The Smartest Guys in the Room (7/10)
by Tony Medley
This is interesting, which is
why I give it a positive rating because the primary purpose of a movie is
to be entertaining. Unfortunately, it is a politically biased polemic in
the mode of Michael Moore.
The film has extensive clips of
Enron CEO Jeff Skilling, who comes across as insufferably arrogant. Most
of the clips are from his testimony before Congress, which I watched. Also
shown are clips and interviews with Andrew Fastow, who ran all the limited
partnerships that apparently hid Enronís losses, Ken Lay, Enronís Chairman
of the Board, Sharon Watkins, the V.P. of corporate development-turned
whistle blower, and Gray Davis, former Governor of California, among
Davis is presented as a
sympathetic victim. He was a victim, but not so much of Enron as of his
predecessor, Pete Wilson, the California State Legislature during Wilsonís
tenure, and, most of all, of Steve Peace. Who is Steve Peace? Steve Peace
is the State Senator who wrote the California electric deregulation law
that went into effect in 1996. I well remember the day the law was passed
and thought, at the time, it was a singularly dumb piece of legislation,
not at all in the public interest. The price of electricity had been
controlled since the days of Thomas Edison and was an unbelievable
bargain. It was available, and cheap, and the electric industry made good
profits, even though it was totally controlled by the Public Utilities
Commission. Why change it if itís not broke?
Peace wrote the law himself,
with the help of San Diego Gas & Electric. Nobody in the Legislature read
it or understood it. I remember reading a quote from one of the state
legislators who voted for it. ďNobody understood it,Ē he said. ďNobody
read it. But we all relied on Steve because he was so smart.Ē So they
passed it, relying on Peace. It was a disaster. Fast forward to Davis. At
the turn of the millennium heís faced with horrible electric outages,
which were basically the result of two things, the deregulation law and
manipulation by Enron traders. What does Davis do? Of all the people
available in the world, he hires Steve Peace as his Director of Finance;
the guy who was responsible, more than anyone else, for the destruction of
the California electric industry and the mess in which Davis found
himself! I guess to reward him for the job he did on California
electricity Davis figured this is the guy to pull California out of the
financial mess into which it had fallen as a result of Peaceís law by
bringing him as his top financial guy. If only on this decision alone,
Davis deserved to be recalled.
Why do I go into all this?
Because this film never mentions the name of Steve Peace. How can you tell
the story of Enron and its traders, and they way they raped California
without telling the story of Steve Peace, the guy most responsible?
Without Peaceís law, the main story of this film would not have occurred.
But if you bring Peace into the story, Davis doesnít look so good.
Further, itís far more difficult to blame Bush.
So the film is not really
trying to tell the objective story of Enron, itís a politically biased
tome with George Bush as the devil. The film tries to tie the Bushes in to
Lay by showing each saying nice things about him. But Bill Clinton said
nice things about Lay, too, and at a time when something might have been
done. But we donít see much of Bill in this, and donít see anything of him
that might make it look as if he were in cahoots with Lay and Enron, as it
does with the Bushes. In fact, all politicians were courting Lay because
Enron was flying high and was dispensing lots of money to candidates. It
wasnít just the Bushes. And it wasnít just Republicans. But thatís the
incorrect conclusion youíd reach if you took this film as Gospel.
The film can also be accused of
taking a pretty cheap shot at Skilling, who was an attractive and easy
target because of his position and arrogance. Itís entirely possible that
Skilling knew everything that was going on and is culpable. But itís also
possible that he didnít know what the Enron traders were doing with the
California energy market. He was the CEO, true, but itís conceivable that
the traders were off in their own world and that Skilling was ignorant of
the actions the traders were taking to manipulate the energy market in
California. If youíve ever worked for a major corporation, and I have, you
know that itís possible for underlings to do things and hide them from
those in charge.
This film is an excellent
example of the truism that history is not made by those who do the acts,
but by those who write the story. Too bad, because the Enron story is a
fascinating tale. Maybe somebody honest and objective will tell it
May 24, 2005