Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room is a 2005 documentary film based on the best-selling 2003 book of the same name by Fortune reporters Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, a study of one of the largest business scandals in American history. About the book:McLean and Elkind are credited as writers of the film alongside the director, Alex Gibney. The film examines the 2001 collapse of the Enron Corporation, which resulted in criminal trials for several of the company’s top executives; it also shows the involvement of the Enron traders in the California electricity crisis. The film features interviews with McLean and Elkind, as well as former Enron executives and employees, stock analysts, reporters and the former Governor of California Gray Davis.The film won the Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary Feature and was nominated for Best Documentary Feature at the 78th Academy Awards in 2006. The film begins with a profile of Kenneth Lay, who founded Enron in 1985. Two years after its founding, the company becomes embroiled in scandal after two traders begin betting on the oil markets, resulting in suspiciously consistent profits. Enron’s CEO, Louis Borget, is also discovered to be diverting company money to offshore accounts. After auditors uncover their schemes, Lay encourages them to “keep making us millions”. However, the traders are fired after it is revealed that they gambled away Enron’s reserves, nearly destroying the company. After these facts are brought to light, Lay denies having any knowledge of wrongdoing. Lay hires new CEO Jeffrey Skilling, a visionary who joins Enron on the condition that they utilize mark-to-model accounting, allowing the company to book potential profits on certain projects immediately after the deals are signed…whether or not those projects turn out to be successful. This gives Enron the ability to subjectively give the appearance of being a profitable company even if it isn’t. Skilling imposes his Darwinian worldview on Enron by establishing a review committee that grades employees and annually fires the bottom fifteen percent. This creates a highly competitive and brutal working environment.Skilling hires lieutenants who enforce his directives inside Enron, known as the “guys with spikes.” They include J. Clifford Baxter, an intelligent but manic-depressive executive; and Lou Pai, the CEO of Enron Energy Services, who is notorious for using shareholder money to feed his obsessive habit of visiting strip clubs. Pai abruptly resigns from EES with $250 million, soon after selling his stock. Despite the amount of money Pai has made, the divisions he formerly ran lost $1 billion, a fact covered up by Enron. Pai uses his money to buy a large ranch in Colorado, becoming the second-largest landowner in the state.With its success in the bull market brought on by the dot-com bubble, Enron seeks to beguile stock market analysts by meeting their projections. Executives push up their stock prices and then cash in their multi-million dollar options. Enron also mounts a PR campaign to portray itself as profitable and stable, even though its worldwide operations are performing poorly. Elsewhere, Enron attempts to use broadband technology to deliver movies on demand, and “trade weather” like a commodity; both initiatives fail. However, using mark-to-model accounting, Enron records non-existent profits for these ventures.Enron’s successes continue as it became one of the few Internet-related companies to survive the dot-com bubble burst in 2000, and is named as the “most admired” corporation by Fortune magazine for the sixth year running. However, Jim Chanos, an Enron investor, and Bethany McLean, a Fortune reporter, question irregularities about the company’s financial statements and stock value. Skilling responds by calling McLean “unethical”, and accusing Fortune of publishing her reporting to counteract a positive BusinessWeek piece on Enron. Three Enron executives, including CFO Andrew Fastow, meet with McLean and her Fortune editor to explain the company’s finances. Fastow creates a network of shell companies designed solely to do business with Enron, for the ostensible dual purposes of sending Enron money and hiding its increasing debt. However, Fastow has a vested financial stake in these ventures, using them to defraud Enron of tens of millions of dollars. Fastow also takes advantage of the greed of Wall Street investment banks, pressuring them into investing in his shell entities and, in effect, conduct business deals with himself.
The stark and anonymous warning was a breathtaking event without precedent in modern presidential history.
“For somebody within the belly of the White House to be saying there are a group of us running a resistance, making sure the president of the United States doesn’t do irrational and dangerous things, it is a mind-boggling moment,” historian Douglas Brinkley said.
.. In the Times column, the official writes about the late senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) in heroic terms, describing him as “a lodestar for restoring honor to public life and our national dialogue.”
This invocation angered Trump, who in his private talks with advisers and friends expressed particular dismay because he has long viewed McCain as a personal enemy
.. The president was already feeling especially vulnerable — and a deep “sense of paranoia,” in the words of one confidant — after his devastating portrayal in Woodward’s book. He was upset that so many in his orbit seemed to have spoken with the veteran Washington Post investigative journalist, and he had begun peppering staffers with questions about who Woodward’s sources were.
.. Trump already felt that he had a dwindling circle of people whom he could trust, a senior administration official said. According to one Trump friend, he fretted after Wednesday’s op-ed that he could trust only his children.
.. channeled her boss’s rage and echoed some of his favorite attacks on the media.
Her statement began by invoking Trump’s 2016 election victory and noting, “None of them voted for a gutless, anonymous source to the failing New York Times.” Sanders went on to demand that the paper apologize for what she called the “pathetic, reckless, and selfish op-ed,” and urged the anonymous author to leave the White House.
“The individual behind this piece has chosen to deceive, rather than support, the duly elected President of the United States,” she said in her statement. “He is not putting country first, but putting himself and his ego ahead of the will of the American people. This coward should do the right thing and resign.”
