Jim Hightower

So Much Enron, So Little Time


Like a stunning 4th of July fireworks display, this corporate firecracker keeps lighting up the sky with new revelations of its arrogance and avarice, each one more breathtaking than the last. Look, there’s yet another top Bush official shooting out of the Enron cluster! Oh, wow, look at Arthur Andersen, Citigroup, and J.P. Morgan exploding from the midst of Enron’s firestorm! Ooooo–who would’ve thought there could be 3,000 subsidiaries, including 881 secret offshore accounts, hidden in one company! Less than a year ago, Enron was still being lionized as the ultimate expression of “The New Economy.” In this never-never land, companies don’t actually make anything, the trade is more important than the commodity, government is just another service to be bought, and CEOs rewrite all the rules as they go. There’s a fun web site (www.haveagoodlaugh.com) that tries to explain economics in terms of cows. Here’s how it describes the inner workings of Enron: “You have two cows. You sell three of them to your publicly listed company, using letters of credit opened by your brother-in-law at the bank, then execute a debt/equity swap with an associated general offer so you get all four cows back with a tax exemption for five cows. The milk rights of the six cows are transferred via an intermediary to a Cayman Island company secretly owned by the majority shareholders who sell the rights to all seven cows back to your listed company. The annual report says the company owns eight cows, with an option to buy one more.” There was no “there” at Enron, and unfortunately Enron is no isolated case. More and more of the global empires like Enron are Ponzi schemes. The problem is not one rogue company–it’s a totally rogue system built on unfettered corporate greed.

Let Them Eat Meatloaf

Gosh … I miss the old days. Like 1999. Or 2000, or even early 2001. Way back then, brand-new high-tech companies with names like WhzzBang.Com were popping up like popcorn and getting gazillions of dollars in capital from giddy Wall Street investors. Back then, we were told that everything from poverty to pollution could be dealt with if only government would get out of the way and let these “new economy” entrepreneurs apply their genius. Of course, Enron stock was selling at $90 a share back then, too, so many of these geniuses were nothing but self-inflated egos who were sipping their own bathwater and telling us it was champagne.

One of the self-congratulatory forums for all this high-tech hubris is held annually in my hometown of Austin, Texas, where these so-called “masters of the universe” gather to solve everything. It’s called the “360 Summit,” and all the big dogs of dot-comism come floating in on private jets, limousines, and pure arrogance, putting on an extravagant show, sipping champagne, munching caviar on toast, and holding seminars with such titles as “Who wants to be a millionaire?” Ahh, but those were the old days. This year, the 360 Summit was a lot more somber than celebratory. How somber? Instead of caviar, the opening lunch was meatloaf. Outside the hotel ballroom you could buy discounted mousepads, coffee mugs, and other products with the logos of Agillion, Garden.com, and Point One–former hosts of the “360 Summit” that are now, alas, bankrupt. Whenever the Powers That Be start claiming that a bunch of corporate elites are going to solve society’s problems, let’s see if they can solve their own little problems first.

Billions For Boeing

The me-first spirit has been alive and well in Washington since September 11. Major corporations have rushed full battalions of lobbyists to the Capitol to take advantage of Congress’s war fever, wrapping all of their special-interest wish lists in Old Glory. They’ve been grabbing as many governmental goodies as their fat fingers can clutch, even as they run full-page ads asserting their patriotism and declaring: “United We Stand!”

Boeing, which had been in steep decline prior to September 11, saw the attacks as a get-well-quick opportunity. It deployed a legislative attack force of 34 in-house lobbyists and more than 50 for-hire lobbyists to get an extra-special handout from the Pentagon’s appropriation bill, passed in December. At the last minute, two senators behind closed doors quietly slipped Boeing’s amendment into the bill. Known now as the “Boeing Boondoggle,” this amendment requires the Air Force to lease 100 of the corporation’s wide-body 767 commercial jets to be used as refueling tankers. The lease price is $20 million per jet. Per year. For 10 years.

That’s 20 billion bucks handed to Boeing–about four times what it would cost simply to buy the jets! The rip-off gets worse. Since the 767s are built as commercial planes, the military will have to spend another $3 billion to convert the 100 jets to tankers. Plus, in 10 years, the planes must be given back to Boeing in the condition they were delivered, meaning taxpayers will have to spend another $3 billion to convert the jets back to commercial use. Thanks to Senators Ted Stevens and Patty Murray, Boeing is walking off with $26 billion of our cash, while Bush and the media keep telling you and me to rally ’round the flag and do what’s right for America.

Jim Hightower’s latest book is If the Gods Had Meant Us to Vote, They Would Have Given Us Candidates. Find him at www.jimhightower.com or write [email protected].