GUEST BLOG [In]Securities: Missing a Crowded Table By Aegis Frumento Esq

November 25, 2020


Missing a Crowded Table

The old joke goes that you bang your head against a wall because it feels so good when you stop. This Thanksgiving has that feel to it.

It's not that we don't have much to be thankful for. We surely do. But they all seem to come with asterisks. It's awesome that there are now three highly effective vaccines against the coronavirus in production. But we shouldn't have been so hard-hit by the pandemic to begin with. And maybe it's great that the stock market just hit a new high, but all that does is prove yet again that what is down must go up -- until it comes down again. Anyway, I told you the market would shrug off the pandemic, especially given the prospect of a Biden presidency, months ago. See

And speaking of Biden, Michigan and Pennsylvania both certified their electors for him, prompting the GSA to "ascertain" that he is the "apparent winner"; which the rest of us knew when people started dancing in the streets. The President-elect is putting together a team of competent and experienced professionals instead of partisan hacks. Imagine that! Meanwhile, President Trump pardoned a turkey. A real turkey. And not even himself. And who in hell ordered him up anyway??

So let's curb our enthusiasm, lest we fall into the trap of being grateful simply that fire, hurricane, plague, and predation are for the moment tormenting someone besides ourselves.

Speaking of plague, one can't talk of Thanksgiving without mentioning that it is likely to be the mother of all superspreaders. Coronavirus cases are now burning through most of the country, as they were in New York last Spring. In Montana, for example, they only have 165 ICU beds, of which 66 are occupied by non-COVID patients. They say that, "Of the 99 ICU beds remaining, we estimate 133 are needed by COVID cases." Yeah, I remember doing that kind of math.

You could say, let's be grateful it's not worse. Trouble is, it's hard to imagine it being worse. The national messaging around infection prevention has been horrid. It started out with the implied message that mask-wearing was for self-defense. That made it easy to reject by those "independent-minded" folks -- I think the proper term now recognized by the OED is "covidiots" -- content to take their chances rather than be seen as sissies. Later, the message became that wearing a mask protected your vulnerable loved ones, like your grandparents. That let those without grandparents off the hook. And so, most of the country became mask-optional, and here we are.

Neither of those explanations is right. The community spread of an infection is a random occurrence, as is the impact of the infection on any given person. The best analogy is to a combat zone. You send troops into combat knowing some will die, but not who. A good commander does what she can to lower the expected casualty rates, bettering the survival odds for all. Mask-wearing is simply a tactic to lower the overall casualty rate, not to save any particular person.

We shouldn't be surprised, then, to hear of people who wore a mask and still got sick, and of those without masks who (so far) didn't, of 100-year-olds who caught the virus and survived, and of healthy teenagers who died in their place. That's what a random environment is like; the enemy bullet whistles past your ear to kill your best friend, and there's no rhyme or reason to it. The best you can do is better the overall survival odds for everyone. If you're a soldier, wear your helmet, keep your rifle clean and stay in formation. In a pandemic, wear a mask and avoid crowds. It's all about manipulating the odds but none of the mask-wearing messages say that.

But I am grateful that some kind of message is getting through. Although there has been an increase in air travel this week, it seems that most of us are staying home. So it will be with us. A smaller turkey, and just 4 of us. A different Thanksgiving, during which we few will be thankful just to be together, but mostly hopeful that things seem to be getting better.

We shouldn't be grateful for what happens to us personally anyway. There's something inherently selfish in that. I should rather be grateful that the world still is full of wonderful things. For example, there was a report Tuesday that a survey team counting bighorn sheep in a remote part of Utah came across a stainless steel monolith standing 12 feet high and stuck into the rock in the middle of nowhere.

No one knows where it came from or even how long it's been there. "Officials say," reported the Times, "it's probably art." Probably? And your other hypotheses? An alien artifact, like the monolith on the moon in 2001: A Space Odyssey?  Now that Sydney Powell has time on her hands, we should hire her to investigate.

Of course it's art! It's like those statues that on occasion materialize on Manhattan's streets, like the Wall Street Bull now being stared down defiantly by Standing Girl in lower Manhattan. Or so I think; I haven't been there in months. Except this monolith was plopped down in a remote part of the Utah desert where no one would see it for years. Some think it's the work of artist John McCracken, but he didn't sign it, and he died in 2011. Now, that's esoteric.

But that's the sort of stuff I'm really grateful for: The ability of the universe, the world and its people to surprise us. That, too, is a function of life's randomness, the chance of throwing sevens instead of snake eyes. But probabilities require numbers, and our intimate Thanksgiving rules that out this year. Smaller is more predictable; safer but also a little duller. So this year I'll be more hopeful than grateful. Hopeful that come next year, we'll all be vaccinated, politics will have become boring, and we will feast at a crowded table once again.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone, wherever you are. And wear your masks!


Aegis J. Frumento

380 Lexington Avenue
New York, NY 10168

Aegis Frumento co-heads the Financial Markets Practice of Stern Tannenbaum & Bell, New York City.  He represents persons and businesses in all aspects of commercial, corporate and securities matters and dispute resolution (including trials and arbitrations).  He has decades of experience representing SEC, CFTC and FINRA regulated firms and persons in regulatory enforcement investigations, hearings and lawsuits.  Drawing on his five years managing the Executive Financial Services Department of Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, Aegis has rare depth of experience in the securities and corporate governance laws affecting senior executives of public corporations.  When not litigating, Aegis enjoys working with new and existing broker-dealers, registered investment advisers, and private equity funds, covering all legal aspects from formation to capital raising. Those clients now include industry professionals looking to adapt blockchain technologies to finance and financial market enterprises, including the use of cryptosecurities to represent equity and debt interests. 

Aegis's long and distinguished career includes having been a Managing Director of Citigroup and Morgan Stanley, a partner and the head of the financial markets group of Duane Morris LLP, and the managing partner of Singer Frumento LLP.  He graduated from Harvard College in 1976 and New York University School of Law in 1979.  Aegis is a frequent author and speaker on securities law issues, and is often quoted in the media on current securities law developments.  He is the current Chairman of the New York City Bar Association's standing Committee on Professional Responsibility.

NOTE: The views expressed in this Guest Blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Blog.

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