Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room
What a coincidence. This week “Kenny Boy” Lay and Jeffrey Skilling went on trial in Houston, and Lee and I watched this video, which at least gives me some idea of what the hell they were doing. That they were and are scum, that they cheated, lied, bribed, stole, and fucked old ladies and poor children is a given in my mind; what I wasn’t too sure of was how they did it. This movie will give you chapter and verse.
I don’t usually watch horror movies, but I had to make an exception for this one. And as usual, the scariest horror movies are the ones that don’t feature monsters with weeping sores on their pustulent faces, or wear hockey masks, or stomp the crap out of Tokyo. No, for my money, Hannibal Lector and Norman Bates are the scary SOBs, because they have two arms and two legs like the rest of us, faces that seem human-like, and can speak well. The monsters at Enron even dressed well. But there is nothing human inside of them. This movie is a bit like one of those old ’50s flicks, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, maybe, except these guys weren’t replaced by pod people, they never had a human soul in the first place.
The key to the whole Ponzi scheme was deregulation of utilities, apparently. Once the Senior Bush took off the controls, the candy store was wide open for these looters. It took about fifteen years for the whole thing to unravel, as these things inevitably do, and before it came apart uncounted numbers of employees and stockholders had been impoverished at the same time the corporate buccaneers were unloading their own stock, which they knew to be worthless, making hundreds of millions of dollars off the backs of the workers and investors. So far as I know, they still have most of that money. Jeff Skilling has paid his lawyers a $26,000,000 retainer, and if they need more, he’s got plenty. This is the guy who practically sobbed in his sincerity before Congressional committees, swearing he had no idea what was going on as he was quietly gutting pension and retirement funds and stuffing his off-shore bank account.
And it keeps getting worse. Lee and I didn’t live in California when the Enron boys looted the entire state in the phony power crisis that got Gray Davis booted from the governor’s office and replaced him with a grinning, jut-jawed mannequin, but we and everyone else in the new Cahleefornia are still paying for it. There never was a power crisis in California. There was plenty of power, there is absolutely no question about that, but for the sole purpose of inflating their worthless stock Enron power traders deliberately shut down power plants and jacked up the price of the available power a thousand times. You think I’m kidding? See this movie. People died from this scam, my friends and neighbors. In a sane society Lay, Skilling, and several hundred others would be standing trial for first degree murder, and I couldn’t be more serious. You could stand George W Bush beside them in the dock, too, for my money.
So how is the trial going to come out? What will happen to these walking toxic waste dumps? Don’t bet against them. We’re all entitled to justice in this country, and rich men are entitled to more than the rest of us, plus bail, so Lay and Skilling are golfing around, free men. And $26 million buys a lot of justice. (Ask OJ Simpson, while he’s teeing up.) Martha Stewart went to jail for diddling a few grand. These guys stole more money than that while brushing their teeth every morning, and they did it by taking it directly from the pockets of people who couldn’t afford to lose it. They were obscenely rich, they are still filthy rich, and they will be fabulously rich even after they serve a year or two in jail and pay their mouthpieces. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they got off scot-free.
In conclusion, if you still think de-regulation and the drastic cutback of government controls and oversight is a good idea, I’m going to give you the Jeff Skilling, Ken Lay, Enron treatment. Just turn around, drop your pants, and bend over. This won’t take long, and I’ll even convince you it’s good for you …