The July 2006 Edition of Street Spirit

A publication of the American Friends Service Committee

 
 

National AFSC AFSC Economic Justice BOSS Website

 

 

In this issue:

Corruption at Oakland Housing Authority

Shot Through the Heart in S.F.

Legal Challenge to Cruel Attacks on SF Homeless

GRIP's Shelter in Richmond

HUD Plans to Demolish Public Housing in New Orleans

Fresno Homeless Attacked

Stonewalling by Bush's ICH on Homeless Issues

Are We Not Our Brother's Keeper

Congress Refuses to Raise the Minimum Wage

Beyond Prisons: Challenge to the Prison System

Penal Servitude

The U.S. Racial Wealth Gap

Poor Working Conditions for Immigrants

AFSC Sues Defense Dept. for Surveillance

Surveillance and Orwell's 1984

Enron's Good Fight

Poor Leonard's Almanack: On Self-Realization

July Poetry of the Streets

Child Slavery on African Cocoa Farms

The Worth of Education in the Phillipines


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June 2006

May 2006

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March 2006

February 2006

January 2006

November 2005

October 2005

September 2005

August 2005

July 2005

June 2005

May 2005

April 2005

March 2005

February 2005

 

 

 


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Enron's Good Fight

The actual people whose worlds were shattered by Enron's legacy were invisible and expendable

by Paul Rogat Loeb

"We fought the good fight," Jeff Skilling said, standing strong after he and "Kenny Boy" Lay were convicted of defrauding Enron stockholders. But what an odd choice of words. I suppose Joachim von Ribbentrop and Attila the Hun could say the same thing, but fighting to stay out of jail is a small imperial dream.

Skilling and Lay did authorize blitzkrieg-worthy raids on West Coast utilities, where Enron traders bragged about stealing from "grandma Millie," and jamming their $250-a-megawatt-hour power "right up her ass." And Enron did conquer the venerable Portland General utility, then leave it a hollow shell -- I met a woman who'd lost her entire retirement. So maybe those were the fights Skilling referred to. But these opponents barely put up a struggle.

Maybe Skilling was talking about political battles. Enron lobbied through the laws that opened California up to utility deregulation, then gouged the state's utilities for every possible cent, and sent them to the edge of bankruptcy. If low-income rate-payers couldn't afford the costs, or social needs went unmet because of the need for bailouts, that was someone else's problem.

Enron also served as George W. Bush's single largest donor, even lending him their private plane to campaign in, and their accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, and their law firm, Vinson & Elkins, were close behind. In return, Bush appoint the man Ken Lay recommended to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, replacing an earlier chairman who'd begun to question Enron's financing schemes. When California officials pleaded for price caps in the face of skyrocketing manipulated prices, the FERC and Bush enabled Enron to make hundreds of millions of dollars more by refusing to help.

Enron also fought the good fight internationally. As described by Indian novelist Arundhati Roy, Enron overcame massive popular opposition to build a power plant in the State of Maharashtra, contributing endless dollars to local officials until they finally agreed, and locking the province into a $30 billion contract. When the plant went on line, the electricity, as predicted by critics, was so costly that the government decided it was cheaper not to buy it, but to pay the mandatory fixed charges of $220 million a year to produce nothing.

I don't claim to know the soul of Skilling or Lay, or to understand how, as America was still mourning 9/11, these men who had more money then most of us could ever imagine, rationalized pulling their stock out of the company, while destroying the futures of tens of thousands of employees and stockholders.

Enron was strong, Lay told his employees at the time. If they all persisted and stood together, he said, they'd prevail. So he advised them not to sell what they had, but in fact to buy more, even as he dumped millions of dollars of his own stock. Enron's employees then watched helplessly as their future melted away.

"We fought the good fight," gives us a clue to how Skilling and Lay could do this, as does Lay's sanctimonious talk of how "God, in fact, is in control and indeed he does work all things for good for those who love the Lord."

It was all a grand game, like the games played by all those who wheel and deal in the destiny of other people's lives. Lay and Skilling needed no heroes. They made themselves their own gods and worshipped their own soaring ascent. The actual people whose worlds were shattered by Enron's legacy were invisible and expendable.

Paul Rogat Loeb is the author of The Impossible Will Take a Little While: A Citizen's Guide to Hope in a Time of Fear, winner of the 2005 Nautilus Award for best social change book. His previous books include Soul of a Citizen. See www.paulloeb.org.


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