VOL 29 No. 4
Ecuador's Oil Change: An Exporter's Historic Proposal
by Kevin Koenig
Fueling Another Debt Crisis
by Neil Watkins
The Best Congress Oil Could Buy
by Steve Kretzmann
A Call for Global Economic and Energy Transitions
Sin and Society II
by Edward Alsworth Ross
Bolivia Asserts Oil Sovereignty
an interview with Carlos Villegas
Causes of Soaring Oil Prices
interviews with oil industry analysts
Can Big Oil Adapt to Climate Change?
interviews with oil industry analysts
Behind the Lines
Independence from Oil
CAFTA and the Politics of Fear - Whistleblowers Betrayed
The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award
Greed At a Glance
Names In the News
Greed at a Glance
Luxury Resort Boom
The housing crisis hasn’t quite yet hit the high end. Hedge fund magnate Louis Moore Bacon recently shelled out $175 million for Colorado’s Trinchera Ranch, the highest sum ever paid for a U.S. residential property. Over in the Aspen area, the epicenter of Colorado luxury, three local single-family homes have sold, in the past year, for more than $20 million.
Other Aspen luxury accommodations are doing nicely, too, and observers of the local real estate scene are crediting rich Russians for the boom times. Three years ago, Aspen’s St. Regis, a posh lodge where “butlered” suites run $3,000 a night, hosted 150 Russian guests. This year’s total will push past 500.
Russian deep-pocket visitors usually spend $100,000 for a week on Colorado’s slopes, the Denver Post reports, not counting “the chartered jets from Moscow — or the shopping.”
Bob Stinchcomb, a Colorado tourist executive, expects the Russian invasion to continue. “The super rich like Aspen,” he explains, “because they can walk around anonymously, unlike in Moscow, where everything is done with a security car service.”
Meanwhile, for those who prefer a warmer climate, the “tribe” of the world’s “intelligent, smart and very wealthy,” the Bangkok Post reports, is now flocking to Phuket, the biggest island off Thailand’s southern coast.
Ten years ago, “luxury” villas on Phuket ran a mere $250,000 each, and private jets, notes developer Bill Barnett, hardly ever touched down on the local airstrip. Today, private jets are touching down in Phuket at a 500-per-year pace, and the island’s most expensive property — built for California Fitness company founder Eric Levine — now lists for $25 million.
Adrian Zecha, the “inventor” of luxury Phuket just 20 years ago, is now offering an array of villas that start at $8 million. Each of these villas sports four swimming pools.
Taking It With You
You can see mausoleums, room-size structures that hold cremated remains, in just about any cemetery. But it’s rare to find a “columbarium,” a massive edifice that cemetery folk consider “the champagne of interment options.”
The nation’s newest columbarium — one of the largest ever built — now sits near Boston. The owner: 41-year-old Boston hedge fund king Thomas Hudson, Jr., who has just had 450,000 pounds of Vermont granite turned into a final resting place that features 17-foot cathedral ceilings and hand-carved stone lions.
Hudson’s new columbarium can comfortably host as many as 88 urns, and Hudson family members, one local news report notes, have taken to calling the million-dollar structure “The Inn.”
A Share-the-Wealth Surge
No one works harder to stay on top of changing public perceptions and attitudes than advertising executives on Madison Avenue. And what those execs are perceiving these days, says a new Adweek survey of national opinion polling, appears to be “broad enthusiasm” for more evenly distributing wealth.
Notes Adweek analyst Mark Dolliver: “Amid a crescendo of data about how much richer the rich are compared to everyone else, concern over inequality has escaped the confines of public-policy debate to become a broader cultural phenomenon.”
Among the striking numbers in the Adweek survey: 49 percent of the U.S. public feels the government should redistribute wealth via “heavy taxes on the rich” (Gallup), 86 percent of those making between $60,000 and $100,000 consider CEOs overpaid (Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg), and only 11 percent of the population “admire the people who run the country’s largest companies” either “a great deal” or “quite a bit” (Financial Times/Harris).
Lottery for the Rich. Not.
In Texas, elected officials don’t like to tax. But they sure love lotteries. The state now spends $33 million a year “promoting the games that inspire dreams of instant riches,” the Houston Chronicle notes, and nothing on “programs to help problem gamblers.”
Critics consider the Texas lottery a backdoor tax on the poor — “The lottery was never designed for rich people,” says state lawmaker Garnet Coleman — and last winter Texas lottery chiefs moved to blunt that critique. They unveiled a $50 lottery ticket, the “priciest” in the nation, in a move designed to bring “people with higher disposable income into our customer base.”
On that goal, the state has fallen somewhat short. Sales of the $50 ticket are running far higher in Texas zip codes with median incomes below $20,000 than zip codes with incomes over $90,000.
Complains Texas Baptist lobbyist Rob Kohler: “The most expensive lottery ticket has gone from costing no more than a candy bar to now being the most expensive item in convenience stores. The state should not be in the business of separating citizens from their dollars.”
That separation may soon speed up. Lottery execs are now conducting market research on lottery tickets that run $100.
— Sam Pizzigati, editor of Too Much, an online weekly on excess and inequality
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