The Enron Debacle:
What Happened to the Clinton Years When Politicians Got Screwed Instead of Screwing All of Us?
By Carter O'Brien
You know that things have taken a turn for the surreal when you find yourself voluntarily watching C-Span.
That's right, it wasn't one of those "aw-hell-the-remote-is-lost-or-broken-and-I-don't want-to-move-my-fat-butt-off-the-couch" moments, but an actual decision on my part to watch about 30 minutes of testimony by one Jeffrey Skilling, former CEO of Enron, and the subsequent cross-examination by the Congressional inquisitioners. (Local yokels might be intrigued to know that Skilling is the brother of Chicago meteorologist Tom Skilling.)
Weasels everywhere should be studying this guy. Most of the Enron staff who fall in the legally accepted category of "higher muckety-mucks" all pleaded the 5th and refused to testify. Not Jeff Skilling, oh no. He was apparently sure he could smooth-talk his way out of everything.
Watching him weave in and out of the land of logic like a drunk driver was aggravating. He would talk around a question, change the subject in mid-sentence to go off on a totally different tangent, answer a question with a question, and do it the whole time with a giant shit-eating smirk that suggested he had better things to do. Someone else's laundry in the Big House is what he oughta be doing, but the sickest thing was that he appeared to truly believe he was going to walk out not only scot-free but vindicated.
The reaction he got from the Congressional representatives holding the hearings suggested otherwise. Illinois' own Peter Fitzgerald suggested that Skilling was less honorable than a carny shell-game operator. Ouch. Others compared him to a bank robber, a getaway driver, and a captain who abandons a sinking ship.
This whole debacle is showcasing a disturbing aspect of America's culture: namely that people with money, power, and privilege are so accustomed to being above the law that they blatantly disregard it, then when they are caught red-handed, they act like it's no big deal. Unfortunately, based on the results of the S & L scandal (which cost average taxpaying joes like you and me BILLIONS), they're right. As I write this, Skilling is testifying again, and legal experts are asking, "What is this guy thinking?"
If you or I stole someone's purse, we'd be locked up. Somehow the corporate raiders who steal thousands of purses don't seem to provoke the same kind of outrage. Maybe it's just too much for people to comprehend when figures in the hundreds of millions or billions are what's at stake.
Make no mistake thoughthe Enron scandal at its core is not about
anything but CRIME. Any politician who suggests otherwise is not on
the side of righteousness. This is not a case of regulation, of investing
or accounting standards. This is a case of big people stealing money
from little people. The only ray of hope in this cloud is that since
most of us have 401Ks or similar plans, the Enron scandal is actually
striking a nerve in many people.
Remember, the Enron collapse didn't just bankrupt Enron employee 401Ksthis company had almost a $70 billion market value at its peak. As lawsuits are now proving, plenty of Enron stock was held by reputable institutions such as universities, and people all over the country watched their mutual funds decrease from the collapse. It probably surprised the heck out of fund managers that the 7th-largest company in America was nothing more than a front for money laundering to a handful of select executives.
This is why we should all care. As important as national security is these days, a country where people can't trust the stock market or by extension their retirement plans is a country that will implode into riots, runs on banks, and chaos (remember that ancient history called "the Great Depression"?).
To get back to a few choice nuggets in this dubious affair (I'm a geek for political intrigue and scandal, what can I say), there were the names of those "partnerships" in which Jeff Skilling and other Enron executives laundered themselves millions. Perhaps they might have considered that "Chewco", "JEDI," and "Raptor" sound more like children's toys than businesses that could mask a lame company's massive losses. I mean, "Chewco"? What, if anything, were these people thinking?
There was also the testimony of Linda Lay, wife of Ken Lay, former Grand Poobah of Enron. I wasn't sure whether to laugh or cry when I heard her insisting that her husband is a good and decent man. She tearfully explained how they were selling several estates in Colorado because they were having "liquidity" problems, which I imagine didn't evoke much sympathy from those ex-Enron employees who no longer can afford to eat, much less drink any of the tastier liquids.
One of the more inventive ways some of the ex-Enron employees have been trying to at least recoup a sliver of their losses is by selling Enron crap on eBay. These Enron "stress bulbs" sure must have come in handy, huh?
In addition, some creative folks got together to create http://www.laydoff.com, a support network for ex-Enron employees and a place where you can buy stick-it-to-the-man t-shirts like the ones shown here and at the top of this page. It is nice to see people still have a sense of humor.
As for the rest of us, chances are we'll be crying our way to the bank to bail the country out of this mess. Jeff Skilling stated in his second round of testimony that while he may have made about $66 million in Enron stock before it sank, he expects to be tied up in lawsuits for the next five to 10 years.
Personally, I can think of a better way for him to spend the next five to 10 years. I hear a lot of commentators talking about how throwing these guys in jail isn't going to solve the root problems, but I notice no one uses this logic to defend the tens if not hundreds of thousands of people rotting away for non-violent drug offenses.
Who would YOU rather have free on the street? The guy picking 40,000 pockets using poltical favors, technology, and Wall Street cunning, or that 18-year-old kid who likes to smoke marijuana?
Think about it.
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Copyrightę2002 by Carter O'Brien.
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