Law and Order

What is the Law?
What is the Order?

Years ago, in the days of Jefferson,
His father, surrounded by slaves,
Taught the importance of self-sufficiency
No slave dared utter a word about the irony, the paradox
No slave dared utter a word about the dignity of all men
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

As the Nation was born
And men celebrated their freedom from distant oppression
Women dared not ask about oppression in their own homes
Black men dared not ask about oppression in their own homes
Jewish men dared not ask about oppression in their own homes
Poor men dared not ask about oppression in their own homes
Women and men, wanting different choices for themselves, choices of freedom
Freedoms of the promise of the new Nation
They wept in oppression in their own homes
They took their own lives in desperation in their own homes
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

“Out West” offered new hope and new beginnings
Except for the people already there, their lands now stolen
Their nations driven further west, to barren lands
The Cherokee tried so hard —
Their clothes, their language, their slaves —
All to prove their men were equal to men with power
But they lost their land
But they were driven West, far Out West
Alongside others branded as savages
Their skin was what made the difference
Their skin made them worthy of beatings, worthy of murders
Their skin made that which God had forbidden permissible
Under the Law
That preserved the Order
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

Swinging from the tree
A body whose murderer
Would face no Law
Because of his place in the Order
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

A man and woman born free in Rochester
Lived in fear of the slave catchers
They could be made slaves in the land of the free
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

Weeping in her bed
A woman whose rapist
Would face no Law
Because of his place in the Order
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

One drop of blood
Made a man less of a man
And a woman less than nothing
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

The war was fought to preserve the Nation
The Laws were changed
The Order was changed
That the victory of the Nation preserv’d be not hollow
But the war was not over
And the losers of the battles
Became the winners of the struggle political
And they changed the Laws back
And they changed the Order back
And they made the victory of the Nation preserv’d hollow and empty
And as they raised the statues and flew the flags
Their boots walked on the backs of anyone they wanted to walk upon
And that person could be killed for protesting
And as they raised the statues and flew the flags
They did celebrate that they needed not slaves anymore
Such was the Law
Such was the Order
That they had created anew
As they raped and killed
And choked the throats
They could not be convicted
They could not be outvoted
They could not be unseated
They could not be moved
Not even by Jesus’ teachings
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

Oh, and they weren’t done with Jesus, were they?
He had not been crucified enough, they had to do it again
“Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my children, ye have done it unto me”
And so they beat Jesus, they raped Jesus, they called Jesus names of hate
They took the vote from Jesus, they burned the home of Jesus, they tarred and feathered Jesus
Oh, they dragged Jesus from their carts until he was dead
Oh, they beat Jesus with rods until he was dead
Oh, they hung Jesus from a tree in the dark of night
Because they claimed with their lips to be Christian
But their hearts were far removed from the Master
They crucified Christ, and did so in the name of Christ
Profaning and blaspheming, slaying innocents in the name of Jesus Christ
Beating and raping and hanging Jesus
Because they knew not what they did
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

And the people so desperate for work
They would work for wages less than slaves’
They were paid so,
Capitalism putting the nails in the coffins of chattel slaves
Creating graves for the wage slaves
Creating graves for the debt slaves
Such was the Law
Such was the Order

I can show you where it is cheaper
For a certain firm
To pollute and poison the waters of a poor village
And pay a daily fine
Than to suffer the people to drink pure, clean water
Such is the Law
Such is the Order

I can show you where it is better for business
For a certain firm
To make a slave of a prisoner
Such is the Law
Such is the Order

I can show you where a man can rape a woman or another man
And the world knows of it
And yet that man holds great power and authority
And his supporters will claim to follow Jesus Christ
Even though their leaders rape Jesus Christ
Such is the Law
Such is the Order

And let those oppressed by the Law
And let those oppressed by the Order
Let them speak up
Let them sing their songs of hopeful freedom
Let them look up to Jesus Christ to deliver them
Let them walk together in their numbers
Jesus Christ in the midst of them
And those who oppress will line up the police
And those who oppress will line up the soldiers
And those who were oppressed are oppressed again
As the batons rain down on Jesus’ crown of thorns
As Jesus Christ gags on poison gas
As Jesus is driven from his house
And a rapist walks on broken glass to that house
That he might look the part his followers expect of him
Demanding the Law and the Order of generations
To fall upon the heads of those oppressed by it
Such is the Law
Such is the Order

The Law is unjust
The Order is unjust
Is it just to demand Law and Order?
Is it right that we continue to oppress by demanding Law and Order?

