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.



11 comments:

Fuzzflash said...

You're on a roll here, squire. Enron is a perfect example of The Ugly(Corporate) American. The ghost of Gordon Gekko haunts all who served Enron or supped at their gushed up trough. Gekko’s vile scent lingers on, permeating what remains of American bussiness integrity at the big end of town. National character building is on hold. Salvage seems a Titanic task. In exactly four months we’ll know whether Jeffersonian Democracy makes it out of ER or suffers a similar fate to Teri Schiavo circa 1990 onwards.

Bill Moyers definitely has "The Gift" as a communicator. La Cause would be much diminished without his heartfelt and brilliant contributions.
" In retrospect, the Reagan administration can be thought of as proto-Bush." Nifty neanderthal connotation. How one yearns for the glorious day in 2007 when we’re living in a time that is post-Bush. Six years of this insanity is almost too much to bear.

“Like a bird without a nest,
Like a stranger in the night,
And my soul cries out for rest,
And the end is not in sight….”

Russel Smith of The Amazing Rhythm Aces, early seventies.

pat said...

Len, If I am not mistaken it was the employees that finalized the death of Enron. What a wrenching decision, speaking and presenting the truth knowing what absolute dismay you will unleash on thousands of people that were doing nothing but their 'job'. I believe American 'character' stops at the shop floor then there appears a chasm separating it from administration. What happens when you cross that line is apparently a feeling of entitlement or as it was called a couple hundred years ago royalty.

SadButTrue said...

Lest we forget, the Enron scandal dominated the news up until 9/11/01. Only a news story of the magnitude of a 'second Pearl Harbor' could have knocked Enron off the front page. Bush joked for weeks in front of friendly crowds about how he had 'hit the trifecta' with 9/11. A tragedy for thousands of American families was a triumph for BushCo™. He had the justification for the PATRIOT act, enabling a broad extension of presidential power, he could now renege on his promise to eschew deficit spending, and the corporate establishment could go on with business as usual. Dirty, stinking, crooked, reprehensible business as usual. "Nothing to see here folks, move along."
-Daniel Gerous-

Len Hart said...

Great comments, all. What a roundtable! Fuzzflash worte:

Enron is a perfect example of The Ugly(Corporate) American. The ghost of Gordon Gekko haunts all who served Enron or supped at their gushed up trough.

Wall Street was one of Hollywood's more pertinent parables even if the name "Gekko" was a bit obvious. Real Gekkos (sometimes spelled Gecko), however, make fairly good pets (I'm told) and they also eat roaches. As we have seen lately, the GOP eats it own.

The opportunities for metaphor and analogy are endless and every comic needs a foil. If it hadn't been for crooks and idiots, Voltaire and Mark Twain would not have had such brilliant careers. We owe a great debt to totalitarians, snobs, GOPPERS, corporate crooks, Bush's surrogate torturers and would-be dictators. Where would Stephen Colbert be without them? Alas, I would be scrambling for material.

Gekko’s vile scent lingers on, permeating what remains of American business integrity at the big end of town.

He was a finely drawn and loathesome character —an American icon. And we have Ronald Reagan to thank for putting a smily face on such a reptile.

National character building is on hold. Salvage seems a Titanic task. In exactly four months we’ll know whether Jeffersonian Democracy makes it out of ER or suffers a similar fate to Teri Schiavo circa 1990 onwards.

Jeffersonian Democracy has not been valiantly defended; if it makes it out of IC, it'll be because Bush's house of cards can't stand. Like Enron, it will fall of its own weight and fraud.

Bill Moyers definitely has "The Gift" as a communicator. La Cause would be much diminished without his heartfelt and brilliant contributions.

Yep! Ol' Bill has become an American institution of the best kind. Moyers, Murrow, and a short list of journalists, artists, film makers, and an even shorter list of politicians epitomizes what this country could be —given an even break. After all, the entire world has sent to these shores some of its brightest. A horrible injustice will have been done mankind if we fail to rise above the Bush pond scum.

...years of this insanity is almost too much to bear.

But rise above it we must. And thanks for the Rhythm Aces, my friend. Real poetry is where you find it. Excellent stuff.

Re: Pat,

Len, If I am not mistaken it was the employees that finalized the death of Enron.

Forgive if I, too, shortchanged them. They were the first ones to get screwed by Lay's gang, followed by the people of California, the stockholders, the public.

What happens when you cross that line is apparently a feeling of entitlement or as it was called a couple hundred years ago royalty.

I've often referred to the "GOP demographic" as a faux Aristocracy. I had never noticed until Reagan made it ok to be both affluent AND bigoted and self-obsessed.

SadButTrue said...

Lest we forget, the Enron scandal dominated the news up until 9/11/01. Only a news story of the magnitude of a 'second Pearl Harbor' could have knocked Enron off the front page.

And it was all a magician's trick followed up with a demonstration of mass hypnosis. I've stuck out my neck from time to time by declaring that the official conspiracy theory is full of holes and completely unsupported by a scintilla of hard evidence.

Bush joked for weeks in front of friendly crowds about how he had 'hit the trifecta' with 9/11.

