Review of “Smartest Guys in the Room” by Bethany McLean

The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of EnronThe Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron by Bethany McLean
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Enron business story remains one of the most significant instances of business corruption leading to failure and bankruptcy in American history. This book gives an excellent overview of the business practices of Enron, and of the roles played by the major players on the inside. In my opinion the author does a really terrific job of shedding light on the business in a non-technical way, allowing for all to understand the insanity that constituted the Enron business model and practices.
McLean brings us the major players, including Enron top man Ken Lay, who was a major player on the social and political scene in Houston, and had national political connections. We meet Jeff Skilling, the McKinsey alumnus who brings great drive and “brains” to the table, operating as the day to day manager of the operation, and who likely bears much of the responsibility for the calamity that Enron became. We get introduced to Andy Fastow, who devised the complex financial tools that enabled Enron to hide massive losses “off book” while enriching himself through the “third party entities” where the losses were stashed.

The Enron story obviously has many more major players, but these three are the real “stars” of this story. The devotion to financial practices that caused the collapse takes center stage, and those practices should be a main focus. However the collapse entailed far more than shady financial practices. For a group with the these business pedigrees the poor business decisions were shocking, and were the real reason for the collapse. The financial chicanery was necessary to paper over the losses created by the business geniuses at Enron, while enabling the company to put out a false narrative that fooled the investing public, and drove the stock price higher, and enabled all involved to draw huge compensation packages. While the stock price continued to rise the fraud was manageable, but it is not hard to see now that it was never truly sustainable, especially with the disastrous business decisions made by Skilling.

There are many lessons to be learned from the debacle, and the book covers some of them. Board oversight, or the lack of that oversight, was especially damning here. The complicity of the rating agencies in this fraud is self evident, and they bear a heavy burden for the ultimate calamity.

The disturbing trend of dismissing “management details” did not start with Enron, but that style of management usually leads to disaster, and seems to have more fans than ever before. Certainly the management team at Enron, especially Lay, practiced that methodology. Those details may be pesky, but they are usually the difference between success and failure. If there was a shoddy business practice you will likely find it practiced by the “smartest guys in the room,” the Enron management team. Great book, highly recommended.

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Tedeschi Trucks and Jorma Kick It on “Key to the Highway”

I had the opportunity to get into the Orpheum on December 1 to see Tedeschi-Trucks on the first of a three night stand in Boston. My third time seeing them, and this one was was the best of the three. It was the only night of the three that Jorma Kaukonen was the opening act, and that alone was worth the price of admission. Jorma gave us a terrific opening set, and then joined Tedeschi-Trucks for the blues classic, “Key to the Highway” which was a barn burner. The song appears on the Derek and the Dominos Layla album, with a blistering duet between Eric Clapton and Duane Allman. I picked up the Orpheum video from Sean Roche’s You Tube Channel. He did a great job capturing one of the highlights of the night.

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Seabrook Procures a New Recycling Truck

The Town of Seabrook purchased a new recycling truck, which is now in service collecting our recyclables curbside. The truck was procured after a long process of laying out specifications, and careful management of the the truck build out after bid award. John Starkey, and his staff, worked hard on putting together the process, and overseeing the truck build to ensure we got the best value for Seabrook taxpayers. The recycling truck was financed with dollars from our recycling program, with no impact to our taxpayers. Thank you to John Starkey and the staff for all of the hard work.


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Seabrook Fire Procures a New Ambulance

The brand new ambulance procured by the Seabrook Fire Department has arrived, and is now “on the street.” This ambulance is financed with revenues from the ambulance service, with no impact to our tax rate. The Seabrook Fire Department, with a highly trained group of EMT’s and medics, provides first rate ambulance service to the people of Seabrook. Congratulations to Chief Edwards and Deputy Perkins.