That person, bleeding on the sidewalk
That person is Jesus Christ

That person, choking on poison gas
That person is Jesus Christ

That person, crying out for justice
Crying out for a Law that is just
Crying out for an Order that is just
That person is not asking for the Law and Order of the day
That person is Jesus Christ

As God watches us with unbearable compassion
He weeps for his children that have made unjust Laws
He weeps for his children that perpetuate unjust Order
For they are lost to Him
Their souls make deliberate steps toward perdition
Those who die under oppression, without justice
They die unto God
Those who die thinking the oppression was just
They are told to depart from Him, for they never knew Him
Even though that was Him
Who they strung up on that tree
Even though that was Him
Who they told not to get uppity
Even though that was Him
Who they told to be sure He remembered His place
In that Law of theirs
In that Order of theirs

The people who pray for freedom
Are truly praying for the souls of their oppressors
For no unclean thing can enter into the kingdom of God
Such is His Law
Such is His Order

Oh, they profess to know Jesus
But they invite Beelzebub to their barbeques
They have Satan over to their socials
They ask Lucifer to come to their luncheons
Abbadon is an upstanding citizen in their associations
Moloch attends their meetings
And Gorgo is their government
Such is their Law
Such is their Order

Then there comes the time when the time has come
And the world is wrapped up as a scroll
The stars fall from their places
And true Law is found
And rightful Order is established
The people who prayed for the souls of their oppressors to be turned, to be saved,
They inherit the earth
The people who forgave as they died
The people who lived on after they were raped
The people who prayed on after they were beaten
The people who fasted on after they were cheated
The people who did plead for a mighty change to come upon their oppressors
Theirs is the kingdom of God
Such is the true Law
Such is the true Order

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy.
But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you;
That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust.
For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?
And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so?
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Such is the true Law
Such is the true Order

World War One Casualties and COVID-19 Casualties: A Comparison

In 5 months of active combat in World War One, Austria-Hungary, with a population of 51.4 million, had roughly 133,000 soldiers killed in battle. Many more were wounded and taken prisoner, but I’ll focus on that number. 105,000 were on the Russian Front and 28,000 were on the Serbian Front. On both fronts, the Austro-Hungarian armies were frequently ordered to engage in frontal bayonet charges against prepared enemy positions, without preparatory artillery bombardment. Austrian officers often did not speak the languages of their troops and the central command had no coherent plan for war, as it exhausted troops with marches back and forth to different strategic positions on whims and failed to coordinate sufficient ammunition and equipment for front-line troops.

That’s 150 days of combat, roughly, and that works to 887 deaths per day for the army. Adjusted for population to match the USA today, that would mean multiplying by about 6.5: 5766 deaths/day.

True, while the US average of 1200 deaths/day over March-May of 2020 is between a fourth and a fifth of the Austro-Hungarian number, let’s also remember that we’re comparing our numbers to one of the worst-managed armies in the whole of the conflict in this exercise.

The USA spent 200 days in combat in World War One and sustained 53,000 combat and 116,000 total soldier deaths from a population of 92 million. Adjusting for today’s population, that would be equal to 190,684 combat and 417,347 total in those 200 days: 953 per day combat and 2086 per day, total.

Since 1 April, only 7 of the 64 days had less than 953 per day for combat. 16 have been higher than the total deaths per day in World War One for the USA, adjusted for population.

COVID-19 casualties in many other nations are nowhere near wartime numbers, even when adjusted for modern populations. In the USA, they are. That they are speaks to the badly-managed national response to the pandemic. Even if there’s plenty of blame to go around, that all goes back to the person at the top. It all came down to his decisions leading up and during the crisis that set the stage for the needless loss of lives – both buried and permanently wounded from this experience. That we continue to see high daily numbers is testament to the continued failures of the national leadership, of which the president must be the focus of the blame and criticism.

