Is Aspen the center of the greed-driven universe? | AspenTimes.com

Is Aspen the center of the greed-driven universe?

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Portrait of the town as a greed festival. That’s what you might call the media coverage of Aspen in the past week.

The Washington Post on Sunday ran a detailed story on Enron’s “epic collapse” calling it “one of the greatest business scandals in U.S. history.”

The story of “the princes of Enron” “giddy with money” eventually leads to Aspen.

“Porsches replaced pickup trucks in the company parking lot as even secretaries became paper millionaires,” the article says. “There were mansions in Houston’s posh River Oaks neighborhood, vacation homes in Aspen. Everybody went along for the wild ride.”

Including some of us not-so-innocent bystanders.

@ATD Sub heds:Pretty sitting

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@ATD body copy: David Gates of Newsweek added to the Aspen-as-Fat-City portrait on July 29 in a column called “Greed R.I.P. (For Now).”

He notes that “for some executives, the problem had suddenly changed from whether to build that third home in Aspen or Aruba to whether they’d end up in bankruptcy or the slammer.

“Greed – whose etymology suggests literal hunger – is a craving, by its very nature insatiable, for more than you need,” Gates writes. “You can be greedy only when you’re already sitting pretty.”

And many seem to think there is plenty of pretty sitting here.

@ATD Sub heds:Son of a preacher man

@ATD body copy: On July 28, The San Francisco Chronicle’s Alan T. Saracevic was busy pointing out that “It’s kind of ironic that many of the business folk accused of wrongdoing in recent months and years – especially those allegedly involved in pinching millions or billions – all share a strong spiritual background. “

Then he pointedly wrote, “Portraying yourself as a God-fearing believer while stealing money from average folks so you can buy a fifth house in Aspen is unforgivable, regardless of what the Good Book says.”

That may be a bit wide, though, as Saracevic only has this to say about he of the five Aspen homes: “Ken Lay, former Enron chairman and son of a Missouri minister, is famously rumored to have attended church the day before he took the Fifth on Capitol Hill.”

Being the son of a preacher and going to church before going to not testify doesn’t automatically make you both pious and greedy.

But as famed columnist Art Buchwald points out on July 23 in The Los Angeles Times, it might just be a stop on the way to jail.

Buchwald’s piece, called “It’s a Modern CEO’s Story: From the Big Bucks to a Cell Bunk,” includes an Aspen reference in an exchange between a former CEO and his new down-market cell mate, whose name is “Dude.”

“What kind of car do you drive, man?” Dude asked the CEO.

“I have a dozen cars in each of my parking garages.”

“You puttin’ me on?”

“Do I look like somebody who would put you on? I have a yacht and five airplanes and a chateau in Aspen.”

“What’s a chateau and what’s an aspen?”

“Oh forget it. I want the top bunk.”

“I get the top bunk. I was here first.”

@ATD Sub heds:A shame

@ATD body copy: And Aspen, even when it is not part of the story, is still being used as a high/low water mark in stories on corporate greed.

David Staples of the Edmonton Journal wrote a piece on July 28 about WorldCom’s Bernie Ebbers, saying at one point in his career Ebbers was grounded, not greedy:

“He was a guy who came from nothing, no silver spoon, no Ivy League, no summers at the cottage, no winters at Aspen.”

Shame, that.

[Brent Gardner-Smith’s e-mail address is bgs@aspentimes.com]