Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 2, 2012

Retirement miscellany

Filed under: aging,health and fitness — louisproyect @ 7:26 pm

Last Monday they had a little going away party for me at work with a gift clock to remind me of my workmates. You can’t see the words with the glare off the bronze but it says “Thanks Louis Proyect, from FINSYS”. Finsys is Financial Systems, the project I have supported for the past 15 years or so.

Although I am a pretty unsentimental bastard, I was genuinely touched by the tributes people paid to me. I was in an unusual position on the team, having functioned more or less as their technical support. Typically I was asked to create a Sybase table that could be used in testing by another programmer. So just as someone, for example, in the accounts payable department was their user, so were they mine. As so often is the case in information technology, the user tends to complain about the technical support they are getting. Accounts payable might complain about the service they were receiving from the rest of the team, and they had the same attitude toward me much of the time no matter how hard I tried to keep up with the requests. That is why I appreciated their thanks to me so much. I was leaving on a positive note. I told them as well that no matter how churlish I could be—and believe me, I can get very churlish—I was always grateful to work with such good people.

I told the group that there were three things that allowed me to work at Columbia University as long as I did. The first was the people I worked with, who like me tended to be at the school for reasons other than money. Because of their relative indifference to big bucks, they were a lot less aggressive and a lot less conniving than the people I used to work with on Wall Street.

The second was my boss who had a better knack for motivating her staff than anybody I’ve worked for in my 44-year career. She could ream you out if your work was not up to snuff but you never held it against her. Usually performance reviews were anxiety-provoking  in previous jobs over the years but that was not my experience working for her for the simple reason that you always knew where you stood. If she didn’t yell at you, you were doing your job. Over the past 10 years or so, I got yelled at very infrequently so I felt pretty secure most of the time.

Lastly there was the advantage of working at a university, which meant being able to take classes for free, the high point of which was the two years of Turkish language courses given by the irrepressible Etem Erol, who is now at Yale. With houseguests from Izmir here since July 25th, I find that I can follow much of the conversation although my speaking is limited to simple questions like “Yemek istiyor musun?” (Do you want something to eat?)

But of even greater importance was access to Jstor, Lexis-Nexis, and Proquest—three scholarly databases that I have used over the years to great advantage, as well as the Columbia University library. I will continue to have access to all of this as a retiree.

As part of my exit process, I spent time talking to a woman in personnel about my insurance options. With my last paycheck on Tuesday, I am no longer insured except for Medicare Part A, which is free and available to everybody over 65. I understood that I had to look into getting Medicare Part B or Part C, or whatever but needed her help in sorting things out. As it turns out, Medicare is not exactly free. Part A entitles you to hospitalization but only 80 percent. Part B is intended to help cover the costs of Part A as well as pay for doctor visits. Furthermore, if you have access to private insurance, as I would as a spouse added to my wife’s GHI plan, you should sign up for that rather than Part B.  As the woman in personnel began explaining all the ins and outs to me, my brain began to fog over. It reminded me of how Peter Camejo used to explain covered options, or butterfly spreads, to me. I could never figure out what he was talking about but trusted him to give me good advice.

When I asked her whether Part B was the way to go if it was cheaper than getting added to my wife’s GHI plan, she said that you get treated better if you have private insurance. Some doctors will not take Medicare patients.

At that point, I told her that she should excuse me for sounding political but it sounded to me like Medicare was not exactly cracked up to be as advertised, namely basically free medical coverage for retirees. The slogan of “Medicare for All” that is counterpoised to the new Affordable Care Act by some on the left might need to be rethought.

At that point, she opened up to me and started off by saying that she remembered me from my remarks to Robert Kasdin, Lee Bollinger’s chief of administration, at a meeting for IT, Personnel and Financial Systems employees held the day after a worker was killed during demolition of the building across the street from ours. I had told Kasdin that Columbia should make every effort to force the companies it was using for the Manhattanville expansion to follow OSHA rules to the letter. It was very bad for a leading liberal arts institution to give the appearance that it put construction costs over the lives and well being of ordinary working people.

