May 042020

One thing I have noticed about working from home exclusively during the coronavirus crisis is that my clients have begun to figure that Sundays are as good as any other day to request an appointment. Back before the DMV regional lockdown, there used to be a distinction, but not any more. And strangely enough, I have found it doesn’t bother me as much as I would have expected – I, myself, have pretty much forgotten about the different characteristics the days of the week used to possess. Mondays, for example, don’t feel any different from Fridays, although I am sure I recall that they once definitely did.
It used to be, of course, that when people sought consultation appointments on weekend days, Gretchen would offer only openings on the Saturdays I had previously designated for us to work in order to compensate for excess demand. But lately, as the number of requests for Sunday consultations increased noticeably, she told me about the phenomenon and I figured what else do I have to do, anyway? It’s not like Cerise and I can go out on the town anymore. Interestingly, the net effect has been that I am now making more money per week than ever, and in a country where the official unemployment rate just hit twenty-five percent, complaining about that would be very, very unseemly. So, while life in self-imposed quarantine may not exactly be ideal in most respects, it is turning out to be much less of a burden that expected.
And on what proved to be a very fine Sunday afternoon, weather-wise at least, I conducted a telephone consultation with a client. That, in fact, has been a fairly common method ever since I started the business. This is because, besides being convenient and less resource intensive than attending a consultation in person, the telephone allows for the adoption of a truly impenetrable cloak of anonymity, if so desired. And as regular readers of this Web log know, many of my clients have a high degree of such a desire. Certainly this fellow, who, Gretchen informed me, called himself “Adam,” most assuredly did. But while his identity shall be forever shrouded in mystery as far as I am concerned (at least until I read about him the Washington Post or the New York Times in relation to the subject of his consultation), I do know that he charged his appointment to the Executive Office of the President account. So I suppose if someone at the White House wants to, they can check the log for 3:00 PM Sunday May 3 and maybe get a pretty good idea who it was.

Adam: Hello? Tom Collins?
Tom: This is he.
Adam: Hi. I’m um… calling for a consultation about an issue pertaining to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tom: Ah yes, that’s a very popular topic to which issues pertain lately. How can I help you?
Adam: I… ah… well, I work for the President’s Coronavirus Task Force.
Tom: A very noble cause. Thank you for your service.
Adam: Uh-huh, yeah, thanks. Um… and I seem to have developed a… problem… there.
Tom: Really. I’m sorry to hear that. What sort of problem?
Adam: Um, well, it’s like this: back around the end of March, more people were going on respirators than, uh, you know, we anticipated on the Task Force.
Tom: Perfectly understandable, yes.
Adam: And President Trump tweeted a tweet that said, “Ford and General Motors, start making ventilators, now!”
Tom: Yes. A very memorable tweet, that one.
Adam: And there was this guy, Yaron Oren-Pines. He tweeted back at President Trump and said, “We can supply ICU ventilators, invasive and noninvasive. Have someone call me, urgent.”
Tom: Oh, right, yes. That tweet’s just about as famous as the first one by now.
Adam: Uh-huh. So what happened was, Steven Mnuchin talked to Ben Carson about it, and he talked to Chris Liddell, and he talked to Ken Cuccinelli, who talked to Joe Grogan, who discussed it with Robert Blair and Stephen Biegun, who briefed Vice President Pence on it. And four hours later, Derek Kan told me to contact Yaron Oren-Pines, get the lowdown and then let Governor Cuomo’s New York State Interagency Coronavirus Task Force know all about how to order some ventilators.
Tom: Just like that?
Adam: Yep.
Tom: But didn’t anyone check him out first?
Adam: Um, not really.
Tom: Because if they had, then it would have been apparent that Yaron Oren-Pines didn’t know a respiratory ventilator from a vacuum cleaner. Why no background, no vetting, not even a credit check?
Adam: Steven Mnuchin vouched for him. Said he knows Jared Kushner.
Tom: How?
