Martin Shkreli Will Have The Last Laugh

‘We’ hate Martin Shkreli. What’s not to hate? He is rich; he gets rich off the misfortunes of others; he buys pop culture icons, treating them like trophies for decorating his den; he postures on video streams as he talks back to those we think can’t be out-talked; he talks smack on his Twitter feed and slathers smarm all over his grinning mug when he goes to Capitol Hill, pompously invoking the Fifth Amendment. Shkreli looks like those familiar assholes at bars, clubs, sports stadiums the world over. You know them well: an extravagant hybrid of the frat boy, the corporate weasel, the jock. He snorts coke off glass tables; he hires hookers; he rides in limos and drinks champagne. Yes, we know the type.

Shkreli isn’t an individual. He is an instance of a type. And he’s acting true to type. It’s all too easy in our social media bubbles to imagine that Shkreli is universally despised or reviled; but he isn’t. Folks like Shkreli aren’t despised that much. They have the wealth, the power,  and the fancy attorney plus accountant crew that every successful person requires. Far more importantly, they  have approval and support. They don’t just have the approval of those who benefit from their monies and who pick up the few scraps tossed their way if they wait attentively and fawningly around the felt-lined tables that Shkreli and his mates dine at. Shkreli works in a world in which the strategies of business lie beyond moral evaluation, where a system exists in order to be worked over, and compromised with. Shkreli’s Twitter account shows much admiration being sent his way; he is after all, an outsider–the son of Albanian immigrants!–who rose to the top, by making the system work for him. The zone he operates in is a morality-free one; it knows little of the table of values that dictates Shkreli assuage our moral sensibilities.

Shkreli wins every time not because he has the money and can buy his way out of any jam he might find himself in; he wins because he faces very little social disapproval of his actions; because he undergoes no systemic pressure to change his actions; because those who would castigate him–like Congress–do little to reign in the culture he represents. Shkreli’s smirk is not just one of bemused condescension,  it is also one of puzzlement; he was told greed is good; that unlimited acquisition was the only foundational principle required to begin acting; that praise would flow his way when he acted so. He has done so, and he is puzzled that a tiny bunch of party poopers want to rain on his parade now.

Shkreli keeps on smirking because he knows no matter how much flak he catches on a few Facebook pages, Twitter timelines, and clickbait websites, he’ll have a lot of friends and admirers left over. And isn’t that all that matters, that more like us than don’t? That he who dies with the most toys, wins?

Ozzie Guillen, the First Amendment in the Workplace, and Bromance

The Florida Marlins’ suspension of its manager Ozzie Guillen for his ‘pro-Castro’ remarks provides yet another teachable moment about the First Amendment and its relationship to the workplace. (Guillen has been suspended for five games.)  Guillen’s original remarks read:

 I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years, but that [expletive] is still here.

(As always with deleted expletives, I’m curious: What did he say? Anything worth reusing?)

After a storm of outrage from Miami’s Cuban community, the most ardent ‘anti-communists’ in the US (* see note below), and a quick suspension later, another familiar storm of outrage: How could this be possible in the US? Don’t we have free speech? What about the First Amendment, eh? Land of the free, Schmand of the Free!

In response to which: The Florida Marlins are private actors; they can abridge speech in their workplace as a condition of employment; and Guillen, if he doesn’t like it, is free to move to another employer more tolerant of his professed opinions. Employees have very few constitutional protections in the workplace; it is where we go to cease being citizens and start being minions. This confusion occurs most commonly with regards to the First and Fourth Amendments (“You mean my employer can search my stuff without a warrant?” Yes, they can). For some reason, most folks don’t think of Fifth Amendment protections in the workplace. Has anyone ever complained that he was forced to ‘testify’ to his boss? Has anyone ever tried taking the Fifth in a work meeting? Abandon all Constitutional Rights Ye Who Enter Here, indeed.

Of interest to me, too, was Guillen’s ‘defense,’ offered, in his own words, on his knees (can you back-pedal on your knees?):

This is the biggest mistake of my life…I’m on my knees. When you make a mistake this big, you can’t sleep. If I don’t learn from this I will call myself dumb. Today is the last day that this person talks about politics. Everyone in the world hates Fidel Castro, myself included, and I hate him for all the damage and all the hurt. I was surprised he’s still in power – that’s what I was trying to say.

I find Guillen’s clarification of his remarks quite convincing. This is because Guillen like many men, likes to express his maverick, contrarian self, his individuality, as it were, by expressing a kind of grudging admiration for other men found ‘too hard’ by the soft, weak, masses: ‘You all say he is an asshole, and I agree, but let me tell you, he’s one tough asshole, you gotta give him that! Don’t get me wrong; I don’t like the guy. But you gotta admit, he’s a tough dude.’ Or something like that.

Note: Two anecdotes: First, many years ago, a Cuban friend of mine bought a Yugo (don’t ask). His mother refused to ride with him in the car; not because she thought it was unsafe, but because it was manufactured in a communist country. Second, another Cuban friend of mine threw out her Billy Joel records–a good move in general, I’d say–after he toured the USSR. If it isn’t obvious, these stories date back to the 1980s, when anti-communist sentiment among Miami Cubans was–if it can be imagined–even more visceral than it is today.