Sir: I thought I was being irrational in my total dislike of Barack Obama, but now realise, having read Dominic Lawson's excellent analysis of the Obama cult (26 February), that there are others who are also very wary of a populist politician who seems to be veering towards fascism.
As a biographer of Sir Oswald Mosley, I noted the uncanny similarity between the character of the British fascist leader and a number of contemporary pathological narcissistic personality types, such as Tony Blair and the late Pim Fortuyn. Obama appears to fit into the same pattern of manipulative self, immense charm, brilliant rhetoric and the seemingly plausible synthesis of ideas. But at the core they are empty shells – and dangerous. They want to forge the nation on to a new, shining path by the exercise of will. They must be resisted.
Netherthong, West Yorkshire
Sir: Dominic Lawson's "Obama must beware of turning into a cult" is the worst case of media lynching of a Black man that I have ever read in a quality British newspaper. In it he warns that Obama's charisma and rhetoric contains echoes of fascism. What arrant nonsense.
Classically, fascism has a white, not a black face. The fascisms of Europe evolved in fear of a rising proletariat and socialism. Americo-fascism exposes itself when it attacks valued characteristics of democracy: free speech, the media, civil liberties and labour unions. It thrives wherever authoritarian cultures and demonic personalities call for the final solution for Blacks, Jews and "unassimilable mongrel races".
You can tell a proto-fascist when he or she treats political opposition as treachery and dissent as treason. Hardly the credo of Obama, the progressive democrat and Democrat.
Thomas L Blair
Do pills really help depressed patients?
Sir: Please stop your irresponsible campaign against antidepressants. Your 26 February front page ("Antidepressant drugs don't work") is the latest instalment.
How many lives have been and will be lost through preventable suicides, because negative media coverage helped cause severely depressed people not to take medication? It is hard enough to resist the enormous social stigma attached to taking medication, and accept that talk therapy is not enough in every case.
Your campaign helped cause me to stop my own medication in 2006, after six years without symptoms. I suffered a horrible relapse and spent several weeks wanting to die. After consulting a psychologist who urged me not to go back on medication and to use only talk therapy (The Independent's constant prescription), and a psychiatrist who concluded that I should stay on medication for the rest of my life, I stopped the talk therapy and chose the medication. Since then, I have been happy, productive and symptom-free.
Professor Robert Wintemute
King's College London
Sir: I had severe depression, attempted suicide and was admitted to hospital several times. I was on antidepressants for 12 years and they are useless for me.
My experience is that drugs stop people looking at their lifestyle for answers or considering different ways of coping. You could be depressed for a perfectly good reason. You may be in an unfulfilling job or an unhappy relationship.
For me, volunteering was the boost to my self-esteem that helped me recover from depression. Depression is hard to escape because it makes you withdraw from society. Volunteering through schemes such as Capital Volunteering brought me back into contact with people and made me realise I had a lot to offer.
Sir: Throughout the debate over the efficacy of antidepressant medication, one important point has been overlooked: "depression" may not actually exist as a valid, discrete clinical concept.
If we take a close look at individuals who are collectively termed as suffering from "clinical depression", we find a remarkably diverse range. Some will be found to have problems with drugs or alcohol. Others can clearly trace their depression to experiences of loss or abuse. Still others seem to display a biological vulnerability to low mood for no clear personal reason.
Simply lumping all of these individuals under a single heading of "depression" may be convenient for the healthcare and pharmaceutical professions, but we should not be surprised if we find that a simple pill fails to make a real difference to something as complex as a troubled mind. As long as we continue to rely on the troublesome category of "depression" as a way to evaluate our efforts to help people with mood problems, we will continue to generate meaningless answers to pointless questions.
We know that antidepressants have a very clear effect upon fear, motivation, sleep, appetite and so on. Rather than asking what these drugs do to "depression" we might be better off asking just what these drugs actually do to many processes in the brain for which we have much more reliable names.
Dr Mark Salter
Consultant Psychiatrist, City and Hackney Centre for Mental Health, London E9
Sir: While I welcome the Government's new funding for "talking therapies", the idea of promoting these in lieu of antidepressants puts the fear of God into me.
Depression can be the most debilitating, soul-destroying and isolating illness an individual can face. People who have not seen it find it hard to understand the devastating effects it can have.
The antidepressants I take to manage my own depression have enabled me to become the master of my fate and the captain of my soul. Talking therapy is a part of my recovery process, but just getting to that point required a fine-tuning of my brain chemistry – something only prescription medication could do.
Many sufferers feel enclosed by brick walls on all sides. Telling them to take exercise (as your article does) is akin to asking that they "cheer up".
Sir: Creating a product that becomes a crutch for patients – rather than a cure – is the profitable goal for drug companies. But with so many medicines failing during the lengthy testing procedures, the pressure to produce a success must be enormous. One would have to be very naive to imagine that they never bury unfavourable test reports.
Your report "Drug giants warned: tell the truth on medicines" (27 February) suggests not only that some products for treating depression may be harmful but also that others may be no more effective than placebos. Either way the NHS should be demanding a refund for the billions of pounds it has wasted.
Wakefield, West Yorkshire
Sir: You report on a study from Hull University which questions the effectiveness of modern anti-depressants and raises important issues about the availability of data from drug trials (26 February).
