The March of the Penguins and Enron, the Smartest Guys in the Room: How Penguins and People Adapt to the Natural World

At a recent conference, young Republicans were urged to see the documentary March of the Penguins, according to The New York Times. Conservative film critic Michael Medved said the film is "the motion picture this summer that most passionately affirms traditional norms like monogamy, sacrifice and child rearing."

It would be great if political conservatives admired the penguin film for a more important reason. The documentary depicts this remarkable avian species cooperating with one another and sacrificing their own lives and individual gain for the common good and survival of their own kind in the frigid and hostile environment of Antarctica.

Young and old conservative Republicans should also see another recent documentary, Enron, the Smartest Guys in the Room. Enron is about the human species and, particularly, the criminal activities of corporate chieftains. The film exemplifies the modern conservative attitude of extreme individualism with its me-over-we, money-over-people philosophy that extols taking advantage of others to make money by lying and deceiving. The social behavior of the penguins, by contrast, is more like we-over-me.

Conservatives using the mating ordeals of emperor penguins as a battle in the culture wars might be positively instructed by a species with genuinely admirable attributes of social sacrifice and cooperative collectivism. After a 70 mile journey together, the penguins mate and the females lay an egg. The male penguins then learn to balance the egg laid by their mate on their hooked feet, moving carefully about. They crowd together for warmth in howling 100 mile an hour winds and temperatures of 180 degrees below zero, tenderly protecting the egg while their mates go on a two month journey for food. Huddled together for warmth, a fold of their belly fat sheltering the egg from the elements, they must somehow keep moving, lest they freeze. They regularly alternate moving into the middle of the huddle to increase their body heat and keep from freezing to death in an unselfish effort of group survival. Some freeze to death anyway, usually on the outer edge of the mass of male penguins. Just as their babies hatch, the females arrive with food.

Enron was a self-described "energy" corporation that became the seventh largest corporation in America and was named Fortune magazine's "most innovative corporation" for six consecutive years. The objective of Enron was not actually to provide energy. Enron's singular purpose was making money. As the film's narration so aptly says: it is a story about "the dark side of the American Dream". Like the Ponzi scheme of the early 20th Century, Enron used get-rich-quick schemes for the guys at the top of their money pyramid. Similar to Ponzi's rip-off, the money actually represented no goods or services and the fraud was bought into by the largest financial institutions in America.

Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling were Enron's top executives. Lay and Skilling touted Enron as "the best energy company in the world", and President George W. Bush hosted Lay at the White House and referred to his political and energy industry friend as "Kenny Boy". Meanwhile, Lay and Skilling knew the company was bankrupt, without any real worth for years. Utilizing corrupt bookkeeping practices, they concealed losses and inflated profits, with the prestigious accounting firm Arthur Anderson signing off on the scam and being forced out of business as a consequence.

Enron simply made up impressive quarterly returns to bolster its stock prices and developed an accounting ruse called mark to market. This hoax had Enron pushing a venture projected to make $10 million ten years from now and asserting the $10 million was current income. Another Enron ploy was creating phony offshore corporations and moving their losses to those companies, which were off the books.

The most appalling part of the film is the revelation that Enron created the bogus California energy crisis. There was never a power shortage in California. Enron traders got on the phone with California power plants, and told plant managers to "get a little creative" in closing down plants for "repairs." Between 30 percent and 50 percent of California's energy industry was shut down by Enron much of the time, with closures as high as 76 percent on one occasion. Enron traders drove the price of electricity higher by nine times.

In the film, Enron traders laugh about the rolling blackouts, and boast about the millions they made for Enron. 20,000 employees are fired as the company goes belly up; pensions are gone; stock is valueless. A power company lineman in Portland, who worked for the same utility all his life, says his retirement fund was worth $248,000 before Enron bought the utility. Then that retirement fund was invested in Enron stock. Now it's worth about $1,200.

Emperor penguins would certainly be better role models for young conservatives than Ken Lay.

Join Us: News for people demanding a better world

Common Dreams is powered by optimists who believe in the power of informed and engaged citizens to ignite and enact change to make the world a better place.

We're hundreds of thousands strong, but every single supporter makes the difference.

Your contribution supports this bold media model—free, independent, and dedicated to reporting the facts every day. Stand with us in the fight for economic equality, social justice, human rights, and a more sustainable future. As a people-powered nonprofit news outlet, we cover the issues the corporate media never will. Join with us today!

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.