Tuesday, December 23, 2014

So Much For That

So Much for That is the title of a remarkable novel by Lionel Shriver, which you might want to put on your Xmas Reading list. It has two important points to make:
1. The U.S. is a violent, depressing country filled with people who are not very bright; who are, at the most basic level, selfish and cruel; and who stopped being human a long time ago.
2. Hitting the road is the only intelligent response to this state of affairs, and if there is any way you can escape, it's essential that you do so. (Shriver herself moved to England.)
The book is bursting with brilliant passages. Here are two of my favorites:
"There's something especially terrible about being told over and over that you have the most wonderful life on earth and it doesn't get any better and it's still shit. This is supposed to be the greatest country in the world, but...it's a sell...I must have forty different 'passwords' for banking and telephone and credit card and Internet accounts, and forty different account numbers, and you add them up and that's our lives. And it's all ugly, physically ugly. The strip malls...the Kmarts and Wal-Marts and Home Depots...all plastic and chrome with blaring, clashing colors, and everyone in a hurry, to do what?"
"[He] was born into a country whose culture had produced the telephone, the flying machine, the assembly line, the Interstate highway, the air-conditioner, and the fiber-optic cable. His people were brilliant with the inanimate--with ions and prions, with titanium and uranium, with plastic that would survive a thousand years. With sentient matter--the kind that can't help but notice when a confidant suddenly drops off the map the moment the friendship becomes inconvenient, disagreeable, demanding, and incidentally also useful for something at last--his countrymen were inept...these people had never been taught how to behave in relation to a whole side of life--the far side--that had been staring them in the face since they had a face...these shabby specimens of the species..."
"After us," wrote Yeats a hundred years ago, "the Savage God." Looks like He has finally arrived.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The American Sage (From Morris Berman's Blog)

I notice that a Whole Bunch of Readers have Read this Section. Yah Hey! I hope you-all went to Professor Bermans web page, to Meet the Man, from whom I borrowed these Very Important articles. I have posted below a Direct Link, and his Blog constantly adds More Better Type Writing about Really Neat-O Stuff, Please Visit Morris the Cat (LoL) who lives in Mexico. I am 65 Years old, A Cool Cat and Slick Kitty, I are. Raised in Waco Texas...which even in 2015 is a Slow and Backwards little City. God Bless Texas, and WACO IS THE HEART OF TEXAS!

December 08, 2014

So Much for That  (morrisberman.blogspot.com)

Dear Wafers,

So Much for That is the title of a remarkable novel by Lionel Shriver, which you might want to put on your Xmas Reading list. It has two important points to make:

1. The U.S. is a violent, depressing country filled with people who are not very bright; who are, at the most basic level, selfish and cruel; and who stopped being human a long time ago.
2. Hitting the road is the only intelligent response to this state of affairs, and if there is any way you can escape, it's essential that you do so. (Shriver herself moved to England.)

The book is bursting with brilliant passages. Here are two of my favorites:

"There's something especially terrible about being told over and over that you have the most wonderful life on earth and it doesn't get any better and it's still shit. This is supposed to be the greatest country in the world, but...it's a sell...I must have forty different 'passwords' for banking and telephone and credit card and Internet accounts, and forty different account numbers, and you add them up and that's our lives. And it's all ugly, physically ugly. The strip malls...the Kmarts and Wal-Marts and Home Depots...all plastic and chrome with blaring, clashing colors, and everyone in a hurry, to do what?"
"[He] was born into a country whose culture had produced the telephone, the flying machine, the assembly line, the Interstate highway, the air-conditioner, and the fiber-optic cable. His people were brilliant with the inanimate--with ions and prions, with titanium and uranium, with plastic that would survive a thousand years. With sentient matter--the kind that can't help but notice when a confidant suddenly drops off the map the moment the friendship becomes inconvenient, disagreeable, demanding, and incidentally also useful for something at last--his countrymen were inept...these people had never been taught how to behave in relation to a whole side of life--the far side--that had been staring them in the face since they had a face...these shabby specimens of the species..."

"After us," wrote Yeats a hundred years ago, "the Savage God." Looks like He has finally arrived.


November 16, 2014

The American Sage

Dear Wafers:

A short while ago a Mexican journal asked me to write an essay on Lewis Mumford; which I did, and it just got published in Spanish translation. I thought you guys might want to read the English original. As follows:

Lewis Mumford (1895-1990) was one of those rare American geniuses whom almost no one paid attention to during his lifetime. The United States has a tradition of ignoring (or even ridiculing) those talented individuals who have been critical of its dominant culture—unbridled materialism and individualism—and who have offered an alternative to it, one that might be called spiritual and communitarian. Indeed, in my book Why America Failed, I argue that the reason America failed was that it consistently marginalized the representatives of the alternative tradition, from Capt. John Smith in 1616 to Emerson and Thoreau and Vance Packard and John Kenneth Galbraith down to President Jimmy Carter in 1979 (a number of congressmen believed Carter was actually insane). Lewis Mumford quite clearly belongs on this list, and most Americans who bothered to read him, during his lifetime, regarded his views as “precious” or “quaint”—well-intentioned, but out of sync with the real world. It should come as no surprise that by the end of his life Mumford, who began his career as a kind of “utopian realist,” had become a pessimist, and a fairly depressed one at that.

And yet, the remarkable thing is that when one reads his work today, one can’t help being struck by how sane it all is. To those who contend that Mumford’s ideas are irrelevant to the real world, I can only respond: “real” on whose definition? “Real” according to Goldman Sachs, whose goal is to amass trillions of dollars (to what end?)? “Real” according to Google, which seeks to digitalize and virtualize us out of (human, physical) existence? Mumford was not one of those who held that “progress” consisted of the latest gadget, the latest innovation, and he surely concurred with Octavio Paz, that we need to clarify what we mean by that word. If Mumford’s world view seems, at times, a bit medieval, we might want to remember that much was lost in the transition from the Middle Ages to modernity: craftsmanship, a deep appreciation of beauty, community, silence, and above all, a sense of spiritual purpose. It was this collection of values that Mumford stood for, and that he struggled to preserve or reintroduce into modern American life. His “failure” as a supposed fuddy-duddy or hopeless romantic was, to my mind—given the integrity of his work—a great success; America’s (material) “success” has proven to be, in the fullness of time, a colossal (human) failure.

What, then, was Mumford about? His career as a writer began in the context of the go-go capitalist era of the 1920s, with a book called The Story of Utopias,which criticized the Western utopian tradition as one-dimensional, projecting futures based purely on technological development. This was followed (in 1926) by The Golden Day, which took its theme not from the leading lights of the time, e.g. Henry Ford and Frederick Winslow Taylor, but from Oswald Spengler, whose Decline of the West argued that the northern urban culture of Europe was a “Faustian” world, characterized by bigness and rationality, eventually to be dominated by the soldier, the engineer, and the businessman—as America is today. This, said Spengler, marked the end of true civilization, and all that it could look forward to was fossilization and death. Mumford repeated this argument, but with an important twist: he believed the trajectory could be reversed, based on a revival of regional and organic life. A few years earlier, he helped found the Regional Planning Association of America, whose goal was to promote the “garden city” concept of the British town planner Ebenezer Howard. This emphasized limited-scale communities that would combine home and work in a single locale. These were not suburbs in the usual sense of the term; no commuting would be involved. (Mumford once described the American suburb as “a collective effort to live a private life.”) The towns would be surrounded by farmland and forests, and be community owned. As opposed to the dominant culture, that of hustling and the acquisitive life, these centers would promote the good life, which he said “means the birth and nurture of children, the preservation of human health and well being, the culture of the human personality, and the perfection of the natural and civic environment as the theater of all of these activities.” People would enjoy a sense of belonging, a relationship to nature, and be able to pursue meaningful work.

If all of this sounds utopian, it is important to note that such a community actually got built (in 1928), Sunnyside Gardens in Queens, designed for workers and the lower-middle class. It still exists, after a fashion. The houses are small, and front inward, toward a common green area. It still retains a village atmosphere, and constituted a real break with the model of commercial real estate development. Mumford lived there for a number of years, as did the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, and Mumford later described the time as the happiest years of his life. Writing in the New York Times in 1972, Ada Louise Huxtable remarked:

"Public ownership of land, one of the basic premises, made possible a planned community, rather than speculative piece-meal exploitation…It was simple physical planning—the kind of humane, paternalistic,thoughtful layout that dealt clearly and primarily with a better way to live."

“Un-American,” in short; quintessentially Green. Of course, it eventually became a privately owned haven for the upper-middle class, as it got overtaken by the juggernaut of the dominant culture, which apparently nothing can stop. Wal-Mart, not Sunnyside Gardens, would carry the day.

For Mumford, all of this turned on Americans acquiring a different set of values. The nation, he wrote, needed to slow down the pace of industrialization and “turn society from its feverish preoccupation with money-making inventions, goods, profits, [and] salesmanship…to the deliberate promotion of the more human functions of life.” If Mumford was heir to Spengler, he was also in the lineage of Henry David Thoreau. Thus in Technics and Civilization (1934), says the historian David Horowitz, Mumford “envisioned the replacement of an age over-committed to technology, capitalism, materialism, and growth by the emergence of a humane, life-affirming economy based on the values of regionalism, community, and restraint.” Democracy, Mumford wrote a few years later, could only be reinvigorated by substituting spiritual pleasures for material ones; by an “economy of sacrifice.” He urged his readers to turn away from the American Dream, which he called a “deceptive orgy of economic expansion.” Instead, they needed to commit themselves to “human cooperation and communion.” Utopianism indeed.