Tisha B’Av in the Book of Mormon

In my reading today, I noted a specific date reference in Alma 49 – to the 10th day of the 11th month, to be specific. That was tied to the march of the Lamanite armies under Amalickiah, with their intent to destroy the Nephites plainly present. At the end of the 48th chapter, Mormon notes the lamentations of the Nephites at the prospect of having to kill people in their defense, as such a killing would deprive them of an ability to accept atonement in their lives – which atonement would be focused on in the first 10 days of the new year, leading up to Yom Kippur.

Well, the great lamentations go with the 9th day of the 11th month, Tisha B’Av, a date set by God as a day of Israelite sorrow in the Book of Exodus. It is the date of the destruction of both Solomon’s and Herod’s Temple as well as the extermination of the Bar Kochba Revolt. And here, in the Book of Mormon, there is what seems to be a reference to that day. The armies that enter Nephite territory on the 10th of Av were surely underway on the 9th.

The “why” of all this is that with such a significant date tied to these events, the existential struggle that spans 12 years and 14 chapters in the Book of Mormon narrative comes forward not just as a regrettable war, but as a calamity on the level of the loss of the Temple in Jerusalem. The walls come crashing down, and the people are left exposed to the wrath of an enemy. They will be destroyed in their wickedness, but preserved if they endure the horrors in righteousness.

America’s Different Epidemics

When the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in America, we already had different views of the global event in our public consciousness. As it has spread, those views have multiplied. We have different views based upon regions, income levels, data sets, and whether or not we subscribe to a science-blind political ideology.

Regionally, the pandemic has hit urban areas the hardest. To the people of the major US cities, COVID-19 means overwhelmed hospitals, compromised police, fire, and emergency medical staff, and deeply-felt questions about a federal government that has so far been unresponsive to their pleas. In the cities, it is hardest to maintain the necessary distance required to keep the disease from spreading. The cities are also where the fight against the disease is the hardest, where self-protection measures are strictest and where we see the greatest benefit from those measures.

In rural areas, distancing is already part of the lifestyle. They have questioned the need for a government order to mandate pretty much what they’re already doing. Except… they’re not doing it, not completely. There’s enough contact going on in rural areas to where the disease spreads steadily. Not as rapidly as in the cities, but steadily. Given rural areas’ resistance to being ordered to shelter in place, I’d expect the spread in the countryside to persist longer and to peak higher than in the cities.

The urban/rural divide is further colored by how a governor or mayor may or may not be an ardent supporter of President Trump. Those who are least supportive of Trump are most likely to enact comprehensive measures. As support for Trump increases in a government official, so multiply the loopholes in the comprehensive measures, so increases the slowness in applying measures, and so increases the likelihood that the official not only refuse to apply measures, but may even overrule other officials and mandate that no restrictions be in place. This means that we have a range of pandemics from those experienced in the non-ardent urban areas, the ardent urban areas, the non-ardent rural areas, and the ardent rural areas. While most non-ardent officials are in urban areas and most ardent ones are rural, there are exceptions to those rules. Ardency itself is on a spectrum, but these four major divisions will suffice. Expect the ardent, rural areas to be where the disease lingers longest and where it can hide from view, only to strike again as immunity fades in the general population.

Economically, it is the nation’s poor who suffer the highest infection rates and the highest fatality rates, with Blacks and Hispanics suffering the most among the poor. When politicians such as Texas’ Lt. Governor Dan Patrick – white and rich – exclaimed his willingness to die for the economy in order to justify not placing any restrictions on Texas’ population, he was actually pushing the poor of all ages in front of him. Of course, the poor Blacks and Hispanics of Texas were the vanguard of Mr. Patrick’s meatshield. With his access to not just emergency but life-long health care, Mr. Patrick was in good shape to face COVID-19. He was not volunteering himself, but his state’s poor as an offering to the economy.

So there is an epidemic for the cities, there is an epidemic for the countryside, there is an epidemic for those who live under an ardent Trump supporter, there is an epidemic for those who do not, there is an epidemic for the rich, and there is an epidemic for the poor. Now to look at the epidemics’ portrayal in data.

There are states that have had a high rate of testing of their populations, levels on par with testing heroes South Korea and Japan. There are states that seem to throw up obstacles to testing, for whatever reason that such a strategy may serve. The declared rates of infection in each state are a function of that state’s own definition. With no federally-accepted standard, we do not know the reach of the epidemic in regions where the local or state government prefers such questions not be asked – suppression of uncomfortable information prior to its gathering.