Adam: Ah, yeah, um… you see, I was told that Pence said Mnuchin said Larry Kudlow told him Oren-Pines’ grandmother and Kushner’s great aunt were on the same kibbutz in Israel. They used to drive bulldozers demolishing Arab farmhouses together.
Tom: Oh, well then, that explains everything, doesn’t it?
Adam: It certainly seemed to. But maybe I didn’t hear it right. It’s not like I had a smartphone recording audio while I was in a meeting with them or anything.
Tom: Maybe you didn’t hear it right?
Adam: Well, it might not have been Larry Kudlow, and I didn’t hear Pence actually say that stuff, obviously.
Tom: But nevertheless, regardless of the exact nature of the reason why, there was absolutely no investigation into this person’s qualifications to provide medical equipment of any kind, and you got in touch with the New York State Interagency Coronavirus Task Force, told them about Mr. Oren-Pines’ ventilators and three days later, New York had sent him a check for $69,100,000 to purchase one thousand four hundred and fifty of them.
Adam: Um… yeah, that’s about the size of it. You read the news a lot, I guess?
Tom: Yes, I certainly do. And the unit price for the ventilators was forty-seven thousand, six hundred and fifty-five dollars.
Adam: Uh-huh. That’s what it worked out to.
Tom: A price roughly three times that of the most expensive respiratory ventilator on the market prior to March, 2020.
Adam: Well, you have to admit, the demand went up pretty substantially. So the price could have been just simple market economics. Adam Smith and all that.
Tom: Sure, maybe it could have been justified under the extraordinary circumstances, if Mr. Oren-Pines had ever actually delivered them.
Adam: Uh, yeah, there is that.
Tom: New York State never got a single solitary ventilator.
Adam: Nope, not a one.
Tom: And the official position of the New York Interagency Coronavirus Task Force is that the White House contacted them and vouched for Mr. Oren-Pines.
Adam: Yes, it is.
Tom: Now, let me guess – that contact at the White House who assured them that Mr. Oren-Pines was legit, that person was you, wasn’t it?
Adam: Um… yeah… it was… me.
Tom: And let me guess again: now, nobody on the President’s Coronavirus Task Force, not Steven Mnuchin, Ben Carson, Chris Liddell, Ken Cuccinelli, Joe Grogan, Robert Blair, Stephen Biegun, Derek Kan or Vice President Pence, and most certainly, of course, not President Donald John Trump, can recall ever having heard about, thought about, or discussed, much less approved of Yaron Oren-Pines being paid any amount of money up front to deliver, sight-unseen, any number of respiratory ventilators. Am I right?
Adam: Ah… well… yes.
Tom: And since I’m doing so well, I’m gonna go for the hat trick trifecta and guess one more time: the reason you contacted me was to get some advice on how to figure out a way for you to avoid becoming the fall guy for the impending donnybrook which will inevitably follow a bureaucratic dumpster fire like this. How am I doing?
Adam: Three for three, unfortunately. Congratulations.
Tom: Thank you.
Adam: You’re welcome. So what should I do? It’s not like it was my idea to hoodwink New York into getting bilked out of a shipload of money, is it? And they did get most of it back, you know.
Tom: Most of it? What’s that? $35,241,000 perhaps?
Adam: What’s $35,241,000?
Tom: Why, that’s fifty-one percent of $69,100,000. Which would qualify as “most” of the money, right?
Adam: I don’t know, I mean – New York won’t say exactly how much money they got back.
Tom: Right, so let me guess one more time: it’s because the State of New York is too damned embarrassed to admit that it got back perhaps sixty cents on the dollar, and Mr. Yaron Oren-Pines is sitting on the rest, laughing at them.
Adam: Now wait a minute, we don’t know that! They could have gotten back, like, I don’t know, ninety nine percent of it, couldn’t they?
Tom: Oh, yeah, sure. In which case, let’s see, Mr. Oren-Pines only has… $691,000 which is one percent of $69,100,000 plus, lest it be forgot, one month’s interest on $69,100,000, which at the March 2020 London Interbank Offered Rate of 1.35575 percent is… $939,760… for a grand total of $1,630,760. Minimum.
