Economy

5 Wildly Offensive Comments and Actions by Rich Jerks

"I don't think the common person is getting it… if you’re lower income—one, you're not as educated, two, they don't understand how [the system] works.”

“The poor we shall always have with us,” said the Bible, and lately there are more of the poor than ever—over 50 million at last count. But that doesn’t stop wealthy Americans from saying things that reek of insensitivity and callousness toward those less fortunate than themselves, which nowadays is pretty much everybody.

The lordly indifference of the fabulously wealthy has left us with a rich cornucopia of blithely cold-hearted remarks and actions. Which of these rich folks made the most some objectionable, offensive or downright heartless comments? See for yourself.

1. Mark Zuckerberg

The Facebook CEO recently launched a “super-PAC,” aka influence-peddling organization, to represent his interests and that of his fellow Silicon Valley billionaires. A number of them refused to join on moral and ethical grounds, however (good on ya, Vinod Khosla and Josh Miller), leaving only the more venal among them on Zuckerberg’s roster of supporters.

The super-Pac’s prospectus boasts that Zuckerberg and his fellow tech moguls have certain “tactical assets, including the fact that “We control massive distribution channels” and “We have individuals with a lot of money. If deployed properly this can have huge influence in the current campaign finance environment.”

In other words, “We can corrupt the political process even more than it already has been.”

During Facebook’s initial public offering, Zuckerberg made this claim in a letter to potential investors: “We expect governments will become more responsive to issues and concerns raised directly by all their people rather than through their intermediaries controlled by a select few.”

We now learn that Zuckerberg doesn’t have a problem with “intermediaries controlled by a select few” after all, as long he’s doing the selecting.

But then, that particular statement’s the least of Zuckerberg’s post-IPO worries. The Facebook IPO resulted in a rash of lawsuits against Facebook, a $10 million fine for the exchange that handled it, and a series of ongoing government investigations.

The super-PAC’s first initiative is supposed to be immigration reform. But the group’s been running ads and making other efforts to support a hard-right political agenda, directly and through subsidiaries called Americans for Conservative Action and Council for American Job Growth. One ad features conservative Republican Marco Rubio. Others oppose Obamacare and promote the environmentally destructive Keystone XL pipeline.

That’s not “disruptive,” to use a favored Silicon Valley term. It’s destructive. And it’s sleazebag politics as usual. That super-PAC prospectus also boasts that “Our voice carries a lot of weight because we are broadly popular with Americans,” but it’s been doing its best to change that.

Zuckerberg’s fond of saying “Move fast and break things.” Yeah—like democracy. 

2. Peter Shih

Whatever his other faults, Zuckerberg chooses his public words pretty carefully. That’s not true of Zuckerberg wannabe Peter Shih. Shih’s recent product of tech incubator ycombinator makes him more of an incubating tycoon than a present-day one.

Listen to what Shih had to say in a recent blog rant against San Francisco. The post, titled "10 Things I Hate About You: San Francisco Edition," managed to be profoundly offensive to … well, just read the excerpts yourself:

  • “I hate how the weather here is like a woman who is constantly PMSing.”
  • "I'm referring to all the girls who are obviously 4's and behave like they are 9's. Just because San Francisco has the worst Female to Male ratio in the known universe doesn’t give you the right to be a bitch all the time.”
  • “Stop giving [homeless people] money, you know they just buy alcohol and drugs with it right?…. I'm seriously tempted to start fucking with people and pay for homeless guys to ride the Powell street cable cars in the middle of the day, that ought to get the city's attention.”

Shih also complains about “public transit being non-existent past midnight and the transvestite to taxi ratio being quite literally off the charts.” You can’t condemn a whole group of people because one person’s offensiveness is “off the charts.” But Shih is representative of the tech subculture, at least when it comes to some of its least flattering attributes – like excessive self-regard and the improper application of testosterone-fueled energy.

3. Eric Schmidt

Google CEO Eric Schmidt airily dismissed Google users' concerns about privacy this way in a 2009 television interview: “If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place.”

Now Google has formalized Schmidt’s indifference to civil liberties. Last month it made this claim in a motion to dismiss a class action suit: "people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS provider in the course of delivery.”

Google went on to approvingly quote a 1979 ruling which said that “a person has no legitimate expectation of privacy in information he voluntarily turns over to third parties.” 

Google’s position is, therefore, that any Gmail user—or anybody who sends an email to a Gmail user—has no right to expect their communication to remain private. We’ll say this for Mr. Schmidt: We can’t say he didn’t warn us. 

4. Marissa Mayer

Last year Yahoo! announced that Marissa Mayer, a longtime tech star at Google, was going to be its new CEO. Later that day Mayer announced she was pregnant. That was a good moment for society: The USA was overdue for a pregnant celebrity CEO.

