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Violence in America viewed through schizophrenic auditory hallucinations

Posted on September 22nd, 2013 in Culture,Medicine by Robert Miller

brazil3A very interesting article appeared in the New York Times OP-ED section a few days ago by T.M. Luhrmann, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University. The article, entitled “The Violence in our Heads” describes interviews he carried out with 20 schizophrenic patients in the United States compared to a similar population interviewed in India. It is a common feature of schizophrenia—and often the first presenting symptom—to hear voices giving commands that are sometimes threatening. The recent tragic shooting in the Navy Yard by Aaron Alexis was associated with voices that he heard which are quite typical of schizophrenia. The voices are “real” in the sense that fMRI images during an auditory hallucination reveal activity over the temporal lobe where our language information is stored—the neuronal activity underlying the hallucination is enhanced, in a sense, making the hallucination “real.”

Schizophrenia is a world-wide health problem that has penetrated every culture in which about 1 percent of the population is affected. It is often a devastating disease in which brain functions are compromised; it is common for schizophrenics to become dependent on the social safety net.

The phenothiazine drugs, introduced in the 1950s (these drugs are antihistamines), emptied about a million beds in psychiatric care hospitals because they made the patient more manageable, but these drugs did not cure the disease and many homeless people on our streets are schizophrenics, some of whom are not on medication. About a third of all schizophrenics who have been diagnosed and treated, stop taking their medication because of terrible side effects. Although we didn’t know it at the time these drugs were first used to treat schizophrenics, phenothiazines are dopamine antagonists and dopamine plays a major role in the regulation of motor control and other functions, including a sense of pleasure when taking addictive drugs.

By comparing the auditory hallucinations of schizophrenics in India and the United States, Luhrmann discovered a compelling difference between the two patient populations. Patients in the United States more commonly had auditory hallucinations in which the patient was commanded to commit violence, such as “cut the heads of people off and drink their blood” or commands to commit suicide or go to war and commit acts of violence. But in India, the internal voices of schizophrenics were more commonly related to commands surrounding daily chores such as cooking, cleaning, eating and bathing. When horrible commands occurred in the Indian population, they were more commonly related to sex. One woman said “male voice, very vulgar words, I would cry.”

Luhrmann argues that the differences between the two schizophrenic populations may indicate that culture has a lot to do with the nature of the voices to which schizophrenics are subjected. Thus the more violent auditory hallucinations of the American schizophrenic reflects the more violent nature of our culture. Who can argue? We are the most heavily armed citizenry in the world and video games without violence as a major theme probably don’t sell very well.


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Don’t feel sorry for Larry Summers

Posted on September 21st, 2013 in Economy,Politics by Robert Miller

Larry Summers (From Truthdig)

Larry Summers withdrew his candidacy for the chairmanship of the Federal Reserve before Obama had to face what was shaping up to be the most contentious nomination process of his entire Presidency. Members of Obama’s own party announced that they could not support Summers’ nomination.  Robert Scheer, writing in Truthdig, in an article entitled “The People Win as Lawrence Summers Trades Power For Wealth” explains some of the details surrounding Summers’ participation in the events that led to the biggest financial disaster since the Great Depression, the one we are currently in and may never recover from because so much additional, unnecessary wealth has been transferred from the Middle Class to the wealthiest Americans, since the Great Recession began. And yes, Obama has been as much of a participant in continuing to support Wall Street over Main Street, despite all the rhetoric that says otherwise. You have only to look at the composition of his financial advisory team and the astonishing, continued growth in wealth disparity to know where he stands on that issue. Obama has used his leadership to further the cause of wealth disparity in America—plain and simple.

Larry Summers was instrumental in engineering the “Commodity Futures Modernization Act (CFMA)” of 2000 that Clinton signed into law, eliminating all government regulation of over the counter derivatives trading that involved credit default swaps and collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) trading in housing mortgages that eventually brought down our entire economy.

When Brooksley Born, head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) under Clinton, warned that futures trading was spiraling dangerously out of control and proposed adopting increased government regulations, Larry Summers appeared before Congress in 1998 and denounced her position, which kept the ball rolling towards passage of the CFMA, an odious piece of legislation that turned America’s financial interests over to Wall Street where they remain today. In his testimony before Congress, Summers argued that it was in the best interest of the country to eliminate regulation of OTC because the trading companies, guided by the principles of a free market, would engineer the best outcome for everyone. In retrospect, by everyone, Summers was referring to wealthy bankers on Wall Street, who richly rewarded him for his support of their position. At the time of the Wall Street collapse,  OTC trading had reached $680 trillion in face value and $20 trillion in market value. Every American is entitled to maintain frenzied outrage at what Wall Street did to the American economy: it has permanently changed the face of America and imperiled our financial future at a time when we need resources to weather the upcoming storms lying in our future. Brooksley Born stepped down as chair of the CFTC in 1999 and received a “Profiles in Courage Award” presented by Caroline Kennedy in 2009. Her acceptance speech for that award can be viewed here.

When Obama recruited Summers into his campaign as a financial adviser, Wall Street became a big financial backer of his candidacy. Obama remains solidly in the grasp of Wall Street influence and has done little during his Presidency to create a more balanced wealth distribution in America, in contrast to which one of his predecessors—FDR—was dedicated and partially succeeded in establishing. We do not have to worry about making room for Obama’s likeness carved into Mount Rushmore. His economic policies have allowed the current iteration of the Gilded Age to continue and his intention to nominate Summers as chair of the Federal Reserve is ample evidence for his continued captivation by the moguls of Wall Street.