Mumford struck a (somewhat) more realistic note in The Condition of Man (1944), a book that was influenced by his study of the late Roman Empire. It was precisely the unwillingness of the Roman people to look at their way of life, he said, a way of life founded on “pillage and pilfer,” that led to the fall of Rome. This must not happen to America, he cried; and as with the construction of Sunnyside Gardens, Mumford took his philosophy into the streets. Working with other activists in 1958, he was able to stop Robert Moses, New York City’s controversial urban planner, from constructing a four-lane highway through Greenwich Village. (Jesus, the thought of it!) In an essay he wrote the previous year, Mumford skewered those Americans who allow their cities to be trashed, à la Moses, and then go on holidays to Europe to enjoy beautiful, historic urban centers. But he did see the handwriting on the wall. By 1975 his comment on the American city was, “Make the patient as comfortable as possible. It’s too late to operate.”

Following his inspiration, however, there was at least one city that tried to protect itself from the dominant corporate-commercial model, namely Portland, Oregon. Portland’s success in doing so can be attributed to Mumford’s long-range influence; indeed, the city’s urban planners (in the 1970s) drew specifically on the garden city concept. Mumford had delivered a speech to the Portland City Club in 1938, and also submitted a memo entitled “Regional Planning in the Northwest,” which regional advocates still quote. The memo recommended the construction of a series of “urban inter-regions,” which involved the greening of the city core and the connection of greenbelt towns so as to ease congestion. Portland, Mumford wrote, would need a regional zoning authority, which he referred to as “collective democratic controls.” The mayor of Portland, Neil Goldschmidt (elected in 1972), brought a number of these proposals into his administration, and Mike Houck, charged with setting up a Metropolitan Wildlife Refuge System there, appealed to the legacy of Mumford in his plan to design an interconnected system of natural landscapes, which would include a network of “greenways” to bring people together. In 1992, the Metropolitan Service District published A Guidebook for Maintaining and Enhancing Greater Portland’s Special Sense of Place, which included a reprint of Mumford’s lecture to the City Club.

Much was accomplished in Portland, as a result. The city rezoned, so as to create diversity-of-income neighborhoods. While other cities were busy building expressways, Portland tore down an old four-lane highway and reconnected the town with its waterfront. In 1975, it cancelled a planned freeway that would have devastated part of the city and set up a light rail system instead. It also established an Urban Growth Boundary that forbade the building of commercial projects beyond a certain point. Buildings were required to have their display windows at street level, and a cap was put on the height of high-rises and the number of downtown parking spaces. The business district has parks full of fountains and greenery, and the downtown area is vibrant, replete with bars and cafes. Of course, some of this got rolled back beginning in 2004, when Oregon voters passed a referendum to abolish many of the state’s land-use regulations—a defense of individual property rights, or so they believed. But with Mumford’s ideas in mind, Portland made a definite attempt to move in an “un-American” direction.

Mumford, in the meantime, kept writing. In Technics and Civilization he had argued that the technological model of “progress” required human beings to submit to the cult of the machine. In the Middle Ages, he pointed out, technology was used in the service of life, e.g. the building of cities or cathedrals. But in the “paleotechnic era,” starting with the Industrial Revolution, the defining idea was to bring all of human experience under a technological regime, a program that would ultimately throw life out of balance. Mumford picked up this thread many years later in The Pentagon of Power, in which he asserted that the American “megamachine” was based on a poisoned arrangement, namely that the individual could enjoy the benefits of techno-capitalism if he or she pledged unquestioning allegiance to the system. (This argument was recently updated for the digital age by Dave Eggers in his brilliant, depressing novel, The Circle.) The solution, said Mumford, was obvious: reject the myth of the machine, and the whole structure will collapse like a house of cards. By this time, however, Mumford didn’t really believe Americans were capable of such a shift in values, and like Heidegger, stated (at least in private) that only a miracle could save us. “I think, in view of all that has happened in the last half century,” he wrote to a friend in 1969, “that it is likely the ship will sink.” This is exactly what we are witnessing today.

But the story is not quite over, as it turns out. As America “settles in the mold of its vulgarity/heavily thickening to empire” (Robinson Jeffers, 1925), other forces are stirring. Every day, more and more people are coming to realize that ecologically speaking, there are limits to growth, and that the configuration of late capitalism is politically unstable. As one urban designer has written, “sustainable society will come because the alternative is no society at all.” It is more than likely that we shall have to change our basic values not because we are especially virtuous, but because there will be no other choice.

When Mumford published the first volume of The Myth of the Machine, in 1967, Time Magazine branded it a call to return to Neolithic culture. This is, of course, the kind of quip designed to get potential readers of the book to dismiss it out of hand. But the word “return” is not entirely inaccurate. When Mumford wrote that the good life means “the birth and nurture of children, the preservation of human health and well being, the culture of the human personality, and the perfection of the natural and civic environment as the theater of all of these activities,” he was not referring to Neolithic civilization, but certainly to a civilization that antedated the culture of techno-capitalist frenzy, and that has been all but erased by what came after. He was also referring to the elements of life that human beings simply can’t live without—not in the long run. If some form of restoration is no longer possible, then the future is no longer possible, when you get right down to it. “Utopian realism” may turn out to be our only hope.

Stirrings such as these have been going on for some time now. In 1975 the American writer, Ernest Callenbach, published a book called Ecotopia, which is clearly in the alternative tradition I described above. It was rejected by no less than 100 publishers; Callenbach had to publish it himself, after which it sold more than 1 million copies, becoming a kind of underground classic. He died in 2012, and shortly after, his literary agent discovered an unpublished essay in the files of his computer. The last two paragraphs read as follows:

"All things 'go' somewhere: they evolve, with or without us, into new forms. So as the decades pass, we should try not always to futilely fight these transformations. As the Japanese know, there is much unnoticed beauty in wabi-sabi—the old, the worn, the tumble-down, those things beginning their transformation into something else. We can embrace this process of devolution: embellish it when strength avails, learn to love it.

"There is beauty in weathered and unpainted wood, in orchards overgrown, even in abandoned cars being incorporated into the earth. Let us learn… to put unwise or unneeded roads 'to bed,' help a little in the healing of the natural contours, the re-vegetation by native plants. Let us embrace decay, for it is the source of all new life and growth."

What can one say? The future may prove to be a Mumfordian one, whether we like it or not; and after all those decades of being marginalized, Lewis Mumford may, in the end, have the last laugh.

©Morris Berman, 2014

October 22, 2014

Interview with the University of Southern Maine

Dear Wafers:

This interview (in 2 parts) was recorded a couple of weeks ago, and recently aired on YouTube. Hope you enjoy it.



October 09, 2014



Well, time for a new thread. What shall we talk about this time around? My mind is as blank as Mittney's, so you guys will have to carry the ball. I suppose we could do an in-depth analysis of Lorenzo Riggins' candidacy for 2016, or the fact that Sarah Palin persistently refuses to reply to my marriage proposals, or the annual number of puma-related deaths in Costa Rica; but I'm going to leave it up to you.

Wafers Rule!


September 11, 2014

Our Success Is Legendary


Far be it for a modest soul such as myself to brag, but I think, at this point (the 230th post), it might be time for a little horn blowing. Yes, I know: there are only 138 registered Wafers on this blog, and I'm always saying how minor we are in the larger scheme of things. Which I'm sure is true. But consider these incontrovertible facts: since the inception of this blog in April 2006, we have received almost 1.5 million hits; and last month alone, nearly 38,000. So while few are active, millions drool. They want to be Wafers, but are not sure how to go about it (the trollfoons, of course, don't have a clue, simply because they are trollfoons). But that's OK. It's nice to know that we have a rather vast, and appreciative, audience, one that is fully aware that this is the only blog worth following.

Today, of course, is the 13th anniversary of 9/11. When I consider how much more wretched and stupid and brutal we've become since that event--well, it's quite overwhelming. Al-Qaeda succeeded beyond its wildest dreams, because our reaction to the attack was 100% self-destructive--played into their hands perfectly. And now, of course, Cheney is back as an unofficial adviser, and Obama is replaying the same self-destructive script with ISIS, for reasons I laid out pretty clearly in A Question of Values. He's little more than a puppet on a string, as are nearly all of our fellow countrymen and women, who are basically unconscious. Wafers watch the nation doing the very things destined to push it down the tubes, and shake their heads. Remember when George Costanza decided to do the opposite of everything his instincts told him, and as a result everything turned around for the better? Well, my friends, the U.S. is definitely not going to go that route. It will pursue its instincts to the grave, which is what we are witnessing on a daily basis. Like an alcoholic, the U.S. will "hit bottom" on the other side of death.

But enuf o' that. Let me give you a brief update of my own (modest, as always) little activities, and then sign out. As follows:

1. The Spanish translation of SSIG is about to appear. My editor and I are working on the illustrations at present, sorting out what the artist sent us, and trying to work up a mock-up of the final version of the text. I anticipate an Oct. or Nov. publication, followed by a "lanzamiento" in Mexico City, probably at a major bookstore such as Gandhi or El Pendulo. All of you hispanohablantes living in the DF, please take note.

2. The Japan book grinds on. Publisher and I have an almost-finished pdf of the text (it's a long mother: something like 500 pages); illustrations are (again) the current concern. My photographer is trimming, cropping, tightening (resolution) and etc.; and then there is the matter of the index, which is no small thing. I'm hoping for a Thanksgiving release, but it may be Xmas, at this rate. With a little luck, the debut will take place in Portland (OR) in December, but March is frankly another possibility, depending on scheduling possibilities at Powell's or wherever. Stay tuned, chicos.

3. On Sept. 24 I fly to Costa Rica to give a public lecture on the 25th, followed by 3 days of workshops at the Universidad de La Salle. Public lecture is open to all you hispanohablantes in the area; workshops are for grad students pursuing doctorates in history/psych/political science and the like.

So let us carpe diem and all that, as we sadly put summer behind us and embrace the changing leaves of fall. Life goes on; and Wafers, by definition, are at the cutting edge.

Love you all, mes amis-


August 26, 2014


Dear Waferinos-

I guess it's time for a new thread. Unfortunately, I have no great insights to offer at this point; my mind is as empty as that of Rom Mittney's. At least he has his haircut to fall back on.

It is thus difficult to counsel you in any way, assuming you would want or need my input. All I can suggest is that you consult your post-it every morning; it's a good way to start your day. You might also want to read Dave Egger's book The Circle, for a depressing/astute portrait of America today.