But we also have states where there is a high rate of testing and where the local health care system has also been overwhelmed. At that point, the health care system simply cannot spare the time required to test every patient for COVID-19, and where they certainly have no time to spare for the testing of the dead. And so, the spread of the infection is under-counted in those places. The fatalities are under-counted, as well. We have what numbers we have for the moment, but we also have to know where the numbers are weak in reporting the full view.

At the end of the day, it may not be until the full analysis of vital statistics data for 2020 is completed in 2022 and we can compare the year-on-year increase in mortality between 2019 and 2020 to get an idea about how severe the epidemic has been. How many more patients die of causes attributed to pneumonia, but for whom a COVID-19 test was not administered postmortem? How many cancer patients succumb not to COVID-19, but to the cancers, after being weakened by COVID-19? The same question, this time for those with heart disease, diabetes, kidney problems, or other “underlying health conditions”, as we euphemistically lump them all together? How many will be answered in two years’ time, which will be yet another view of the pandemic.

The remaining views belong to the rational on one hand and the science-blind ideologues who are made up of President Trump and his most ardent supporters on the other. Granted, these are two opposing views with many grades in between, but they serve as anchors of the continuum. I use the adjective “science-blind” advisedly. In many cases, the ardent Trumpists are outright hostile to science, as well as reality. The reason has to do with their ideological stance.

Political beliefs are one thing: they color how we view facts, but we still view the same facts as those of opposing political beliefs. One may see an economically-underdeveloped area and decide the solution is to have federal or state funds boost commerce there. Another may see the same economic underdevelopment and argue instead for a suspension of government regulations to allow commerce to flourish. The argument there is not whether or not the area is economically underdeveloped. The argument is how best to improve the area, and the solution may very well wind up being a combination of the two factors. In this case, the solution to the problem is more important than *how* the problem was solved.

But with a political ideology, facts and solutions take second place to the rightfulness of the ideology and the wrongness of anything that competes with it in the public mindspace. To the ideological Nazis, the Will of the German people could have pensioners with rocket grenades defeat armored divisions. To the ideological Stalinists, corn could be made to grow in the frozen wastes of Siberia, provided it was planted with socialist ardor often enough – it would figure out on its own how to take root in permafrost. To the ideological Maoists, steel production could be increased dramatically by melting down iron tools and cookware in backyard forges that produced nothing more than slag. To the ideological Khmer Rouges, Cambodia could be purified by murdering anyone with glasses, soft hands, or knowledge of the French language. This list is long – the Juche philosophy of North Korea, the Baathist ideology of Iraq and Syria, the hardline beliefs of the Iranian Revolution, and so on.

Finally, we come to the Trumpists, whose ideology allows them to stare at two photographs of the same place and state unflinchingly that the one with fewer people in it is actually the one with more people in it. When President Trump stared directly into the sun, his ardent supporter Tucker Carlson of Fox News called it “the most impressive thing a president has ever done” in spite of the fact that scientists globally throughout generations have warned us to never, ever look directly at the sun. The Trumpist ideology places prime importance on their leaders being in power in order to do two things: eradicate legal abortions and to obstruct any limitation of Americans’ ownership of arms. If those leaders stare at the sun like fools – or promote white supremacist groups and their policies – it is of no consequence. The Trumpists do not elect leaders to be sane or sensible or to care about facts. They are elected to eradicate abortion and to obstruct limitations on access to arms. Whatever else they do, the Trumpists either care not or actively support, as in the case of promoting white supremacist movements.

If there is any fact that threatens to unseat their leaders from their abortion-banning, weapon-loving bully pulpits, then the Trumpist will lie, cheat, and shout it down. This is why the photograph with fewer people actually has more in it. This is why staring into the sun is impressive. This is why they refuse to admit that their ranks are shot through with white supremacists, antisemites, and authoritarians. That is why they are proud to the point of public boasting to disobey any law they do not like, but scream in powerful fervor when others debate the wisdom of the laws they wish to impose on others.

