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The Smartest Guys in the Room:
The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
by Bethany McLean, Peter Elkind

Writing, Directing, and Producing Documentary Films and Videos
. "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room"

It took me a while to decide to go see this documentary. As a California victim of Enron's predatory practices, I was hardly eager to be made any madder than I already was at the people who manipulated the prices for electrical energy for illicit and devious gain. Not that it wasn't legal -- in a strict sense. But the extremes to which they went in order to rescue their company from bankruptcy and oblivion took immorality to new heights.

Good for them; bad for the state and the shareholders. The cogs of justice turn slowly, and the loss of the seventh-largest corporation and its descent in the value of the stock from $90 to worthless is but the first turn in the wheel. What this documentary exposes are the individuals behind the corruption and how they operated on the thinning plane of trust until any chance of salvation disappeared like space dust.

There are two elements that make this documentary by Alex Gibney entirely compelling. The first is the treasure trove of archival footage at his disposal, including news items, emails, incriminating phone conversations, and interviews with corporate officers who were all too eager to be seen in the public spotlight and misrepresent the actual state of the company while wallowing in their puffed up glory. The second is the attractiveness and knowledge of the whistle-blower and other high-level witnesses who were close enough to the people making the ruinous decisions to understandably articulate what they observed.

The prime suspects are well known and await their day in court in January, 2006. Jeff Skilling, Ken Lay and Andrew Fastow lead the pack, with the latter alread behind prison bars. Until they are found guilty in a court of law, we can't yet call them criminals and will have to listen to their claims of not knowing that the books were being cooked. Yeah, and I'm the King of Russia. The film's portraiture of these officials is consistent with their denials, suggesting greed, lust for corporate greatness at any expense, and lingering arrogance.

You'd have to look far and wide to match the rapaciousness of the arbitrage traders of the corporation as they reveled in adolescent glee (in recorded phone conversations) over how easily they were manipulating California's ratepayers and making the state their personal piggy bank to the tune of $9 Billion before it was all over. In their voracious ambition for personal glory (and pay) in what they saw as a rescue operation for their desperate company, they expressed all the integrity of a video game and as much humanity as your average sociopath.

As I feared, this stream of revelations caused my anger level to rise several degrees. All the more do I await the headlines about additional incarcerations. Martha Stewart is a scout leader and role model in the company of the ravenous ghouls who ran Enron and their auditing company into a swamp of deceit.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling
Corporate masterminds.

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