Wafer on, Wafer on, Voltaire, Rousseau! (Blake)


Thursday, December 4, 2014

Electronic Journal of Sociology (1998)
ISSN: 1198 3655
Ronald Reagan and the Commitment of the Mentally Ill:
Capital, Interest Groups, and the Eclipse of Social Policy
Alexandar R Thomas
Department of Sociology and Anthropology
Northeastern University
Conventional wisdom suggests that the reduction of funding for social welfare policies during the 1980s is the result of a conservative backlash against the welfare state. With such a backlash, it should be expected that changes in the policies toward involuntary commitment of the mentally ill reflect a generally conservative approach to social policy more generally. In this case, however, the complex of social forces that lead to less restrictive guidelines for involuntary commitment are not the result of conservative politics per se, but rather a coalition of fiscal conservatives, law and order Republicans, relatives of mentally ill patients, and the practitioners working with those patients. Combined with a sharp rise in homelessness during the 1980s, Ronald Reagan pursued a policy toward the treatment of mental illness that satisfied special interest groups and the demands of the business community, but failed to address the issue: the treatment of mental illness
Almost ten years after Ronald Reagan left office as president, the legacy of his administration continues to be studied. What is almost indisputable is that the changes in public policy that were implemented during the 1980s were sweeping and marked a turning point in American domestic policy. Faced with increasing competition from overseas, American business found it necessary to alter the social contract. This would require a realignment of the political economy so as to weaken labor unions and the social safety net. In Reagan, the Right found a spokesman capable of aligning conservatives, centrists, and working class whites. With this coalition, Reagan was able to bring about a number of reactionary changes in public policy (Alford, 1988).
This paper provides an illustration of this co-optation by examining the policies regarding involuntary commitment of the mentally ill. The shifts in such policies were not the result of overt attempts at change, but rather part of an overall effort to realign the political economy to be more profitable for business. The overall result was that political discourse shifted from a focus on social policy to a focus on fiscal policy. As such, social programs that necessitated financial outlays on the part of the federal government were overlooked in favour of policies that seemed less costly.
Still, the administration did not, and perhaps could not, act in isolation and without public support. But they didn't have to. By the middle of the 1970s, there was a consensus among interested groups that reform of the Mental Health Care System was n ecessary. Lobbying on the part of special interest groups and a commitment on the part of President Jimmy Carter led to passage of the Mental Health Systems Act.
With the planned transfer of responsibility for the mentally ill to the states, reformers needed to build coalitions of fiscal conservatives concerned with the cost of social programs; "law and order" Republicans concerned with crime; and those who dea lt with the mentally ill who, in the absence of more comprehensive reform, sought more limited alternatives (Becker, 1993). Within this context, statutes and procedures dealing with involuntary commitment of the mentally ill were attractive. Easing standards cost relatively little, allowed the Administration to claim action simultaneously on mental health care policy, crime, and homelessness, and appeased health care providers and families of the mentally ill.
The Economy
In the aftermath of World War II, the United States experienced a period of dramatic economic growth. The industrial economies of Western Europe and Japan were by and large devastated by the war. As a result, American firms found little competition abr oad in an expanding world market. The implementation of the Marshall Plan under President Truman provided American goods and services on credit to the war ravaged economies. During this period of economic hegemony, American companies were able to make con cessions to labor in regard to wages and fringe benefits. Thus, the postwar political economy of the United States was characterized by relative peace between management and labor. With record corporate profits and rising standards of living, the United States government passed a series of liberal reforms throug hout the period. Among these reforms was the passage of the Civil Rights Act, various social welfare programs, the construction of the interstate highway system, and the deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill.
During the late 1960s and early 1970s, the rebuilt economies of Europe and Japan began to give American companies stiff competition in the world marketplace. The growth experienced by American firms during the previous two decades began to slow, and profit margins were deemed to be too low (Barlett and Steele, 1996; Gruchy, 1985). In order to increase profits, many American firms attempted to become more comp etitive by trimming labor costs through layoffs and the relocation of factories (Bluestone, 1990; Bluestone and Harrison, 1982; Gruchy, 1985; Harrison and Bluestone, 1988; Moriarty, 1991; Perrucci et al, 1988; Sassen, 1991; Wallerstein, 1979). In addition , the reduction of corporate taxes was pursued with a renewed vigor (Barlett and Steele, 1994).
In order to reduce corporate taxes, it was necessary to reduce the size of the welfare state. This objective was carried out by the Reagan administration (Abramovitz, 1992). After taking office in 1981, the administration set out on a course to alter t he (relatively) labor sensitive political economy to be more business friendly. Reagan appointed anti-union officials to the National Labor Relations Board, "implicitly [granting] employers permission to revive long shunned anti-union practices: decertify ing unions, outsourcing production, and hiring permanent replacements for striking workers" (102). Reagan himself pursued such a policy when he fired eleven thousand striking air traffic controllers in 1981. Regulations designed to protect the environment , worker safety, and consumer rights were summarily decried as unnecessary government meddling in the marketplace (Abramovitz, 1992; Barlett and Steele, 1996). Programs designed to help the poor were also characterized as "big government," and the people who utilized such programs were often stigmatized as lazy or even criminal. With the help of both political parties, the administration drastically cut social welfare spending and the budgets of many regulatory agencies.
The new emphasis was on "supply side" economics, which essentially "blamed the nation's ills on 'big government' and called for lower taxes, reduced federal spending (military exempted), fewer government regulations, and more private sector initiatives " (Abramovitz, 1992, 101). Thus, to effect a change in the political economy, Reagan was able to win major concessions regarding social policy that continue today. By taking away the safety net, the working class was effectively neutralized: workers no lo nger had the freedom to strike against their employers or depend upon the social welfare system as a means of living until finding employment. Business was thus free to lower wages, benefits, and the length of contracts. The overall result was that the av erage income for the average American dropped even as the average number of hours at work increased (Barlett and Steele, 1996; Schor, 1992).
It should be understood that a realignment of the political economy did not require the complete dismantling of the welfare state -- although ideally this would be the case. Rather, the welfare state had to be rearranged in a way favorable to business. The concept of the new federalism would perform this function. The new federalism was an outgrowth of the debate over the appropriate role of the federal government relative to that of the states. While liberal Democrats argued that social welfare progra ms and governmental regulation fell within the purview of the federal government, many conservatives argued that such powers should be reserved for the individual states. Since the new environment supported conservative ideologues, the federal government was seen to have improperly assumed powers it had not been granted in the Constitution. The new federalism required that individual states create their own social policies tailored to their own particular needs. Thus, each state would have its own regulat ory and social welfare system. As each state tried to pay for such programs, this would mean fifty different state taxation policies. This effectively pitted states against each other in competition for the most favorable business climate.
Among the policies in need of reform to suit the corporate agenda were those that affected the mentally ill. The funding cuts that altered these policies were part of the overall attempt to alter the political economy in a way that would be more profit able for business rather than a direct assault on the policies themselves. Within the scope of the cutbacks, interest groups operated both in opposition and in support of the changes, both within and outside the government.
Growing Discontent
The fight over involuntary commitment during the 1980s was in some ways separate from the Reagan agenda. But it was fortuitous since it coincided with the administration's desire to dismantle the liberal era reforms. However to understand why groups made committment an issue in the 1980s, we have to take a step back and look at reforms that occurred during the 1960s.
During the early 1960s a series of initiatives designed to reform the mental health system were passed. At issue was the system of state run hospitals for the mentally ill, which were increasingly perceived as inhumane and, with the help of new medicat ions, rather unnecessary for large portions of the patient population. In 1961, the Joint Commission on Mental Illness released Action for Mental Health, calling for the integration of the mentally ill into the general public with the aid of Commun ity Mental Health Centers. In 1963, the Mental Retardation Facilities and Community Mental Health Centers instituted the centers, but due to the financial drain of the Vietnam War during the 1960s and the financial crisis of the 1970s, the program was not fully funded.1 The result was the release of patients into an environment lacking the Community Mental Health Centers to adequately treat them (Becker and Schulberg, 1976; DeLeonardis and Mauri, 1992; Hollingsworth, 1994; Rachlin, 1974; Rachlin et al, 1975; Saathoff et al, 1992; Shwed, 1978, 1980; Talbott, 1992; Worley and Lowery, 1988;).
By the start of the Carter administration in 1977, involuntary commitment had been restricted to those who were deemed as potentially dangerous to themselves or, perhaps more significantly, those around them.2 Typically, the commitment had to be sponsored by a family member and/or ordered by the court. A result of this policy was that the mentally ill patient who refused treatment typically did not receive any at all. If the patient had lost contact with family members, she or he would not be committed unless found to be a threat by the court. Often, those arrested ended up in jail rather than in treatment if they had not been found to be a threat but had committed a crime (Abramson, 1972; Conrad and Schneider, 1980). On e result was a high degree of stress and frustration experienced by the relatives of the patient. Throughout the 1970s, family members organized with the purpose of correcting a policy that they perceived was wrong.
Professional organizations also joined the backlash against the liberal era reforms of commitment regulations. One obvious reason for this is self-interest. When some mentally ill patients do not receive treatment, mental health professionals have lost (or never gained) a potential client. These professionals as a group have much to gain in terms of patients and income if the laws governing involuntary commitment are expanded to include those patients who refuse help but do not pose a serious threat to themselves or the people around them.
Perhaps more important than self-interest is the burden that deinstitutionalization put on mental health practitioners. Time spent in court took away time spent with patients. Moreover, the medical profession saw themselves as being second-guessed by o thers outside the medical community: lawyers, judges, policy makers, etc. The treatments that psychiatrists and psychologists viewed as necessary for the well being of the patient often could not be applied because of the legal rights of the patient. Invo luntary commitment would force those who needed care into the hospitals and force patients to keep appointments and take medication. Without commitment, these things were more difficult for the practitioners (La Fond and Durham, 1992, 112-13).
Critics of Community Mental Health charged that in the rush to shrink the state hospital population, many patients were released prematurely (Robitscher, 1976; Yarvis et al, 1978). Some patients went off their medications after being released into the community. The criteria of "dangerousness" for civil commitment also meant that some patients who needed treatment but were not a danger could not be committed. As a result, patients whose behavior was considered odd by the community in which they lived were increasingly arrested for bothersome and minor infractions such as vagrancy. These individuals were thus detained in the criminal justice system rather than the mental health system (Abramson, 1972; Conrad and Schneider, 1980).
Groups representing mentally ill patients also organized, but generally did not have the success that groups representing their families and practitioners had. Organizations representing patients, such as the Mental Patients Liberation Front and the Na tional Alliance for the Mentally Ill, lacked the political clout of larger organizations and tended not to be as well funded as the other organizations. Phillip Armour (1989) summarized the situation in this way:
 In sum, congressmen do not confront well-funded lobbyists for the mentally disordered in the halls of the Capitol, they typically do not receive large contributions from the residents of state and county mental hospitals or the clients of com munity service centers, and they do not have to calculate the electoral risks of offending a multimillion member association of former mental patients. (187-8)
Although many groups were interested in seeing reform, there was a general lack of coordination between them. In addition, the interests of each groups shaded in and out of congruence. No two groups saw the situation the same way. This essentially left the political arena open to corporate interests and other well funded organis ations interested in mental health and capable of lobbying the government (e.g., the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, etc.). Still, the discontent of the practitioners, families, and patients dealing with the mental health system led to new hearings on mental health care policy.
Shortly after taking office in 1977, President Carter appointed the President's Commission on Mental Health. This commission was charged with assessing the particulars of mental health services, and then making specific suggestions on how things should be changed. The commission collected data by holding regional hearings in order to hear testimony from professionals, relatives of the mentally ill, and other politicians. This technique has been utilized as a politically conspicuous means of proving tha t action is being taken, but often has little merit in terms of scientific methodology.3 The final reports from the commission and its task forces were characterized in this way by Levine (1981: 179):
 The quality of the Task Panel reports vary widely; apparently its members understood their instructions very differently. The reports range from very brief ones, which look as if they had been written by someone on the plane on the way to the meeting, to well-thought out analytic reviews. Some consist of little more than a list of recommendations. No more than a third of the Task Panel reports would pass muster as scholarly documents. The preparation of the reports was sloppy. Many are poorly written. Citations made in the body of the report do not appear in the bibliographies. Citations for key points are often to unpublished sources. To be fair, it should be stated that some of the Task Panels did not expect their reports to be published.