And this is why the COVID-19 pandemic is such a threat to them: it threatens to add so much calumny to the pile already accrued by Donald Trump and his most fervent followers so as to make it nearly impossible for them to repeat their hair’s breadth win of 2016. The pandemic threatens to display Trump and his ardent followers for what they are – incompetent, science-blind, and unable to actually govern. Therefore, the pandemic was at first belittled. Then it was completely dealt with via a ban on Chinese travel. Then it was a conspiracy of some Chinese or American Deep State cabal. Then it was not worth shutting down the economy for. Now, Trump and his ardent supporters have the ghoulish chutzpah to claim that, should the USA have *only* 100,000 deaths, that it would be a good thing.

Already, as I write this, the USA has the 11th greatest per-capita loss of life among major nations. With 12,805 deaths out of roughly 330 million people, the USA has 39 known and recorded COVID-19 deaths per 1 million population. Yes, this is much less than Spain’s 300 per 1 million, but I expect the nation to bypass Ireland’s 43, Iran’s 46, and quite possibly most of the others. If we *do* arrive at only 100,000 deaths, that would be a mortality rate in excess of Spain’s 300 per 1 million, and Spain is considered one of the worst of the worst-hit nations.

Trump is presiding over what may be the worst response to COVID-19, and his abject failure as a leader in that capacity threatens the Trumpist agenda’s twin policy pillars. And this is why none of the other ways of viewing the pandemic have any meaning to them. The only way they can see it is through a blindfold.

Market Failure

In Economics, “Market Failure” is a term that refers to when the free market isn’t able to provide a proper allocation of resources necessary to resolve a problem. Neoliberal economists say that there’s no such thing, that a proper market, without government interference, can solve any issue of resource allocation. I disagree. Neoliberal economists are great for when there are no disasters, but their models fail the instant the expected rain turns out to be a hurricane. Or a blizzard. Or a tornado spawns. Or an earthquake hits. Or a war is declared. Or a pandemic enters the scene.

I am living through a pandemic right now. I assume that most of my readers are contemporary and are living through it, as well. We are all witness to how governments’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic have fallen into one of several categories:

  1. Quick response, firm response – nations like South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore had experience from SARS and MERS and knew what to do. As soon as the reports started to trickle out of China in January about a possible new coronavirus outbreak, they got their plans together.
  2. Slow response, firm response – Germany did not react as quickly as the nations cited above. As a consequence, the number of per-capita cases in Germany is much higher than in the nations cited above. But because the Germans had a firm response to the pandemic, they have been able to keep the fatality rate remarkably low, relative to other nations that responded late.
  3. Slow response, lax response – Italy was the first, but the USA (so far) is the worst. Both high case numbers as well as high fatality rates, this clearly wasn’t the right way to go.

So, what were factors in the USA’s response being incoherent and uncoordinated? Alas, there are many, including those stemming from a leadership focused more on its own status and media perception than on the actual pandemic, as well as those that originated about that same leadership encouraging talking points that downplayed the severity of the pandemic or which promoted unproven claims of various stripes – all to distract from the failures of that leadership. In a full report on the failure of the USA to deal as appropriately with COVID-19 as did South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore – or even Germany – those reasons must be explored in greater detail. For this article, I want to focus on the market failures.

As it became clear that we were entering into a public health emergency, stocks of personal protective equipment (PPE), including masks, gowns, gloves, and eye protection, began to move sharply up in price. In a pure market, this is to be expected. Demand for the widget is higher and supply is at present inelastic, so the price of the widget must go up. Simple exercise, time to move on to the next textbook section… except, in this case, the widget is needed to save lives and the limits on production of said widgets means that the producers can engage in competition against the customers, in this case, the states and their hospitals.

Competition against a customer is when the makers of a product all raise their prices, one after the other. They need not communicate such a plan in so many words. That would be illegal collusion if they did. Rather, all one has to do is raise prices and the others follow that “price leadership” to match. The customer has nowhere else to turn and has to pay a profiteer’s premium in order to purchase that good. Competition against customers also takes the form of a bidding war. In that, a producer doesn’t treat each transaction as contractually binding, but makes a deal with one state that is conditional that no other state offers a higher price. When a higher price is offered, the original deal is off the table. When the federal government shows up to bid, it invariably offers the highest price and the states are left in a quandry. Not only do they not have their desired goods, but the market-clearing price is now magnitudes above what it once was.

