Maxed out 

It’s not personal, it’s just business

By G.D. Maxwell

This is a story about two businessmen, two world views, one resort municipality and a couple of tough choices.

Okay, if I haven’t lost most of you with that opening, stick with me; I’ll try to work in some humour or defame someone just to live up to your expectations.

As far as I know, the only link between Lawrence, Massachusetts and Houston, Texas is this: they are both towns I – and I’ll bet most of you – wouldn’t want to live in. Gritty is probably the single word most often used to describe Lawrence. It’s one of those New England mill towns that nearly died of neglect when the overarching goal of the business community became cheaper wages. Mills and manufacturers moved south or offshore and towns like Lawrence struggled to survive.

Houston, on the other hand, is veritably defined by the word glitz. Well, glitz and swamp. And humidity, and pretension, and conspicuous consumption, and livin’ large, Texas style. Probably the best thing that can be said about Houston is someday, possibly in geologic time, a tsunami of biblical proportions may rise out of the Gulf of Mexico and wash it from the face of the earth. We can only hope.

Aaron Feuerstein lives and works in Lawrence. Unless you follow business news or have a particularly good memory, you’ve probably never heard of him. Despite your ignorance, I’m willing to bet each and every one of you reading this would consider him a man who’s changed your life.

Kenneth Lay might still be lurking around Houston but more likely is holed up in one of his dozen or so other homes wishing the firestorm he created would blow over. Unless you don’t have a television and never pick up a newspaper, it’s pretty hard to have missed Kenny Boy’s name recently.

Kenneth Lay took a middlin’ sized, no-name, off the rack Houston energy company, blew smoke into it, and turned it into Enron, the largest corporate bankruptcy in the history of the United States of America. He did this out of a singleminded desire to make money, wield power, influence important people, and live life large. To accomplish these goals, he created a corporate culture where winning at any cost was rewarded. Where backstabbing was raised to a fine art. Where human kindness was considered a weakness. Where decency was derided and laughed at.

That Enron bought politicians to grease its way up the ladder is something only politicians who’ve been bought and paid for would deny. That those purchased straddled both political parties just means we’re likely to see less finger pointing and soul searching among the crooks who run the only superpower to survive into the 21 st century. Get out the whitewash, Mama and bring me a scapegoat.

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