the CAMP ENRON Report


CAMP ENRON:
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?

Some say it's nothing but a train wreck ... roll in the big cranes, clear the track, see what the crew's been smoking. If I thought so, I'd not be writing this ... and if they thought so, they'd not be drumming so hard.


For a brief orientation, see this
Welcome to Camp Enron

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Camp Enron Archives
01/01/2002 - 02/01/2002 02/01/2002 - 03/01/2002 03/01/2002 - 04/01/2002 04/01/2002 - 05/01/2002 05/01/2002 - 06/01/2002 06/01/2002 - 07/01/2002 07/01/2002 - 08/01/2002 08/01/2002 - 09/01/2002 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003

NOTE to READERS:
(2) All "major" articles of older material have now been imported, some with updates worth perusing. We'll keep it all on the main page for a while, will add a few loose pieces of history, will trim the main page and index the archives for convenience later.


OUR DEPARTMENTS:

the COGENT PROVOCATEUR:
free agent, loose cannon, pointy stick ... taking an imposing analytic toolkit out of the box, over the wall and into the street ... with callous disregard for accepted wisdom and standard English

reading the tea leaves from original angles, we've led with uncannily prescient takes on the federal surplus, the dotcom crash, the "Energy Crisis", the Afghan campaign, the federal deficit.

More where those came from ... stay tuned.


For brief orientation, see this
Welcome to CP


CAMP ENRON:
... gateway to the next Progressive Era?

For a brief orientation, see this
Welcome to Camp Enron

OTHER GOOD STUFF:
Many thanks to Tony Adragna and Will Vehrs, still shouting 'cross the Potomac at QuasiPundit. Early Camp Enron material can be found in QP's Dispatches department.
Thursday, June 13, 2002

 
--- It's Not Dead ... It's Not Even Sleeping ---

Camp Enron wakes every day to chirps and murmurs of press distraction, public apathy, political torpor. Monday's NYT detailed the ebb and stanch of Enron-inspired reform in Congress. Tuesday Arianna Huffington told us how "bankers' blackmail had the desired effect ... this is how Enron ends, not with a bang but a whimper -- and a donation." Wednesday morning, Fortune's Jeff Birnbaum on NPR declared Enron is polling at 1%, and the business-as-usual lobby is eating reform advocates' lunch (even as Fortune's cover blares "System Failure").

True, dozens of reform proposals lay dying in the 107th Congress. True, favors for Enron miscreants (PUHCA repeal, liability constraints, statutes of limitation, executive pension provisions) are more likely to pass. All that being the case ... WHAT THE @%$# IS WRONG WITH YOU MEWLING MAGGOTS?!? Doesn't anybody here know the first thing about reform epochs? Who says the mountain has to move by Independence Day? What are you kids smoking, anyway?

A natural progression is unfolding as it should. The essential elements are present, the inevitable reaction will occur ... it just takes time ... and maybe heat ... and a little gentle agitation.

Rome wasn't sacked in a day, desegregation didn't happen overnight, and the Progressive Era was more than a miniseries. We stand comfortably by our 2001-01-18 prediction: Enron will have more effect in the 2012 election cycle than in 2002.


Were you tuned in expecting a classic rematch -- "this time our side wins!" -- as Enron delivers fresh ammo to battleweary reform troopers holding out on ancient trenchlines? The stalemate turns fluid, the balance of forces shifts, progressives recapture a few outposts lost in the Reagan Revolution? And if this shoot-out isn't over by sundown, Enron's fifteen minutes are up and we go on to the next big thing? Isn't this naive, to say the least?


The Enron Affair is, as Josh Marshall pegged it, a meta-scandal ... a timely emblem and trigger for waves of overdue creative destruction. It upsets the prevailing meta-context ... the whole system of understandings, landmarks and counterpoises around which familiar issues and institutions are bred and fed. The implications defy simple extrapolation, and won't be worked out that quickly.

Enron doesn't simply bump along and convey increments of momentum to existing bodies already in motion. It tilts the landscape, transforms the coordinate system, changes the climate, redefines the food chain, rewrites history, strips everyone of their uniforms and decorations. It alters the angle of the sun by which the entire garden of self-interest is enlightened. It changes the locks, reshuffles the deck, reshapes the globe and re-colors the sky.

Please excuse any inconvenience. We appreciate your patience while we make a few needed changes in ... everything under the sun.

Tectonic paradigm shift may be marked by loud bursts of punctuation, but the underlying dynamics are gradual. It doesn't start with a cinematic climax -- the forces of Light heaving a massive reform package through the splintering fortifications of Castle Dark. Like any other movement of historic scale and scope, this history moves not at a steady pace, nor in a straight line.