So far, the federal government has yet to truly put the provisions of the Defense Provisioning Act (DPA) into motion in order to provide for more PPE at cheaper, fixed prices to the state and federal buyers. The federal government has also not been transparent about how it plans to use its stockpile – but that is for another, more in-depth analysis of the USA’s failures in responding to COVID-19. The DPA exists precisely for conditions such as we are experiencing, where price leadership and bidding wars are driving up prices for scarce goods. We could have a federal response that dictates a fixed price and that also instructs manufacturers of PPE to expand capacity.

Had the DPA been invoked in January – right around the time we could all sense this was going to be a huge thing – capacity would be expanded as of now and we would not be dealing with PPE shortages of the sort we see now. We see far too many cases of medical professionals unable to procure their own PPE, let alone get it issued from their hospital, so they have to make do with second-rate supplies that go against all best practices for proper use and disposal. This places their lives in needless jeopardy and, by extension, the lives of their patients.

The next market failure is the matter of the USA’s health system being dependent upon employer-provided private insurance, with zero transparency or consistency regarding pricing. While the President has declared that certain areas of care will be either covered by insurers or paid for by the federal government, we have only those declarations and no actual, actionable law or executive order to point to as a reference when dealing with insurance companies. Consequently, as a matter of corporate survival in a pandemic, insurance companies are invoking every loophole possible in a rearguard action to avoid breaking themselves over COVID-19 claims.

At which point, we must all ask, why do we have health insurance companies in the first place if they’re unable to properly lay out in times of catastrophe? We’re depending upon them to pay the bills – that’s why we pay our premiums – but if they up sticks and disappear when things are really, REALLY bad, then what use are they?

Given that many insurance companies already have a massive deductible and next to zero coverage only underlines my question – what use are they? The properly-funded public health systems in South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, and Germany provided and continue to provide life-saving care for all their citizens. Meanwhile, the morgues and even cemeteries are overwhelmed in New York City, where some of America’s finest hospitals are overwhelmed. And, at those overwhelmed hospitals, there are patients who are going to be told that the care they thought was going to be 100% covered actually won’t be covered to that extent… and they will be looking at bankruptcy-inducing expenses as a consequence.

Maybe a policy here requires two positive test results to confirm COVID-19 and a patient received only one or none and was a presumed COVID-19 patient. Maybe the patient died before being tested and the cause of death was just “pneumonia” and not actually connected to COVID-19. Maybe the treatment specific to COVID-19 is covered, but not the ambulance, anesthesia, X-ray or other imaging analysis, or the final care arrangements. There are all kinds of ways to think of loopholes, and I’m sure the experts have already come up with others.

Back to the employer-provided insurance. What of the mounting wave of unemployed Americans? While possibly a huge save for insurance companies that no longer have to pay out for people they *used* to cover, who pays for the care they receive? Do they even go in to get tested or treated, out of fear over how much it will cost? Maybe something comes along to guarantee the federal payment for COVID-19 treatments other than the words of a pathological liar, but until then, there’s nothing to promise a free treatment for COVID-19 victims that don’t have insurance. And even with that federal guarantee, should it materialize, what happens when a person is brought to the emergency room for trouble breathing, but it’s only common-or-garden emphysema? We’re back to the bankruptcy gamble.

We can’t even post a price list for treatments because such a list does not exist. That’s why it’s a bankruptcy gamble. What if you have COVID-19, your insurer promises to cover it 100%, and you go to an in-network hospital and see an in-network physician? So far, so good. Now enter a specialist who assists that physician who’s not in-network. All bets are off, now, and it’s likely this patient is going to pay dearly for the fact that nobody knows exactly what combination of specialists is going to be in-network or out.

The President and his most ardent supporters have made much noise about “getting America back to work again.” Their fears are real – if Americans can’t pay the rent, then they go bankrupt when they can’t service their loans that depend upon those rent payments. But sick Americans can’t work and dead Americans can’t pay the rent, so they’re really unable to get America back to work again in the midst of a pandemic and come out all right. Without some sort of government fiat ruling, they face the market’s failure to accommodate some slack for times of extreme duress. On a side note, bankrupt Americans also don’t pay the rent and are more likely to try and fight out their squatters’ rights in costly court proceedings, so maybe those ardent supporters might want to take a look at actually fixing the health care system and not breaking out in a rash whenever the topic comes up. But a president empowered with the DPA can also take it upon the nation’s best interests to suspend loans, mortgages, and rents for the duration of the crisis. Other nations have done so, but the USA lacks a leader with the fortitude or foresight to enact such a policy – and the banking system hangs all the more precariously without such a policy to support it.

