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Did Argentina break the back of the IMF?

Posted on October 31st, 2007 in Economy,General,Politics by Robert Miller

Most Americans do not know that the IMF (International Monetary Fund), an organization implemented to help troubled economies stabilize themselves, has, since Ronald Reagan, been populated and dominated by economists from the Milton Friedman Chicago school of Economics. This group harbors what I think of as a radical view of economics, first espoused by Adam Smith, modernized by Friedrich Hayek, Nobelized by Milton Friedman and introduced into the world as the "free market economy" by Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, both of whom saw the pro-business model as one that was advantageous over the "command economy" of FDR. This group is possessed by an ideology, an assumption that they must be right, buttressed by the modern approach to economics, that of developing mathematical models which they claim prove their conclusions. The first country to get a high dose of the free market economy was Chile following the overthrow of Allende and the installation of the brutal regime of Pinochet. Eventually most of the Southern Cone countries of South America came under free market dictatorships, with brutal repressive regimes that received high praise from Ronald Reagan. But the trouble with this economic model is that it institutionalizes high corporate profits, high corporate influence, privatization of government functions and generates leaders that like to go to war. We have a couple of free market war mongerers in office right now. Every country that has instituted the free market economy has experienced a dramatic increase in the economic disparity between the upper and lower income classes. And, in addition, they have witnessed their own home-grown companies get bought by foreign investors, usually at a small fraction of what the company is worth, based on earnings.

The Falkland Islands war is a classic example of a failing free market dictatorship, Argentina, whose leaders needed a war to distract and galvanize the public. On the other side of this artificial conflict was Margaret Thatcher, the free market British leader, who was losing ground in her battle with the striking coal miners; she too needed a galvanizing national experience to gain the upper hand as she was trying to do to the coal miners what Ronald Reagan did to the air traffic controllers in 1981….break the backs of unions. The result was predictable. A completely meaningless island to Britain became a two month battleground through which Thatcher got the public support she needed to win the 1983 election and gain the upper hand over the miners. In contrast, the dictatorship of Argentina’s military junta, led by General Leopoldo Galtier , collapsed as a result of the war. Galtier and many of his co-leaders spent time in prison and democracy in Argentina was restored, with continued bitterness to those rulers who perpetrated the "Dirty War" that involved brutal killing and disappearance of leftist leaders and sympathizers. It’s been estimated that as many as 30,000 citizens of Argentina were whisked off the streets and disappeared, a process that involved torture and murder. Pregnant women who were seized were kept in a secret prison until they delivered their baby. They were then thrown out from a plane over the ocean and their children were adopted by leaders in the military junta. All this brutality was highly praised by our Republicans who labeled it as brave "anti-communism."

A great American scientist

Posted on October 30th, 2007 in General,Science by Robert Miller

Many of you know that Arthur Kornberg, Nobel Laureate, passed away this past Monday at the age of 91. He was awarded his Nobel prize in 1959 for his discovery of the enzyme, DNA polymerase, an enzyme essential for generating DNA. This discovery and much of his work has been credited with laying the foundation of the biotechnology revolution and the birth of modern molecular biology. He is one of a handful of scientists who have had relatives win the Nobel Prize, as his son Roger was given the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2006. Just a year before receiving his Nobel Prize in 1959, Arthur Kornberg initially had his seminal papers rejected by a prominent journal, the Journal of Biological Chemistry, only to have them accepted and rapidly published when a new editor came in and saw the merits of his work. So take that to heart when you get a paper rejected…it could be a seminal study:probably is.

Will America become a culture without science?

Posted on October 29th, 2007 in Politics,Science by Robert Miller

As a basic scientist I have watched like a concerned parent as the world of biomedical research has been increasingly pressured to “come up with new miracle cures.” Part of this problem relates to the promises that NIH supporters made in their appeals to congress for support, predicting cures and relief for any number of diseases, with cancer at the very top of the list, since this is the public’s greatest fear and worst nightmare. Some of these promises have been delivered, or at least a significant down payment has been made. We effectively cure some leukemias that were fatal thirty years ago. But, this cure is through old fashioned chemistry that puts the patient through a debilitating and expensive treatment procedure that can itself sometimes lead to death from infection or other complications. The road to these improvements all came about from basic research, not trial and error by a doctor in a white coat. If there is a triumph of the last half of the twentieth century, it is that we have penetrated the basic functions of cells, tissues and genes, but when we did so, we revealed a complexity of these body constituents unlike anything we could have imagined. The famous neuroscientist J.C. Eccles (Nobel Prize 1963) used to claim that the brain only needs two neurotransmitters, one for excitation and the other for inhibition. According to his famous doctrine (long since buried) the complexity of the brain is through its connections, not the way in which those connections interact. But, what we learned over the last half of the twentieth century, as Eccles’ influence was waning, was that the brain has dozens if not hundreds of neurotransmitters and that each neuron can be in one of multiple different states that determine our functionality. In addition, the cells that we once thought represented the “glue” of the nervous system, the “glia” (glia in German means glue) now add to this complexity by communicating with nerve cells and, in some cases, controlling their sensitivity. The brave new world of the brain was its vast diversity of cellular states…a kind of decentralization of authority. What roles these cellular states play in creating our own multiple states of mood and function is now a major topic of study for the 21st century.

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