Tuesday, June 28, 2005

"Ask why, asshole."

Saw a very cool documentary today called Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room. It was about the rise and fall of Enron and showcased one of the most... (don't know if I should use the phrase heinous crimes, or brilliant shams here) of all time. It was a story about an American dream and how it turned out to be a hollow, rotten nightmare.

I found it hard to believe that America's seventh largest corporation could go bankrupt in 24 days, causing tens of thousands of people to lose their jobs and robbing them of billions in 401Ks. Only today did I realise how long the company had been putting a sham front up. They were falsifying their books years before anything even came to light. And when the executives realised that the ship was sinking, they offloaded millions of dollars worth of company stock, while freezing their employee's accounts so that they could not do the same. A company which had seen it's share price touch a high of over $100, saw it drop to 40 cents and a man who once had $350,000 in his 401K, ended up with $1250.

This documentary not only exposed the fraud that Enron had been perpetuating for ages, but it linked Enron into a much larger conspiracy... one that involved our beloved Dubya (with a few scenes thrown in for comic relief) and the one and only Gubernator of California, Arnie. To appeal to the desi in us, they've also shown India when they spoke about the Dabhol power plant fiasco (don't know how many of you remember it, but I do because the Enron representative whose picture used to appear on the front page of the newspaper was a pretty blonde who insisted on wearing miniskirts while speaking to our ministers).

You will come out shaking your head when you realise the extents to which Enron went to screw over the state of California, stuff Bush's pockets, catalyse the ouster of incumbent governor Gray Davis and pave the way for Arnold to waltz into office... and how they had the entire country fooled until the corporation collapsed like a pack of cards.

The documentary is well made and they've gotten comments from a great selection of personalities. They've been factual and they've still managed to weave a very interesting and human story with keen insights from people close to the entire affair (and did I mention Dubya's in it too??!! He's awesome as usual!!) It will get you asking why (Ask why was the corporate slogan for Enron)... and how as well.

Some of the scenes that are stuck in my head:

  • An energy trader calls up a power plant in California, asking them to shut it down temporarily to raise the price of energy futures.
  • George W. Bush's brilliant piece of insight that we can help the people of California by being better citizens (????).
  • A bulldozer moves a tonne of shredded paper which are account books that Enron shredded when they realised that the s**t had hit the fan.
  • Arnie yells to the crowd "Now it's time to terminate him!", referring to Gray Davis.
  • A reporter asks Gray Davis if he felt the entire California energy fiasco was caused by Enron in a conspiracy to get him recalled... and he doesn't say anything for a few moments... then laughs and goes "Hello???!!".
  • And this one's my favourite - a reporter puts the CEO of the company, Jeff Skillings on the spot asking why the company never releases it's accounts every year... and Jeff thinks for a while and answers in a very thoughtful manner... by calling him an asshole. This prompts the traders to put up signs saying "Ask why, asshole."
One of the better documentaries that I've seen. Highly recommended.


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