The markets have failed. PPE, health coverage, and rents/mortgages/loans are all in a quandry in the USA and the President and his most ardent supporters have failed to address these issues in a timely or realistic fashion. There have been multiple calls to address the issues from a very early date, but the President and his most ardent supporters rejected those calls. Because of the failures of the President and his most ardent supporters, the USA faces a disproportionate toll in terms of persons infected with COVID-19, with persons who died because of COVID-19, and with economic impact from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Five Ways to Improve Your IT Staff – And Security

The USA unemployment news today is twice as grim as it was last week: 6.6 million more unemployed, bringing unemployment to 9.9% in just two weeks. More hard numbers are coming, and that means all businesses need to revisit their HR standards.

Do NOT Mind the Gapjobs have been lost through no fault of the employees, or even the firms they’ve worked for. When you see that the last job worked ended around the time the pandemic hit hard, don’t ask about it. Don’t worry about it, either.

This means also making sure the algorithms used to find resumes are tuned to not look for employment gaps. If you ask me, the best algorithms are real people looking at real applications and making reasonable decisions to arrange interviews based on common sense. When algorithms sort through resumes, they have blinders on. They can’t see what certifications are equivalent to the ones they’re told to look for. They don’t know what lines of work are very close to the experience desired. Humans can figure out that stuff. And if you think I’m encouraging the use of people and the discontinuation of automated job boards, you’re absolutely right. If you’ve got jobs that have gone unfilled for months with automated resume screeners, it’s time to go back to the humans again.

Keep Your Friends Close, and Keep Your IT Closer: When we have staff that’s worked somewhere for years, they know things that only people who worked there for years would know. No outsourcer can match that. If you treat those IT workers with respect and consideration, you’ll keep that knowledge and expertise in your firm. That’s not just good for productivity, it’s good for security. They will know where the holes are and which ones are most important to patch up and repair. If they have a long-term stake in your firm, they’ll be ready to point out what needs work, and they won’t try to charge you extra for items not on the SoW.

Contractors CAN Become FTEs: If you have a rule against hiring contractors for full-time positions, written or unwritten, get rid of that rule. With the massive layoffs, lots of IT people may have to pick up a contract here or there to make ends meet while they search for their next FTE role. Lots of contractors have been trapped by senseless no-contractor rules that would be excellent assets as FTEs in your firm. And those excellent assets are going to be on top of things which brings us back to security. It’s much better to have a security role filled by a former contractor than to have that role unfilled because of a, frankly, nonsense rule.

No Experience Means NEW Experience: If someone has a general IT background and is interested in a security role, don’t shy away. If you’re about to take on a new project with a new technology, that candidate knows as much about the new technology as everyone else in your firm: that is to say, nothing. They’re going to learn just like everyone else would, so why not let that person start there? That person with no security experience is a good choice for getting some new experience.

Training Is Compensation, Not an ExpenseIT pros *want* training. When your firm cuts the training budget, that’s like cutting their salaries. When your firm promises one course per year, that’s a great thing. But if a person asks for a week off to take the course and gets told to maybe consider doing online learning on their own time, that’s a beatdown. I know we have to consider remote learning options during the pandemic, but a live teacher is so much better for interaction than a recorded training film. Keep them in vendor courses and general courses – and there’s lots of security training out there – and you’ll keep your IT pros not only happy where they are, but eagerly soliciting their contacts to apply for openings at your firm when they open up.

The world is changing around us. Make sure your employee hiring and retention policies change with the world.

Some Working with Numbers…

Some work with numbers to prove why it’s a very good idea to wash hands and to keep a goodly distance from others… It starts out grim, with fatality statistics, but we can nevertheless find some hope in those numbers, so do bear with me.

CDC data for 2017 shows there were 2,813,503 deaths in the USA that year. The top ten causes were:

Heart disease: 647,457
Cancer: 599,108
Accidents (unintentional injuries): 169,936
Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 160,201
Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 146,383
Alzheimer’s disease: 121,404
Diabetes: 83,564
Influenza and pneumonia: 55,672
Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 50,633
Intentional self-harm (suicide): 47,173
A comment on “Influenza and pneumonia”. That’s a heavy emphasis on “and pneumonia”. When we look at the breakout of those numbers, just less than a fifth are influenza – about 10,500. The rest are “and pneumonia.” So when we talk about influenza’s mortality, it needs to be decoupled from “and pneumonia” to get a truer sense of influenza’s mortality.