Adam: My God! $939,760 interest? In one month?
Tom: As the saying goes, “Jesus saves, but Moses invests.”
Adam: I never even thought of that!
Tom: Which is a very salient difference between you and Mr. Yaron Oren-Pines, I am so sure. Nevertheless, one must admit, however grudgingly, that it’s quite a slick scam, depriving the people of New York of $69,100,000 they could have spent on personal protective gear for medical personnel, or even on genuine real, functioning respiratory ventilators during the height of a deadly viral pandemic that was killing more of them than Osama bin Ladin ever could have dreamed of. But even if New York claws back every red cent, there’s no way they can go back in time and spend that money when it was most urgently needed. Talk about the present value of opportunity costs – there’s a case study that might just singe the pages of the Harvard Business Review a bit. Do you suppose the Lord Almighty has picked out a special place in Hell for people like Mr. Yaron Oren-Pines, perhaps right next to slumlords who use obscure and archaic laws to imprison impoverished Baltimore tenants for non-payment of rent on apartments they ceased to occupy years ago in order to keep their Fifth Avenue real estate fiascos afloat financially? Or maybe that’s Satan’s job. What do you think?
Adam: Uh, gee… ah… I don’t know…
Tom: Never mind. It was a rhetorical question, after all. Now, as to your predicament, what you need to do, sir, is play a game of Nothing and No One.
Adam: I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that.
Tom: Allow me to explain, then. Contrary to popular belief, the federal government of the United States is controlled by four branches, not three. They are: The Legislative; the Executive; the Judicial; and, Nothing and No One. Whenever something goes right, it is the Legislative, the Executive and / or the Judicial who take credit for it. Whenever something goes wrong, it is inevitably the fourth branch of government, Nothing and No One, which is held responsible. Consequently, what you need to do is to recognize that when you contacted the New York State Interagency Coronavirus Task Force about Mr. Oren-Pines’ offer to provide phantom ventilators for absurdly high prices in exchange for $69,100,000, assuring them that he was an honest person of integrity with experience and competence in the field of medical devices, you were not functioning as an employee of the US federal government’s Executive Branch – you were, instead, functioning as an employee of the US federal Branch of Nothing and No One. And as such, the ultimate responsibility for your actions rests with Nothing and No One.
Adam: But what if somebody says they overheard me talking about telling the New York State Interagency Coronavirus Task Force about Mr. Oren-Pines’ representations and offer to provide medical equipment?
Tom: You received instructions to do so from Nothing and No One. Therefore, you could not possibly remember doing so.
Adam: But what if there is a telephone log with an entry that I called a number at the New York State Interagency Coronavirus Task Force?
Tom: That call must have been about something other than Mr. Oren-Pines’ representations and offer to provide medical equipment, since you would have been directed to make a call about that subject only by Nothing and No One.
Adam: But what if somebody from the Government Accountability Office pulls out an email from me to the New York State Interagency Coronavirus Task Force which mentions Mr. Oren-Pines’ representations and offer to provide medical equipment?
Tom: Such an email would have to be either requested via the Freedom of Information Act or be the subject of a subpoena. In the former case, you would inform the FOIA officer they should reply to the requester that no such email could be found as being sent from you; this is consistent with its content having been the result of instructions issued by Nothing and No One. In the latter case, you did nothing illegal, and the email, having been found at last, was sent in error as the result of a miscommunication that occurred due to the mistakes, miscalculation, incompetence and / or malfeasance of Nothing and No One. Get the idea?
Adam: Okay, yeah. You’re saying that since I work for the United States government, I’m not responsible for anything I do, because, ultimately, anything I do that isn’t ethical, proper, legal and good is the result of incorrectly informed, inappropriate and / or erroneous decisions, orders, guidance and directions made by Nothing and No One.
Tom: Exactly. Now – go forth and do your duty.
Adam: Woo-Hoo! Damn the ventilators and full speed ahead!
Tom: Spoken like a true United States federal bureaucrat. Well done, sir.
Adam: Thanks!
Tom: You’re welcome. Have a nice day. Goodbye.