Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The smartest guys in the room

I watched an incredible documentary last night on HDNET, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. It's based on the book by Bethany McLean and chronicles the rise and fall of the infamous energy and weather trading company.

Unless you've been living under a rock on Mars for the past 10 years, you're already familiar with the gist of the story. But it was great to see this movie again with a couple of years' distance since the spectacular implosion.

A few random thoughts from the movie.
  • Former CEO Jeffrey Skilling was a complete bastard.
    Toward the end of the film the characters are describing how haggard and used up he looked (kind of like a guy with no soul?) toward the end just before he retired. It's almost enough to make you feel sorry for him. Then you remember the entire previous 45 minutes of douchebaggery and the empathy passes like a case of gas. In the photo, Skilling is seen telling a lie. How can you tell? His mouth is open.

  • Ken Lay was a complete bastard. He was still alive when the movie was released (and maybe he still is???), but his excuse that he "didn't know what was going on" is utterly ridiculous (since all the shenanigans required Lay's approval as well as the approval of countless others) and the documentary pointed this out.

  • There was an amazing amount of complicity throughout the financial community. We bitch about Skilling, Lay and Pai getting off with a handslap, but virtually every major bank, analyst and financial institution had its fingers in the cookie jar as well.

  • Of all the bastard characters, only Andrew Fastow came off as the least bit sympathetic. Fastow, the architect of the "off-balance sheet" accounts, got busted and actually admitted wrong-doing, was fined millions of dinero and is now doing time in federal pound-me-in-the-ass prison.

  • Big balls to Sherron Watkins, the whistle blower who virtually called Skilling a dirty liar to his face during federal hearings.
The film is highly entertaining, but it has a tendency to "angry up the blood" as Grandpa Simpson would say. Some would be tempted to point to this as an example of how evil all corporations are. But that would be missing the point.

Anytime the pursuit of money is placed as the only (not just the most important) priority, there is a risk of this kind of hyper-corruption. It could be a corporation, a communist politburo or a hipity-hop rap crew.

It's all a matter of priorities.

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  1. emaw - I was watching the same hdnet broadcast. I had rented the DVD before, but didn't mind refreshing my memory.

    What about the almost incestously close ties between Enron and ALL of the Bush administrations (Sr & Jr)?

    Anything about that bother you?

    It seriously bothered me.

  2. Yeah, I guess it bothers me a little. But don't make it sound like it's just a Bush or Republican thing. Enron bought tons of influence in the 8-year Clinton administration, too.

    According to TIME Magazine, "Long before Cheney's task force met with Enron officials and included their ideas in Bush's energy plan, Clinton's energy team was doing much the same thing. Drafting a 1995 plan to help facilitate cash flow and credit for energy producers, it asked for Enron's input—and listened."

    But, that kind of cooperation has been around since before the US was founded.

    What realy irritates me is the sheer number of banks, financial insitituions, analysts and lawyers who were complicit in the shenanigans. There were litteraly hundreds of people, maybe thousands, who knew better but did nothing and in fact helped out.

  3. Of course I have extensive plans for dealing with all of the excesses of big bidness, but they could never be implemented, because big business runs everything. And here we are: powerless. Makes you feel

    Glad All Over
    Yeah baby, I'm a
    Glad All Over
    Yes I'm
    Glad All Over
    So Glad You're My yi yine


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