When I saw Playboy magazine's nude pictorial called "Women of Enron Uncover Their Hidden Assets," I felt so proud to be an American.
In some countries, workers who lose their jobs when their employer goes belly up in a scandal-induced bankruptcy might hide their heads in shame. Or maybe march through the streets wearing angry sandwich boards. Or maybe just sit at home, weeping tears of despair.
But not in the good ol' U.S.A.! No way. Here in the land of the free these "Women of Enron" aren't hiding their faces -- or any other part of their bodies. They're not wearing signs -- or anything else. They're not weeping, they're smiling broadly, obviously delighted to be showing their (formerly) private parts to the kind of men who read Playboy.
Is this a great country or what?
In lesser countries, the biggest bankruptcy in history might be considered a great national tragedy. Here, we see it as a good excuse to get naked in a national magazine. Now, really, isn't that a lot healthier?
This photo spread proves that Americans have not lost the spirit of can-do optimism that made this country great. Where other people might see problems, Americans see opportunities. When others say the glass is half-empty, American say it's half-full. When we get lemons, we make lemonade. Just ask Dale Carnegie or Zig Ziglar or any of America's other bestselling self-help gurus.
Or, better yet, ask Carey Lorenzo, one of the 10 lovely Enron ex-employees who doffed their clothes for Playboy. Lorenzo, 31, sounds as if she could be a self-help guru herself.
"I've had a couple of tough breaks," she says in the Playboy article. "What happened at Enron was a valley in my life, but Playboy is definitely a peak. I do believe in the adage, 'What goes around comes around,' and it's definitely my time to get a little bit back. If you surround yourself with goodness, it'll come. I'm going to ride this 15 minutes of fame and try to make it a million hours."
That's the kind of resilient people we have in this great country! Who says traditional American values are dead?
Playboy's Enron pictorial teaches another lesson, too: Despite three decades of feminist attacks on the magazine, lots of American women, many of them intelligent and accomplished, are absolutely thrilled to appear in Playboy. They seem to regard it as an official confirmation of their babeliciousness.
Taria Reed, 31, a married former Enron database coordinator who posed for this issue, says she wants to become a math professor. What would she think, the magazine asked, if a student discovers this naked picture and asks for an autograph?
"That would be cool," she says.
If you like this sort of thing, you're in luck. American businesses are following Enron into scandal and bankruptcy at an astonishing rate. Playboy is already planning pictorials on the women of WorldCom and Arthur Andersen. Perhaps we'll soon see "The Girls of ImClone," and "The Babes of Tyco," or even "The Ladies of Harken and Halliburton."
Enron's Taxes, Laid Bare
Speaking of Enron, did you know that the company -- which was America's seventh-largest corporation -- paid no federal income tax in four of the last five years? Not only that but it received $382 million in tax refunds.
Legal Affairs -- a new magazine about "the intersection of law and life" -- explains how Enron pulled this off with "sham" tax shelters.
"In recent years," writes Sheldon D. Pollack, "it has become commonplace for large corporations to invest in tax shelters that greatly shrink their tax bills. . . . When the government challenges these deductions, the law is usually on its side. But enforcement is devilishly difficult -- and many tax lawyers are making things worse."
The scheme works like this: Accounting firms and Wall Street investment bankers sell the corporation a tax shelter. Then they hire a tax lawyer to write an "opinion letter" that says the deal is legit. That way, if the IRS rules that the tax shelter is illegal, the company can avoid penalties by saying, "Hey, our lawyer said it was okay."
The lawyers -- some of them from America's most prominent law firms -- charge millions to write these letters. Corporations happily pay those fees because they collectively save billions.
Pollack's piece is only one of several interesting articles in the July-August issue of Legal Affairs, which debuted this spring. The magazine is affiliated with Yale Law School, but don't let that scare you away. The writing is accessible, not academic, and the subject matter is anything but dry.
The current issue has several dispatches from the messy trenches of the legal system, including the cover story, which was written by a Bronx public defender who got thrown out of one judge's court for his allegedly overzealous defense of a person he contends was innocent.
There's also a wonderfully macabre piece on the 19th-century practice of robbing graves to supply medical schools with cadavers. The story of how a Philadelphia med school stole corpses from an African American cemetery in 1882 could make a great horror movie. Spike Lee, call your agent.
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