Apparently this was the sort of thing others would like to hear at such at a meeting but only I had the brass to say.

I was pleasantly surprised to find her assessment of Medicare’s shortcomings in terms familiar to readers of Alternet or the Nation Magazine. It reminded me that the support for the Occupy Movement did not come out of the blue. Millions and millions of Americans have been profoundly impacted by the financial crisis to the degree that an unrepentant Marxist like me does not so nutty to a solid middle-class citizen.

The times they are a-changin’

Yesterday and today were the first post-retirement days. Today I had breakfast with a member of my wife’s dissertation board who is a lefty like me. The three of us had a pleasant chat, with her talking mostly about the ardors she faced getting tenure and me exchanging ideas about the political situation.

Afterwards, we came home and I sat down to write this article. As much as I liked being at Columbia University, I think I prefer things this way. Years ago, when I fantasized about retiring this was the image that always came to mind, Ferdinand the Bull smelling the flowers rather than dodging the matador’s sword:

I think I can get used to this.


  1. More time for analysis & polemic too!

    Comment by Doug Henwood — August 2, 2012 @ 7:38 pm

  2. You say:

    The slogan of “Medicare for All” that is counterpoised to the new Affordable Care Act by some on the left might need to be rethought.

    That is putting it mildly. I speak as someone who has been on Medicare, plus supplemental insurance, for several years already, at a cost almost the same as what I was paying Blue Cross before I went on Medicare. I also speak as someone who, since I worked as an orderly in the University of Minnesota Hospitals in college and saw how poor patients were channeled into experimental treatments in exchange for paying off their huge bills, has argued to anyone who would listen that socialized medicine is the only sensible route to go. The slogan “Medicare for All” is stupid, apparently aimed at an audience considered as stupid as those “leftists” who use it. The fact is, socialized medicine works. Not only that, it already exists in the USA, in the form of the Veterans Administration. The VA owns its hospitals and doctors are its employees. And not one veteran I have ever known has ever wanted to get rid of the VA–despite its problems, mostly due to lack of funding. Quite the opposite. Yet during Our Savior’s phoney-baloney health care “reform” discussion a couple of years ago, it was verboten to even mention “socialized medicine.” His “reform” is a giveaway to the insurance scam industry.

    One can only wonder why almost none of the left groups in the United States (the Communist Party is one exception) every really made an issue out of socialized medicine. Even now one rarely sees anything about it in the left press. Chalk that up to the growing irrelevance of the American left, I guess.

    Comment by David Thorstad — August 2, 2012 @ 8:12 pm

  3. Now it’s time to finally bring that Pekar-narrated Proyect biography out! Us Marxist comics nerds are tired of waiting!

    Comment by negative potential — August 2, 2012 @ 8:19 pm

  4. You didn’t say whether or not they gave you a gold watch.

    Comment by Jim Farmelant — August 2, 2012 @ 8:32 pm

  5. Congrats, bro.

    Comment by Michael Hureaux Perez — August 2, 2012 @ 8:41 pm

  6. There’s always Ancestry.com

    Comment by Jane Nelson — August 2, 2012 @ 8:44 pm

  7. Been there, done that vis a vis health coverage confusion.

    After I got laid off from a post-retirement job, I needed help fast since I only had part A. Now I have to pay a penalty for Part B coverage.

    Here is the bottom line. If anything serious happens to you, you are doomed—unless you have a union backed or institutional backed health insurance plan, the so-called Cadillac coverage.

    I consulted with an old friend who moved from disability rights into healthcare advocacy. You need both A & B, and possibly a private plan that takes over (privatizes your Part B coverage) and amplifies it with drug coverage and other uncovered items. This is where it gets really confusing because there are dozens of plans. You need Part B to get any of these plans. That’s because they will get reimbrusted in part, by Part B funds.

    Once you are on Part B, you can always enroll in additional private coverage, which you pay a premium. The enrollment period is usually in late fall. The reason is they notified Medicare in order to take over Part B where changes take effect in January through March.