"Time is nature's way of making sure everything doesn't happen at once" (Woody Allen) ... and there are good reasons for that.
We have no idea where we're going. (Anybody who thinks we do is looking at outdated maps.) Nobody alive today knows how to do financial reporting in the Age of Derivatives ... or market governance in the Age of Globalism ... or democracy in the Electronic Age ... or capitalism in the Information Age ... or taxation in the Age of Mobility. It's not even clear which symptoms are surface manifestations, which are root problems, and which are side effects. Getting oriented is a large-scale, long-term participative exercise.

We're not organized yet -- either progressives or conservatives. The conservative coalition (as always) clusters around society's "haves", who have obvious reasons for thinking the way things have always been is the way things should always be. Few in number (as always), "haves" balance the scales by staking out wedge-issue positions to recruit "have not" auxiliaries. The progressive opposition (as always) does most of its recruiting in the policy space vacated by conservative allies. With the landscape shifting underfoot, both coalitions must redefine, re-identify and renegotiate. Only then can decisive battles be engaged.

We all have other jobs ... other short-run agendas, and other ties that bind us to anchor points in yesterday's landscape. Every aspiring progressive leader is already bought in to entangling positions or constituencies that end up on the wrong side of the new line of scrimmage. Every would-be conservative clings to monkey-trap attachments too doomed to keep and too dear to let go.
Reform epochs follow a certain protocol. First things happen first; later things happen later. The first impulse of reform is reactive, shallow ("the enemy of my enemy is my friend"), and usually infertile.

Reformers take time to discover common threads that connect disparate complaints ... to figure out who they are, what they stand for, what they can get and how to get it. As a standard vocabulary of reform takes shape, it becomes easier for like-minded individuals to recognize one another at first encounter.

Reform's larval stages are hosted by existing organizations. Later, at critical mass, reform factions can opt to take over, split off, or work within. In political parties, a few will gnaw their way onto the ballot, into office, onto committees of jurisdiction and into leadership positions. Likewise, a generation of young "Enron Rangers" -- aggressive public interest lawyers -- will develop formative case experience in litigation and regulatory staff assignments before breaking out as candidates for elective office.

Some of the heirs to yesterday's progressive movements find new life in the new ecosystem, while others fail to adapt. Old doctrines, slogans, anthems will be dusted off and refitted. Some will find better traction than others.


At every stage of this process, better-defined opposition emerges to counter better-defined reform. This interplay helps sharpen the necessary edges. At some point the chasm between ill-gotten-gain loyalists and value-for-value insurgents may gape wide enough to become the dominant axis of polarization, around which most other polarities are then opportunistically force-fit.

Yesterday's in-crowd must then calculate what ground can be held and what must yield, and how the energies of the situation can be harnessed to advantage. As in the civil rights movement, for instance, more adaptive notables see the writing on the wall and re-flag themselves in place, preserving or leveraging their original endowments. Old-guard die-hards close ranks, lay low, wait for the fray to pass them by. In their turn, the insurgents will enjoy opportunities to overreach, create havoc, make fools of themselves, and provoke counterreaction.


The visible history of power normally tracks historic change in the conceptual atmosphere. In the ecology of public discourse, imperceptible shifts in near-ground atmospherics can invert the prevailing gradients of comparative advantage. These shifts have radical implications for climax flora and fauna.

The rise, containment and fall of Communism brought waves of exaggerated alarmist, fundamentalist and triumphalist buzz in little-read opinion journals of the Right. These bled into and eventually dominated mainstream discourse. In like manner, the collapse of Enron (and everything that crawls out from under its disturbed foundation) will create its own meme-storms, seeding and fertilizing the vocabulary of commonplace political expression in the early 21st century.

Typical family diet can shift radically over a generation -- less red meat, more fiber, less catsup, more salsa. Likewise at the kitchen table of public opinion, "Long Live Billionaires, Creators of Jobs" may go the way of "Long Live the King, Protector of the Realm".


Looking to the near future, the 2002 election cycle may pass without a single incumbent nailed to the Cross of Enron. By 2004, we'll have a better idea who the real black hats are, and a few will be taken down. When that happens, fence-sitters in both parties will see the writing on the wall. We won't have to wait for 2006 to see the movement really start moving.

General press and general public will be among the last to know, and among the first to proclaim "We knew it all along". Ironically, almost all today's reformist energy springs from the investing class. They've stopped thinking "this will all blow over" and started realizing "we can't go on like this". [I'll delve deeper in a separate piece to follow shortly.]


By the dictates of Kinsley's Law, the real scandal is what's legal. By that standard, Enron is no ordinary capitalist pigfarm ... and you don't chew your way through a fine herd like this in one sitting.