.. The outing of the op-ed’s author is virtually inevitable, according to forensic linguists, who work in both academia and private industry, figuring out the authors of anonymous texts in lawsuits, plagiarism cases and historical puzzles.
.. “a problem with public people is that a lot of their published work is edited, so it’s like mixing fingerprints or DNA. You don’t always know who the real author is.
.. Brinkley, the historian, said the most analogous example of disloyalty and advisers disregarding the president’s wishes was in Richard Nixon’s final year as president. He explained that Nixon would “bark crazy orders” to aides that they intentionally disregarded.
“You’d have to go back to Hans Christian Andersen, ‘The Emperor Has No Clothes,’ to see this syndrome where the president’s reality happens to be so different from his own senior advisers,” Brinkley said.
.. “It means that what we crave in these sham, everything’s-great events is something real.”
There are definitely parts of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” that are wrong, sloppy, or betray off-the-record confidence. But there are two things he gets absolutely right, even in the eyes of White House officials who think some of the book’s scenes are fiction: his spot-on portrait of Trump as an emotionally erratic president, and the low opinion of him among some of those serving him.
.. Wolff’s liberties with off-the-record comments — while ethically unacceptable to nearly all reporters — have the effect of exposing Washington’s insider jokes and secret languages, which normal Americans find perplexing and detestable.
.. In the past year, we have had many of the same conversations with the same sources Wolff used. We won’t betray them, or put on the record what was off. But, we can say that the following lines from the book ring unambiguously true:
.. he seemed almost phobic about having formal demands on his attention.
.. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. … [H]e could read headlines and articles about himself, or at least headlines on articles about himself, and the gossip squibs on the New York Post‘s Page Six.
.. He was postliterate — total television.
Instinct over expertise:
expertise, that liberal virtue, was overrated
[T]he president’s views of foreign policy and the world at large were among [his White House’s] most random, uninformed, and seemingly capricious aspects. His advisers didn’t know whether he was an isolationist or a militarist, or whether he could distinguish between the two.
.. He was enamored with generals and determined that people with military command experience take the lead in foreign policy, but he hated to be told what to do.
.. policy making … flowed up. It was a process of suggesting, in throw-it-against-the-wall style, what the president might want, and hoping he might then think that he had thought of this himself.
Low regard by key aides
If a wackadoo moment occurred on the occasions … when his remarks careened in no clear direction, his staff had to go into intense method-acting response. It took absolute discipline not to acknowledge what everyone could see.
.. he could have moments of, almost everyone would admit, irrationality. When that happened, he was alone in his anger and not approachable by anyone.
.. His senior staff largely dealt with these dark hours by agreeing with him, no matter what he said.
More than half a dozen of the more skilled White House staff are contemplating imminent departures. Many leaving are quite fearful about the next chapter of the Trump presidency.
Two quick thoughts on the Steve Bannon-President Trump feud:
One, it’s a sign of the apparent seriousness of the Russia investigation for Trump’s family and inner circle. The insults got the attention, but the more significant part of Bannon’s remarks may be the “logical, cold-eyed recognition” that prosecutors are building a powerful case, notes Errol Louis at CNN.
.. Two, the feud is a reminder that Bannon has failed to accomplish his biggest ambition: Expanding the Republican coalition to include many more middle-class and working-class voters. “Steve Bannon had a chance to be a genuinely significant figure in American politics and he blew it,” my colleague Ross Douthat wrote on Twitter.
.. In his interview with The Times last week, President Trump spoke admiringly of obviously autocratic tactics, such as using law enforcement as a raw exercise of power. “The president,” as Jonathan Chait points out, “explained his belief that the Department of Justice on principle ought to cover up crimes by the president and his administration.” Trump clearly believes that he deserves to be above the rule of law.
.. The first and most important line of defense, they say, is Trump’s own party. In other countries, would-be authoritarians have often been stopped (or further empowered) by their own party.
..Most Republican leaders seem to know that Trump is grossly unfit for office,
.. Yet “few Republicans have been willing to state publicly what most of them surely know: the Emperor has no clothes. Fear and opportunism have prevailed over the defense of our country and its democratic institutions.”
.. Try to build broader coalitions in defense of democracy. To ensure democracy’s survival, we must build alliances that extend beyond traditional party lines. For liberals, this means forging perhaps uncomfortable alliances — with right-of-center businesspeople, evangelical Christians, and dissident conservatives, among others. A blue-state coalition is simply not enough.
Do More Expensive Wines Taste Better?: They should! It’s a cardinal rule: more expensive items are supposed to be qualitatively better than their cheaper versions... One of these researchers is Robin Goldstein, whose paper detailing more than 6,000 blind tastings reaches the conclusion that “individuals who are unaware of the price do not derive more enjoyment from more expensive wine.”So why do we pay so much attention to critics and connoisseurs who tell us otherwise?
That’s the question we set out to answer in this podcast. Along the way, you’ll hear details about Goldstein’s research as well as the story of how his “restaurant” in Milan, Osteria L’Intrepido, won an Award of Excellence from Wine Spectator magazine. (Not how you think!)