In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a new species of businessman sprung up across the land. Known as "robber barons," they were known, sometimes unjustly, but often accurately, for their ruthless tactics and their aggressive use of government connections to acquire vast wealth.
Many current rules and laws regarding insider trading and anti-trust were inspired by the activities of the robber barons.
Kenneth Lay, until recently head of the Enron Corporation, fits of mold of the historical robber barons. Lay allegedly took advantage of perceived loopholes as he built Enron into one of the most profitable firms in the nation's history.
According to Capitol Hill investigators, Lay and his cohorts saw the writing on the wall. As discoveries began to be uncovered - tales of alleged "cooking the books" to show profits that really weren't there and the shredding of vital documents began to take place - Lay and his comrades-in-arms quietly cashed out and have since feigned innocence at their role in the company's foundering.
Prior to Enron's implosion, executives from there and other leading energy companies had meetings with White House staff. The actual conversations remain secret, but critics allege that the meetings helped Bush Administration staffers shape the President's energy policy.
Liberal Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), backed by a federal court, is now demanding that the minutes of those meetings be made public. Waxman insinuates that the Bush Administration knew Enron was about to implode and did nothing. Or is it that the Bush Administration knew and helped keep things quiet so the "robber barons" could escape? Or was it that Enron supposedly funneled some of the plundered monies to the Bush Administration? In any event, Waxman says "we" need to know.
Never one to let the potential for a photo opportunity pass him by, Reverend Jesse Jackson and many other left-wingers weighed in on Enron, insisting that the conservatives in power benefited from Enron - doing so at the expense of displaced Enron employees.
Now while all of this is going on, Democratic National Committee (DNC) head Terry McAuliffe has a good friend in the chairman of Global Crossing Corporation, Gary Winnick. Winnick is a rather significant Democratic contributor. He's given millions to the DNC in the past. Winnick gave McAuliffe a ground-floor opportunity to purchase $100,000 in Global Crossing stock at an initial public offering price - which is not ordinarily available to anyone outside of Wall Street insiders.
Global Crossing recently filed what is now the fourth largest bankruptcy in American business history. But McAuliffe got out unscathed. In fact, he came out quite well. McAuliffe cashed out before things went bad and profited from Global Crossing to the tune of $18 million dollars.
"Just a sound personal investment," McAuliffe says. Yeah, I'd like to make a handy 18,000% profit on my investments, too.
Yet McAuliffe joins Waxman, Jackson and many of television's other talking heads in demanding an investigation of alleged White House ties to the downfall of Enron. Aren't we looking at a true double standard here? I don't see anyone wanting an investigation of the DNC or of McAuliffe for their role with Global Crossing, but the talking heads are spinning out of control trying to keep the public's attention squarely on the White House and Enron.
I guess the robber barons of the world take care of their own.
(Michael King is a member of the African-American leadership
network Project 21 and an Internet and radio broadcaster in Atlanta,
Georgia. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
A downloadable photo of Michael King is available at http://www.nationalcenter.org/StaffP21MHKingHead.jpg.)
Note: New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21.