AUGUST 21, 2003 -
Enron, the now infamous Houston-based energy company, orchestrated a
scheme to bilk California out of billions of dollars, intentionally
causing rolling blackouts, financial blight, and a decimation of
California Governor Gray Davis' popularity that, in large part, is
responsible for the current recall.
President George W. Bush is
from Texas. His family is the oil industry there. Vice
President Dick Cheney is the oil services industry.
So, the line of thinking
goes, perhaps the Bush administration had a hand in crafting the
scheme to bilk California and run Davis into the ground - the goal
being the creation of a recall, getting a Republican in office in
California, and so having a Jeb Bush-like ally holding the
bully-pulpit to help "deliver" California in 2004.
It sounds plausible enough.
It is written about by some left-wing commentators, the talk within
For us at the Moderate
Independent, though we are open to such ideas, unlike partisan news
sources we do not accept such theories without looking into them.
So we went down to Texas to see if we couldn't find out a thing or
It's pretty easy to catch the
pulse of Texas these days: brashly racist white people.
Down in the baggage claim
area of the airport, I heard one thirty-something man telling his
father about his trip to Redondo Beach, California. "There
were lots of Latins there," he said. His father shot right
back, with obvious sarcasm, "Ah, then you must have felt right at
One minute in Texas, two
Talked to another man.
He started talking about "wetbacks." "You probably call them
Mexicans," he clarified for me.
On the tram to get the rental
car, three men were talking about the California recall - I guess it
is the top news everywhere. It was a pretty decent discussion,
but in the end, the Limbaugh lines started to fly when talk about
the war in Iraq came. They started to talk about the problems
over there, but just when it started to be a useful conversation,
they pulled the conditioned right-wing turn and one of them said,
"Well, liberals would just be saying, 'Poor misunderstood Saddam.'
Thank God we have Bush."
I restrained myself from
clarifying that no, liberals would not give a damn about the butcher
Saddam - in fact, they were telling Bush, Sr. and the Republicans
not to be sending him our tax money for years and years before he
became a problem that caused two wars and led to 9/11. No,
liberals would not say, "Poor Saddam," but, "Poor American soldier,
stuck out there in 120 degree heat, getting his head blown to bits
for a war created by lies just for the sake of putting millions of
dollars in the pockets of Dick Cheney's old company." That's
what a liberal would say.
I had a mission during my
time in Texas - to talk to the lady who blew the whistle on Enron.
If anyone knew the inside story - and would be willing to spill the
beans fully - it would be her.
I headed to the hotel where
she would be speaking the next day. The bartender started
talking about the recall, about politics, said 80 percent of Texans
are Republicans, and that it's because there is no income tax in the
state and they want to keep it that way.
A man from Boston walked up
to the bar. I asked what he thought of John Kerry (since Kerry
is from Massachusetts.) He said, "You mean you don't support
GW?" I said he clearly was the worst President in my lifetime.
He asked if I had any kids. I had no idea what this had to do
with it, until I realized he was trying to tell me I should be
thankful because I was about to get $400 per kid from 'GW's' tax
cut. I told him my brother is in the Navy, and I think it is
more important not to get his head blown off based on lies, and more
important to have breathable air than a few hundred dollars, or even
thousands - we have to care about something more than money, I told
him. He said his brother was in the army, too, tried to sound
tough like all of these Bushies, puffing out his chest, asserting
his brother being in the army and his support of 'GW' made him tough
and I was some wimp. I said, Oh, so I guess you don't give a
shit about your brother, just about $400, and don't care about your
kid - that $400 will go a real long way to pay for your kid's asthma
treatments or lung cancer for yourself because of GW's Clear Skies
act. He got puffy and walked away.
That is the sort of exchange
that doesn't happen enough, non-Bushies standing up boldly and
pointing out what cowards and wimps Bush supporters are.
Then to the event, the speech
by Sherron S. Watkins. I had to sneak into it - it was a
I tell you, I don't have her
book, but I would get it if I were you. Her speech was
astounding. The fact-based stories upon fact-filled stories.
