Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Rehabilitation of Ken Lay

A review of this week's news and commentary reveals the public's conflict and frustration regarding Ken Lay's unexpected demise. The fact that his punishment will never be served leaves many feeling that he escaped his fate somehow, but the circumstances of his death were nonetheless suffused with a certain pathos. "Kenny Boy" lived the high life, but ultimately he didn't dodge any bullets. Given his age of 64, and the possibility of a twenty year sentence, he was looking at the specter of imprisonment for the rest of his mortal days. The stress of that future almost certainly contributed to his death.

But just because a massive heart attack has rendered justice in this earthly life a moot point, doesn't mean all is forgiven. You may not want to dance on Lay's grave, but you might still be a little outraged at the efforts to put a shine on the tarnished image of a man whose name had become synonymous with corporate greed. And although Lay's death was in many ways tragic, most people prefer to save their sympathy for the 5,000 Enron employees whose jobs, savings and pensions were wiped out by the company's spectacular implosion.

Adding to the sense of justice denied, although there are conflicting reports as to the actual value of Ken Lay's worth, his death puts a kink in the government's ability to pursue the estate.
Lay's death allows his lawyers to ask the court to vacate his conviction for fraud and conspiracy in the scandal that left thousands jobless and wiped out billions from investors. That would thwart the government's bid to seize $43.5 million from Lay, but his assets could still be targeted in civil litigation from shareholders and others.
Nonetheless, Lay's supporters this week were trying to convince the public that he was a martyr, not a villain. Rev. William A. Lawson, pastor emeritus of Houston's Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church who will preside at Lay's funeral, offered this take on his friend's life.

"I plan to tell them this is not the first time somebody good has been falsely accused and even crucified,'' Lawson said today in an interview before leaving for Aspen.

Just like Martin Luther King and John F. Kennedy, my hope is that people will view Ken Lay in a much more positive light after his death. Even though people say he's a robber and a crook and that it's a good thing he's dead, we have the right to tell his family we've seen this (vilification) before, and history can be kind.''

Lay's supporters quickly point to his charitable contributions as evidence of his character.
For a decade, Lay underwrote much of the budget for the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter. He donated about $1 million to build the YMCA in Katy, a Houston suburb.....
Ah, but here's the rub.

"The generosity that he showed the city of Houston should never be forgotten,'' [Robert Prentice, a professor at the University of Texas] said. "Unfortunately, we now know that it was done largely with other people's money.''

Not everyone was so quick to embrace long lost friends. Among the Bush administration's many Orwellian attempts to re-write history, a recent press conference offered this revision of the President's relationship with Ken Lay.

Q: What has been the President’s reaction to the death of Ken Lay?
[White House spokesman TONY SNOW]: I really have not talked to him about it. I will give you my own personal reaction, which is that when somebody dies, you leave behind those that grieve, and I think that they deserve our compassion. But — I don’t know, what do you think would be the appropriate thing to say?
Q: I do not know. I don’t know him. The President was his friend, not me.
SNOW: No, the President has described Ken Lay as an acquaintance, and many of the President’s acquaintances have passed on during his time in office. Again, I think that it is sort of an interesting question but not answerable by me.

You know, just another casual acquaintance, like Jack Abramoff--oops! Never mind.

Ironically, anyone looking for a moral to this story might heed Lay's own words.

...following his conviction on fraud and conspiracy charges in May, the 64-year-old Lay offered a final bit of unofficial testimony that would have made his father [a Baptist lay preacher] proud.

"We believe God is in fact in control and indeed he does work all things for good for those who love the Lord," he said.
We'll just leave it at that.

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