[written February 8, 2002]
Hoo boy! It's a good thing Enron blew up in everyone's faces! Because, boy, that whole terrorism thing over them thar hills was gittin' a lil' boring! Open season on big corporations!
Ever since the Enron story broke, everyone's been piling on top of Enron and its hired accounting firms in an effort to be the person to villify it most harshly and proudly.
Well, that's not what I'm going to do! It was bad enough this week seeing politicians from Capital Hill wail on the Anderson executives. But we also had to endure such a whole good vs. evil slant spun by the public and by the media as well, obviously inspired by Dubya's infamous "axis of evil" bunk.
Let's do a little character check on all the associated parties, shall we? Let's start with the obvious ones.
The Energy and Commerce Committee Etc. Etc.
This committee took it upon itself to let loose on the people giving testimony, full of sarcasm, bitterness, anger, and arrogance. They took turns accusing people of this and that, completely flabberghasted when the victims of their tirades couldn't or wouldn't recall minute details about things that happened ages ago.
The committee I think was trying to look good in front of the angry US public, but I hope it failed. These were cheap shots. Shooting fish in a barrel. At least some news channels had the good sense to put in the bylines underneath each politician how much money he'd been given by Enron. Not that I buy into that whole "OMG HE TOOK $1 FROM THEM HE'S SOLD OUT TO THE MAN" bullshit, but the self-righteousness of those asshole politicians grilling the people giving testimony made me sick. Think all those congressmen running for office are funded solely by Mrs. Gail T. Schmoe, 97-year-old patriotic voter?
I haven't looked into it at all, but how reliable are these experts on commerce and energy anyway? Seems to me like they would have been cozy with the seventh biggest company in the country at some point. Especially since it was an energy trading company.
The Golden Parachuters at Enron
Let's assume they DIDN'T know all the spurious details slammed into their heads by the investigative energy commission. So instead of their being implicit in looking the other way to massive accounting games committed by thieves like Anderson, they really DON'T know what the hell is happening at their company! Wow, thanks for clearing that up, guys! You're not guilty! Just stupid! Watch dumbfounded as your employees set up boiler rooms, spend money like it was nothing, and trash the entire company almost overnight! Boohoo, I think I'll go cry in my sold stock positions now! It's a good thing I have expensive financial advisors to secure my personal finances just in case something like this happens so unexpectedly!
Oops, one of our brethren just shot himself in the head! Okay, don't look over here! There's nothing to see! We don't know anything! *whisper* Claire, please call the cleaners and see if we can get rid of this rush of good conscience the guy must've gotten just before he shot himself... "But sir, it's not good conscience, it's utter fear. And the cleaner said it won't come off the seats, short of using acid or engulfing it in fire..."
They're gonna get off and they know it. In whose best interest is it to introduce sweeping accounting reforms? Anyone who's followed the stock market the last few years with any degree of professionalism knows that accountants have been fiddling with earnings reports for many quarters. "Pro forma" this, "before expenses" that. Sluff off all this inventory, write all this debt off. Buy a few companies, hide massive loads of debt in the numbers. Print more stock certificates if need be.
All the accounting firms cheat, and it's not like a big blue chip has many options for other firms to use for their reports. It's one big happy family.
Look, if you've ever known an accountant, you know he never pays his own taxes. You think he's gonna let the government take his company's or clients' money away? Shit, imagine if all those corporate tax loopholes existed for you and me? We'd never pay either!
And if you've ever known an accountant before he became one, you'd know he was some unscrupulous business student learning the ABC's of embezzlement, phantom numbers, and (lack of) business ethics. Or actually that's probably not entirely accurate because he was probably at a massive frat party drinking liquor that's dripping off some freshman whore's silicone breast the night before, and then he woke up in the morning and realized he had to refill his supply of buds from the local herbologist, barely finishing the job before rushing off for that corporate law midterm.
What will happen is Anderson will get bullied up a bit, along with anyone else mildly associated with Enron, but in the end, they will all make out just fine. I mean, why would accountants want to report less earnings for their clients? They barely ever get caught, and they make more if they make things look better. Heck, even their bosses gloss over minute details like multi-million dollar write-offs!
I'm sure accountants get some god complex where they don't think anyone can touch them. Sure, you get those whining stock market bears who look at the 10-Q's and say the numbers don't add up, but...
...but the SEC is too busy chasing Johnny McIjustGotPubesAtAge15 in his parents' basement because he hyped up a penny stock he owned on RagingBull, causing him to make a ghastly, enormous sum of $10,000.
