Friday, December 16, 2005

Put-Upon Victim Speaks Truth to Power

Like you, we felt a faint twinge of sympathy earlier this week when we learned of the plight of Ken Lay. We knew already that Lay faces federal fraud and conspiracy charges; what we didn’t know is that Lay, like the 2,800 people who died in the World Trade Center, is the victim of an organized terror plot. As he told the Forum Club of Houston, quoting the always quotable Winston Churchill, in a Churchillian cadence:
"Truth is a great rock. Whether it will continue to be submerged by a wave, a wave of terror by the Enron Task Force, will be determined by former Enron employees."
This came in the course of a speech in which the former Enron CEO rehearsed his market-tested courtroom defense before an audience of his peers, or what used to be his peers, as he prepares to stand trial next month. An apparently agonizingly long portion of his talk was devoted to his contention that he is being persecuted, in ways both immoral and illegal, by the above-cited task force, a notion that most likely will be allowed only a subliminal airing in the courtroom and thus is being offered up to influence the court of public opinion, in the person of would-be jurors, former employees and other potential sympathizers (you’re out there somewhere, just not easily visible).

Lay’s well-burnished courtroom defense will be to blame Enron’s vertiginous fall on the sneaky criminality of the arch-mastermind “Andy” (a big-time criminal indeed) and the subsequent “run on the bank” that sent the company he put together and nurtured to an unseemly P/E ratio into an irreversible downward spiral before Lay had time to grab his ass and holler for his mama.

The sophisticates rolled their eyes and chuckled up their sleeves at these patently transparent rationalizations, justifications and blame-shiftings, yet we strongly suspect that Ken Lay’s exercise in victimology will work. Almost everyone in North America, including Lay and his wife, knows that he’s guilty of something (world’s biggest fuck-up, world’s worst chief executive officer, world’s dumbest ass, world’s most clueless captain of industry, world’s most blindly faithful believer ... ), but we’d bet the $8 or $9 we cleared (after taxes and expenses) on our ill-advised purchase of Azurix shares that the federal prosecutors will be unable to persuade a jury that that something meets the definition of a crime (or crimes).

Enron is a tragicomedy, with many more comedic elements than tragic ones, and Lay delivered only the most recent farcical turn when he implored his former Enron employees to rise up and rally to tell the world his company actually was a “substantial” one (as it indeed was at one time) with “values and vision” (if you say so, sport) and thus push back the terror wave and un-submerge that rock of truth. (This plea brings to our mind a former governor of Louisiana whose signature, when asking the people for their support, was to look beseechingly into the camera and say, “Won’t you he’p me?”)

We'd be surprised if any ex-employees heed the call. They, we would imagine, have been used enough by Ken Lay (could be wrong, of course---some people just can't stop believin').

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