"Getting to the Bottom of Enron"

By Andrew Leonard

Published January 16, 2002 8:30PM (EST)

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We are now reading how noble the Treasury Department was in declining to "intervene" in the decisions of some of Enron's creditors. Aside from wondering what place the Treasury Department was thought to have in influencing the investment policies of private institutions, I wonder how the Cabinet members could learn of Enron's distress without becoming suspicious. Was it not their ethical, and even legal duty, to report to the SEC that a company with very high-profile success was actually floundering? Shouldn't this have raised a red flag that something with their accounting and regulatory compliance was amiss? Can the responsibility of confidence with their buddies outweigh the duty of the commerce and treasury secretaries to see that the laws of the U.S. are upheld and the American people aren't swindled?

One may laud the Treasury Department for refusing to complete the quid pro quo of Enron's influence-purchasing strategy. The fact that Enron felt it was possible to make a few phone calls to their powerful allies in this administration, and have private rating agencies convinced or coerced to abandon their independent judgment, demonstrates that the relationship between the White House and its sugar daddy is too cozy. An administration that campaigned on a platform of integrity should welcome intense scrutiny, and should have been more cautious to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

-- Arnie Cachelin

Andrew Leonard's piece "Getting to the Bottom of Enron" is, at bottom (so to speak), just the latest in a long line of epistles that say, whenever some political influence scandal erupts, "This is exactly why we need campaign finance reform!"

In the abstract, that sounds like the perfect solution. But, one way or the other, campaign finance reform always comes down to public financing of campaigns. "Public financing" is a genteel term for spending tax dollars. What the supporters of campaign finance reform have never adequately explained, in my opinion, is just why it is such a wonderful idea for tax dollars to be spent on political campaigns rather than on education or law enforcement or transportation or the environment. Every tax dollar spent on campaigns is a dollar that has to be found somewhere -- either by raising taxes, or by cutting worthwhile programs in favor of paying for political ads.

Moreover, call me a cynic, but I suspect that the Enrons and Microsofts of the world would find some other way to apply their resources to influence the political process.

I really don't want to be taxed to fund the smarmy negative ad campaign of some senatorial candidate in Montana, or anywhere else for that matter. Let Microsoft and Enron spend their money for that, and let me keep mine.

-- Frank Perch

What's truly amusing about watching the Democrats trying to get President Bush tied into an Enron scandal is the fact that they will end up dragging Bill through the mud and not President Bush. It wasn't the current administration that made sure that Enron's project in India made it through all of the red tape, for a fee. To the DNC and all the rest of the Democratic leadership in Washington I say go right ahead and investigate Enron, but you might want to check with your party leader first.

-- David Barton

Have they no shame? Mary Matalin swings back at Democrats by claiming, "They act like there's some billing records or some cattle scam or some fired travel aides or some blue dress." No, Mary, it's just thousands of employees that have lost their jobs and their retirement savings, investors that have lost millions of their investments and the whole state of California robbed of billions through their electric bills. Take a close look, Mary, that's real pain and suffering for thousands of people. You should try it some time, it's no fun. And the real kicker, Enron's management bailed out early for hundreds of millions in profits. They sure looked out for themselves.

Billing records? Fired travel aides? Some blue dress? Get real!

This is not a partisan witch hunt, this is an $80 billion crime against real people.

-- Josiah S. Barnes

I knew it wouldn't take long before I heard those two magic words, "special prosecutor," begin to issue from the mouths of those on the left watching in horror at the Enron debacle. With the recent stories about Kenneth Lay contacting Bush administration officials soon before the stock collapsed, no doubt there are many of us Democrats whose eyes gleam at the thought of rifling through Bush administration papers, e-mail and phone records, searching for something, anything incriminating to paint scandal across what many see as an illegitimate presidency. We must not give in to these base desires. There is absolutely no evidence for it, and no reason yet to suspect special treatment for Enron.

Remind yourself how cynically and politically the Whitewater investigations were begun. Don't fail to remember how such tools, when turned to vengeful purpose, fly in the face of decency and end always in the petty, personal insinuation of moral guilt without evidence of actual wrongdoing. I wouldn't give our political foes the pleasure of thinking their despicable misuse of the special prosecutor's office was justified because we chose to do the same when given the chance. Never forget how it felt to be dealt such a long, dirty blow, and help our government never to stoop to such a low point again.

-- Gregory Dyas

I have an Enron media fantasy. All Enron executives, directors and others that profited before the end and made much are outed. I almost forgot -- include Arthur Andersen executives and throw in a couple of politicians too. I mean names and pictures on the Internet, newspapers, magazines and TV. Reporters and TV crews camped outside their houses. Great shots of palatial homes and expensive cars. Microphones shoved under their noses. Rude provocative questions shouted.

And then the reverse. All Enron employees that lost jobs and their retirement savings are profiled. I mean names and pictures on the Internet, newspapers and ABC, NBC, CBS and CNN. Reporters and TV crews camped outside their houses. Great shots of modest homes and inexpensive cars. Microphones shoved under their noses. Provocative sympathetic questions asked quietly. Maybe put a couple on Larry King. American sympathy grows for the wronged. The executives, the powerful are vilified. And then the talking heads discuss compensation, almost forced to. Class action suit. Restitution for the wronged. The execs are rich, right? I almost forgot the Republican and Democratic parties can kick in some too. Retirement funds are re-created from their profits. They are stripped of wealth.

Oh well.

-- Lisa Mansueti

In response to Andrew Leonard's article on campaign finance reform in response to the Enron debacle, I say let's go for it! This whole mess is so beyond the invisible hand, that Adam Smith is turning in his grave, or what's left of it.

-- Neil Nathan

Although the thought of spending $50 million or so investigating W.'s "wrongdoing" would be satisfying vengeance for the Whitewater pillorying of Bill and Hill, I sadly conclude (so far) that there is no criminality here. (After all, our politicians have made the rules, so what's plainly unethical is never criminal in this realm.)

But what I hope is ended is the ideology of the marketplace as the perfect regulator of everything. This is plainly not true, and not just because there may have been criminality at work at the highest levels of Enron. The fact is that if a public utility had tripled energy prices, and then refused to open its books to public inspection, the regulators in question would have gone to the guillotine rather quickly. In some things, and we should spend some time figuring out what things, the market is a terrible regulator, and public scrutiny is vastly preferable to giving up the electricity market to a bunch of junk-bond purveyors.

-- Jim Hassinger

That sucking sound we hear is the democratic process flushing through an oily pipeline of conscienceless greed. And that stench exuding from Washington and Texas is the fungus of fetid ethics feeding on murky morality, as conscienceless greed exploits democracy's freedom-fueling vulnerabilities by superceding and supplanting them with executive-ordered privilege.

-- John Kalbrener

I found your reports on the Enron investigation to be a far cry from fair or unbiased reporting. Your "reporting" reads like a focused smear campaign: deliberate insinuation of wrongdoing by the Bush administration even though not a shred of evidence supports such accusations. Rather the contrary: All the evidence suggests the Bush White House (unlike any in my recent memory -- certainly no last-minute pardons for the friends of the party) didn't allow political favors to be called in by friends and contributors. It seems you should be reporting on the almost shocking honesty instead of implying impropriety when everything suggests otherwise. I am forced to conclude that Salon is yet another "news" organization with an agenda that includes furthering the political agenda of those who disagree with the policies of the current administration, and without conscience spin stories to attempt to gain political advantage. Frankly, this kind of behavior by one extreme media is unsurprising. The ubiquity smells of a "vast left-wing" conspiracy and borders on the libelous.

-- Drew Bagnell

By Salon Staff

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