 The commission made special references to political interest groups throughout both the task panel reports as well as the final recommendations. After the reports were completed and the Congress attempted to codify these recommendations into law, the l obbying organizations continued to be a presence throughout the process. Some groups were by nature opposed to each other: the National Council of Community Mental Health Centers (NCCMHC) and the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directo rs (NASMHPD), for instance. The former of these groups represents the interests of community mental health centers that would benefit by expanding these services. The latter group represents the directors of state mental hospitals. They would benefit by i ncreases in the funding of such hospitals and reinstitutionalization (Armour, 1989, 185). On this point, the commission searched for a compromise.
 The final report of the commission to President Carter contained the recommendations upon which the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980 was based. Despite the methodological flaws of the earlier report, the act was considered a landmark in mental health care policy. The key to the proposals included an increase in funding for Community Mental Health Centers and continued federal government support for such programs. But this ran counter to the financial goals of the Reagan administration, these were of c ourse to reduce federal spending, reduce social programs, and transfer responsibility of many if not most government functions to the individual states. So, the law signed by President Carter was rescinded by Ronald Reagan on August 13, 1981. In accordance with the New Federalism and the demands of capital, mental health policy was now in the hands of individual states.
 Settling for Smaller Reforms
 In the aftermath of the non-implementation of the Mental Health Systems Act of 1980, the power of the various interest groups had been further weakened. Clearly, the groups that represented the patients themselves were the weakest. Such groups, represe nting the targets of involuntary commitment, tended to be opposed to the easing of commitment requirements. But facing interest groups representing mental health professionals and patients' families, the patient's rights groups found themselves underfunde d and understaffed.
 The interests of others fared somewhat better. Pressure from organizations (some of which represented the families of the mentally ill) lead to new legislation in several states that made it easier to commit a mentally ill patient involuntarily. As noted earlier, much of this pressure emerged because the current underfunded system was not providing adequate supports for patients or family. Families of the mentally ill were genuinely concerned about loved ones who they felt were not receiving adequate care. Also, families who were responsible for providing care for their mentally ill members could not support the burden which came from care provision without adequate institutional supports. From the position of the family member, deinstitutionalization appeared more like an attempt by the government to download responsibility. In this context a loosening of commitment standards would, it was thought, force patients to receive care and (hopefully) reduce the burden on the family.
 Mental health professionals were also concerned that patients were not receiving adequate care. Estimates of the homeless population ranged from 250 to 500 thousand people (Dear and Wolch, 1987; Jencks, 1994; Rossi, 1989; Wright, 1989). Of these, appro ximately a third were mentally ill (Rossi, 1989). In many cases, such mentally ill patients were arrested for vagrancy and other minor infractions and were processed by the criminal justice system. Concerned that this population was receiving no treatment at all, mental health workers advocated involuntary commitment as a means of getting the mentally ill homeless into treatment.
 With such activism, a coalition between the neoconservatives who opposed liberal reforms in general and the interest groups mentioned above was possible. In the absence of the comprehensive reforms planned in the Mental Health Systems Act, the interest groups who opposed specific outcomes of liberal era reforms, although not necessarily all the reforms, turned to the neoconservatives for narrowly focused reforms. The activism of the interest groups supplied the Reagan Campaign with a supportive constituency which could be used as a foil for reactionary reforms. However there was a deep irony here. The 1980 Reagan Campaign received support from a population which might have otherwise supported the liberal objectives of the previous era (had they been adequately funded, for example). The fact that these interest groups had become disillusioned with the implementation of liberal reforms (specifically deinstitutionalization which was largely viewed as a failure), meant that this population would support a change in policy even if it meant policy reforms that would otherwise be unpalatable.
 The composition of this coalition was of course antithetical to the interests of the mentally ill themselves. But groups representing the patients themselves were relatively weak. Despite the fact that groups representing the patients stressed the need for better treatment, debate most often revolved around issues defined by other stakeholders in the system like the growing homelessness problem and the burden on the families. And of course, better treatement automatically translated, in an underfunded system, to more more funding - this argument ran counter to the neoconservative need to cut back the welfare state. So often patients concerns were simply ignored.
 Cuts in funding for mental health services continued throughout the 1980s, with the emphasis being on the provision of services via the private sector. Overall, the number of beds available to the mentally ill in public and private hospitals dropped ov er forty percent between 1970 and 1984 (Reamer, 1989). Most of this decline was due to cuts in public hospitals. During the 1980s, the number of beds provided by general hospitals in psychiatric wards and in private hospitals for the mentally ill increase d. In 1970, there were 150 private psychiatric centers; in 1980, there were 184; by 1988, there were 450 in the United States. General hospitals offering psychiatric services increased from 1,259 in 1984 to over two thousand in 1988 (Reamer, 1989, 25; LaF ond and Durham, 1992, 115-16). With such growth in the private sector, there were substantial profits to be made in mental illness, assuming that the patient had adequate health insurance. Those without medical insurance frequently did not receive adequat e care.
 A Supportive Public Climate
 The intersection of interests noted above was an important factor in creating an environment within which reactionary reforms could take place. However other environmental factors also played an important role in creating conditions whereby the desires for progressive reform could be co-opted. For example, the goals of the Reagan Administration were well received in some quarters of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). In the 1980s, the NIMH started to come under the leadership of a different cohort of individuals. While the NIMH had originally been led by individuals who had come of age during the Great Depression, the leaders of the 1980s had come of age later. The result was that while the former cohort had been committed to innovations in government al social policy, the latter generation tended to be less interested in actual social policy and more supportive of measures to reduce the cost to the federal government (Armour, 1989, 187).
 The Administrations goals of fiscal restraint also received support from the general public due to the perception of a federal government too prone to waste revenues and not address other basic concerns, such as crime prevention. Certain forms of social welfare spending, such as programs for the mentally ill, were perceiv ed as wasteful and thus easy targets for budget cuts (Gans, 1995; Katz, 1989). In contrast, other social programs, such as Social Security, were perceived as being "earned" by the recipients, and thus equitable. Despite the fact that the average Social Se curity recipient receives more in return than they pay into the system, programs such as this are perceived as being a pension for which the recipient has already paid. As such, they are less susceptible to cuts than categorical spending programs, such as community mental health treatment centers. Indeed, Social Security funding per beneficiary increased under the Reagan Administration (Levitan, 1990, 30). Mental health policy lacks the widespread public support that benefits Social Security (Armour, 1989 , 186). In light of this, it is not surprising that the Reagan Administration was able to cut these programs relatively easily (186-7).
 The concerns of the general public were also mobilized in the context of fear over the possibility of a patient committing a violent or otherwise anti-social act. Media attention paid to the problems of the mental health system tended to concentrate in two areas: the growing homelessness problem of the early 1980s and the possibility of criminal acts committed by deinsitutionalized patients. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, hundreds of thousands of mentally ill people concentrated in the inner cities. With the rise of gentrification during the 1980s, many of them became displaced from their relatively affordable housing and were unable to fin d new accommodations. Many of these patients had lost contact with family members and were unable to work, and many did not have health insurance. Thus, they were unable to receive mental health services in the private sector. Media coverage of the growin g homeless problem helped to pressure legislators in many states to rewrite commitment laws to extend the net and make the streets "safer."
 This media attention played into, and supported, the growing perception of violent crime as a problem in the United States. The Reagan Administration answered this general alarm by calling for quick and severe punishment of offenders. For those offenders who were not mentally ill, prison was normally seen as the solution (Gans, 1995). For the mentally ill however, involuntary committment seemed the best answer. Either way, quick removal of individuals threatening the social order fit well with the administration's "law and order" stance (LaFond and Durham, 1992, 114).
 The new laws, however, were not intended to make it easier to commit the dangerous mentally ill. Rather, the new laws had more general application and made it easier to commit those only considered a threat (Lafond & Durham, 1992, 118). In addition to this, many of the existing liberal justices began to rule on a "right of treatment" clause rather than a straight civil libertarian viewpoint. The result was that at both the state and federal level, the court became increasingly reluctant to strike down legislation that broadened the definition of who was eligible for involuntary commitment (119). Again, this more stringent approach meshed well with the "law and order" stance taken by the administration.
 The net result of federal abdication of responsibility, the push to state orientated programs (often underfunded), the dis-organization of groups, and the confluence of public interests (in crime prevention and fiscal restraint) with state goals, were reforms that only marginally addressed the real concerns of stakeholders and that ultimately benefitted capital by reducing the cost of social safety net. To be sure, the shift in policies dealing with involuntary commitment emerged from larger social issues. By the middle of the 1970s, groups representing the mentally ill, their families, and those who cared for them had reached a consensus on the need for reform. This culminated in the passage of the Mental Health Systems Act. This implementation, though not without its problems, was seen as a progressive step forward. However the costs of these reforms were unacceptable in the new neoconservative climate and ran counter to the interests of capital. Reagan, who never presumed to support social policy, promised to cut federal spending and ensure a "favorable business climate." So under Reagan the new law was rescinded. This signaled that for Reagan's administration, social policy was of lower priority than fiscal policy. After this act, the interest groups would need to settle for piecemeal reforms within the limitations of the administration's desire for low cost reform measures.
 The "New Federalism" served as justification for relaxed federal "interference" in state issues, including mental health policy. The business community was facing a crisis of accumulation, and a shift in the political economy was perceived as necessary to guarantee adequate profit. With the abdication of the federal government, mental health policy was almost entirely in the province of the individual states.
 A survey of initiatives shows that they came primarily from individual state legislatures, and thus varied according to state (Peters et al, 1987; LaFond and Durham, 1992). The procedures for commitment of the mentally ill accordingly vary by state. Ma ny states have adopted outpatient commitment as an alternative to inpatient care, and this policy has met with mixed results. 4 Many state hospitals have been closed, and many others are facing the possibility. Debate around mental health policy is still, to a large degree, concentrated around issues of deinstitutionalization and reinstitutionaliza tion and the relative merits of each.5 Sadly, professional groups with opposing interests have stalled the implementation of a comprehensive mental health policy in most states (Becker, 1993; Wilson, 1993).
 Under the Reagan Administration, groups and individuals who had hoped for a change found that the federal government did very little to effect a change. The appointment of conservative justices for the federal court system was a part of the "law and or der" platform advocated by the administration and thus was never intended to have a direct effect on procedures regarding involuntary commitment or any other aspect of mental health policy.
 Perhaps what is most interesting about the change in policies of involuntary commitment is the coalition that helped bring it about: a combination of "law and order" conservatives, economic conservatives, and liberal groups that sought reform in the pr ovision of mental health services. But the policy shift had hardly anything at all to do with the mentally ill or the practitioners who treated them. It was designed to lower taxes and shift responsibility away from the federal government. Ironically then , the need for reform perceived by those involved and concerned with the mentally ill (practitioners and families) was co-opted by the interests of capital.
 Reagan's social policy is best seen as an abdication. Reagan's economic policy was to adjust government regulation so that it favored business once again, and social policy was merely an outgrowth of this larger issue. While family groups and professi onal groups and patient groups did clamor for respect, the real struggle was between the state and the business community. Reagan worked to lessen the tax load for the rich, and the social policies were meant to match this goal. Business needed a more fav orable corporate climate, and Reagan worked to that end. The coalitions that were necessary for election were either gratified (the elderly) or abandoned (the poor). As for the mentally ill, certain changes that their families and practitioners wanted wer e gained, and the administration pointed this out. Even though these changes came about primarily through state governments and the courts, the Administration would take credit. All in all, business interests were served. Families and doctors were appease d. Patients were forgotten.
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 1. For a more detailed account of the development of policies regarding deinstitutionalization, see Mechanic (1989) and Wagenfeld and Robin (1976).
 2. For practical purposes, "dangerousness" has been a vague consideration in the United States as the definition changes from state to state. See Brooks (1974), LaFond and Durham (1992), and Teplin (1984) for greater discussion.
 3. For a further discussion of this practice, consult Grant and Murray (1985) and Midgley (1992).
 4. Consult Mulvey et al (1987), Korr (1988), Wilk (1988), and Scheid-Cook (1990) for further discussion.
 5. Examples include Shwed (1980), Tancredi (1980), Luckey and Berman (1981), Durham et al (1984), Hoge (1989), Lidz (1989), Segal (1989), and LaFond and Durham (1992).
 Copyright 1998 Electronic Journal of Sociology

