments the way we now remember the use of mercury and bloodletting. As Dr. Abigail Zuger recently wrote in the New York Times contemplating the hundredth anniversary of the 1899 Merck Manual: "We have harnessed our own set of poisons for medical treatment; in a hundred years a discussion of cancer chemotherapy may read as chillingly as endorsements of strychnine for tuberculosis and arsenic for diabetes do today."

The Big Business of Cancer

The medical civil war between Hoxsey and organized medicine has largely reflected a trade war. Profitability has often been the driving force behind the adoption of official therapeutics. At over $110 billion a year just in the United States, cancer is big business, a whopping 10 percent of the national health-care bill. The typical cancer patient spends upward of $100,000 on treatment. It is estimated that each hospital admission for cancer produces two to three times the billings of a typical non-cancer admission. More people work in the field than die from the disease each year. According to Dr. Samuel Epstein, a professor of environmental and occupational medicine at the University of Illinois in Chicago, "For decades, the war on cancer has been dominated by powerful groups of interlocking professional and financial interests, with the highly profitable drug development system at its hub." Global sales of chemotherapy drugs in 1997 were $30.9 billion, about $12 billion of it in the United States.

Pharmaceutical companies pin the high costs of drugs on the forbidding expense of testing and approving each new drug, now pegged at $500 million. In fact, this prohibitive figure has served as a barrier of entry for all but giant corporations. The entire system is founded in patents, twenty-year exclusive licenses that provide monopoly protection. As an herbal product, the Hoxsey tonic cannot be patented and therefore occupies the status of an orphan drug that no company will develop. While approving about forty highly toxic cancer drugs, the FDA has yet to approve a single nontoxic cancer agent or one not patented by a major pharmaceutical company.

Alternative therapies are finally emerging in part because of the dramatic cost savings they represent, and because at least some may well represent a major new profit center. "Alternative medicine is clearly the largest growth industry in health care today," wrote Jane Brody in the New York Times in 1998. Dr. David Eisenberg of Harvard surveyed the American public to find 42 percent using alternative therapies in 1997. The number of visits to alternative practitioners exceeded total visits to primary-care physicians. Spending was conservatively estimated at $21.2 billion, with at least $12.2 billion paid out-of-pocket by committed customers. Total out-of-pocket expenditures for alternative therapies were comparable with expenditures for all physician services.

The numbers are no less dramatic for cancer treatment. A national study estimated 64 percent of cancer patients to be using alternative therapies. A recent survey at M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, the world's largest with 13,000 patients, found an astounding 83 percent using alternatives.

Major corporations are already entering the alternative marketplace. Procter & Gamble initially spent millions sponsoring the research of Dr. Nick Gonzalez, who took up the work of Donald Kelley, a dentist who reputedly cured himself of terminal pancreatic cancer using enzymes and other nutritional means. A pilot study with pancreatic cancer patients provided better results than had been seen in the history of medicine for a disease that is 95 percent incurable. The subjects lived an average of triple the usual survival rate, and two patients have lived for four and five years with no detectable disease. Nestlé has also financed the work of Dr. Gonzalez. These studies led to a $1.4 million grant to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons by the NIH's National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) and supervised by the NCI. The engagement of large corporations vaulted the formerly reviled treatment to instant plausibility. When big companies start to take a stake in alternative cancer therapies, it signifies the maturation of a market and consecrates a political realignment.

Both M. D. Anderson and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center have been testing green tea, or more accurately several of its "active" ingredients, for anti-cancer properties. Because various studies have shown that green tea reduces the risk of colorectal, lung, esophageal, and pancreatic cancers, Lipton tea company is also testing the substance at the University of Arizona.

In association with the NCI, M. D. Anderson is set to evaluate shark cartilage, which is reputed to have anti-cancer activity and is widely used by a cancer underground in the United States and abroad. (Sadly, this market surge is further endangering several shark species.) The University of Toronto is testing mistletoe, a folk remedy for cancer espoused by the Austrian spiritual philosopher Rudolf Steiner, originator of Waldorf education and biodynamic farming. Mistletoe has shown anti-tumor effects in both human and animals studies in Germany.

