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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Class War: Science offers an explanation

In the Current Biology (which I read mainly for their movie reviews) April 7th issue , a team of British scientists unveiled new findings on how differences in the physical structure of the brain affect political orientation.

Conservatives tend to have larger right amygdalas, the part of the brain associated with threat recognition, fear and anxiety. Liberals tend to have larger anterior cingulate cortexes indicating a greater ability to process conflicting information and adapt to unfamiliar circumstances. I'm not making this up.

The report notes many psychological studies showing conservatives to be more threat-reactive and liberals more open to new experiences, but that their study shows a physical cause for these differences.

But, you don't need to read Current Biology to know there's a big difference in the way, for example, Progressive Charlestown looks at the world compared to the Charlestown Citizens Alliance. For instance, at Progressive Charlestown, we've focused on how new assessments will shift the town's tax burden from rich landowners to middle-class residents. By contrast, CCA focused on rich landowners' fears that their seaside estates were under-valued.

At the state level, conservatives are going nuts over Governor Chafee's sale tax increase proposal. It will ruin business, they say, so take more away from poor people. Whack those public employees some more, they say. Though I am not a big fan of sales taxes because of their regressive nature, the Governor knows that there is no more left to cut. Repeat - there is no more left to cut unless you want to see a complete breakdown of state services and infrastructure.

Unless there is support for taking back the tax gifts Don Carcieri made to the wealthy (who, according to OSPRI and RISC, have already left the state), where else do you get the money? If we can't raise income taxes on the top brackets, how about restructuring our corporate welfare programs? We give millions to companies with no loyalty to Rhode Island (e.g. Curt Schilling's 38 Studios video game company that has never actually produced a video game). Companies like Fidelity use their employees like puppets, moving them from state to state to take advantage of desperate bribes from state officials. Most recently, Rhode Island won Fidelity jobs from Massachusetts. But as soon as one of the other states where Fidelity has offices makes a better offer, pooooof, those jobs will vanish.

Personally, I think one over-looked source of tax revenue is our large pool of "Fake Floridians." These are Rhode Islanders who beat state income tax by declaring residence in Florida while still living in Rhode Island. Ever wonder why you see so many Florida license plates around Rhode Island in the dead of winter? Imagine how much we could raise by busting just half of them! More on that later.

Conservative versus Liberal (or as we prefer, progressive). Fear versus openness. Consider reactions to the "threat" posed by the Narragansett Tribe. I suggested weeks ago that Charlestown made a big mistake by not directing our Indian Affairs counsel Joe Larisa to help the Narragansetts take over the Twin River racino. Now CCA is in a panic because the US Senate Indian Affairs Committee voted a bill out of committee that would restore rights taken from hundreds of tribes by the Carcieri v. Salazar Supreme Court decision. Yes, it's true that this could be one in a long stretch of dominos that could give the tribe the right to use its land as it sees fit, without having to beg for Ruth Platner's approval.

But it's that fear versus openness thing again. And it shows up in so many ways. Such as whether to embrace alternative energy proposals. Or entertain a new and interesting use for an abandoned YMCA camp.

I'll close with this. We've all witnessed the nerve-wracking brinksmanship in Congress over the budget. Will the government be shut down so the uber-right can defund Planned Parenthood, EPA and NPR? While conservatives were willing to drive the country over a cliff to push their radical agenda, like killing public broadcasting and other things the Tea Party considers unconstitutional and subversive, the USAID is providing $20 million in funding to produce a Pakistani version of Sesame Street done in Urdu.

Author: Will Collette