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Mysterious Danish Group Builds Exotic Compound on Baja Coast

In the early 1970s, my late grandfather, an artist and retired San Diego State art professor, took me camping to a beautiful and remote setting along Baja’s northwest coast. While exploring the peninsula’s back roads, he and a colleague had discovered a hundred-yard-long sandy cove at San Juan de las Pulgas, with glowing sunsets, a rocky point for fishing, and solitude that stretched for 15 miles, from a promontory to the south all the way up to the lonely lighthouse at Punta San José. It became known to us and our camping companions as simply Pulgas, “fleas” in Spanish.
Over the next 20 years, occasionally seeking refuge from urban San Diego, I introduced various friends to this peaceful, desolate place. Though it is only some 50 miles south of Ensenada, first-time visitors would have a hard time finding it unguided, and parts of the dirt road leading in from the highway could present challenges even to vehicles with four-wheel drive.
In the early ’90s I married and started a family, and though I did not return for over a decade, there was always a comforting feeling that Pulgas remained, untouched and unknown, apart from the few ranchers, farmers, and fishermen who made their living in the area.
In the spring of 2005, I persuaded my family to join me in journeying to this destination once again, setting out in a small pickup with our Chesapeake Bay retriever riding in the truck’s bed. Although the cove is only 150 miles south of San Diego, the trip can easily end up taking six or seven hours, slowed particularly once you turn off Mexico’s Transpeninsular Highway, 30 miles south of Ensenada, onto an inconspicuous dirt road behind the pueblo of Santo Tomás.
The rains that winter five years ago had been heavy — about 15 inches — and the hills along the 20-mile pastoral route from Santo Tomás to the coast were rich with wildflowers. While enjoying that scenery, I soon learned to watch the road because, unlike what I’d encountered in the past, enormous trucks would appear from either direction at high speed, kicking up great clouds of choking dust. By the time we passed under the portal of a wooden sign reading “Rancho San Juan de las Pulgas” and looked out upon the Pacific, dusk was approaching and several miles of the most difficult terrain remained.
Before we had gone much farther, however, we faced something new: the road down the coast to Pulgas was completely fenced off. A guard was posted at a gate as trucks came and went to a giant construction project that had now come into view to the south (this explained the big rigs). We were told that no one was allowed to enter this area, but with the late hour and an anxious family looking on, I somehow persuaded someone to let us proceed — a cold cerveza might have been offered — assuring him we were merely passing through to reach our old campsite a few miles beyond.
We were instructed to follow a large truck and did so. As we passed the site, we could see that something extraordinary was being undertaken here. There in this pristine, obscure location we could see the foundations and walls of massive buildings that were going up. While disheartening to my sense of isolation of Pulgas, I thought that as large as it was, this development might not be visible from our cove a few kilometers to the south, due to the contour of the coast and the project’s location slightly inland from, though overlooking, the sea.
It was now dark, and with headlights on we crept toward the next landmark in my recollection, the simple, rustic ranch house of Señor Morales, a friend of my grandfather’s. His home was situated a few hundred yards back from the ocean, just before the road wound sharply down around the side of a steep arroyo and crossed a creek before climbing up again. With relief I spotted a lighted house where I remembered Señor Morales’s abode to be. As we came closer, however, I was startled to see an immaculate, modern-looking home, something one might find in a suburban American neighborhood.
I got out of our truck and approached the house to greet its occupants and to get advice on the condition of the road before descending into the arroyo. Looking through the windows of the brightly lit home, once again I saw something strange. Several stations of what appeared to be sophisticated computer drafting equipment filled the front rooms. With stars shimmering overhead and waves crashing nearby, I called out into the darkness, “Buenas noches.”
I had surprised the occupants, and one of several inside came outside wanting to know what we were doing there. He spoke in English but had an accent that sounded German. He appeared middle-aged, with brownish hair, and he obviously was very disturbed by our presence. We were on private property, he said, and would have to leave at once. I explained that we were trying to reach our longtime campsite a short distance ahead. Hoping to put him at ease, I called to my wife, who speaks German, to converse with him. Although he spoke with her, he did not seem at all interested in doing so. Another accented Northern European man appeared from the house for a moment but then went back inside. The first fellow’s German sounded a bit strange to my wife, and from his vague responses during our conversation I understood his nationality to be successively German, Swedish, and finally Danish.
The encounter had now reached a level of bizarreness unrivaled in my decades of Baja camping. One of the beauties of travel in remote lower California had always been the humanity and warmth one finds among the Mexicans in rural areas. We were encountering a coldness, detachment, and almost hostility at the site of the former home of my grandfather’s friend, the amiable Señor Morales. Further, they weren’t Mexicans but Scandinavians — evidently doing high-tech engineering work in a modern-looking home in Baja’s coastal wilderness.
Who were these guys, and what was the purpose of the nearby complex? These were questions no one, even the locals, could seem to answer adequately — then or now. Today there stands against the brown and barren littoral landscape of San Juan de las Pulgas a huge, mystic compound of brightly hued buildings, cavernous halls, cathedral-styled structures, colonnades, a towering pointed monolith, and a strange-looking sphere, inhabited, it appears, by a small group of mostly middle-aged Danish men and women.
The Danish man expressed doubt that we could safely cross the stream at the bottom of the arroyo and urged us to drive to a camping area miles to the north at Punta San José, a noted surfing destination. After his repeated insistence that we do this, he escorted us in his large pickup back out the way we had come and locked the gate behind us. Following an hour-long ride up the coast, past deep and perilous ruts caused by the heavy rains, we pulled off the road and set up camp in darkness above high cliffs near the lighthouse and primitive fishing camp at Punta San José. Over the next couple of days that we spent in the area, I asked several local residents what was going on down at San Juan de las Pulgas, but no one knew. Some speculated that a fancy hotel or resort was being built or perhaps an institute.
On two subsequent forays to the area in the next couple of years, fellow campers and I were able to reach the old Pulgas campsite using a different route, though on the first expedition I got stuck in a ravine and on the second I experienced simultaneous flat tires on the passenger side of my truck on the dirt road behind Santo Tomás. On each trip we watched from high bluffs the progress of the mysterious edifices rising to the north.
On the second journey, one friend said he might be getting a late start and if necessary would find our campsite on his own. He prepared by buying a detailed satellite map, packing his GPS, and looking up “San Juan de las Pulgas” online. Fortunately, we met up with him after all in Santo Tomás; he acknowledged later he would never have found us otherwise. While his online search hadn’t helped with directions, he had come across something intriguing: a website detailing a controversial construction project at San Juan de las Pulgas undertaken by a strange organization.
What he had seen was Tvind Alert, a journalistic watchdog website, which I reviewed on my return. The site described a Danish group called Tvind, “small stream” in Danish and the name of a farm in western Denmark where the group originated.
The website displayed photos of the top figures in Tvind, and I recognized one of them: the curious man we had encountered at the site of Señor Morales’s old home. He was identified as Poul Jørgensen and described as “the lawyer.”
Tvind is well known in Denmark, and numerous English-language newspaper articles, TV interviews, and watchdog websites have covered the organization.
It was founded by a charismatic Dane, Mogens Amdi Petersen (sometimes spelled Pedersen), and some fellow radical teachers in 1970, about the time of my original visit to Pulgas.
In the first several years, the group organized “traveling folk high schools,” in which students and teachers journeyed together to third world countries to attempt to improve living standards of the poor. Petersen’s views at that time have been characterized as Maoist.
“Amdi Petersen was for most of us a revolutionary hero on the level with Chairman Mao, Fidel Castro, Ché Guevara, and others,” wrote an early member, Steen Thomsen, the Miami New Times reported in 2002.
As the years went on, the group established schools for troubled youth in Denmark, funded with government money. In 1977, members founded the Humana People to People Movement to run a variety of humanitarian aid projects in third world nations.
Suspicions of fraud by Tvind had begun to surface in the Danish press in the late 1970s, and in 1979 Petersen disappeared and wasn’t seen for over two decades, though he is believed to have continued as the organization’s mastermind.
In subsequent years, Tvind grew into a global conglomerate with numerous profit-motivated enterprises reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Its interests range from farms, plantations, timber, forestry, and real estate to retail clothing, with businesses in Europe, the United States, Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia, and Belize. A major means of making money appears to be collecting and selling used clothing donated for humanitarian purposes at bins placed around western Europe and the U.S. — here by allegedly affiliated organizations such as Planet Aid and Gaia. Planet Aid has a big presence on the East Coast; Gaia is active in Chicago, the Bay Area, and Sacramento. Fox 5 News in Washington, D.C., broadcast an investigative report last year on the controversy surrounding Planet Aid and Humana entitled “Rags to Riches.” A number of countries in Europe, including France and Britain, have withdrawn the charitable status of several Tvind “charities.”
Another source of money is government aid. At the end of 2008, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that Planet Aid in Malawi and Mozambique had been granted commodity donations of wheat worth a total of $33.8 million. According to the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten, the USDA recently announced that it will be investigating grants valued at more than $96 million it has made over the past five years to Planet Aid to determine whether the aid has been properly administered.
Numerous people involved with Tvind have quit the group, accusing Tvind of mental coercion and intimidation, and there have been allegations of restrictions on members’ access to outside information, such as newspapers. “Tvind is a cult or cult-like organization that takes away the individual will of those who join,” according to Zahara Heckscher, who was quoted in a 2005 LiP Magazine article, contributed by Washington Post staff writer Kari Lydersen. Heckscher, an American, attended a Tvind-run school in 1987–1988 and briefly volunteered in a Tvind program in Zambia.

