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The miserable lifestyles of the rich and famous

March 09, 2006|by TIM ROWLAND

Good day, and welcome to our latest installment of Rich People in the News, a semiregular feature where those of us with no money wallow in the agony of people who are wealthy, but miserable.

Our first segment takes us to Houston and the trial of former Enron executives Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, who are accused of taking down a multizillion-dollar company and a lot of innocent investors with them.

Prosecutors are claiming fraud. The defense, meanwhile, is sailing under the banner of "they're not corrupt, just stupid."

You know how hard it can be to run a small business, with a $63 billion market cap. You're only one unexpected expense, like a broken copier, away from insolvency.

Personally, though, I think I'd rather admit to being corrupt. At the very least, you have to act like you know what was going on in your own company. This whole, "I must have been in the washroom" when the bad stuff was going down doesn't make me think any more highly of them.

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Really, where's Ollie North when you need him? "Yeah, I did it. Pretty freaking evil-genius of me, wasn't it?" But when you have a bunch of rich executives pointing to each other saying "he did it," all of them are unworthy of respect, in my book.

Face it, some of the stuff Enron was into was way cool. Wrong, but cool. They, no kidding, would sell the makers of snowmobiles hedges against mild winters. They'd make a market in something, and then count both the "buy" and the "sell" as profit.

I wish I had the tomatoes to do stuff like that. If I lose a ton of money in some investment, all I have to do is create a new company and give the loss to it. Voila, I didn't lose any money after all. Brilliant.

And speaking of brilliant, our second segment of Rich People in the News takes us to the NFL, where players and owners of the most lucrative sport in the history of the world have been fighting like cats over who gets that last $1 million crumb.

Love those pro athletes, such as the NBA's Latrell Sprewell, who said he couldn't make do on $10 million a year because, "I've got a family to feed." Latrell. Buddy. Here's a friendly consumer tip: Kraft mac and cheese. It weighs in at just a bit under $10 million a box.

I must not get it, because if I were being paid $10 million to play sports and someone told me I had to play for $9 million, I'd say, Fine. $8 million? Cool. $7 million? Not a problem. Because I know that if I'm not playing pro sports, I'm getting paid $250 a week to pick up cigarette butts at the mall.

Not to play into the dumb jock stereotype, but why do you think so many of them, after they retire, are forced to sell the underwear they wore in the '78 playoffs on eBay? You or I make $10 million in one year, we're set for life. They make $10 million a year for a decade and 18 months later, they're selling autographs at Foot Locker to pay the gas bill.

Fortunately for the players, they are locking horns with possibly the only group of people who would make them look sympathetic in contrast: NFL owners. And in particular, one Snyder - Daniel, owner of the Washington Redskins. He's under fire for wanting to give the players too MUCH money, the fear being that without a salary cap to keep all teams relatively competitive, Snyder will, according to ESPN commentators, "turn into the next George Steinbrenner."

I wonder how George Steinbrenner feels about that comparison. It's like when there's a gold standard for everything that is wrong in a sport, your name pops right up.

But unfortunately, some, even well-heeled individuals cannot spend their way out of a problem, and I am speaking of "Brokeback Mountain" co-writer Larry McMurtry. This talented and Rich Person in the News, according to press accounts, "believes urban drama 'Crash' beat his film to the Best Picture Award because Academy members discriminate against rural stories."

Rural bias. Never heard that one before. But I like it. It would explain why "Deliverance" didn't receive a much-deserved prize for best picture. Of course, it wasn't like "Dances with Wolves" was set in Detroit, but we get the idea.

McMurtry said, "The three rural films (I was involved with) lost. The one urban film, 'Terms of Endearment,' won. Members of the Academy are mostly urban people. 'Crash' was a hometown movie."

Of course, by that logic, "LA Confidential' certainly should have beaten out "Titanic," since the North Atlantic is about as rural as you can get.

But no matter. Being a rural gentleman myself, I just need to know who I can sue to redress my grievance so I, myself, can do something stupid and become a Rich Person in the News.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He may be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or by e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com.

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