The Mouse that Roared

Maybe you remember the outrageous and wonderful movie with
Peter Sellers playing all three main roles about the fictional European
principality of Grand Fenwick. The idea was to declare war against the United
States and then lose it to claim huge reparations. Funny. Very, very funny.

Ray Gilmartin could take the Sellers role in a reprise of
the movie. Ray Gilmartin, should the name escape you, is the CEO of Merck.
Merck as in Vioxx, Merck as in thousands (perhaps tens of thousands) of deaths
from taking its now-withdrawn arthritis pain killer, Merck as in
stock-dropping-like-a-stone.

The Merck Board of Directors in European-Principality-like
wisdom has decided to reward its 230 most senior executives with a one-time
payment of up to three times their annual salary and bonus. Executives who
fiddled the drug safety tests so they could profit from Dorothy Hamill’s well known
face touting their disastrous drug. Executives who ran the show since 1999, a
period in which Merck’s stock took a 70% bath. Executives who, in a fair and
balanced world would be facing fair and balanced jail time. You peddle a couple
ounces of crack to fellow degenerates and get ten years in the slammer. You
peddle an unsafe pharmaceutical (read drug?) to millions of the innocent and
kill off a bunch, you get a ‘one-time-bonus’ of three years salary and bonus. Only
in America
.

And who pays the bill without so much as a whimper? The
stockholders
. The folks who took the bath that the 230 drew, soapy water
and all. It’s absolutely bizarre what stockholders in major corporations are
willing to choke down with their Thanksgiving turkey. The most favored, most pampered, most sucked-up-to class of
individuals in American society today is not the rock star or baseball player,
it’s the inept, bumbling, worthless corporate executive. The enablers of this
pandemic foolishness are the modern corporate boards of directors.

The company did not disclose how much the plan would cost if
carried out. Well, I’ll just bet they didn’t. But it shouldn’t take a
journalistic genius to figure it out from public records—200 mil?—half a
billion? Anita Larsen, the Merck spokeswoman said Merck’s board first
considered adopting the plan several months ago. well before it withdrew Vioxx.
“It had nothing to do with the situation regarding Vioxx.” Well, of course
it didn’t, Anita. The sweat on all 230
executives’ brows was really popping several months ago, but not apparently
over wrongful deaths or possible jail terms, just how to squeeze an extra buck
before the ship went down. Anita might be among the 230, maybe 227 or 228.

Tom Dewey, an attorney who consults to pill pushers and
their corporate accomplices (excuse me, I meant boards) said Merck had “little
choice” but to give talented executives an incentive to stay. One presumes this
was not the Tom Dewey who lost to Harry Truman, but even that’s not entirely clear. Dewey’s quoted in the New York
Times, saying that the new plan is “about protecting the senior management and
executives.” Lord knows Merck didn’t care about protecting the users of Vioxx.

Presumably Merck will hold their annual meeting in April of
next year. By then the money will have been spent, so unless there’s an outcry
from some institutional investor the dough will be as down-the-drain as Vioxx. If
this decision is allowed to stand, then nothing useful was learned from the
Enron disaster and we will have acknowledged that Wall Street rules with
impunity.

Peter Sellers would have loved it!

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