 ormer members have described Petersen as a mesmerizing figure who possessed extraordinary ability to influence and control others. “It was the eyes,” said former Teachers Group member Britta Rasmussen in a 2002 BBC News broadcast. “He would fix you with his stare. He was a very brilliant speaker. He was like a god to us.”
The Teachers Group, often abbreviated TG, is Tvind’s inner circle and consists of several hundred persons, according to a case summary of a Danish public prosecutor. They adhere to a communal lifestyle in which earnings are turned over to the organization. Steen Thomsen, a disaffected former member who was in Tvind for 26 years, claimed in a 1998 report to the Danish Ministry of Education that TG members are encouraged to sever contacts with family and friends. He has also stated members are discouraged from marrying or raising children. Relates Thomsen in a document posted at Tvind Alert: “Once Amdi Peterson asked, in front of [a large group of followers], ‘Well, Steen Thomsen, are you really working for the Teachers’ Group? What is going on in your mind since you have not done this or that? Are you thinking of love life, having children, your own little f—ing house? Tell us what is going on!’ ”
In 1999, after a Danish news show interviewed former teachers who alleged that Tvind was committing tax fraud, the Danish government began a criminal investigation into Tvind’s financial practices. In 2001, several of its alleged leaders, including Petersen and Jørgensen, were charged with embezzlement and tax fraud. Prosecutors contended that Tvind had diverted charity money to private enterprises and investments, such as a plantation in Brazil and condos in Miami.
A British journalist created Tvind Alert about the same time. He, along with a Danish journalist who joined the effort in 2002, have monitored the organization ever since, reporting on accusations of abuses of volunteers and members and alleged financial improprieties.
On February 17, 2002, FBI agents arrested Amdi Petersen on an Interpol warrant at Los Angeles International Airport, while he was traveling between Mexico (San Juan de las Pulgas?) and London, shortly after tighter 9/11 airline screening went into effect. According to Jyllands-Posten, he had been living in a multimillion-dollar condo on Fisher Island, a wealthy community south of Miami Beach, and had the use of a $5 million Tvind-owned yacht named Butterfly McQueen.
Petersen initially asked for a public defender to fight extradition, explaining that as a member of a communal group he owned virtually nothing. Eventually, however, he was represented by high-profile defense attorney Robert Shapiro, one of O.J. Simpson’s lawyers in his murder case. Danish journalists flocked to Los Angeles to cover the story. After being held for seven months, Petersen was extradited in September.
The trial took place in Denmark between 2003 and 2006, with long intervals during which Petersen and the other defendants were allowed to leave the country. We encountered Jørgensen at San Juan de las Pulgas in late March 2005.
According to court records, Petersen spent at least part of his time in Zimbabwe. Tvind has an international headquarters in Zimbabwe, where President Robert Mugabe is said to be a strong supporter. The watchdog website speculates that the San Juan de las Pulgas complex may have been built to serve as the group’s future worldwide headquarters after Mugabe dies. Tvind Alert also notes that the organization has been expanding its Latin American operations.
In August 2006, Petersen and six other defendants, including Jørgensen, were acquitted. Tvind’s financial director was found guilty of lesser charges and was given a suspended sentence. The next month prosecutors appealed six of the acquittals, including Petersen’s and Jørgensen’s and the financial director’s partial acquittal, on the basis of new evidence. This required Danish authorities to serve those six defendants personally with legal papers, but before that could happen, all but Jørgensen vanished.
Danish authorities made efforts to find them, supposedly including, reports Tvind Alert, a visit to San Juan de las Pulgas. The whereabouts of four of them remain unknown. The fifth, Marlene Gunst, was recently identified by authorities while changing planes in London and served by British police on behalf of the Danish government.
Poul Jørgensen’s second trial began in November 2007, and in January 2009 he was convicted of tax fraud and embezzlement for his part in establishing a humanitarian foundation through which money went to for-profit businesses. He was given a two-and-one-half-year sentence.
Tvind Alert suggests those who disappeared may have gone into hiding at San Juan de las Pulgas or in Zimbabwe. Mexico does not have an extradition treaty with Denmark, nor does Zimbabwe — though the missing Danes are not fugitives because they could legally leave Denmark following their acquittals. A photo of Petersen on Tvind Alert was purportedly taken at San Juan de las Pulgas in November 2007.
Tvind Alert’s suspicions seemed validated when Mexican authorities reportedly tipped off Danish police as to the whereabouts of Gunst. According to a December 26, 2009 story in Jyllands-Posten, U.K. police detained Gunst at Heathrow Airport in order to deliver the Danish summons and then allowed her to continue her journey. If she does not appear at her retrial, prosecutors will now be able to issue an international warrant for her arrest.
Tvind recruits young, idealistic people to attend Tvind schools in Europe and the United States where, according to its various websites, students are trained in third world humanitarian work before volunteering in missions in Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere. Projects have included AIDS education, cholera prevention, and farming improvements. Two schools, both named the Institute for International Cooperation and Development, are located near the rural towns of Dowagiac, Michigan, and Williamstown, Massachusetts. A third U.S. school, Campus California Teachers Group, or Campus California TG, is located in Etna, California, a logging town in Siskiyou County, near the Oregon border. The school’s website says that students are trained to work at “the humanitarian projects run by Humana People to People” and that in 2010 its teams will work in Belize and Africa.