If you look at the pure economics of a multi-billion dollar company committing massive accounting fraud that eventually collapses, crushing the 401k's of thousands of innocent employees, to Little Johnny's $10,000, I think it's obvious where the SEC's manpower should go. That's right, Little Johnny, here's your key to the greybar motel!!
Or the SEC could be chasing daytraders off with cattle prods, introducing all sorts of completely ridiculous rules like the infamous margin rule that punishes "pattern daytraders" by disallowing margin if a certain number of trades are made unless you have a small fortune in your trading account. Okay Mr. SEC Man, you go get those criminal daytraders!! Buying and selling within minutes! EVIL! EVILLLL!
Meanwhile, Harvey Pitt, who is the SEC chief and elected by Prez Bush, just HAPPENS to be a former lobbyist for Enron or some energy interest or whatever. Gosh, the story just keeps getting better!
Dubya and Friends
Heyell no, lil' dogie, we had nothin' to do with this lil' cow turd, pardner! Sure, we was best friends with Kennie-boy, and ol' Dick over here had private meetings with Enron exec-yoo-tivvs, but we ain't done nothin'!
Wasn't Enron Bush's biggest campaign contributor? Isn't Bush's family a big oil family? Come on, Prez Bush.
For what it is worth, I don't necessarily think the White House is involved. I think it's unlikely they would've known that Enron was cheating on its earnings reports. I mean, if you owned a company, would you tell a politician you were doing that? Politicians all live for the opportunity to single-handedly blow open scandals they had no part in.
But this just confirms all the worst fears of the Democrats. Big Business and Big Government being intertwined. Their interests backing each others'. A little oligarchy where everyone inside the circle wins. In a country where Microsoft fights the government and wins, where tobacco and oil laugh in the face of legislation and class action lawsuits, the Republicans still sit there and claim they're being villified by the left-wing media. They claim they're a bunch of successful people who take initiative and that's why they're not poor, complaining hippies like the Dems.
Yeah, God forbid the liberals fight for protection of the individual when he's constantly getting fucked in the ass by businesses, government, and rich people in general who own his soul.
Yes, my friends, your holier than thou politicians were in on the scam too! They're rich people in sheep's clothing! They want to make a buck too! So they gotta suck up to The Man just like the Republicans do!
You Dem politicians aren't one of us. You're supposed to be FOR us. (cue Gladiator music)
The same organizations that just fawned all over Enron while fellating them just months ago are now laughing at the stupidity of this dotcom-like energy trader that couldn't make a buck if it took a break from its orgiastic afterhours employee fuckfests for a moment.
I loved all those "hot stock tips" and full cover Red Herring stories about how Enron could be the second coming of Christ. Fuck if CNBC wasn't marvelling at ENE's stock price rise. But oh wait, the wind changed direction...
Now the journalists and anchors are going full-bore on Enron, calling them evil rich aristocrats who fucked over their innocent employees, people who had no disregard for human life, etc. etc. etc. Oh the scandal, oh the intrigue! Wait, we ONLY have 5 news trucks down in Houston? Scramble 3 more!
The fucking media, always claiming to be on the side of the regular joe. Its silly "Consumer Reports meets Jerry Springer" exposés, its "how could this happen?" phrases of astonishment that match the tone of the afore-mentioned asshole investigative committee. Mindless speculation, endless talk about shit they have no clue about, and so on. The premise of just reporting the news is foreign to these guys. They really have no clue that all they're doing is hyping the past, with no insight at all into the future. Hype Enron while it's going up. Bash it while it's going down. Brave call, guys. You are class acts.
Willingly getting themselves gussied up in makeup for their sad-sack interviews on various news programs, ex-Enron employees make sure to tell everyone how much money they lost because of the evil higher-ups.
Oh wahhh, the CEO didn't tell us business was doing badly. Well DUH, he never does! It's the CEO's job to lie through his teeth if things are bad, and trumpet how great it all is when things are going well. He has no talent for market timing (yet CEOs are often quoted as saying the market is bottoming, picking up, etc.) and he has absolutely no genuine truth inside him whatsoever. Talks and talks, deals and deals.
Let's be honest here. Okay, so the execs managed to make Rome collapse in fire while they fiddled the night away. But what were these dumbfucks doing with almost entirely Enron stock-filled portfolios? They lose all their money because it's all in Enron. Their 401k's and everything. Sure, Enron encouraged investment with matching and whatnot, and then made sure no one could sell. But this is regular fare. A lot of companies screw their employees in this manner. But anyone who cared about his money at all would make sure his money was planned for or taken care of. I'm sorry that some people lost all their money, but geez, take some responsibility.
