Friday, July 07, 2006

The Rise and Fall of The Enron Empire

by Len Hart, The Existentialist Cowboy

The recent death of Ken Lay revived memories of a corporate scandal that seemingly triggered the fall of lined up dominoes. I had hopes that the truth about corporate America would trigger some real reforms, a sea change in American attitudes about how business is conducted, and, at least, some introspection about the shallowness of American culture.

I was dissappointed. Greed still motivates corporate robbers barons. Corporations are still considered to be "persons" in the eyes of the law. At the time, I asked: what happened to Enron? Occupying its own gleaming glass and steel skyscraper in downtown Houston, Enron seemed invincible, epitomizing what it meant to be an American corporation. That turned out to have been its downfall.

As much of the world suspected at the time, the American corporation was revealed to be a shell. Enron, for example, produced nothing. It bought and sold natural gas and manipulated spot market prices. It's huge purchasing power literally put the screws to California; the result was a long hot summer of rolling black outs and power shortages. Enron executives and traders were tape recorded cackling and hooting over California's problems --problems that bore the Enron trademark.

What then was the source of Enron wealth? Aside from the profits made manipulating markets, Enron was the recipient of some $10 billion from Saudi royals who still have questionable ties to both Bush and world wide terrorist organizations. That the money was morally tainted didn't stop Kenneth Lay and the robber barons of Enron. Enron was, in fact, in business with "bankers to the terrorists". Only the incurable incurious would not want to know more about the Enron connection to known 'terrorist' organizations --especially those having ties to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the 'American' oil industry.

Since the Reagan "revolution" and the rise of dubious economic theories like "supply-side" economics, the actual manufacture of anything of value seems to have fallen to Chinese corporations. The effect has been a cancer on the American economy, beginning with Reagan and having resumed with George W. Bush.

American companies are encouraged by all too friendly, conservative regimes to engage in questionable business practices. The political climate in which these huge businesses operate is much more than merely pro-business, it seems to be anti-everything else. There are large margins for error when tax breaks favor you, and your company can write-off a panoply of follies, inefficiencies, and borderline behaviors. Enron literally created new subsidiaries out of thin air and put a "book" value on them that had more to do with delusion, megalomania, and psychosis than it did with economics or accounting.

That's old news. I am more inclined to confine my focus to the effects this "pro-business" climate has had on the American "character". For example: do we still have character?

Before the rise of Bush, America, despite her many shortcomings, was still admired around the world. Now, we are reviled; and if the various religious and secular guests on a recent installment of Bill Moyer's Faith and Reason are accurate, the world wide revulsion to American culture has reached epidemic levels.

One does not have to be an Islamic radical to find America crass, obsessed with bigness for the sake of bigness, and arrogant for the sake of feeling "cool". Nevermind that there is no hard evidence to support Bush's official conspiracy theory of 911; I have concluded that to the degree that there is a real terrorist threat, it is nothing more nor less than blow-back, a fatal resistance to the arrogant bully on the block.

Now George W. Bush has made of America, the "state" version of Enron. The fact that this nation is financially as well as morally bankrupt is papered over with lies that must surely be compared to Enron's phony books. Many Enron employees, for example, were encouraged to take part of their salary in company stock i.e. you let me cut your salary and I'll make up the difference with worthless pieces of paper —Enron stock. On the national level, Bush tried to sucker retirees out of their Social Security with an equally dubious plan.

Of course a good "con game" requires a willing and greedy sucker. Enron was seen to be a place where employees were seduced into believing that after ten years they could retire rich in Sugarland —Tom Delay's ultra-conservative district. The three words that summed up the Reagan years also describe Enron and the administration of George W. Bush. Those words are: Greed is good!

Because greed is good, all orgnizations, especially American corporations, will inevitably trend toward inefficiency and mediocrity. An American middle manager, for example, is not likely to hire anyone smarter than he/she; secondly, he/she will look for someone that is "like" him/herself. Should the surprisingly competent get hired, he/she will probably leave for a better job where the cycle will repeat itself. Meanwhile, mediocrity, like sour cream, will rise to the top. The truly bright and talented don't go to work for corporations and, if so, it's only until they find something better. The "company man" is not likely to change the world, is not likely to leave a footprint on history. Corporations are not looking to hire philosophers, honest politicians, revolutionaries, poets, or dramatists.

Power for its own sake has become the corporate raison d'etre, just as it similarly motivates Bush and Bushie. Corporate power is based upon an absurdity —that corporations are individuals and have all the "rights" of individuals. Moreover, corporations, if they are to be considered "people", must certainly be seen to be psychopaths. For this reason, the Bush administration, as a collective, as a corporatized government, should be locked up and straight-jacketed.

It was the Reagan administration that began the corruption of American values despite sticking on the word "family". In retrospect, the Reagan administration can be thought of as proto-Bush. Adding their own absurdities to the the moral rot, the Bush regime threatens to bring down this country like Enron, like the Twin Towers, like a collapsing bag. To greed is good has been added Thom Friedman's what does being right have to do with anything?

Thus Friedman has made his lasting contribution to American culture. In the future, when one wants to describe a society in which nothing of value is valued, where only lies are celebrated, they will quote Friedman. Indeed, if being right has nothing to do with anything, what difference did it make that Enron's subsidiaries were almost all entirely fictitious? Friedman may consider himself 'lucky' for claiming that dubious phrase; it might have been puked up by an Enron executive some six years ago.

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