As part of the training to work overseas, “You will be responsible for raising $6000 per person,” says Campus California TG’s website. “You will fundraise through outreach — by meeting people on the street and inviting them to support you, or by talking to businesses in the San Francisco area, inviting them to host clothes collection boxes for CCTG’s collection.”
As donation boxes became more common in U.S. communities, newspapers around the country began looking into Planet Aid’s and Gaia’s financial records and questioning their claims to be a charity. In April 2002, the Boston Globe reported that Planet Aid had made $3.6 million in 2000, only 6 percent of which was spent on charity. In February 2004, the Chicago Tribune reported that Gaia had brought in $2 million between 1999 and 2002, and only 4 percent had been donated to charity — a Swiss charity called Gaia Movement.
The complex at San Juan de las Pulgas is known as TG Pacifico, the name of the company that developed the property. TG Pacifico is represented by the Ensenada law firm of Morachis and Associates, whose principal, Javier Morachis, is a former director of the PRI political party in Ensenada.
The Tijuana weekly Zeta published a story in 2008 about the San Juan de las Pulgas development. Zeta quoted a November 2006 article in Jyllands-Posten in which Morachis said that he was not aware that Petersen or other heads of Tvind were guests at the compound. “I don’t know him,” Morachis told the Danish paper. “I haven’t spoken with the head of the organization. I talk to Brigitte [Krohn].” Krohn is a senior member of Tvind’s financial directorate and was involved in the development of the property at San Juan de las Pulgas, according to Tvind Alert.
Krohn denied to Zeta that Petersen and his principal collaborators, which include several of the figures sought by Danish authorities, were living in the complex. That leaves open the question whether they might be residing down the road, at the site of Señor Morales’s old home. Krohn also denied that TG Pacifico has any relationship with Tvind and Amdi Petersen.
Nevertheless, according to Zeta, workers on ranches near San Juan de las Pulgas are sure they’ve seen Petersen driving a pickup on the road to Santo Tomás.
Last September, I visited the Pulgas area again with two others, a camping friend and a translator. From my prior contact with Jørgensen and what I’d since read about Tvind, I did not expect to gain access to the compound or to interview any of its members. I did hope to learn more about what goes on there from local residents and inhabitants of the nearby community of Santo Tomás.
Our first stop was a llantera, or tire-repair shop, not much more than a lean-to in the Santo Tomás Valley a few miles north of town, at the Highway 1 turnoff to Puerto Santo Tomás, a fishing village to the west. There I found Francisco and José, the men who had salvaged my two flat tires on my last trip. They remembered the incident when I mentioned the explanation one of them had given for the mishap at the time: “la misma piedra,” the same rock. The two said they had heard the complex was a conference center for executives of big companies such as Coca-Cola.
The pair helped me find an acquaintance of many years before, Juan Margerum, at a nearby agricultural storage facility. The wind was blowing furiously that afternoon as one of us found Juan taking a siesta inside. An older man who has lived in the valley much of his life, Juan knew of the development and believed it was for “international conferences with heads of state.”
We continued down the road, and after rounding a big curve at the south end of the Santo Tomás Valley, we entered Santo Tomás and stopped at its most prominent establishment, the El Palomar restaurant, hotel, and general store. I approached the clerk behind the counter, who, auspiciously, was wearing a T-shirt with a pair of eyes on it. He introduced himself as Daniel. “Everything is like a secret,” he said when asked about the center. “Nobody knows what happens. What we know is that it’s a convention center for big companies, international, like Coca-Cola.” He added, “Nobody can go in unless they’re going specifically for something.”
I asked Daniel if he recognized Amdi Petersen from his photo. Daniel said he did not, but he did recognize one of the other supposed top lieutenants, a blond-haired woman in Tvind Alert’s gallery of persons sought by Danish prosecutors. He seemed to identify — I didn’t see exactly where he pointed — either Marlene Gunst, “the accountant” (the Tvind member recently detained in London), remarking that her hair was shorter, or Kirsten Fuglsbjerg, alias Christie Pipps, “the financial wizard.”
A worker from Pemex, the Mexican oil company, overheard our conversation. He said that he was working in Santo Tomás temporarily and had seen the Danes coming and going. A few minutes later, he approached me discreetly and told me that one of them had just driven up in a black Jeep.
The driver of the Commander was a short, smallish, older middle-aged man with dark hair and a receding hairline. I later recognized his photo on another website critical of Tvind, Humanatvind Blog, though he was not identified there by name. After talking on a cell phone outside El Palomar, he entered and browsed around the goods in the store, as we did the same. I approached him and asked if he lived out at the coastal development run by the Humana organization. He appeared quite startled and replied, with an accent, “I live at San Juan de las Pulgas.” I asked if he were Danish and he said yes. I indicated I was interested in writing a story about the development. He smiled meekly but didn’t respond. I asked him why they had chosen that remote location, and as he started to move away from me, he said he didn’t know. I asked his name and he said “Nelsen” or “Nielsen.” Then he was gone.

We drove on out to the coast after that and stopped at TG Pacifico’s new, elaborate entry gate. Security cameras watched us from overhead, and a sign on the gate read cryptically in English and Spanish: “You have arrived without an appointment. We welcome you anyway. Security cameras are installed for safety reasons. In your case management will open the gate. The guard cannot open the gate.” (We were not allowed in, and a later formal request through the Morachis law firm for a tour and interview with a representative of the facility went unanswered.)
A heavyset Mexican guard approached us at once from a building a short distance away. I noticed an oversized pair of binoculars hanging from an outside doorknob. He cheerfully introduced himself as Salvador. He was a talkative man. When asked about the purpose of the complex, Salvador gave the by-now-familiar answer that it was a “conference center.” When pressed for specifics, he said that courses were given there for the Humana organization and that a group of about 60 had been there not long before. He mentioned the Danish Teachers Group and TG Pacifico and even referred me to a website, jovially saying, “We have nothing to hide.” Without my asking, he volunteered the name of lawyer Morachis and his law office address in Ensenada.
As we talked, Nielsen drove up on his way back from town. I looked toward him, and he gave me a brusque wave of the hand and then, as the gate automatically opened, sped inside without stopping. I asked Salvador whether he had ever seen a man of about 70 (Petersen’s age) there. His answer was equivocal, that those staying at the complex were mostly younger.
While we spoke, Salvador’s cell phone rang, or more correctly, jingled a classic Mexican ranchero song. My translator later told me he suspected from the ensuing vague dialogue that the guard was being instructed to get rid of us. After our conversation with Salvador ended, I offered him a beer, but he declined — one of the few times, if ever, that has happened in my encounters with rural Mexicans. That in itself seemed very suspicious to me.
A little later, something happened that made me even more suspicious. We stopped alongside the road a couple of miles north of the compound after trying to locate and speak with a few more locals. As we did, an SUV with a Baja license plate approached. When passing other drivers — Mexican or American — on these roads, it is my experience that it is customary to give a friendly look or nod to the person you are passing. This man, an Anglo wearing a cap and sunglasses, looked dead ahead, away from my glance, and he did the same when he returned 20 minutes or so later. That wasn’t enough time for him to have gone out to Punta San José, and there’s little to see or do elsewhere down that road. I suspect he had been sent out from the compound to keep a close eye on us.
The development is a remarkable sight and certainly invites curiosity and a desire to get a closer look and understand its mysteries. (See the slideshow at the Tvind Alert website: http://picasaweb.google.co.uk/mikefromlondon/LasPulgasSlideshow#.) The best view we could get was a mile or so away, just west of the gate. The buildings are reported to have been designed by Jan Utzon, a Danish architect who is the son of Jørn Utzon, the architect who designed Sydney’s famous opera house.
Tvind Alert says that the complex cost $10 million to build. The watchdog website says that a Mexican-Danish company bought the land from local landowners between 1999 and 2003. Attorney Morachis informed me that the landowner is a Mexican company. Allegations have been made that title to some of the property was improperly obtained and that ownership by the Teachers Group violates Mexican laws of foreign ownership of coastal land, but TG Pacifico’s lawyers say that the title and ownership are sound.
The property is said to encompass 740 hectares (1828 acres). Morachis remarked in an interview appearing in 2005 in Skyscrapercity.com, a building and architecture website, that “the developers chose this site for its tranquility.” Tvind Alert says the development includes housing for 300 staff, “complete with boardroom, exhibition space, gymnasium, squash courts, Olympic-sized swimming pool and helipad.” Several local people spoke of the luxuriousness of the compound. The Zeta article refers to “tile from Puebla, pottery from Tlaxcala and marble from Durango.”
The French government has officially designated Humana as a cult, while some of Tvind’s critics, as well as Danish prosecutors, have called Tvind a secular religion. Several buildings have a modern ecclesiastical look: identical-looking ones at the northern and southern ends of the compound resemble cathedrals, with nave and narthex. One space has the appearance of a sanctuary. An obelisk-like monument is portentous and enigmatic. “From what we can see in the photos, the building complex near Pulgas deserves to be applauded for its design, if not for its function,” comments Thomas Williamson, a retired San Diego architect and former assistant professor of architecture at Stanford University, whom I asked for a review of Utzon’s creation.
To the east of the complex on a nearby ridge is a strange-looking sphere, which Salvador told us is an observatory. My friend was convinced it enclosed some sort of laser weapon; I thought it looked like a gigantic golf ball on a golden tee waiting to be driven into the Pacific. The stars can certainly shine clearly in the skies above Pulgas. Danish author Jes Møller, who wrote a book about Tvind in Danish published in 1999, has a “frequently asked questions” website about the organization that says that in Ulfborg, Denmark, Tvind has a “search for extraterrestrial intelligence” observatory. Møller adds, however, in commenting about the group’s ideology that “[this search] doesn’t seem to play any significant role.” It nevertheless does bring to mind a cult in Rancho Santa Fe from the late 1990s: Heaven’s Gate.

