Monday, May 09, 2005

See Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room


Junious Ricardo Stanton

Go See Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room

Usually I rail against the mainstream media with its content promoting and reaffirming global white supremacy or its’ denigrating stereotypes of African people; but I went to see Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room an independent film based upon the book of the same name written by Fortune magazine journalists Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind. The film is now showing in select theaters, mainly the "artsy" type venues. When I went Saturday, there was only a handful of people in the auditorium of the multiplex where it was being shown. However once the movie started you could have heard a pin drop in the place, folks were that transfixed to the screen. A documentary examines a subject from what is called the Point of View (POV) of the film maker or director. In this case according to an interview with Bethany McLean who co-authored the book the film was based upon, the film was pretty faithful to their book only more political. I’m not surprised the theater wasn’t packed, AmeriKKKans usually go to the movies for escape and fantasy, not to be informed or educated about what is going on in the world. Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room looks at the rise and fall of Enron which at one time was the seventh largest company in AmeriKKKa. Enron went belly up in 2001 awash in 30 million in debt, costing 20, 000 people their jobs amidst revelations the top executives sold their shares of stock in the company for millions but did not allow employees to do the same. Consequently their employees and stock holders took major losses after the world discovered Enron was a total sham, its’ stock plummeted and the company was forced to file for bankruptcy. But Enron wasn’t just any company. It was not merely one of the many companies that filed for bankruptcy that year; it was a company that had been touted as an innovator in the energy industry, a company whose top executives were said to be brilliant risk takers and producers. Enron was almost the mythical success story, it’s president Ken Lay had a rags to riches history. He had made intimate connections with the Bush family, he was an influential player in the administration of George W Bush and held sway on both sides of the Congressional aisle.

The film begins with a re-enactment of the suicide of Enron big wig Cliff Baxter which coincided with the media attention Enron was getting as their stock prices went into free fall, the truth about their book keeping shenanigans and massive fraud started to make the headlines. From there the film tracks the rise and fall of the company’s principals especially President Ken (Kenny Boy) Lay, CEO Jeff Skilling and Andrew Fastow who would later become the media fall guy once the house of cards, smoke and mirror con game unraveled and came tumbling down. The film documents how Ken Lay the son of a not too well off Baptist preacher envisioned a deregulated oil industry and moved to capitalize on the deregulation frenzy of the Reagan era. These deregulation policies were the precursors to and helped facilitate the fascist monopoly capitalism we are now experiencing. Lay and his cronies became the toast of Wall Street as Enron employed shall we say, "creative book keeping" claiming profits from programs and plans still on the drawing board. Interestingly their accountants and the SEC signed off on this procedure. (No one has yet investigated how that happened!?) Several of their plans would later go bust, never turning a dime in profit; although Lay and his accountant (the firm of Arthur Anderson) claimed they did. Wall Street as the film points out (but never explains why) essentially colluded with the Enron executives, continuously capitalizing their fraudulent schemes, never doing the due diligence required to protect their own stock holders and investors. Once Enron was able to bamboozle Wall Street ( some suspect the bankers used Enron as a conduit and front for massive international money laundering and white collar fraud but this is not mentioned in the film) the analysts who should have asked the tough questions didn’t and the one analyst who did balk at promoting Enron stock got fired from his job at Merrill Lynch. Are we to believe all of the top investment banks on Wall Street and all the media except for McLean and Elkind fell for Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling’s okey doke? This is a key question line of questioning the film fails to pursue. Director Alex Gibney uses CNN footage of the Senate hearings following Enron’s collapse, videos of Enron employee and stock holder meetings, assorted sound bites from McLean, Elkind and others including former California governor Gray Davis and material on Lay and Co to paint his picture of Enron and the culture that produced it.

The film shows how as Enron grew it became all bluff and how its’ major projects all went belly up. It also points out despite these facts, the media and bankers trumpeted the company like it was the best thing since sliced bread. Subsequently just as Enron was in deep do-do financially, Lay diversified and began brokering electricity by purchasing an energy company in Portland. Enron single-handedly ripped West cost consumers off for millions of dollars and the federal government did nothing to assist the beleaguered public. (Shows whose side the politicians are really on!) In reality Enron caused the power shortages in California. By playing taped telephone conversations of the Enron traders interspersed with sound bites from former California politicians, policy makers and energy officials the film makers provide a fuller picture of what really caused the brown outs and power shortages in California. In many ways Enron’s greed and fraud paved the way for Arnold Schwarzenegger to become governor of California. But what goes up must come down and eventually Enron came crashing down following Skilling’s departure from the company. Once Skilling left, things unraveled quickly and several executives saw what was going on and blew the whistle on the fraud and corruption. The rest as they say is history; although many pivotal questions remain unanswered. Lay and Skilling go to trial in January of 2006. Andrew Fastow has been convicted and is co-operating with the government. There are lessons to be learned from the Enron debacle, the movie Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room is merely Gibney’s take on the scandal. Do yourself a favor, get a good look at corporate greed and hubris, go see the movie.



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