Now take the number of deaths and divide by 365, one gets 7708. That’s about how many deaths per day we have normally in the USA. We had an additional 1000+ yesterday, a 13% increase over the normal rate.

When we divide 100,000 by 2,813,503, we get 0.0355, or 3.55%. That means, every 100,000 deaths is an increase of our annual mortality rate by 3.55%. Put another way, every 28,135 deaths is an increase in the USA’s annual mortality rate by 1%.

So, with a little back-of-the-hand math, a low-end death toll of 100,000 would make COVID-19 the 7th leading cause of death in the USA, ahead of diabetes. 200,000 COVID-19 fatalities would make it the 3rd leading cause of death in the USA. You can see a pretty close cluster between 3rd and 6th place, but it’s a big gap to reach cancer and heart disease. That being said, it’s not impossible if we don’t, all of us, take this pandemic seriously. Death tolls of 1-2,000,000 are possible if we do not wash hands constantly and keep our distance from others of at least 6ft / 2m.

Around 1,340,000 American soldiers died in combat, accident, or disease in all of our nation’s wars and conflicts. If we wash and distance, we need not face down that awful milestone.
We want to take pains to avoid being in the statistics for heart disease and cancers – we diet, we exercise, we change what we do to beat those diseases. It’s the same with COVID-19: change what you do, and you beat that disease. Don’t change, and you risk becoming a sad part of a larger statistic. The good news is that you *can* change.

Finally, remember that if you’re reading about these numbers, look at them as golf scores – we have to play this out over many days, weeks, and months, but if we come out with a low score, we do all right. Stay indoors, and you’ll come out all right, most likely.

I’ll close with a quote from Mel Brooks:”Hope for the best, prepare for the worst. Life is a play, and we’re unrehearsed!” Don’t feel bad if this caught you flat-footed. You’re reading this, so you can take control of your own health and breathing, even if other things are spinning around you. You can own this, you can command this aspect of your life.

Now I’ll really close with a quote from Mel Brooks’ good friend Carl Reiner: “I read the obituaries every morning. If I’m not in them, I have breakfast!”

Municipal Bonds – Underlying Weakness

I want to call attention to the shakiness in municipal bond markets. Cities are having trouble meeting budgets due to unanticipated revenue losses while having to expand essential services – overtime pay for police, fire, and medical workers. Higher costs and less revenue mean wider budget gaps. Even with laying off other workers – which itself puts a burden on state unemployment systems, more on those later – city governments have to borrow money to stay operational.

Enter the current financial crash. Cities have to spike up their yields in order to meet investor demands for return on risk. Interest rates are moving into “expected default” territory for municipalities, where investors hope to recoup their invested capital and a small return through high interest rates before the borrower defaults.

Mutual funds have already dropped over $10 billion in muni bond investments, and that continues to increase.

The Fed can intervene to buy short-term muni bonds, but cannot buy long-term bonds. It would need legislation passed in Congress and signed by the President to get that ability.

But the Fed may have to also move soon to aid the states. Recall my reference to unemployment. States are looking to lay off employees in order to have enough money to pay unemployment claims… and there is also the issue with unemployment insurance funds’ solvency. 22 states are below Department of Labor recommended funding levels – and big states like New York, California, Texas, Illinois, Ohio, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania are all below that recommended minimum. TX, NY, and CA are the three lowest in their ratios.

With 3.3 million unemployed last week and another big number expected this week, even properly solvent funds will be strained. The Fed will have to step in to provide liquidity for states to meet those unemployment insurance demands, as those are not discretionary spending items.

As I mentioned before, getting out of a financial crisis requires increasing national debt by a very large amount. The $2 trillion package is only the start – expect about $15-21 trillion more. And then the question to follow on to that is this – will the Fed get enough solvency itself to cover the state budgets? If not, I’d expect high inflation as a means of balancing the books. Would that be fair? Of course not. Would it be necessary to prevent a national bankruptcy? That’s very much a possibility.