Monday, January 8, 2007

"Let us sell then you and me"

Exxon Valdez grounded on Bligh ReefMy friend Bartleby, who prefers not to do his own blogging, shared the following poem with me recently. He says that the text dates back to 1990, not long after the Exxon Valdez tanker spilled oil all over the pristine southern coast of Alaska, and that he remembered the poem when he recently read that the appeals court reduced the damages Exxon Mobil was required to pay. He also sends along his apologies to T.S. Eliot.

The Swan Song of J. Andrew Slackmeyer

Caveat emptor

Let us sell then you and me,
While the oil spreads across the sea
Like a drunkard spilled upon some barroom floor;
Let us go door by door through suburban developments,
Freeway clogged with BMWs and SaabsThe rambling envelopments
Of empty days in time-clocked jobs
Past freeways clogged with BMWs and Saabs:
Developments that follow like no argument at all,
Cancerous, they sprawl,
To lead you to an overwhelming question ...
Oh, do not ask, "What in hell?"
Let us go and buy and sell.

On the tube the women come and go talking about Mop-'n'-Glo.

The acid rain that wraps its coils about the evergreens,
The acid rain that sets its fangs upon the evergreens
Trees killed by acid rain in the Great Smoky MountainsDrooled venom upon the corpse that was the land,
Dallied by the toxic waste that fills the drains,
Let drop like scales the soot that rises from smokestacks,
Passed from beneath the trees, hissed a tired sigh,
But hearing time's powerful pipe,
Slithered soundlessly into the water supply.

For indeed will there be time
For the acid rain that lurks among the trees,
Slithering its coils about the evergreens?
Will there be time, will there be time
To prepare new products to seize the markets that one sees?
Will there be time to kill, and time to curse,
And time for all the talk and days of hands
That lift the money from one's purse?
Time for me and time for you,
And time yet for a hundred acquisitions.
And for a thousand missions and admissions,
Before the taking of some coke or brew?

On the tube the women come and go talking about Mop-'n'-Glo.

Mop & Glo bottleYes indeed will there be time
To ponder, "Dare I do?" and, "When?" and, "To who?"
Time to create something ghastly new,
But with, perhaps, a use or two --
[They will say: "How his concept is positively chic!"]
The factories I build will belch and leak,
The waste I dump out will fester and reek --
[They will say: "But how his profits do rise and peak!"]
Dare I do
Such a thing perverse?
In a year is there time
For legislation and litigation that an appeal will reverse?

For I have bought them all already, bought them all --
Have bought the politicians, judges, police,
Have bought the publishers, the union bosses; the lawyers, I lease.
How should I begin to presume?

I should have been a tax free bond trader
flitting across the floors of financial exchanges.

Should not I, after flouting laws and cutting deals have the
wherewithal to make new steals?
But though I have perjured myself and taken the fifth,
Though I have had my subpoenas served to me upon a platter,
I am no financial prophet -- my portfolio no fatter.
I have heard the bonfires of my solvency crackle,
And I have heard the Infernal Revenue Service cackle,
And in short, I was chagrined.

Adam Smith come back from the dead on the cover of Time magazineAnd what would its net worth have been after all?
After the deductions, credits and restructuring write-offs,
After the three-martini lunches, after the private memberships,
After chasing skirts in the secretarial pool.
Would it have been worth my while,
To have squeezed the whole earth into one diversified conglomerate?
To say: "I am Adam Smith, come from the dead,
Come back to sell you all, I shall sell you all" --
It is just impossible to mean what I say!

No! I have no trump to play, no Carnegie was meant to be;
Am a small-time industrialist, one that will do
To carry weight in a county or two,
Buy a few favors; no doubt an easy mark,
Full of great plans, but a bit short on capital;
Almost, at times, a bankrupt.

I grow poor ... I grow poor ...
I shall float a junk bond upon the floor.

Shall I sell off a subsidiary? Do I dare restructure what I own?
Mammon from Collin de Plancy's Dictionnaire InfernalI shall falsify my records and secure another loan,
I have heard investors ringing, phone to phone.

I do not think that they will ring for me.

We have lingered in the profits of the short term,
By Mammon crowned with man-made green and gold,
'Til earthly debts do break us and we're sold.

Thursday, January 4, 2007

"Why is CBS writing me and what is Medco?"