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain (RPSGB) believes that drug companies should be under a legal obligation to publish all data relating to clinical trials, whether positive or negative. Only by doing this can full independent analyses take place which will help inform the decision-making process and improve patient safety.
The RPSGB is committed to making Britain the safest place in the world to receive medicines. We advise any patient who has been prescribed anti-depressants to continue taking their medicine. If patients have concerns, they should not stop taking the medicines but should seek the advice of a GP or pharmacist.
President, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, London SE1
Shame the slackers over Darfur
Sir: I welcome your efforts to exert pressure on China for their support of the genocidal regime in Khartoum in the run-up to the Olympics (leading article, 15 February). Liberal Democrats believe the negative publicity for China should be matched by targeted divestment campaigns along the lines developed by Sudan Divestment UK and the Aegis Trust. We too would encourage organisations and individuals to divest from companies, Chinese or otherwise, particularly in the arms trade but also in other sectors that help to sustain the current regime in Sudan.
Yet while we seek to isolate the government of Sudan, we should also ask why the joint African Union and United Nations peacekeeping force in Darfur (UNAMID) is being starved of the personnel and equipment it needs to do its job. In particular, the continuing failure of Nato countries, including the UK, to provide UNAMID with the helicopters that are vital to its role is a scandal. Our efforts to raise this with British ministers to date have met with warm words, but no action. Please join us to shame western governments to meet their international promises too.
Edward Davey MP
Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman, London SW1
Islam demands respect for women
Sir: It is deeply saddening to hear cases of domestic violence against Muslim women (letter, 21 February). It should be clear to those who commit such acts, as well as to those who blame Islam for it, that they have no sanction whatsoever within sharia.
The life of Muhammad is in itself a verdict upon the matter, where each member of the family was always treated with utter kindness and respect and not one example of physical punishment was ever recorded. His sayings include: "The more civil and the kinder a Muslim is to his wife, the more perfect of faith he is."
A closer look at the instances of domestic violence will reveal cultural and personality problems as the root causes rather than partially quoted Quranic verses (letters, 11 February). I say this because I belong to a Muslim community who believe in every single verse of the Quran, and where women are well educated and lead fulfilling lives, seeing Islam as liberating rather than repressive.
Speaker exposed without his wig
Sir: Steve Richards (26 February) referred twice to the Speaker wearing a wig. As I recall, Mr Martin opted to abandon the practice of wearing a wig when he was elected Speaker. This is great pity since not only might it have enhanced the stature of this lamentable Speaker; it would also have served its original purpose – to conceal an unattractive bald head.
In my limited experience, what makes the House of Commons decreasingly relevant to the media is not the attire of the Speaker but the outdated rules that still constrain the ability of opposition MPs to raise topical issues on the floor of the House on the day that they are topical, which is the day that the media wants to report them.
The deception that led us to war
Sir: I resigned from the Royal Air Force in 2005 following the whitewash conclusion of the Hutton Inquiry "Revealed: first draft of the dossier that took Britain to war", 19 February). The blatant use of propaganda disguised as intelligence was completely unforgivable.
The release of the Williams dossier draft in the face of trenchant government opposition confirms that the dossier was sexed-up spin disguised as intelligence and supinely rubber-stamped by intelligence chiefs at the behest of spin doctors, despite widespread misgivings among the intelligence community.
Until those responsible for this unparalleled deception are held accountable for this unjustified act of aggressive war, the Government cannot be trusted to uphold the national interest and act with legitimacy in matters of defence.
Flight Lieutenant, Royal Air Force (Retired), Fife
Biofuel target aids poor farmers
Sir: In response to your report on biofuel production in Africa (16 February), I would like to point out that the European Union could meet its 10 per cent biofuel target for 2020 entirely through domestic production.
However, the European Commission believes that this is neither likely nor desirable. We are working for a balanced approach in which domestic production and imports both contribute.
Many of the poorest people in developing countries make their living through agriculture. By importing biofuel, the EU can offer them new opportunities to earn income, and new resources to invest in raising the productivity of agriculture on land already used for crop production.
Ferran Tarradellas Espuny
Spokesman for Energy Policy, European Commission, London SW1
Sir: Pandora reports (27 February) on "Prezza throwing his weight around in Hull". That is close to the epicentre of the earthquake early on Wednesday morning. Could there be a connection?
Keighley, West Yorkshire
Islands in conflict
Sir: Your picture of a German soldier looking out over St Peter Port is correctly captioned ("Secrets and lies – the dark side of Jersey", 27 February). May I point out however that St Peter Port is the capital of Guernsey – different island, different bailiwick. Are we to be tarred with the same brush?
(Guernsey woman)South Chard, Somerset
Sir: I thought I had seen everything, but when I bought some fresh watercress from my local Sainsbury store yesterday, feeling confident that – since Winchester is one end of the fabled "Watercress Line" – this was local produce delivered locally, I discovered on getting it home that it is being flown in from the USA. It has been an unusually mild winter, local rivers are choked with the stuff – what is happening, please?
Sir: In her letter about "Ofsted semantics" (26 February) Kathryn Kenyon writes that she is the "parent of a toddler and an English teacher". Should I be worried about her English teaching or has she just got a well spread-out family?
Control by price
Sir: Increase the cost of alcohol to reduce alcohol-abuse? Shall we also raise the price of food to discourage obesity? It smacks of Wellington's objection to railways: that they would encourage the lower orders to move about.
Deal, KentReuse content