In 2001, when the "rolling blackouts" doused the traffic lights in my part of Los Angeles, I was amazed at the behavior of the drivers. East Coast motorists would have cut directly to Demolition Derby. But not those Californians. Even at the major intersections, they spontaneously slowed down and began to take turns. It was enough to restore my faith in human nature.
Of course, if those polite Golden Staters had been able to hear the cackling of the Houston hyenas who were messing with their power grid, they might have raised a posse and headed straight for South Texas. For the scavengers of Enron were not only ripping off the whole state, they were joking about how much fun it was to gouge the old, the sick, and the poor.
The main thing you need to know about "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room," is that it is NOT a film by Michael Moore. It uses some of the same tricks, such as a soundtrack full of sardonic counterpoint (for example, a clip of President Reagan extolling "the magic of the market" is followed by footage of a natural gas facility, accompanied by the song, "That Old Black Magic"). But the tricks are in service to a solid indictment, not a half-whacked conspiracy theory.
Some have criticized "Enron" for being too admiring of Head Hyenas Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, Andy Fastow, and Lou Pai. And yes, it does drool a bit over their bad selves. Based on the eponymous book by Fortune writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, the film also relies heavily on the testimony of former Enron employees who (to judge by their plush surroundings) deserted the sinking ship with their Rocquefort intact. Of all the people interviewed, only one man speaks for the 20,000 employees whose cheese disappeared into the pockets of "the smartest guys in the room."
It is worth noting that while three of the Head Hyenas wait to have their wrists slapped by Blind Justice, the fourth, Lou Pai, turns out to be the smartest guy of all. After helping his subsidiary, Enron Energy Services, lose $18.8 billion and put 5,500 people out of work, Pai made off with $270 million. Then he divorced his wife, married his favorite stripper, and bought a 77,5000-acre chunk of the Sangre de Cristo mountains in southern Colorado.
To be sure, Pai later sold the property when it looked as though the locals were going to win a lawsuit over water and timber rights. But he did OK, I'm sure. You won't see him on BET any time soon, but the man is a "playa."
Unseemly though it is, the aforementioned drool is what makes "Enron" convincing. The whole country thought these guys were "smart." And the last I checked, the popular definition of the word has not changed. For too many Americans, "smart" still means, "Screw you, I'm driving my armored Hummer right through the intersection."
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