Kenny-Boy and George
By William Rivers Pitt
t r u t h o u t | Perspective
Wednesday 07 July 2004
You have to love the irony: Since Kerry announced his VP choice of John Edwards, the Bush campaign has broadbanded the anti-Edwards slam that he is nothing more than your basic gutter-dwelling trial lawyer. This comes blithely on the heels of Bush hiring his own trial lawyer to protect him during the 70-minute Oval Office interrogation he endured regarding the Valerie Plame CIA-outing case some weeks ago. Everyone hates lawyers until they need one, it seems.
Perhaps Bush doesn't like trial lawyers because a team of them failed to keep his long-time friend and financial backer, Kenneth Lay, from getting his hide nailed to the shed in Houston. According to CNN, Lay was indicted by a Texas grand jury today for crimes relating to the apocalyptic Enron scandal. The indictment is sealed until further notice, so no determination of the exact criminal charges can be made.
For those who cannot quite recall the specifics of Ken Lay and Enron, a bit of background is in order. Lay, along with Andrew Fastow, Jeffrey Skilling and some dozens of other high-flying bosses from Enron, are accused of insider trading, securities fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy, manipulation of earnings reports to hide the fact that Enron was hemorrhaging cash from every pore while they reaped massive salaries and bonuses, and finally, manipulation of the California energy market for no other reason than to wring pin money out of grandmothers who were forced to live in the dark because they couldn't afford to pay their Enron-inflated energy bills.
Tape recordings of Enron energy traders were recently aired by CBS News. In one segment, the traders can be heard discussing the ins and outs of manipulating the California energy market. "They're [nss][nss][nss][nss]ing taking all the money back from you guys?" complains one Enron employee. "All the money you guys stole from those poor grandmothers in California?" The response: "Yeah, grandma Millie, man." Another response: "Yeah, now she wants her [nss][nss][nss][nss]ing money back for all the power you've charged right up, jammed right up her [nss][nss][nss][nss][nss][nss][nss] for [nss][nss][nss][nss]ing $250 a megawatt hour."
In filing the largest bankruptcy claim in the history of the universe, Lay and his merry men cost investors somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 billion. This wiped out retirement benefits not just for the Enron employees who were forbidden from selling their stock (while Lay et al. happily shucked theirs off to the tune of a $1.1 billion profit), but also wiped out the retirement portfolios of millions of Americans who had put their savings into Enron stock. The resulting carnage on Wall Street, which erased the accounting giant Arthur Andersen, did even more financial damage.
Martha Stewart was convicted of crimes that seem quaint by comparison, and meanwhile Mr. Lay has been walking free and happy. How did the priorities of the Justice Department get so far out of whack on this one? The Enron debacle happened in December of 2001, and it has taken them almost a thousand days to get an indictment returned on Lay.
Enron made campaign contributions totaling more than $5.7 million between 1989 and 2001. Republicans received 73% of this money. Ken Lay was an ardent supporter of George W. Bush during Bush's time as Governor of Texas. During the 2000 campaign, Lay allowed Bush to use Enron corporate jets to fly from stump speech to stump speech. So close were these men that Bush granted Lay a nickname: 'Kenny-Boy.'
Some 15 high-ranking Bush administration officials owned Enron stock in 2002. The stockholders included Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld, political advisor Karl Rove, deputy EPA administrator Linda Fisher, Treasury Undersecretary Peter Fisher and U.S. Trade Rep. Robert Zoellick. Army Secretary Thomas White was a vice-chairman for Enron before assuming his post, and owned between $50 million and $100 million in Enron stock.
Two other officials had professional connections to Enron. Former White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was a consultant for Enron while serving as managing director of Economic Strategies Inc., a consulting firm. Zoellick also served on the Enron advisory council, earning $50,000 a year.
Enron, in many respects, set about to write the Bush administration's energy policy. Ken Lay gave the White House a list of his personal recommendations for key federal energy posts. Lay pushed his list of suggested members of the federal energy regulatory commission in the spring of 2001. Two of the people he suggested - Pat Wood and Nora Brownell - were appointed by Bush to positions that would directly affect the fate and fortunes of Enron.
Lay himself was on the short list of potential appointees for the position of Energy Secretary. The CBS Enron tapes reveal one trader looking forward to a Bush win during the 2000 campaign. "It'd be great," says one. "I'd love to see Ken Lay Secretary of Energy." Another trader responded by saying, "When this election comes, Bush will [nss][nss][nss][nss]ing whack this [nss][nss][nss][nss], man. He won't play this price-cap bull[nss][nss][nss][nss]."
The infamous secret energy policy meetings run by Vice President Dick Cheney, the substance of which he still refuses to reveal, were riddled with Enron officials and Enron priorities. It has been speculated that one of the reasons Cheney refuses to divulge the elements of those meetings is that Enron was wielding the drafting pen as Bush's energy policy was created. It has also been speculated that the secrecy surrounding these meetings is due to the fact that the not-yet-begun Iraq war, and the resulting petroleum/pipeline profits to be reaped, played a large role in the discussions.
The beat goes on and on in this fashion, leading to an inescapable conclusion. Enron was certainly among the most crooked, corrupt, twisted companies ever to hang a sign in the American marketplace. Enron was, simultaneously, umbilically tied to George W. Bush and vast swaths of his administration.
Now that Lay has been indicted, those Enron stockholders still experiencing the length, breadth and depth of the shaft can hope for a measure of justice. For the rest of us, we citizens who have to live in a country whose energy policy was essentially written by Lay and his pals, we citizens who have to wonder if our current adventure in Iraq somehow plays a central role in that Enron-birthed policy, we can perhaps hope that a thousand days is enough time to wait before we hear the truth about Kenny-Boy and George.