And even if that remark was innocent, it's the height of bad taste of the GOP kind. So many things said "in jest" by GOPPERS are not really funny unless you're psychotic, in which case, it's a laugh riot.

Bush also claimed to have seen the first plane crash the north tower on live TV BEFORE he entered the classroom in Fla. That's impossible. A mere slip of the tongue? He said it twice to different audiences in words that suggested that he had rehearsed it. What a screw up! He should be grilled on that point under oath before a grand jury investigating the events of 911!

Where is justice?

He had the justification for the PATRIOT act, enabling a broad extension of presidential power, he could now renege on his promise to eschew deficit spending, and the corporate establishment could go on with business as usual.

Method, motive, and opportunity. And did we mention that the vast resources of the CIA and the Military/Industrial complex is all the "means" that any crooked junta would need to pull off a hoax the likes of which the world had never seen?

Dirty, stinking, crooked, reprehensible business as usual. "Nothing to see here folks, move along."
-Daniel Gerous-

BenMerc said...

Excellent post Len.
And it all goes back to the old Republican adage: "The business of this country is business"
Well, we can see where that has left us, there has got to be a better way.
Had been surfing about and noticed that most winger sites were stating how innocent Lay was, and what a scape goat he had been. As Lay himself, seemed to believe, going by the public statement he had made after his trial. No one seems to get it, or want to learn from this experience. They just believe it was all A-OK for Enron to operate as they had. And there lay the differences of ideology between Conservatives vs. Liberals; Conservatives seem to believe white collar crime is O.K., while Liberals believe justice should be served no matter your class status or modicum of criminality.

Len Hart said...

Had been surfing about and noticed that most winger sites were stating how innocent Lay was, and what a scape goat he had been. As Lay himself, seemed to believe, going by the public statement he had made after his trial.

Talk about "mauvaise foi". It all sounds hollow, doesn't it? The shills who write that crap for the right wing gullible know that its all lies —black hearted, cold blooded lies. But that doesn't matter to liars. They will deliberately spread it, knowing that it's not true but some will believe it.

The right wing is now defined by that one line by Thom Friedman: What does being right have to do with anything?

It's time to quote Bertolt Brecht again:

A man who does not know the truth is just an idiot but a man who knows the truth and calls it a lie is a crook!

The GOP is a crime syndicate.

BenMerc said...

"The GOP is a crime syndicate"

And that is the "better" half...

Len Hart said...

And it's hard to imagine what that lesser half manages to tell themselves.

And entire chapter of Sartre's "Being and Nothingness" is devoted to "Mauvaise Foi", most often translated as "Bad Faith". Other authors have interpreted it a bit differently: "Self Deception". Self Deception is pandemic among GOPPERS! That is not mere screed; it is a verifiable fact. We're dealing with an entire class whose raison d'etre is characterized by deliberate self-delusions or outright crookedness.

BenMerc said...

It goes to the core of the hypocrisy that engulfs their reality. On almost every issue concerning the ultra conservative ideology, some form of self deception individually or collectively seems to permeate their perception. Therefore logical, certainly rational debate evades most of their rhetoric. I have long gotten to the point I can not converse with any of these true believers, even people I have known for some time…other then the “weather” ect.. Even for the non-religious of this ilk, the root of their debate is faith-based in nature. It is no wonder there is so much deception in their world.

Anonymous said...

Although I agree about the gross similarities between the Enron corporate entity and the Bush/Cheney/NeoCon regime, it has seemed to me that the Enron juggernaut had no intent to survive into the future -- it was just milking the status quo for all it could get, knowing that the future contained collapse.

What I see as different in New-Pearl-Harbor America, is that there is an actual plan to go forward into the future -- but the structure of that plan is akin to a Roman or Alexander-style Empire.

Jobs are being un-created with the specific intent of making the military the only refuge for food and shelter for one's self and presumably one's family. And since that's obviously only a choice for the able-bodied, if you don't fit into that plan, prepare for death -- they don't much value human life -- ours or others'.

This analysis doesn't just rest on an examination of the job-loss situation -- it also comes out of noticing a lack of concern about balance-of-trade issues. The balance problem is automatically solved when the military Empire reaches omnipotence. The Empire just takes what it wants.

Len Hart said...

Indeed! Enron was run by a gang that most certainly thought that, being the "captains" of that "industry", they could pull out and dissapear. I suppose every crook thinks that they will get away with it.

The US is, likewise, a financial shell. When GM, at last, is swallowed up by a foreign auto maker, what incentive will the new entity have to employ American workers when they can do just as well in Japan or Malaysia or China?

We have become a nation of consumers lent money by China so that we can buy goods manufactured in China. We are cattle, a cow to be milked until dry. Then we will be abandoned to third world status. In the meantime, Bushies will have run off with the last of US wealth.

The house of cards will fall. But, like Lay, Bush and his gang are most surely clinging to the belief that, unlike Lay, they will get away with it.

Iraq was a big screw up. The invasion of theft of Iraqi oil was supposed to bail them out. Things have not quite worked out as planned.

Just as Hitler thought he had learned from Napoleon's mistakes, Bush most certainly thinks he has learned from Hitler's.