    What you need is a comparison chart. You need to look for something like Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICA). This is a California state program.

    There should be one in New York at the State level. These are usually allied with community based health clinics. I guess look on the web, or track a community health clinic in the city. You’er a senior and that usually gets around the income or needs based issues. I used the women, infants, low income health clinic in Berkeley and was very well treated. Nobody looked twice at me. The real reason is that I am just at risk as they are, and they know it.


    Comment by Chuck Grimes — August 2, 2012 @ 9:11 pm

  8. I wish to you Louis the same thing my father had: a retired life longer than his working life.

    Comment by RED DAVE — August 3, 2012 @ 1:26 am

  9. “Good trip” as Mory the Wig Man said to Henry Hill before carting him off to jail in “Goodfellas.”

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 3, 2012 @ 5:01 am

  10. Cheers for this new stage of your life! Keep the critical work coming!

    Comment by Ian J. Seda-Irizarry — August 3, 2012 @ 2:22 pm

  11. Congratulations, Louis, and all the best (from a longtime Marxmail lurker)

    Comment by Stephen Harvey — August 3, 2012 @ 6:16 pm

  12. Congratulations. Does this mean more movie reviews?

    Comment by Richard Estes — August 3, 2012 @ 8:01 pm

  13. Time for a surge of optimism, Louis. Go utopian. Life begins at 65. 66 is the new sixteen. Why do the suits and ties badmouth a second childhood? And who’s in charge of counting your years anyway? Do your own mathematics. Go fly a kite like a Chinese greybeard.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — August 4, 2012 @ 9:41 am

  14. anyone throw you a party? A dinner of leftists seems like the proper thing to do.

    Comment by Nathan Tankus — August 5, 2012 @ 3:21 am

  15. Lo’ a great fight was had for though the leftists all wanted wine and the wine was good they could not decide on red or white or sparkling and some thought the sparkling wine a revisionist aberration of white wine and so the party scattered to the four corners of the house and started smaller parties of their own.

    Comment by Pandora — August 5, 2012 @ 6:09 am

  16. Pandora, you’re living in a box. Like Karl M., we all drink beer.

    Comment by Peter Byrne — August 5, 2012 @ 9:26 am

  17. Warmest regards on your retirement for another lurker. Reading your column is one of the fun parts of my day.

    Comment by John Kaufmann — August 5, 2012 @ 10:52 pm

  18. Very best wishes for your retirement, Louis. From what I’ve read here about your life and experiences you deserve a long, fruitful and comfortable one!

    Alas, the whole concept of ‘retirement’ seems to be a prime target for the capitalist class. Here in Ireland we have had a steady stream of propaganda about people working into their seventies and eighties. Most of the examples seem to be professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc.) or small business people who seem to think that swinging by the family business for a couple of hours per week constitutes ‘work’. Alongside that we have the government raise the retirement age from 65 to 68 and, no doubt, with the intensification of crisis, the pressure will increase to raise the retirement age to 70 and, the capitalist dream, beyond. Furthermore, we have the situation where many pension funds for workers are grossly underfunded and are being actively defrauded by capitalists where a working life’s contributions mean jack s**t in entitlements upon retirement. I think the concept of a ‘retirement’ is one of the Left’s most enduring achievements and it’s coming under sustained and relentless attack. Those of us with several decades to go to the traditional retirement point of 65 will likely find a much, much bleaker and harsher array of circumstances whenever we do get a chance to retire.

    Sorry, don’t mean to spoil things and the very best of luck.

    Comment by CMK — August 6, 2012 @ 8:03 pm

  19. CMK raises an issue that a great book could be written about — the worldwide program of fleecing pension funds to aid the greatest transference of wealth from poor to rich in history.

    It particularly ironic insofar as the bastion of capitalist legality is contract law yet these agreements are broken relentlessly by hook & crook.

    Comment by Karl Friedrich — August 7, 2012 @ 12:53 am

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