- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 16, 2002

"Oh, Lord. The winds of scandal rumor are so great; and our rudder of logic is so tiny. Whither goest our ship in this gathering storm?" I offer this little prayer as we embark to salvage the wreckage from the sinking of the S.S. Enron. Of course, the attention given to this salvage operation is possible only because there is a brief lull in the greater storm the mortal storm that at any minute may kill thousands of us as we work or play or rest. But enough of such important matters, we are entitled to a little diversion after the horrors of last fall.

When the sweet perfume of scandal wafts suggestively in the nostrils of reporters and politicians, they go mad with desire. More than one sturdy newsman has forsaken his trothed love of objective facts, and surrendered his passion to that perfumed harlot. Indeed, the front pages of our newspapers and the breathless narratives of our famous television newsreaders are as we sit here filled with inexplicable verbal discharges.

For instance, it was widely reported earlier this week that the designated goat of this morality play one Kenneth Lay fiendishly e-mailed his employees at Enron on Aug. 21 and encouraged them that he was looking to restore investor confidence in Enron stock (which had dropped from over 80 to the mid 30s by that date). Both Republican and Democratic congressmen their nostrils also laced with the corrupting perfume suggested that Mr. Lay was trying to trick his employees to stick with the Enron stock, while in the past year he had dumped his stock.

While I hardly know all the facts and I am therefore agnostic on Mr. Lay's moral and legal culpability, I know a couple of interesting pieces of datum. According to public records, on Aug. 20, Mr. Lay exercised a stock option to acquire 25,000 shares of Enron stock at a cost of $519,500. And, on Aug. 21 the day of the infamous e-mail he so acquired another 68,620 shares at a cost of $1,479,447. Those are the last publicly recorded Enron stock transactions by Mr. Lay.

So, at least on those two days, he was putting his money where his mouth was. While $1,998,947 may be chicken feed to a rich CEO, in my regrettable experience, even rich CEOs don't willingly give away such sums. After all, a fellow can still buy a pretty snazzy car for $2 million bucks.

Was this expenditure of $2 million a diabolical ruse to further sucker his employees? Was he leaving pungent cheese on deck to lure his employee rats away from the lifeboats? Perhaps he was twirling his hideous waxed mustache as he gained sadistic pleasure in their impending financial suffering. That seems to be the story being presented to the public this week. Or maybe things were careening out of control, and this was a sincere, last desperate effort to save the ship from sinking.

While it is true that in the past two years he had been selling more than buying on his stock options, it is also true that over the last year he has lost paper profits of almost $1 billion dollars on stocks that he held. Apparently he is not only a clever fiend, but a damned fool, too.

But if some reporters and politicians are more or less innocent victims of the wayward corrupting perfume, other liberal editorial writers are furiously swabbing their nostrils with it. How else could these fevered minds be citing Enron as the irrefutable argument on behalf of Sen. John McCain's campaign-finance control legislation?

Good grief: According to current news accounts, after spending over $5 million on 70 percent of the senators, including Hillary, over half the congressmen, both President Clinton and President Bush and unknown numbers of state and local politicians not a single elected or appointed politician in the greater Washington metropolitan statistical area provided even the slightest gesture of support as Enron went bankrupt. This wasn't a case of a company being too big to fail: It was a case of being too politically generous to be protected. Never has so much been given to so many for so little.

The lesson from this debacle is that the alleged infamous cash and carry system of Washington politics has completely broken down: Against all expectations, Washington is apparently a town filled with unbuyable, incorruptible politicians. What has politics come to when a secretary of commerce (for goodness sake) doesn't even feel the need to check with his boss before stiffing his old buddy, the biggest contributor to his boss's election?

Don't feel sorry for the electorate; pity the miserable political fund-raisers who now have to try to raise money with no wink and nod hint of political influence yet to come.


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