Pluralistic: 25 Jun 2022

Today's links

A flaming dumpster set in a hellscape excerpted from Bosch's 'Garden of Earthly Delights,' filled with bewigged judges in robes, all pointing angry fingers.

The oligarchs' Supreme Court (permalink)

Here's something weird: in the wake of Roe v Wade in the 1970s, the Southern Baptist Convention repeatedly passed resolutions affirming the right to abortion and rejecting government interference in the decision to bear a child to term:

Back then, white evangelicals were deeply suspicious of people who opposed abortion. Getting too worked up about the issue was a sign of crypto-papacy, and back then, white evangelicals hated Catholics:

The weirdest thing about this is that today, white evangelicals will vote for anyone who promise to end abortion – even a philandering, foul-mouthed, unprincipled habitual liar and likely atheist. They are single-issue voters – whose single issue is something that, in living memory, they actually opposed.

They'll vote for politicians like Scott Dejarlais, the GOP congressghoul from Tennessee who was re-elected three times. Dejarlais, an MD, impregnated one of his patients, then coerced her into getting an abortion. He also coerced his ex-wife into getting two abortions. But he reliably voted to ban abortion:

Dejarlais "received a 100% score by the National Right to Life Committee."

If you've seen the polling on abortion, you know that these single-issue voters are in a tiny and generally unimportant minority. Americans overwhelmingly support the right to get an abortion. And yet, here we are. Obviously, America is a nation founded on antimajoritarian principles, whose Constitution is designed to let rural, southern gentry steer the nation, but is it really that antimajoritarian?

Not really. The GOP is a coalition of single-issue voters, and substantial numbers of the GOP base are actually pretty cool with abortion – they're pursuing other single issues, and they're willing to give up abortion in exchange for progress on their pet issues.

Another critical bloc in the GOP coalition is people with low-tax brain-worms, including many self-described "libertarians," who will vote for unlimited authoritarianism and state intrusion into the most private realm of (other) people's lives, provided that they save at least 25 cents on their tax bill as a result:

These two blocs, along with racists, homophobes and transphobes, provide the bulk for the master strategists of the GOP, people who aren't merely elitists, but actual elites. By definition, elite politics can't win majorities on its own, because elites are always in the minority – that's what "elite" means.

The cruelty isn't the point. The cruelty is a means to an end. The cruelty is how you mobilize useful idiots to turn out to the polls and vote for the vast expansion of the wealth of a tiny number of people. The cruelty is how you get the turkeys to vote for Christmas:

An oft-repeated truism about abortion restrictions is that they don't affect wealthy people who can afford to miss work and travel out of state. Some argue with this, pointing out that being merely wealthy won't save you if you need an emergency D&C after a miscarriage, say.

That's true as far as it goes, but there's a group of people for whom this is much less true: the ultra-rich, the 1% and (especially) the 0.1%. These are people whose wealth allows them to bend reality – to charter private jets, or to have private doctors fly to them on private jets. People who have their names on hospital wings.

The defining characteristic of these people is impunity, the power to do as they like without consequence, to bypass the rules, laws and challenges of the rest of us. These are the people building luxury bunkers in New Zealand and whose only concern about civilizational collapse is the logistics of coercing their private goons in the Great After:

Dobbs, the case that overturned Roe v Wade, was decided by an illegitimate court whose appointees were nominated and confirmed by politicians who lost the popular election. The illegitimate Supremes are the apex of a vast cohort of federal judges who were likewise appointed by politicians who lost the popular vote:

These judges have emitted a steady stream of unhinged and cruel decisions on culture-war issues, and these have real, human consequences. But it's a mistake to assume that the reason that billionaires put so much energy into getting these judges appointed was to strike down New York's concealed carry law. That was – again – a means to an end, a way to get turkeys to vote for Christmas (there are a lot of musket-fucking single-issue ammosexual voters who will vote for anyone who makes it easier to get guns).

The reasons so much money was poured into the elections that resulted in these judges' lifetime appointments to the federal bench were economic, not cultural. These are judges who will reliably rule in corporations' favor, whether they have maimed their workers, poisoned our planet, price-gouged the public, or killed us with unsafe products. They will wave through mergers that the FTC or DOJ have blocked. They will make extremely rich people much richer.

These judges will put Black and poor people in jail, sure – and that will make the Christmas-voting turkeys happy. But just as importantly, they'll let millionaires escape consequences, no matter how heinous their crimes.

Whether it's getting drunk and mowing down four people:

Or raping a teenager:

Or hell, raping a baby:

The cruelty isn't the point, power is: the power to use other people in cruel ways, to be sure, but also the power to float above other people's pain, sorrow and concern. The rich dream of a world where "personal responsibility" is code for "total lack of empathy."

Subverting the legislature and the judiciary is an iterative process: first you buy some politicians who pass favorable laws and appoint favorable judges; then those judges rule in your favor when those laws are called into question. That makes you richer, which lets you buy more politicians, who pass more laws and appoint more judges.

As Bill Clinton – who used his strong majority in both chambers of Congress to get NAFTA passed, smashing unions, but not to turn the right to an abortion into a federal law – liked to remind us: "It's the economy, stupid."

The stupid economy just keeps getting stupider. The rich have gotten so much richer and each surging transfer of wealth from our teeming millions to their board-room handful has been attended by more political power for America's oligarchs.