She ran down step by step of how the Enron disaster unfolded, and
best of all, really hit it from the human perspective, and explained
it all so well and clearly.
I won't steal her thunder by
reproducing her story here. You can - and should - buy her
book to follow the account for yourself.
But I will get to the most
important parts. She talked about it, clearly, how obvious it
was that what was going on at Enron was wrong. She clearly saw
it, she knew hundreds of others did. She didn't blow the
whistle right away because she wanted to find another job first -
personal interest, like keeping food on the table, has a lot of
She talked about person after
person who knew - and even those who had nothing to lose - but
didn't want to get involved.
"It was like everyone was
wearing blinders so they couldn't see the elephant right in front of
them," she said.
While I was at this same
hotel, someone dropped a bottle from 60 floors up. It came
crashing down onto an open, outdoor deck, just missed killing a man
by about 40 feet. No one - not a single person - even went to
report it. They just kind of looked around, felt weird, and
didn't want to risk getting involved - even when A) They clearly had
nothing to lose, and B) This was an incident where one person just
missed killing another person, or even them had the bottle strayed
this way or that. This is part of why lying works so well if
you are willing to do it boldly and relentlessly - people like to
avoid the elephant and just go about their lives without the stress.
Hundreds, she said.
Hundreds of people who knew what Enron was up to but did nothing.
And this was the biggest enigma for her. How could they?
How could they refuse to help her when she decided to expose things?
How, she wondered again and again, did the culture grow to where
most people were willing to not do anything about obviously criminal
and amoral actions?
"Money buys a lot of
blinders," she said. "Enron paid among the highest salaries,
highest bonuses, gave the best stock options."
Like the guy at the bar the
night before: for $400 he sold out his own brother and son.
Think of what he would have sold out for thousands, tens of
But still, she said, to
really get it you have to think of the frog in boiling water
"If you throw a frog into
boiling water, it will jump out and save itself," she said.
"But, if you put it into cold water, and little by little turn up
the heat, it will stay in there until it cooks to death." And
this is what happened. First, the accountants and staff were
asked to handle some things that were a little overly aggressive.
Then, they were charged with some questionable things to do.
So that by when it came time to do the clearly, massively wrong
things, they were already desensitized and acclimatized, thinking a
little more heat won't really do all that harm - plus, if they could
just stand the heat long enough, they could get theirs and get out.
She talked about how the
Republicans in congress sought to stand in the way of bills meant to
prevent future Enrons from happening. She talked about how
CEO's who admit $13 million a year salaries need to go get hostile
calls from other CEO's on a daily basis. She talked of her
shock at how, after seeing the havoc Enron caused, the Republicans
could still oppose necessary laws, standing on the side of would-be
All along the parallels
between the Bushies and the Enron employees was clear. How do
Bushies not see the obvious lies that all the rest of us do?
How do they not care about the soldiers dying based on these lies,
the environmental destruction, the economic destruction? How
do they not see the lying GOP elephant right in front of them?
"Money buys a lot of
blinders," she had said. Now, the tax cuts make sense at last.
It is the Enron style of management. When you know you are
crooked, and the idea is to stay crooked while keeping everyone
else's mouth shut, the way to do it is to make clear to everyone
that as long as they go along with you, you will keep putting lots
of money in their pockets. $400 per child, ignore my lies.
Another trillion dollar tax cut, let me drill in Alaska.
The difference between
Bushies and non-Bushies is simple: those of us to whom other
things are more important than money - who can't and won't be bought
- hate Bush. Those who care about money first, they have
golden, tax-cut financed blinders on.
So this was all well and
nice, and it seemed to me that for certain Ms. Watkins would, if it
had come up, agree with the idea mentioned above, that the Bush
administration had a hand in crafting the scheme to bilk California
and run Davis into the ground. Still, I refused to assume -
she would know, she knew all the details about the CEO's, she would
know if the President or his people were involved, or at least
So, after her speech I asked
her. "You talked about the 'California energy scheme,'" I said
to her, "pointed out that Enron crafted and devised it, took the
lead in implementing it - and the crisis it created is, at least in
part, responsible for the current recall." I went for the
direct hit. "Do you believe there was any outside political
influence involved, or was it just personal greed without other
Now this woman all along had
made clear she had no problem saying anything true no matter how
bleak or sad the reality. She would not hold back or change
the facts out of fear. So, I was ready for the sharp, "Yes, I
think so," or even better, "I saw GW meeting with them," or, "Of
course the Republicans were involved." She had already
chastised the Republican Party as being the ones to side with the
wrong side of this whole mess.
