The questions keep on coming | AspenTimes.com
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The questions keep on coming

I guess I’m a little confused about what the Aspen Institute is supposed to be about.

I just got my 2014 summer calendar, and The Aspen Idea magazine in the mail, and it gives me the same feeling it always does: a little spark, a little “I should go to that,” a little pride, like Aspen is so much more than a ski town and I can be so much more than just a ski bum here. I can be a smart, well-informed, cultured ski bum who snowboards most the time at Highlands, not Ajax.

So I just have to ask: What the hell is Monsanto doing as a sponsor of the Ideas Festival? Who approved that? This is the same Monsanto that just sued the state of Vermont because it passed a law requiring labeling for GMO foods, right? The state of Vermont! The Green Mountain State! It’s not like it passed a law saying it’s OK to kill babies. In fact, the law does quite the opposite — it protects future generations from contracting the kinds of diseases that likely have plagued our society from the ingestion of GMO foods. Bravo, Vermont.

And now all these amazing people who are coming here to speak and participate and enlighten us with their genius in various fields are going to be walking around that beautiful, pristine campus with Ideas Festival swag that has the Monsanto logo plastered all over it? I just don’t get it.

Here’s another thing I don’t get: How did Robert K. Steel, who just so happens to be the chairman of the Aspen Institute, decide it would be perfectly fine to bend the laws of our fine little town so he could throw his baby girl one of the most exorbitant weddings in Aspen history? I’m not sure if he was trying to one-up Kim and Kanye, but you’ve got to hand it to the guy for building a wedding venue from scratch at 10,000 feet, especially when the county told him it wasn’t OK with it.

I’ve heard a lot of arguments on both sides: It’s private property, people say. These big events are our bread and butter, the money that supports our livelihoods. The land was scarred already by TV commercials that were shot there, so it’s OK to do more damage. It’s no different from the erosion caused by construction of our beloved chairlifts and other ski-resort amenities. There are more important problems in the world.

Here’s the thing I have a problem with: The county said “no” to John Miller’s request for a commercial-use permit because of the scale of the event. That’s the law. So then this Miller guy, the landowner, decides it’s “free” so someone is spared the set of concrete galoshes they were going to have to wear on account of coming between the chairman’s baby girl and her perfect wedding day. This is a closed-door deal. This is a very wealthy, very powerful man from New York City (I mean Greenwich, ahem) who gets what he wants, especially when it comes to baby girl’s wedding. He doesn’t care what the law says, what the county says, how the neighbors feel or how the community at large is going to take this. He’s going to do what he wants — that’s what I have a problem with.

Dude, I’m the one who runs around calling myself a Princess. I’m the one living a life of leisure, and an extravagant one at that. I argued that Aspen wasn’t pretentious at all but more of a free-for-all, a place where people are so wealthy they just gave stuff away. I said it wasn’t exclusive but inclusive, a place where a wannabe like I am could rub elbows with the world’s elite. And I have. I’ve done all that, and it’s been amazing.

I also always thought of Aspen as a liberal stronghold, a place where renegades and anti-establishment heroes came to roost, a place where the freak flag flies and where rock stars, celebrities and serial killers can escape public scrutiny and French models can get away with murder and where gays can have one hell of a party. I know the Aspen Institute prides itself on not being partisan, but with the intellectualism and the talking and healthy debate, I always thought it was open-minded, at least. If it’s good enough for the Clintons, it’s good enough for me.

Plus, I have nothing against rich people. I always thought that was a hypocritical bias, resenting people with money. If you were the one with all the money, would you give it all away so as not to offend anyone? I didn’t think so.

But where do we draw the line in terms of what money can buy? How do we protect our town from some of the deepest pockets in the world? Aspen has always been a wealthy town, but this feels different. It’s ugly.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that we can’t.

Had this wedding taken place at an existing venue, this wouldn’t have been an issue. I’m sure the wedding planners in this town would roll their eyes and flap their hands at the seven-figure budget this wedding required. But the idea that baby girl had to have a customized venue, erected for one day, just for her, in the oh-so-delicate ecosystem of the sub-alpine, accessed by a public road in a rural area, is a bit much. And in the end, all Steel did for baby birl was to get a whole lot of bad press for her big day. I almost feel sorry for her.

So my question is this: How is the chairman of the Aspen Institute not accountable to the Aspen community, to the land and to the law? Why is Monsanto sponsoring the Ideas Festival?

I’m just sayin’.

Today is the Princess’s 12th anniversary of writing this column. If you care, send your love to alisonmargo@gmail.com.


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