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Seabrook Tree Lighting 2016

The Seabrook Christmas Tree Lighting occurred Saturday night, and I would like to thank the Seabrook Lions Club, Trinity Church, and our man Stan, who worked very hard to make sure the event was a success, and that the lights went on after we threw the switch. Thanks to the Seabrook Fire Department and the Seabrook Police Department for all of their assistance.





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Congrats to Seabrook Fire Captain Harold Hewlett

Congratulations to retiring Seabrook Fire Captain Harold “Tuggy” Hewlett, who stepped down after 30 plus years of service to the residents of Seabrook. Wishing Tug and his family a very long and happy retirement, and I sincerely hope we can keep him around Seabrook Fire so that we can continue to rely on his wisdom. A great guy, and a true professional who will be sorely missed.



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Review of Ike’s Gamble by Michael Doran

Ike's Gamble: America's Rise to Dominance in the Middle EastIke’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East by Michael Doran
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good book, with a strong point of view that some think still has relevance in todays Middle East. Doran gives us a view not only of the Suez crisis, but of the post WWII erosion of the British position as the dominant Middle Eastern power, and the corresponding rise of Colonel Gamal Abdul Nasser as both an Egyptian strongman, and the leader of a Pan Arab nationalist, anti-coloniast movement about to sweep the Middle East.

I enjoy history, but the Suez crisis of 1956 has been an area that I have not had much exposure to. This book is a great start for someone with no real knowledge of how this crisis came to be, and how it ended. The broad stroke here is that President Eisenhower, along with Secretary of State Dulles, faced with the rise of Nasser, chose to lend support to him, with Ike having an anti-coloniast bent, as well as a desire to freeze the Soviet Union out of any role in the Middle East. Doran gives great “credit” to Nasser, who he shows badly outmaneuvering Ike and Dulles. Nasser, by this account, utilized brilliant statecraft to get Ike’s support to remove the British military from Suez, and that same statecraft to win a huge victory over the British, French and Israeli’s in the 1956 Suez War. This brilliant “success” by Nasser is aided and abetted, in Doran’s telling, by the gullibility of the Americans, who were in essence duped by Nasser, who cleverly hid his true intentions from the Americans, including the “Arabists” populating the State Department and the CIA.

How did Nasser achieve this brilliant “statecraft,” and what were his real goals and objectives? Doran shows us that Nasser’s true goals were achieving political pre-eminence in the Arab world, with his main objective eliminating Arab rivals, and making himself and Egypt the center of the Arab world. Ike, and Dulles, believing that Nasser desired accommodation with the west, floated an “honest broker” approach with Israel, hoping that by pressuring Israel for territorial concessions Nasser would be mollified, and willing to make peace with the Israelis. Doran strongly believes that Nasser was simply using the Arab-Israeli conflict to stoke the Arab street, and whipsaw his Arab rivals. The evidence, as I see it, tends to support Doran’s theory. Nasser also utilized the great power rivalry to further confuse, and deceive the Americans. Doran shows us what he believes Nasser’s real goals were, with a focus on his violent opposition to the American sponsored “Northern Tier” and his eventual success in toppling the Iraqi government. Nasser was successful at not only deceiving the Americans but at doing tremendous damage to the American position in the Middle East over the longer term.

Is there some connection to American policy today? No question that history brings important lessons and we must always learn from them. What those lessons are can be discussed forever, but this book brings an interesting perspective. For those interested in the diplomatic world, and how it works, and how Nasser worked the diplomatic system to achieve his geopolitical goals this book should be on your list. An interesting perspective on Ike, who comes off as duped by Nasser, but as the ultimate pragmatist, shifting gears when he finally caught on. The question of whether Ike ever acknowledged error in 1956 is discussed, with claims from several, including Richard Nixon, that Ike had privately admitted mistake in forcing the British, French, and Israelis to stop the taking of Suez. But Ike never took that step publicly, so we are only left with speculation on that subject.

Doran has produced a fine book, with a certain perspective. Some of the reviews I looked at have been critical of his approach, but even if you agree with some of those criticisms it is worth a read.

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