But, that was not her answer.
In fact, it was quite the opposite.
"No," she said emphatically,
"absolutely not." There absolutely was no outside political
I was shocked. She
hadn't spoken this empathically the entire time, and even more
importantly, her clear and strong answer made it obvious that she
had no doubt on this one. No, Enron's bilking of California
was not a well thought out, GOP-crafted scheme to drive Governor
Davis into the ground and create the opportunity for a recall.
No, it was just amoral scumbags like Ken Lay trying to get more
money for themselves.
Even more, she said, "One
regulator saw the problem early on and told Governor Davis about it
- kept urging the Governor to plug the hole that allowed these
schemes to happen. But Gray Davis didn't listen."
Instead, she said, "He just kept yelling about what Enron was doing.
I don't know why he did that. The regulator was telling him to
plug the hole, but he said no and instead just chose to yell about
what the energy companies were doing."
Wow. Davis - though
Enron and the energy companies are truly the blame - gets his share
of the blame for whining instead of taking the prescribed action.
However, she then went on to
say, "And also the FERC," as in Dick Cheney and the Federal Energy
Regulatory Commission, "refused to help out with the problem.
They saw what was happening, and when Gray Davis asked for their
help, they chose to just sit there and let Enron do what it was
So, yes, in the end, the Bush
administration did choose to let Davis - and California, which voted
for Gore - fry under Enron's illegal scheme. But, they did not
orchestrate the scheme in the first place. No, greedy
individuals, hundreds of them, conspired to try and line their
pockets at any cost.
However, Governor Davis also
deserves a part of the blame, she said, for not listening to the
regulator and taking action to fill the "hole," as she kept
referring to it, that could fix the problem.
The most important part was
what she said in the end. How do you avoid such things?
How do you know when a CEO, or President, is up to such things and
should be removed?
She was very clear on this as
well. "I believe someone in that high a position must be
absolutely pristine. Even the slightest transgression should
be grounds for firing." If someone at that level, she said,
was willing to bend morals even once to do something like use a
company jet for personal use, he is corrupt. Someone with so
much power must be completely opposed to such unethical behavior and
curb himself. If he is isn't inclined to, is willing to take
even some liberties, he will take a million, she said.
In other words, even choosing
to knowingly speak just sixteen false words means the man must go.
There is so much more to the
story she tells, so many important lessons, so many useful,
important facts. But, as I promised, I will not steal her
thunder. Buy her book, go see her speak.
But for my end, in filing
this report for The Moderate Independent, I have to say in summing
up that things are much clearer to me now. It is clear that
the Bush administration was not behind the energy crisis that
brought Davis down - even if they let it be worse than it needed to
be - and that Governor Davis had a definite part in making his own
bed in this.
And, it is clear why
President Bush has supporters. For those who back the
President, they can look at the GOP all day and night but not see
its massive mascot - even if it stands directly in front of them on
the GOP emblem - because all that tax cut money has helped to buy an
awful lot of blinders.
As for Texas, it's open
embrace of racism is a complete embarrassment and disgrace.
Like Enron, where person after person partook of amoral actions
because they wanted to keep themselves on top, so is the racist
culture of Texas. It really begins to make you wonder if it
isn't the racism to begin with that makes all the other
transgressions - Presidential, corporate - so acceptable to the
people down there. But even more than that, it just makes you
completely lose respect for the state and it's people. Racism
is tough? Supporting a lying President is tough? Try
standing up in the middle of a bunch of hostile, angry idiots and
blowing the whistle, like Sherron S. Watkins did - that is what's
called being tough. Going-along and getting-along is the trade
mark way of wimps and wusses everywhere.