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Postscripts to the Post-Enron Myth - A Commentary

By Rawlins Gilliland, KERA 90.1 Commentator

Dallas, TX – When the national press went bananas covering the Enron debacle, I was reminded of the Rodney King episode years ago in Los Angeles. Why? Because then, as now, commonplace practices were hyperbolically reported as if happening for the first time. Just as Rodney King was hardly the first black man to be roughed up by a policeman, the Enron-Arthur Andersen saga is far more symptomatic of the global corporate culture and its class-caste ethos than most of us prefer to acknowledge. As the recent Merrill Lynch bogus stock tip scandals further suggest, part of the mega-business mindset has become, and sadly has long been, "Take those unsuspecting peons to the cleaners."

Enron was cover story after cover story as if this rancid Houston behemoth's behavior was an anomaly rather than what it truly was - the business world equivalent of a chronically philandering spouse caught in the act. We read voraciously of this faithless lover's exploits: a diseased seductor, infecting seemingly everyone who ever ran for office on planet Earth. Privately, however, it puzzled me that so many seem shocked hearing those raw accounts of contempt for the fate of loyal employees and trusting investors. For starters, does no one remember the original Michael Milken? Junk bonds? Concerning our post-Enron conciousness, it's ignorance, more than innocence, lost.

In the 1980s, I met with an executive of a just-then-defunct local aircraft manufacturer, where he mentioned over dinner how he and others received sizable financial packages when their company went under, while everyone else - employees, stockholders, suppliers - lost everything, from their pensions to their homes. Likewise, I had worked for a company when their stock was escalating in value as word spread about an impending hostile takeover. Management informed us that, as active employees, we were prohibited by law from selling our suddenly sky-high shares. Several years later, however, during a three-martini conversation with a former company vice president, he let it slip that he and other higher-ups had, in fact, sold their stock at that time, and in doing so, reaped huge sums. The premise held: the worker bees took that ride to the cleaners. The royal bees had their cleaning delivered.

The obsessive blow-by-blow coverage following the collapse of Enron reaffirms the clich? that timing is everything, because most Americans already felt shaken and financially mortal following the events of 2001. Many of us know someone who has been hung out to dry by a company they had devotedly served. Replaced by someone cheaper. Denied their retirement. We've watched 401(k)s erode. These reversals of fortune no longer only reference someone else, somewhere else. The revised reality is, it's a recession when others lose their jobs; it's a depression if we lose ours. Enter Enron.

Certainly not all large corporations are inherently corrupt, any more than all police are bigoted bullies. But clearly, both have substantial historical precedent. Just like the Rodney King incident, Enron, Arthur Andersen and Merrill Lynch have forced us, at long last, to face a very ugly truth we knew all along.


Rawlins Gilliland is a writer in Dallas and a former National Endowment poet.