Mayer built a nursery right next to her office so she could bring her infant son to work. That was a nice moment, but it didn’t last long. She then promptly ended the company’s policy of letting people work from home, a sign that she lacks empathy toward less fortunate parents. She then improved Yahoo’s parental leave policy—also nice (and necessary if you want to get and keep good Silicon Valley employees). But she did it in a way that favors biological birth parents over those who adopt.

Mayer also stereotyped and demeaned the feminists who made her success possible:

"I don’t think that I would consider myself a feminist. I think that I’d certainly believe in equal rights … But I don’t I think have sort of militant drive and the sort of chip on the shoulder that sometimes comes with that. I think it’s too bad but I do think feminism has become in many ways a more negative word…"

But what she didn’t say was as insensitive as what she did say. For context it should be noted Mayer lives well. The Gilded Age lifestyle choices described in a recent Vogue include “glitzy parties,” Mozart tunes playing on a “computer-driven baby grand piano,” and the “two-story, miniaturized model of Palo Alto’s Peninsula Creamery” in her backyard.

Mayer can spend her money as she likes, but that kind of spending becomes distasteful if the person is also part of an effort to keep the working poor in poverty. Mayer is on the Walmart board of directors, and Walmart is actively resisting increases to the minimum wage. Walmart’s wages are so low many of the people who work there—many of them parents—need government help to get medical care and eat an adequate diet.

Mayer had the chance to meet with Walmart workers who were unjustly fired after protesting the corporation’s policies, but she refused to speak with them. She had them arrested instead. 

Mayer’s public silence doesn’t just extend to mistreated Walmart workers. She prefers to let others do her political talking, too. Yahoo! is part of Zuckerberg’s right-wing super-PAC. It also reportedly remained in the Koch brothers far-right American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), even after many other corporations publicly left the group over its extremist policies.

If you’re going to live a life of glamor and opulence, it’s best not to project such insensitivity toward other, less fortunate parents. Or to back politicians who are bent on destroying the social safety net.

5. Daniel S. Loeb

Mayer reportedly got her job through the machinations of hedge fund manager and Yahoo! board member Daniel S. Loeb, who’s known for his relentless publicity-seeking and self-promotion, as well as for his tasteless political comments.

The most notorious of those comments can be found in an Investor Letter Loeb sent around last year, which suggested that President Obama’s political agenda was the “redistribution of wealth.” That’s a pretty extreme claim to make, especially when wages have remained stagnant for most Americans and wealth inequality has grown even more pronounced.

As the AFL-CIO recently pointed out, it also appears that Loeb’s “reinsurance company” may not be in the reinsurance business at all, but has incorporated itself as a Bermuda reinsurer in order to get around U.S. regulations and safeguards. Loeb may think that’s justifiable gamesmanship, given his expressed hostility toward regulation. But his Wall Street peers destroyed the economy the last time they were allowed an unregulated play period with the world’s money.

Loeb is reportedly a Democrat who backed Obama in 2008. But in 2012 he co-hosted a $25,000 per guest Romney fundraiser which made the wrong kind of headlines:

"I don't think the common person is getting it,” said one Loeb guest. “. … I just think if you’re lower income—one, you're not as educated, two, they don't understand how [the system] works.” 

Loeb spouts enough economic misinformation and extremist cant to earn an honorary membership in the Tea Party. He’s distressed about proposals to end loopholes for hedge fund managers and tax them the same way ordinary people are taxed – teachers, for example, and police officers. So he uses historical quotes to describe those proposals, which are far more modest than tax regulations under presidents Eisenhower and Nixon, as “oppression” of a “minority” and “tak(ing) from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

6. Steve Schwarzman

Hedge funder Steve Schwarzman makes Loeb sound like the Dalai Lama. It was Schwarzman who famously compared the idea of taxing hedge funders to an infamous Nazi act of war. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939,” said Schwarzman.

Schwarzman also … oh, why bother? That pretty much closes the case against him.

A lot of wealthy people aren’t on the list, of course, because they’re fair and reasonable people. But scientific research tells us that the wealthier classes are more inclined toward selfishness, arrogance and a sense of entitlement. They can hold some pretty extreme political views, too.

So as the rich continue to inherit the earth, we’ll be hearing a lot more the wealthy people who, like Zuckerberg and Mayer, want to corrupt the political process; those who are aggressively ignorant of political and constitutional principles, like Schmidt and Loeb; and the ones who are just loudmouthed jerks like the other guys on this list.

RJ Eskow is a senior fellow with the Campaign for America's Future.