A little out of focus but she is wearing the Christmas pin we gave her so many years agoMy dear 90 year old grandmother, who spent almost all of her working years assembling light switches for Westinghouse, retired a good many years ago. At least those were different times and her union had been able to negotiate decent pension benefits, including prescription drug coverage for retirees. So, in many ways, she has been one of the fortunate senior citizens who hasn't had to sign up for Medicare part D. However, she is very confused by the ever-changing nature of her current medical coverage. I attempt to capture the substance and flavor of the conversation I had with her over Christmas.

Grandma and Pop back in their working yearsGrandma Kay [GR]: "Why is CBS writing me and what is Medco?"
Hapless Apologist for the American Health Care System [HA]: "What?"
GR: "I got this in the mail." (Hands over an envelope)
HA: (reading) "Hmm. CBS seems to be switching your prescription drug coverage from Express Scripts to Medco and you'll have to transfer your prescriptions to them."
GR: "CBS? What does CBS have to do with it?"
HA: "Well, gee, I don't know. CBS must have bought out Westinghouse or something like that."
CR: "I thought somebody called "Whyacon" wrote me about my benefits last year?"
HA: "That was Viacom, now it's CBS, just don't ask me why it keeps changing."
GR: "Do I have to change?"
HA: "Well, if you want to keep getting benefits, I guess you do. Let's see, we'll have to make sure that you give Walgreen's the new information, that is if Walgreen's is a participating pharmacy with Medco like it was with Express Scripts, and have to get new info to all your doctors so that they don't send in new prescriptions or refills to Express Scripts anymore and we'll need to--"
GR: "That sounds like too much trouble. I've been getting my drugs from Scripts for years now since I retired. Can't I just keep doing what I'm doing?"
HA: "I guess you could keep getting drugs from Express Scripts but then you'd have to pay full price, since CBS wouldn't be subsidizing them--"
GR: "What does CBS have to do with it again?"
HA: "Your Westinghouse pension is with CBS now and they want you to use Medco--"
GR: "Is this something the government is doing?"
HA: "Well, no, CBS has decided they want to change to Medco. I mean, in a sense the government is involved since they haven't created a single payer system for prescription drugs--"
GR: "Why is CBS making me change?"
HA: "I don't know. I guess they think Medco will save them more money than Express Scripts?" Gram's sister Jean and bother-in-law Dom back when they were Democrats
GR: "Will it save me any money?"
HA: "Well, no, but at least it is a pretty good benefit. Your drug costs are capped at $2000/year which is better than your sister Jean who has no cap on her Medicare drug coverage and, since it's through your pension, you pay no premium--"
GR: "But I do pay a premium. I'm paying $125 a month for the supplemental."
HA: "That premium's not for prescription coverage, that's for Medigap coverage."
GR: "What?"
HA: "Well, there's Medicare Part A for hospitalization, and then there's Medicare Part B for doctors visits, but not all of that is covered by Medicare, so that's why you're paying the Medigap premium and then they did add Medicare Part D for prescription coverage, but your pension coverage is better than the Part D so we decided you didn't need to sign up for that. Remember?"
GR: "Why is it so confusing? And why does Dom [her sister Jean's husband and a WWII veteran] get to go to the VA and get all his doctors and drugs from one place?"
HA: "Because Jean and Dom keep voting for Republicans because the health care industry paid for those Harry and Louise ads that scared everyone into thinking that the government was going to create a complex and inefficient health insurance system!"

Gram and her sisters long before they were senior citizensI think that the moment I lost it was when I said that the premium she was paying was for Medigap coverage not for prescription drug coverage, as though these were rational categories that any 90 year old retired factory worker who never even got to go to high school ought to be able to keep straight. It's not like my grandmother is stupid or has dementia. She's quite capable and living on her own, handling her bills and everything, but the complexity of her health insurance situation is so many orders of magnitude beyond anything else with which she has to deal. Meanwhile, her brother-in-law Dom is getting quality, cheaper health care from the VA. Why can't it be as simple for all senior citizens and for the rest of us, for that matter?

The 2007 House Democratic leadership is focusing on one small change that would make it simpler and cheaper for senior citizens who do not have private drug benefits by allowing seniors to choose a prescription drug plan administered directly by Medicare, but even if this passes I still won't be able to answer my grandmother's question about why health insurance in the United States is so confusing when virtually every other major industrial country offers universal health coverage.