 Because of sizable excavations at the site during construction, Tvind Alert speculated that huge underground cellars were being built and reported that locals said they’d seen “men with arms” guarding the compound, conjuring up images of David Koresh and Waco. When I talked with Salvador, I asked him if the guards had guns, and he laughed and said no. He also said there were no bunkers, nor was there a helipad. I later asked Mr. Morachis’s son, Gustavo Morachis, an attorney with his father’s firm, about the gun allegations. He did not believe them and remarked that gun possession is illegal in Mexico.
The second day of our trip in September I ran into a Mexican at Punta San José, a marine biologist who runs a sportfishing business that flies anglers to Cedros Island, several hundred miles to the south of Ensenada. He said he had flown over the compound and been fascinated by the strange new buildings. He later informed me he had not noticed a helipad from the air. Given the curious nature of the development, he wanted to know if the story I intended to write would be science fiction.
What is Tvind? California Campus TG’s website says, “The Teachers Group is the group of people…who have decided to share life within the principles of joint economy, joint time and joint work.… Campus California TG is a network of entities, each acting in its own right. At the same time it is more than just a sum of all the parts. Our goals are the Humanization of Mankind and the Care of our Planet. The activities are connected to education, development, the environment, cooperation and a broad spectrum of initiatives generating values. Campus California TG is a movement of entities, organized as a Non-profit public benefit corporation, where the entities with their collective diversity can promote a dynamic growth of the whole.” Whatever that means.
Early on Tvind “set out to conquer the world,” said former member Hans la Cour, in a February 2004 Chicago Tribune story. “Their original ambition was world revolution.” Jes Møller notes in his FAQ site that years ago Tvind was suspected of having ties to the regimes of North Korea and Cuba and was under surveillance by the Danish Security and Intelligence Service.
“We don’t yet understand what the purpose of Tvind is,” offers Danish reporter Jakob Rubin, quoted in the Miami New Times story. “Yes, Mr. Petersen is trying to collect millions, but that [simple answer] is not satisfying. We believe they were trying to create an alternative economic world order.”
“They don’t have a religion,” comments former volunteer Heckscher in the same article, “but they do have an obscure political theory that no one can articulate.”
Jes Møller concurs that Tvind is not a religion, writing in his website: “It is an ideology with no hopes of an afterlife. It is very pragmatic and unromantic. Personal feelings as well as love for nature are considered disturbing elements in the correct perception of the world.”
This would not sit well with my late grandfather. Despite the names it is known by — People to People and Humana — in my encounters with Tvind members I was struck by their lack of humanity, in contrast to their rural Mexican neighbors. I can’t picture one of them sitting down to share a drink or friendly conversation or offering to help, or even slowing down if one’s vehicle were disabled in this still-remote area.
Perhaps that’s unfair. They could just be your stereotypical stolid Scandinavians. During the September visit, I spoke to a farmer named Tomás as he tended his zucchini fields near the compound. Tomás had actually been inside the TG Pacifico complex, which he thought was a hotel. “When they were building it,” he said, “we gave them water. They had a party and invited us. It’s very luxurious,” he added.
My last impression as we were leaving San Juan de las Pulgas this fall (my friend wanted to donate his old shirt as we drove by the compound) was not, however, favorable. Passing an SUV on the dirt road back to Santo Tomás, I made eye contact with the other driver — a middle-aged woman with very short blond hair and a weathered face — by my surmise a Tvind member. She gave me a wary look and a quick backhanded wave — perfunctory, emotionless.
Mexican authorities do not seem concerned with the presence of what may be a Tvind headquarters in their country. The Zeta story, written two years ago, seems to question the propriety and timing of governmental approval of aspects of the development. It presses a local delegate of the office of the state secretary for economic development as to whether there will be a review of TG Pacifico’s background and the source of its financial resources to verify that the company is “clean.” The article notes that in the photo purportedly showing Petersen at the compound, there also appears César Mancillas Amador, who was then the mayor of Ensenada and later the state’s secretary of fisheries. Supposedly, the paper says, Mancillas didn’t know who Petersen was. Zeta ends its piece with the comment, “Mexican authorities continue supporting the project of the Danes unconditionally.”
As we headed home to the United States, we came to a military checkpoint on the highway just north of the Santo Tomás Valley. A machine gunner watched from a hillside, and soldiers behind barricades of sandbags and used tires gripped automatic weapons — signs of Mexico’s drug-war violence. The vehicle in front of us was thoroughly searched after all of its riders were required to step out. We were asked by a solider where we had been, and I replied, “San Juan de las Pulgas.” He quickly waved us through. Though relieved, I momentarily wondered, as someone who might pass for a middle-aged Dane, about the extent of Tvind’s influence in Mexico.


David Dodd Feb. 3, 2010 @ 3:24 p.m.

Mexico's lack of interest in or suspicion of the compound should not surprise anyone familiar with Mexican government. Are the people running the compound, "bad guys"? No, not in the classic sense, they don't seem to be interested in killing people or running drugs. Are they a threat to the National security of Mexico? Not likely. Do they contribute anything? Certainly. People are being paid, from the land owners to the security guards to the local stores.
No one in Mexico is going to care much about getting to the bottom of the activities there.
The best part of this story is the interaction with the locals. Mexico is a rumor mill. It thrives on rumor. All of these locals with their various ideas of what goes on in that compound! And none of them care a hoot about finding out the truth about it. Speculation is more fun.
I will speculate that Tvind has no influence in Mexico. The reason that the guard didn't take you up on your offer for a cold beer was the cameras. If you want to find out what the guard knows about the complex, go drinking with him after work. But he probably won't know much. He probably doesn't care, he would rather speculate.
But that, in a nutshell, is the real beauty of Mexico.

Tighelander Feb. 3, 2010 @ 3:51 p.m.

One point this story misses is that San Diego also has these "Donation Boxes". They are red and go by the name of "USAgain". I checked these out a few years ago when they spouted around town, and even got a small community paper to run a story.

SanDiegoParrothead Feb. 3, 2010 @ 3:56 p.m.

Cool article.
Looked for it on Google maps but couldn't find it (I did find Santo Tomas and Punta San Jose)
Is it down by Rancho Boca de San Jose?
Can you provide a google map link?

mariannamaver Feb. 3, 2010 @ 8:59 p.m.

Thank you for writing this article! It's a rare account of firsthand experience with the Teacher's Group in Mexico -- and gives us further insight into the Puglas compound!
In 1984, I was hired as on as a staff teacher at a school for wards of the State of Virginia operated by the Teacher's Group (they mostly recruited and "indoctrinated" volunteers, but two of us were hired because the State required teachers to have degrees from American colleges -- we had no idea...in fact were mislead, about what the group was "all about." )-- One of the "perks" promised us as employees was the promise of travel to Mexico in the winter and Denmark in the summer... by the time myself and the other teacher showed up to work, there'd been trouble at the school-- a young student had been raped by a group of older students while the TG staff was distracted with TG work -- the State pulled their travel priviledges ... however, when the TG traveled to Mexico, they had gone to Baja, so their roots there go back at least to 1983.

You certainly described the "attitude" of TG members to a "t!" Cold, perfunctory, emotionless, pragmatic, and probably exhausted -- this is one of the cult-like aspects of the group... fun and enjoyment are not values in TG philosophy... hard, driven, serious work, 24/7, devotion and commitment to the (nebulous) cause of the group is the value...
Thanks, also for mentioning Tvind Alert, owned and operated by British Journalist Michael Durham and Danish journalist Frede Jakobsen. The two, with backing from a group of other volunteers, have been very determined in keeping the story of Tvind in the publc eye, internationally, for at least 10 years, now, via their website, www.tvindalert.com .
And I agree with Tighelander -- don't put your clothes in those USAgain clothing collection boxes... you're just feeding the wealth of this strange cult...they don't need any more money... give your used clothing to a legitimate non-profit that will put the proceeds to some good.


redundant Feb. 4, 2010 @ 4:49 p.m.

Mike: sorry about your lost campsite. I have friends living in the area who have met Pedersen there, he gave them left over building material. They say to know someone, look at their enemies. because his charities help people by starting business, hiring people, and training them to run them, he has stepped on the toes of many powerful 3rd world exploiters ,They tied him up in court for three years on false charges, then as he is leaving they have "new evidence"??? Be serious! as to the demeanor of the members; If you were being hounded by paid shills everywhere you went , cool and watchful is not unreasonable. I would probably be paranoid. Keep searching, the facts of this mans life are amazing.

JulioS Feb. 8, 2010 @ 12:06 p.m.

Well, over here in Sweden they are certainly not well thought of, in fact, they are considered to be a sect and have received a whole lot of crap over the years. But they are still very active and they purportedly seem to target youths who want to do good. The weekly newspaper Zeta did a story on them highlighting the legal status of Mogens Amdi Petersen which is accused of tax evasion. The story does a neat historical background on just the legal status of Pedersen.

JulioS Feb. 8, 2010 @ 12:09 p.m.

Those interested in the Zeta article can turn to the following link.

John_Walsh Jan. 2, 2011 @ 5:05 p.m.

Sounds to me as if Tvind ala Pederson figured out to,/ how to, erect a funnel and a bucket under the $billions of foreign aid that most U.S. taxpayers think only far enough about to complain.

Good for him for thinking past the problem into a resolution and taking action on it.

As to why, how and what the Tvind's do and why they would be stand-off-ish, one has only to try to get something going these days to see that unless you are protective of your organization, others will pick it to pieces.

Not to defend what they do (because I have no idea what it is)but to possibly shine a little light on the reasoning.

P.S. How do you like my photo and the great job I am doing as Secretary of Labor?


boxcarro Jan. 7, 2011 @ 6:18 a.m.

I lived in Mexico. & in San Diego, In Mexico I lived in a CASA, for $100.00US Dlls, in San Diego I slept under bridges, in alleys, and was often JAILED for being Homeless.
I see from the Comments, only 2 People really "SEE" the light. But I looked at the Fancy Buildings in Baja, A Shameful Exebition of Worldly Evil.
The help any one gives to the POOR is a Blessed Thing.
America is a Filthy Whited Secpular. The HOMELESS are treated WORSE in USA than ANY OTHER DEVELOUPED NATION in the WORLD.
Very SOON America will find out, what it is, to have NO RIGHTS, ANYMORE, AT ALL.