The iterative buy-laws-buy-judges-buy-judgements process crossed an important threshold in 2010, when ultrawealthy backers secured their Citizens United SCOTUS decision, which freed them up to make unlimited, secret campaign contributions to politicians who would make them richer and thus able to buy more politicians.

Citizens United was key to the election of the politicians who gave us the illegitimate Supreme Court who, in turn, gave us the Dobbs decision and despite the prominence of Dobbs in our national discourse (and its importance to pregnant people and the children they are forced to bear), there's plenty that SCOTUS is doing that is equally terrifying. The Supreme Court of Oligarchs is primarily concerned with elite impunity and power, not cruelty – the cruelty is merely the means, power is the end.

One extremely relatable way of understanding elite impunity is the tax evasion of the ultra-rich. A year ago, Propublica began reporting on the IRS Files, leaks detailing the tax strategies of the 0.1%.

The oligarchs whose finances were thus exposed are all heavy political spenders. Unsurprisingly, they lobbied hard for tax breaks in the Trump tax bill, and received incredibly specific tax loopholes that applied to just one or two very rich donors. Bechtel spent $1m getting one such loophole, and netted $111m in return – a shrewd investment indeed:

The most revolting GOP politicians – the ones who are forever in the news for their authoritarianism and bigotry – have been showered with money by billionaires, including self-styled "progressives." These billionaires are the true single-issue voters, because their single issue is themselves:

Many of these high-rolling donors got rich by being born rich, and boy do they hate inheritance tax. They argue that the ability to steer our whole society – to steer our ecosystem off a planetary cliff – should be allocated on the basis of whether you emerged from a very lucky orifice:

The tax-evasion tactics that Propublica documented over the past year are eye-glazingly complex, and if you do manage to figure out how they work, you realize that they are idiots' fictions. That's true for Peter Thiel's $5 billion tax-free ROTH:

And for the Real Estate Investment trusts that have "hollowed out" hotels and smashed their unions:

For the sports teams whose billionaire owners pay no tax on a torrent of money, even as their players cough up their share:

Or whose hobbies – playing with the horsey set, say, or "ranches" – can yield hundreds of millions of dollars' worth of tax avoidance.

In fact, there are ten major tactics that American oligarchs use to escape the taxes that everyone else has to pay, allowing them to retain more cash that they can use to buy more impunity, provided that they keep up the culture-war side-hustles that get useful idiots out to the polls.

I. The Ultra Wealth Effect (borrowing against vast asset wealth)

II. Peter Thiel's $5 Billion IRA

III. Turning High-Tax-Rate Trading into Low-Tax-Rate Income

IV. The Magic of Sports Ownership: Make Money While (Legally) Reporting Losses

V. Build, Drill and Save: The Real Estate and Oil Businesses Can Both Be Tax Havens

VI. Even a Billionaire’s Hobbies Can Pay Off at Tax Time

VII. Think Your Taxes are Too High? Change the Tax Laws

VIII. Why Tech Billionaires Pay Less Than Hedge-Fund Managers

IX: Brother, Can You Spare a Stimulus Check?

X. Trust This: How Wealthy Families Pass Billions to Heirs While Avoiding Taxes

It's sometimes said that GOP politicians fear their base, but it's truer to say that their fear their bases. They understand that the culture-war cruelty is the key to keeping the billionaire money-taps flowing, and vice versa. Politicians who lose elections also lose their dark money.

Dem politicians, on the other hand, are not afraid of their base. They understand that having an openly anti-democratic, racist, homophobic, misogynist christofascist opposition means that they can rely on voters turning out for them no matter what:

It's why they'll go with their donors to back anti-abortion politicians in primary races, even as they're publicly vowing to protect abortion rights:

We have to realize that the culture war is downstream from oligarchs' bid for wealth, which they can turn into power, which they can turn into impunity. Lots of oligarchs are bigots of one stripe or another, but even when they aren't, they are still pro-bigotry, because bigotry is how they secure power.

(Image: EFF, CC BY 2.0; Cory Doctorow, CC BY-SA 2.0; modified)

Hey look at this (permalink)

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago James Gleick: Life is different with email

#20yrsago Wibo: A wireless hobo

#15yrsago London’s mayor calls deadbeat US Ambassador “venal little crook”

#20yrsago Ted Chiang's debut: Short-story collection of the decade if not the century

#20yrsago More Songs About Buildings and Food

#20yrsago VerisignOff: Let’s put Verisign to death

#20yrsago Broadband doesn’t need content!

#20yrsago Warchalking Runes 1.0

#15yrsago MySpace, Facebook mirror class divisions in US society

#10yrsago Q and A with a former member of the Westboro Baptist family

#10yrsago Jimmy Wales to UK Home Secretary: don’t render Richard O’Dwyer to the USA

#10yrsago Entertainment industry to Japanese ISPs: we’ll hand you a secret list of copyrighted works, and you have to block them

#10yrsago Rohinton Mistry’s fairy-tale about Canadian neocons

#10yrsago stopped saving logs for more than 14 days in order to frustrate copyright trolls

#10yrsago Canadian fed court: linking isn’t copyright infringement, neither is excerpting an article

#10yrsago Zita the Space Girl: delightful kids’ science fiction comic that’s part Vaughn Bode, part Mos Eisley Cantina

#5yrsago Philando Castile’s killers secretly tried to order Facebook to let them spy on Castile’s girlfriend

#5yrsago Remembering Prisoners of Gravity, the greatest science fiction TV show of all time

#1yrago The pandemic showed remote proctoring to be worse than useless

Colophon (permalink)

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