A group of economists recently reported that by 2012, the richest 1 percent had acquired 95 percent of the wealth accumulated since the recession officially ended in 2009! That is the biggest distortion of income going to the wealthiest Americans since 1928. The Dallas Federal Reserve Bank recently reported that the impact of the financial meltdown on U.S. household worth, between 2007 and 2009, was an astounding $16 trillion or a 24 percent decline. They concluded that the total value lost to the economy was the equivalent of one year of normal economic output for the entire country. The report went on to say that America may never recover the growth and prosperity that the country had before this fiscal crisis and even that period had an enormous wealth distribution problem.  Larry Summers’ advice gained him fabulous wealth from Wall Street, as he participated in destroying the economy for the rest of us. He failed as the President of Harvard and he failed by forging economic policies that brought devastation to American families. But we don’t have to worry about him because he got very wealthy in the process. A final note to Larry: goodbye and may the fortunes you have helped bring to the Middle Class and poor people of America one day visit on your doorstep.


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Vladimir Putin rescues Obama

Posted on September 15th, 2013 in Politics,War by Robert Miller

Pictures of Putin and Assad outside the Russian Embasy in Damascus (from NYT)

For weeks, President Obama and his new Secretary of State John Kerry have rattled the swords of war and threatened Syria’s Assad with retaliation for his use of poisonous gas against his own people. The newsreels show continuous horrific images of victims lying on a hospital floor, dying or dead or shaking uncontrollably in a semiconscious state [these images have a strange appearance to them and could have been faked; at least one nun in Syria is making that claim]. Although poisonous gas was once used extensively in World War I, the horrors of their impact have led to international agreements banning such methods; many chemical agents are now considered to be weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and banned under international agreements. However, many countries, including the United States continue to manufacture the ingredients of these toxic chemicals for the standard motive of profit and Israel maintains stockpiles of these weapons and has never ratified the treaty banning them. A wide variety of chemicals are included in descriptions of agents used in warfare and inflict their damage by one of four methods, including choking, blister, blood and nerve damage. Early use of these agents such as phosgene and mustard gas were wind dispersed but by the end of WW I, encasing them into bombs for aerial delivery by planes or shelling had been achieved.

Obama’s recent trip to Russia, to attend a meeting of the G20, gave him an opportunity to get endorsements for his military plan of retaliation against the Syrian regime. Except for France, who had already endorsed his plan, he came away largely empty-handed and since he had already agreed to let Congress vote for approval before he took action, he came back from Russia with Congressional approval as his sole source support and that vote was far from certain, with some prognosticators predicting that he would not get congressional approval. Polls of Americans show that they are steadfastly against military action and Obama’s own party had many prominent members announce their opposition to military action. Americans are war-weary and do not want to see additional military efforts initiated in the Middle East.

As if to underscore the international opposition to Obama’s plan, the British, a normally compliant American vassal, voted against military action, leaving Obama between a rock and a hard place, faced with the possibility that he could cause serious disruption to his own party by continuing to apply pressure for passage of Congressional approval. Obama also faced the possibility of international condemnation for military actions against Syria, because the United Nations would not approve such hostilities and in fact its charter forbids aggression against another country unless the aggressor was under attack. Many have labeled Obama’s plan as that of a rogue state without the support of the United Nations Security Council or the international community.

Two days after Obama addressed the nation and agreed to postpone his military action, Putin wrote an Op-Ed piece in the NYT and cautioned the United States against the planned military action, reminding Americans that such an action would constitute an act of aggression without approval from the United Nations Security Council. In that remarkable piece Putin indicated that no one doubts that poisonous gas had been used, but suggested proof of who used it was lacking and argued against the certainty with which John Kerry has tried to pin the tail on the Assad donkey. Putin went on to say “It is alarming that military intervention in internal conflicts in foreign countries has become commonplace for the United States. Is it in America’s long-term interest? I doubt it. Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force, cobbling coalitions together under the slogan “you’re either with us or against us.””

Putin closed his article by stating “My working and personal relationship with President Obama is marked by growing trust. I appreciate this. I carefully studied his address to the nation on Tuesday. And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is “what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.” It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too. We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.” This was a truly remarkable statement from Putin, which encouraged a peaceful solution to the Syrian problems, but chastised Obama’s speech for its emphasis on “American Exceptionalism.” I personally find such references despicable, unless you want to want to refer to American Exceptionalism” for its war-mongering traditions, especially after becoming the World’s leader after WW II.  Other criticisms of Obama’s speech came from Noam Chomsky interviewed on Wednesday by Amy Goodman on Democracy now “The United States is a rogue state. It doesn’t pay any attention to international law.

Obama’s sinking ship was in need of a lifeline and Putin’s proposal suggested that Russia would intervene and encourage Assad to eliminate his poisonous gas arsenal, which they would monitor and help enforce. Assad has given preliminary approval and now it seems the parties are close to an agreement. My own personal guess is that Putin could see a colossal defeat for Obama taking shape and rather than run the risk of boosting eventual Republican leadership, he moved to avert the crisis and perhaps save Obama’s Presidency, at least on the international front. Obama has plenty to worry about on the domestic side as Republicans want to tie raising the debt ceiling with defunding Obamacare. The possibility that the Russians or anyone else can account for all the WMDs in Syria is extremely remote. The country is at war and many regions of the conflict will be off limits to Russian or United Nations inspectors and the fact that Assad’s stockpile of chemical weapons is so vast, means that he will have plenty left when inspections are over, but events of the past few weeks may mean that he won’t use them again. If so, perhaps that is Obama’s contribution. A report just out this morning in the Washington Post indicates that an agreement between the U.S. and Russia has been reached and that Assad’s chemical agents will be put under international control and eventually destroyed. A United Nations resolution is expected and will be associated with the agreement.


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