HAIL and farewell, o Enron! What a flameout. The Establishment media, sucking its collective thumb with unwonted solemnity, is treating us to meditations on two themes: ``How the mighty have fallen,'' and, ``Who would have thunk it?'' Pardon me while I snort, in lieu of ruder noises, and offer two themes of my own: ``What took so long?'' and, ``Anyone with an ounce of common sense.''
If you want to know what this story is about, pretend Bill Clinton is still president. Pretend Clinton's long-time, all-time biggest campaign contributor, a guy for whom Clinton has carried water for over the years, a guy with unparalleled ``access,'' a shaper of policy -- imagine that this guy's worldwide empire has tumbled into bankruptcy in just three months amid cascading reports of lies, monumental accounting errors, evasions, iffy financial statements, insider deals, a board of directors rife with conflicts of interest, top executives bailing out with millions while regular employees see their life savings shrink to nothing -- imagine all this back in the day of Bill Clinton.
We'd have four congressional investigations, three special prosecutors, two impeachment inquiries and a partridge in a pear tree by now. Republicans would be drumming their heels on the floor in full tantrum.
But this is not President Clinton, it is President Bush -- so of course different standards must apply. The fact that Ken Lay, Enron's chairman, has been Bush's chief money man since he first went into politics is mentioned only in passing. The media don't want to be impolite.
The main problem with Enron is that it has never produced much of anything in the way of either goods or services; it has not added a single widget to the world widget supply. Enron is in the business of ``financializing,'' making markets, trading in wholesale electricity, water, data storage, fiber-optics, just about anything.
Enron started as a gas pipeline company that went into trading natural gas, and even then the company's critics claimed Enron was making profits by stoking volatility in gas prices. The same charge showed up again in spades with the newly deregulated electricity markets. Enron had lobbied for utility deregulation relentlessly, formidably and very expensively at both the state and national levels. The company seemed to spend more time influencing government than doing business.
Just a few spiffy eye-openers on Enron's connections:
Lay and Enron together donated $2 million to George W. Bush. In 2000, a company memo that was an open strong-arm recommended employees give campaign checks for Bush to the political action committee: low-level managers were urged to contribute $500 and senior executives at least $5,000. It gave more money last cycle than any other energy company.
Lawrence B. Lindsay, Bush's top economic adviser, got $50,000 from Enron in 2000 for consulting, presumably giving the company the same excellent advice now proving so healthy for the nation's economy.
Karl Rove, Bush's top political strategist, sold between $100,000 and $250,000 worth of Enron stock earlier this year, after being criticized for conflict of interest.
The California Legislature passed a contempt motion against Enron for failure to respond to a June 11 subpoena. The legislature is investigating whether power generating companies willfully manipulated electricity supply in order to drive up prices.
Lay was the only energy executive to meet alone with Vice President Dick Cheney while Cheney was drawing up a new national energy policy in secret.
Enron influenced public policy time and again while Bush was governor in Texas. Enron was a major player during the utilities deregulation debate, for which Bush lobbied actively, and in ``tort reform,'' making it harder to sue corporations for the damage they do.