Archive for December 30th, 2010

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Blame it on the Amygdala

December 30, 2010

Let’s face it – America took a horrible sucker-punch on September 11, 2001.  I was as horrified as everyone else as I watched the World Trade Center buildings collapse on themselves that day.  We were all frightened then – and rightfully so.   Our Commander-in-Chief  was so frightened that he sat dumbfounded in a school room for an eternity while the national defense establishment awaited his response.  Then he spent the rest of the day aloft, jetting around the country from base to base on Air Force One.

But when the immediate crisis passed, some of us didn’t let go so easily of our fear.  It took our vice-president several years to emerge from his undisclosed location.  He even ordered Google Earth to blur out the details of his residence – in the interest of “national security,” of course.  Meanwhile, Congress stampeded to create an additional layer of bureaucracy in our intelligence apparatus (the “Director of National Intelligence”) and re-shuffle numerous government functions into a massive and unmanageable Department of Homeland Security.  (What do passports and FEMA have to do with each other?  And doesn’t “homeland security” sound kind of fascist to you?  It does to me.)

And then there was the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001.”  That unusually cumbersome name magically can be abbreviated to USA PATRIOT Act!  How about that!  (A 23-year-old Congressional staffer is credited with this bit of cleverness.  His mother must be proud!)

The PATRIOT Act was and remains (after some minor 2005 amendments) a grab-bag of every tool any prosecutor anywhere ever wished he could access to get around the clear language of that pesky Fourth Amendment.  It made it easier for the Feds to access telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expanded Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, and loosened rules on detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of anything that might be considered related to “terrorism.”  It also expanded the definition of “terrorism” to include “domestic terrorism,” thereby enlarging the number of activities to which expanded law enforcement powers can be applied.

Over the objections of a few critics, these measures were all passed in Congress by large majorities from both parties.  No one can say whether all this made America any safer.  It seems that the only foiled terrorist plots that we hear about are those in which a young lone-wolf fanatic builds a non-working bomb with the help of an FBI provocateur, having been “ratted out” to law enforcement by a fellow Muslim.

In further response to the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush ordered “regime change” in Iraq – a country that had none of the advertised “weapons of mass destruction” and which had nothing to do 9/11.

And not all of the madness stayed in Washington.  Right-wing gasbags stirred up a revolt against a “Ground Zero mosque,” which was neither a mosque nor located at Ground Zero.  My home state of Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment banning use of Sharia Law in its courts, as if Sharia were a real threat to American jurisprudence.

The Homeland Security Advisory System fluctuates between “yellow” (elevated) and “orange” (high), although no one seems to know exactly what that means or how to respond to changes.  )Except that we still have to remove our shoes and go through full-body imaging at the airport, no matter what the “threat level.”)

Now that the dust from 9/11 has settled almost ten years later, one more Great Divide has emerged in America.  As a broad generalization, “conservatives” still support all of the 9/11 reactions outlined above.  “Liberals” tend to consider the same reactions to be irrational overreaching that thumbs its nose at the Constitution.  “Conservative” politicians warn us that only they and their vigilance can protect us from The Terrorists.  Liberals wonder if the 9/11 attacks didn’t take a large chunk out of the Constitution along with the World Trade center, four airplanes, one side of the Pentagon, and thousands of American lives.

The political satirist Stephen Colbert called the divide by name in his part of the pre-election rally on the National Mall:  “Keeping Fear Alive.”

Why are the ongoing appeals to fear so successful – but only to some of us?  Why do those who continue to live in mortal fear of Radical Islam tend to be Fox-News-Viewing “conservative” Republicans – and not the sort of voters who listen to NPR and support the ACLU?

Blame it on the amygdala!

A study to be published next year at University College London suggests that conservative brains are structured differently than the brains of other people.

Specifically, the research shows that people with conservative tendencies have a larger amygdala and a smaller anterior cingulate than other people. The amygdala — typically thought of as the “primitive brain” — is responsible for reflexive impulses, like fear. The anterior cingulate is thought to be responsible for courage and optimism. This one-two punch could be responsible for many of the anecdotal claims that conservatives “think differently” from others.

http://www.salon.com/news/politics/war_room/2010/12/29/conservative_brains/

If the study is confirmed, it will help to explain a lot about America’s polarization between liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans.  When one person is acting out of fear signals coming from a reptilian part of the brain, and another out of courage and optimism, they can’t possibly perceive a given situation in the same way.  So how can they ever come together?

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More Voodoo

December 30, 2010

The new Republican rules will gut pay-as-you-go because they require offsets only for entitlement increases, not for tax cuts. In effect, the new rules will codify the Republican fantasy that tax cuts do not deepen the deficit.
It gets worse. The new rules mandate that entitlement-spending increases be offset by spending cuts only — and actually bar the House from raising taxes to pay for such spending.
Say, for example, that lawmakers want to bolster child credits for families at or near the minimum wage. One way to help pay for the aid would be to close the tax loophole that lets the nation’s wealthiest private equity partners pay tax at close to the lowest rate in the code. That long overdue reform would raise an estimated $25 billion over 10 years, but the new rules will forbid being sensible like that.
Even worse, they direct the leader of the House Budget Committee to ignore several costs when computing the budget impact of future actions, as if the costs are the natural course of politics for which no payment is required.
For example, the cost to make the Bush-era tax cuts permanent would be ignored, as would the fiscal effects of repealing the health reform law. At the same time, the new rules bar the renewal of aid for low-income working families — extended temporarily in the recent tax-cut deal — unless it is fully paid for.

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Teabaggers

December 30, 2010

Some are shills the rest are suckers.