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Documenting One Of The Biggest Business Frauds In American History #DocumentaryReview

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By Apurav Maggu:

If there is anything that defines my love for 90’s, it would be President Bill Clinton, F.R.I.E.N.D.S (T.V show) and this documentary (in descending order). The voracious, ravening, ever surging ahead, markets of 90’s could not have been better romanticized by any documentary.

Enron

Most of us haven’t heard of the name of the company, only some (maybe our fathers have) remember its name and its intention to open up a plant in Dhabol in Mumbai during the 2000’s, however, the company was responsible for one of the most massive frauds in the Corporate history of the  U.S.

It’s the economy stupid

‘Government is not the solution to the problem, government is the problem’. The US is reeling from strategic defeats in Iran and Middle East with an ailing economy turned pro-business, fiscally conservative turned towards the pop star of politics, Ronald Reagan who vowed to dismantle burdensome regulations on the business and let market forces decide the course of American economy.

Eron

After Reagan, Daddy Bush helped push the deregulation motto ahead with slogans like ‘read my lips, no more taxes’ and acted as major proponent of deregulating the gas industry. State and business institutions shook hands to create massive empires of crony capitalism. Enron was promised billions of dollars in subsidy and in return Enron became the largest contributor of campaign finance to Bush Sr.’s campaign which was absolutely unprecedented in the US presidential history.

The Prophets. Not The Mohammed, but…

1. Kenny Boy

Son of a Baptist minister with poor origins, Kenneth Lay, a PhD in economics from Harvard and head of the company, dreamt of free markets and the world of business while sitting on a farm tractor. Ahead of the curve, he dreamt energy markets and vast networks of pipelines to be unshackled from the bureaucratic and regulatory control of the Govt.

Masters of deregulation conglomerated in the early 90’s to create markets which would seem outright science fiction. For e.g. a market in weather, where markets could bet on weather, markets in bandwidth, corporate insurance, markets in electricity, innovation and risk tried to outpace each other.

The company achieved a cult status for its innovation. While the company grew, a Harvard nerd would transform the nature of the company.

2. The selfish Gene of Darwin’s Protégé

‘Are you smart?’ and the reply was ‘I am Fucking smart.’, when Jeff Skilling (C.E.O of Enron) was asked this question by his professor in an interview for Harvard University. His story is that of an old 70’s movie formula of a geek to a classic hob throb, only its premises was the Wall Street. Enron transformed itself into the most Darwinian corporations in the history of corporate America under his aegis. He said ‘if you move on time, you could accomplish a lot of things’ and ‘every idea can be monetized and commoditized.’ He had a Darwinian notion of the world that world only moves on greed, self prosperity and ‘acquiring’ is the only motto in life.

A peer review process, where a group would review the performance of the others and yank them out of job, if they are not making profits,(http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_NxYUpLE6A), the genius idea was to get away from involving the company into stupid and cumbersome infrastructure construction of pipelines and providing gas, and instead trade it as a financial commodity, like a stock.

M. YASS

Mark to market deals helped Enron to build a gigantic paper empire. What nobody realized was, the empire was a house of cards built on a pool of gasoline. Creative accounting practices with the help of phony people and company’s corporate money, invested in Enron stock, on the only condition that it would always rise up.

In layman terms, mark to market is a type of a deal where the company projects its future profits of the project before it even starts, so that investors could pitch in money and the sole onus of investing doesn’t fall on the company only.

One of the murky deals involved an investment by a Lebanese speculator, Mr. M. YASS. A joke on the regulators and regulating agencies, as the real name of that non-existent person was ‘My ass.’ Loads of curious deals like these, for e.g. shelf companies like Raptor, Chewco, Jedi, YODA, Death star, Star Galactica (Reference to Star Wars) invested in the company and its CFO Andy Fastow used Enron Corporate money through these shelf companies and involved other banks and investment firms to tap their money into Enron stock so it always goes up and up. He betted his money, Enron money on the future guarantee that Enron stock would always go up and up, no matter what.

Ask how

Enron’s business dealings did pose a lot of questions, like even after a bad quarter how was it able to make profits and show higher returns on its balance sheets. What was its business style (which was unclear to a lot of wall street analysts) and why did it never show its balance sheets and even if it did, how come it was able to show surging growth year after year.

Most of the agencies and govt. and private regulators had accepted Enron’s balance sheets on the company’s face value. Those who asked were shooed away or made enemy no. 1. A big time investor enquired about the company’s balance sheet only to be jolted by its CEO’s reply ‘we will keep that in mind, Asshole.’ Greed met pride which met ‘alpha male image’ and it informally changed the company’s tagline.

Ask why, Asshole

From a 70 billion dollar company in 10 years, it was reduced to 20 million dollars in the matter of 21 days. Sharon Watkins, the whistleblower who came out bravely to blow the cover on this casino became the victim of media propaganda and character assassination. The systemic risk, regulatory lax could not be prosecuted because there were no laws to handle a scandal of epic proportions like this.

10 years on, 120,000 employees lost their jobs with no pension money and no social security while the C.E.O’s cashed out and bailed themselves out of the crisis. Enron is a lot similar to Titanic, only in this sinking ship, the captain of this ship lowered the lifeboats for himself, gave himself and his crew a huge bonus and told everyone ‘by the way, everything is going to be fine.’

Rating

It is a fine, classic piece of how greed, insecurity, cult and money can intertwine and enmesh to form a Casino/company which can go nuts. It would be fair to say that you can have a plush home, the best office space in the company and the best company to work for and ultimately, it is your integrity which will determine you. The greatest innovation of globalization is the globalization of greed and to think that it is gone, think of Lehmann or Northern Rock in 2008, five years on and the man who crashed the Wall Street in 2008 just did an Enron 2.0. It’s a must watch to understand corporatism.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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