This past tuesday, I was invited to take part in an a screening of the aforementioned movie, and man- it's gonna be HARD to do service to this movie, in just a few short paragraphs...
Hmn- where do I start? I'll start with what we all know: Enron's collapse was the largest in this country's history. Tens of thousands of employees left without a penny- their retirement plans and 401ks wiped out, without a trace, while a few select executives absconded with over a billion dollars worth of ill-gotten gains. Massive, gross mismanagement, insane accounting practices, and a future president Bush, simpering in his governor's mansion, begging CEO Ken Lay to stay in Texas, as he and his cronies had been such "good friends."
But, in a story as monumental as this, these well-known aspects are just the surface, beneath which are deeper and darker waters that contain lessons that we, as americans, should be aware of, for our own sake. We need to understand the culture of mass fiscal delusion and gross corprate hubris that led to this disaster. We need to understand the mindsets of the people that led this corporation, and the governmental and corporate oversights which allowed them to pull the greatest swindle in this country's history.
And that's what this film does, in a slick, factual, and meticulous style that, despite its two-hour length, manages to keep the viewer's attention, and interest, from beginning, to end.
The beginning of the movie grabs the viewer's attention with the most visceral bit of fallout from the Enron Collapse- the suicide of J. Clifford Baxter. Mr. Baxter's death has been eclipsed by the more juicy bits, concerning the downfall of Enron, but the viewer is left, in the beginning, with a sense of unease: "Yeah- this was a bad situation- but to KILL YOURSELF?" Ken lay, Shilling, and a few of the rest of the executives of Enron managed to keep their heads high, until they eventually did their perp walks- but what led this straight-laced corporate exec to put a bullet through his brain?
Again- deep waters. In the first half of the movie, we meet the movers and shakers behind Enron's meteoric rise, and this, would be enough for a movie, within itself: Skilling's downright insane accounting practices, and his radical makeover. Lou Pai's obsession with strippers, and his eventual marriage to the one who bore his child. The millions funnelled by the Enron Elite to "My Ass". We get in inside look into a corporate giant that just didn't feel one whit of responsiblity to the people who were funnelling hundreds of millions of dollars into their pockets.
And it goes deeper than that- not content with just swindling individuals, the high muckety-mucks of Enron decided that it was time to start swindling corporations and banks, too. Thus, they created LJM- a mind-bogglisng scheme the likes of which makes my mind reel- part ponzi scheme, part corporate hucksterism, part fly-by-your-pants ballsy business acumen, LJM was something that only a mind far greater (and far less scrupulous) than my own could have come up with (again- these are, after all, "the smartest guys in the room.")
And then, the movie shifts gears- A corporation is more than just the actions and deeds of the CEOs and executives, after all. Beneath this Enron elite, were an army of aggressive, ambitious energy traders, seeking their fortunes in a market that was literally at their beck and call...
As above, so below- in a corporate culture that was virtually free of any regulation, or oversight, these energy traders sought to make their fortunes, by deliberately imposing energy shortages, just to line their own pockets. Are you a young buck, sitting at the california nexus at the energy trading floor, at Enron HQ? Make a few strategically-chosen phone calls to a few power plants- and BOFFO! Half of California is stricken with rolling power outages, and the bucks roll in. Keep up the pressure- gouge the consumers- gouge the state- gouge the damned GOVERNMENT, and you know? It's just gonna earn you a gold star from the only legitimate authority that you care about (your bosses, who are reaping even LARGER revenues, from your shenannigans.)
Geez- I could go on and on- but this movie covers more ground than a simple mind like mine can cover, in this space, so I'll just say:
If you have the time, and inclination, and this movie is showing in your area- GO AND SEE IT.
The overarching theme of this movie is neither right, nor left, republican, nor democrat. It's an examination of unbridled corporate power, and what damage it can wreak, freed from regulation.
Personally, it made me re-evaluate my own moral compass. Corporate deregulation is constantly heralded and pushed by the republican right, which always claims the moral authority of the Christian right- and there's the rub...
Christianity teaches us that man, at his/her most basic level, is sinful, and will always be working against his own best spiritual interest. Enron was an example of republican corporate policy at its purest form- and ya know what these guys did? They took every advantage that was placed in front of them, and grabbed for ten times as much. In the Republican's endless drive for corporate deregulation, they paved the way for a case example of the most base, and rapaciacious example of human behaviour- and we can all see the result.
Are we to assume that this was just an aberation, by a few sinful people, or are we to come to the conclusion that unlimited power, placed in the hands of people who stand to benefit from the abuse of said power, is an inherently bad thing?
It's common sense- see the movie, and you'll get the idea...