GUEST BLOG [In]Securities: Ringing Out for Christmas Day By Aegis Frumento Esq

December 24, 2020


Ringing Out for Christmas Day

"This is a strange Christmas Eve," said Winston Churchill, speaking from the White House in 1941.  "Almost the whole world is locked in deadly struggle, and, with the most terrible weapons which science can devise, the nations advance upon each other." And yet, despite his grim tone, Churchill was glad. When he heard of Pearl Harbor, not three weeks earlier, he wrote that he "went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful." Now that the United States had been forced off the fence and into the War, Churchill knew it was only a matter of time before it would be won.

A similar feeling pervades this strange Christmas Eve of 2020. World War II cost the lives of 292,000 Americans. The COVID Virus has so far taken 323,000. Before it is vanquished, the Virus threatens to rival the Civil War's 620,000 body count. So far in December, almost 2,700 Americans, on average, have died of the Virus each day: "only" 2,605 American citizens died on 9/11.

Grim indeed.  And yet, seeing those UPS and FedEx trucks and planes fanning out to distribute vaccines across the country, we know we've won. Not yet, but now that it's only a matter of time we too can begin to sleep feeling saved and thankful. 

And thankful too that Donald Trump's relevance continues to fade like Marley's Ghost. As his hinges unjamb and his varmints jump ship, his looming specter looks to disapparate in winds of change. Now he threatens to veto of the COVID relief bill that Congress passed with his Treasury Secretary's blessing. Typical. That the House and Senate vote margins were veto-proof teases us to hope that Congress might finally give him the hearty one-finger send-off he deserves. For the rest of us-well, we look forward to a time when, for a respite, politics will sound more like Mantovani than Metallica.

But enough of him. More than all else, I think this Christmastide of my spiritual home, New York City. I'm lucky to have spent most of 2020 isolated in the scenically splendid Hudson Valley. I've been working steadily, taking full advantage of Zoom and all the other technology that 2020 has to offer. I've even grown a beard and mastered sourdough bread, among other COVID clichés. I've drunk a lot of wine. But I greatly miss New York. Not the City of today, when every day looks like Sunday morning coming down, but that fairytale City full of life and street noise, bustling with traffic, with eateries and watering holes beyond count. For several years I walked to and from Grand Central and an office on the West Side through Rockefeller Center, and around now I'd be walking past the Tree overlooking the skating rink twice a day. Not this year, alas. 

But next year, for sure. I've read too many silly articles predicting the death of the City. Just stop. We are social creatures. We want, we need, to see each other's faces up close, we need to touch, we need to eat together, drink together, laugh together, just be together. And we will. Yes, many, many old bars and restaurants have folded. Frank Bruni in the Times the other day likened 2020 to the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs. I share his alarm. But even so, in wiping out the dinosaurs, nature made space for a host of other critters, us included. The old haunts may be gone for good. But new ones will pop up soon enough, because we need them. And we will fill them as greedily as we will fill our places of worship. So, next Christmas at Saint Pat's, be it the cathedral on Fifth Avenue or the pub on West 46th Street, or both! London, Paris and Florence survived the plague, and New York will survive COVID. Count on it. 

And count on this too: We can see COVID's evils, but we can't yet fathom the good that will come of it. Here's a little-told story about the 1918 pandemic. It was thought at first that a bacterium was responsible, so scientists began to study it at what is now Rockefeller University in New York City (of course). They soon discovered that this bug had a protective protein shell. A live bug without the shell was as harmless as an inactive bug with a shell. But when a live bacterium without a shell and an inactive one with the shell were injected together, disease resulted. The disease it caused was not the Spanish Flu, so researchers abandoned it to look for other causes. But one Oswald Avery kept trying to figure out how the one bacterium could possibly acquire the protective shell of the other. In 1943, a quarter century later, he published his results. Dr. Avery discovered that the substance that permitted bacteria to magically share traits was DNA, the foundation of today's and tomorrow's medicine.  

There's never progress without need, and wars and pandemics always provide it. The 1918 pandemic led to the discovery of DNA, without which we couldn't develop a COVID vaccine at warp speed. World War II gave us the radar and jet planes that allow us to distribute the vaccine effectively today, as well as the rockets that begat the space race that begat the microelectronics without which we couldn't have Zoom cocktail parties. We've every reason to expect that 2020's pandemic too will spawn surprising benefits, both social and scientific, for decades to come.

And so, even though it all looks grim this strange Christmas 2020, we've reason to sing. Christmas charms and endures because it is primal. Rooted ultimately in the Winter Solstice, its pagan roots long antedating its Christian overlay, Christmas is when we celebrate the Hope of sunnier days.

But what need for Hope of Light if not to dispel the Darkness that precedes it? Every year starts fresh and ends in frustration. Nothing ever goes according to plan. No dream remains unshattered, no soul unbattered, when reality bites. This year has taught us that starkly in shades of black and white. No matter. We may end the year in the dark of the drunk tank, but we always climb out when the sun returns, hoping to see a better time. If only for that, in New York and everywhere, the bells are ringing out for Christmas Day.  


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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