The release of the report on Hoxsey through the NIH's NCCAM is a harbinger of the changes to come. As the report concludes, further investigation "is justified not only because of the public health issue to justify the large number of patients who seek treatment at this clinic, but also because of the several noteworthy cases of survival." The report specifically notes a seven-year melanoma patient who had no other treatment besides Hoxsey's tonic and external salves. Average survival time for advanced melanoma is seven months. If such a remarkable remission occurred using conventional treatments, it would be front-page news worldwide.

"It's interesting to contemplate the dilemma that the National Cancer Institute is in," conjectures Ralph Moss, an advisor to the NCCAM and NCI, and a respected researcher and author on both alternative and conventional cancer treatments. "If they do decide to do the tests, then there's always that possibility -- and I think it's a damn good possibility -- that some of these treatments are going to turn out to be quite valuable. If they decide not to do the tests, there's going to be tremendous fury in Congress and the public, because what then are they about? If they're not about scientific testing, what good are they? Why are we wasting our money?

"What we're saying is: Prove them or disprove them. We've had seventy-five years of Hoxsey. Does it work? Doesn't it work? Nobody knows. How do you know? Short of good studies, how does one decide issues like that? We don't want people doing something if it's not going to work for them, not in terms of just conventional treatment, but alternative treatments as well."

"The best-case scenario," Moss speculates, "is that some tests will be carried out with the imprimatur of NCI, NCCAM, and probably other collaborative centers like the University of Texas and Columbia. Some of those will show that there's no effectiveness, and some of them will probably show that there is effectiveness in some treatments. The ones that are shown to be effective that are funded by and based on NCI-reported research are then going to be published in major medical journals. The first one that validates a nontoxic treatment is the beginning of the end of this Middle Ages that we're in. Because once one goes through the door, then a lot of others are going through the door, and that's what they're afraid of. They're afraid that, if a Hoxsey were proven to be effective, the public will run to it because nobody wants the chemo drugs. If chemo is the only choice, then they'll reluctantly take it, but the minute it's known there is something nontoxic out there, everybody's going to want it."

The abiding truth for cancer patients is that they want unrestricted access to all treatments. According to one analysis, only about 5 percent entirely abandon conventional cancer care even when pursuing an alternative. What patients seek is the best of all worlds, an expanded menu of options supported by access to credible information. The stereotype that orthodoxy has long put forth of poor, credulous cancer patients ripe for exploitation by clever promoters turns out to be false. In a study by sociologist Barrie Cassileth, the profile of patients using alternative cancer therapies describes well-educated, middle-income, often female clients who have done a considerable amount of due diligence to make their choice.

While physicians fought fiercely for their professional sovereignty during the twentieth century, the greater social issue today is the sovereignty of the patient. In a market economy, goes the old saw, the customer is always right. The AMA's Oliver Field, an architect of the aggressive repression against Hoxsey and myriad "quack" therapies in the 1950s, responded surprisingly when I posed to him the polarizing question of freedom of medical choice. "This is a free country. You pays your money and you takes your choice. If it's wrong, you're the one who's going to suffer."

It was anomalous to hear the former head of the AMA's Bureau of Investigation, which once boasted a rolodex of over 300,000 "quacks," echo the words of his past nemesis. Judge William Hawley Atwell, who ruled twice in Hoxsey's favor in federal courts and fully affirmed the therapy's value, had stated in 1949 regarding Hoxsey's victory over Dr. Morris Fishbein: "So I wish to say, pay your money and take your choice. Those who need a doctor, if you think one side is the best, go and get him. If you think the other side is best, you certainly have the right to go and get him. This is a free country; that is what we stand for in America."

Why was the Hoxsey therapy not investigated in the first place seventy-five years ago? The overarching truth is that it has been politically railroaded instead of medically tested. The medical civil war has distorted cancer from a medical question into a political issue. The many practitioners and doctors thrust involuntarily into the front lines of the cancer wars would surely prefer to settle the question in a clinic or laboratory, not a courtroom. Meanwhile, cancer patients remain trapped in the crossfire, fighting for their lives.

BRAND NEW STORIES