In this country, you squander away money on stupid things, and you WILL end up broke. Money is cutthroat. ALWAYS. And Mr. CEO will always have advantages over you when it comes to money preservation.
There needs to be a more serious attempt to protect peoples' assets. I'm not talking about government intervention, but instead education. It's absurd that so many people can be so ignorant when it comes to handling money. The fact that people can work their whole lives and suddenly lose all their savings makes me sad. Even if it was because of their own ignorance and not just bad luck. Even as useful as diversification is, it is often presented in a way that encourages putting most allocation into growth and not enough into securing what you've already actually earned. It's like the Surgeon General's warning on a box of smokes: may cause lung cancer. You think that stops anybody? No, but at least Mr. Philip Morris fulfilled his responsibility by allowing the message to be put on there...right?
So everyone's a bunch of assholes in this mess. But like I said, this has been happening for years. Probably longer than that even. The entire dotcom boom was built on misstated earnings, freewheeling spending, options that only vested years out, massive debt, phantom deals, and ignorant hope. Where was the media's wrath when dotcommers were getting locked out of their offices during lunchtime as a polite way of saying "you're fired"?
Those kinds of people I do feel sorry for because they're people like me. Eager and handy with computers. Wishing to make names for ourselves by becoming successful entrepreneurs like Gates, Bezos, and Dell. Feeling like we could've made a difference for once with our minds and the code typed by our fingers. Having fun while making things better, and making a shitload of money for it. Even if it required working long days to get the job done. Hey, people of my generation were young and willing.
Then the execs figure out that they can't retain a business with such a burn ratio and they take drastic measures which involve fucking the employee. The employee loses a lot of money he never had in the first place with his stock options, and gains skepticism and bitterness in exchange.
I wonder what it will be like for my generation in the future in the aftermath of the stock market bubble. If people are anything like me, they'll be jaded about business and skeptical of anything but the most efficient, cutthroat business practices. I suppose that's a good thing.
I think out of the destruction caused by the dotcom bust will be a generation of people who made their big mistake early and who will capitalize in the future using sound practices. They will want to do it this time, and then maintain it. Better business bred through test and failure. The scientific method. Evolution. Entrepreneurialism. These people are the people who will eventually bring us out of a long recession.
But is it too hard to believe that Enron hired Anderson and whoever to do the auditing, and somewhere some dumbfucks decided to tally up their balance sheet this way, and when someone voiced a concern, they were told just to let it slide because it would be okay? Or because it was too late by then and shit would blow up if anyone let it get out? I'm a big believer that these massive bureaucracies that exist all over the world now are victims of stupidity more often than perniciousness. That is, bureaucracies fail when it comes to anticipating problems, and seek to remedy discovered problems by sweeping them under the rug. They're too stupid as a whole to be truly evil.
To me, Enron is just another dotcom, and just another example of how the economy and stock market are years away from bottoming. This is textbook excess, too much money being in the hands of people too stupid to have it. There's no reason Enron got as big as it did, had as many political forces in its pocket as it did, had as large a market cap as it did, and took as many people under as it did. The dotcoms are still dying, and with them will come some of the most established names in corporate history crashing down into Ch. 11 of corporate history. But I'm pretty sure we have a long way to go before this process is complete. We have a lot of stagnant time left for companies to shape up and start running businesses that actually produce massive profits again. All those clueless business grads, redundant techies, and so on and so forth will need to be bled from the system so that the bottom line is firm again.
(and yes, that may mean you and me, which is why we have to continue our quests to remain relevant)
Business is harsh. Purity is impossible to maintain for a company. Sometimes good business is not rewarded. For a few lucky people, it is heavily rewarded. It can be as cruel as Las Vegas. So when no one's looking, of course a couple hundred companies are going to start cheating. It's sad, but true.
The tragedy is not that Enron happened, but that Enrons happen on a regular basis in businesses big and small, and are never caught. And do you think the execs are the ones who lose in those situations?
My friend said to me at dinner tonight, "The only way to make it in this country is to run your own company." And I was like, damn, there's a lot of truth to that. If you're a good businessman, once you get money, you just keep accumulating more and more. And you'll always make out better than those who work for someone else when the big scandal comes.
And the rest of these blood-sucking groups and organizations will be there to drain them of all life when they get caught as the Enron fiasco shows.
Aren't you happy you're surrounded by so many good people?