Faceless

April 26, 2020

by Steve Stofka

In the name of public safety, our elected officials are picking winners and losers. In the process, they are selectively destroying businesses. Their job is to protect lives, they claim. Faceless legislative staff craft regulations that destroy some lives while they protect others.

In my neighborhood there is a Sprouts grocery store in a strip mall. That’s open. Next to it are several clothing stores, all closed now. A nail salon – closed. A mattress and bedding store is closed. The liquor store is open.

Across the street is a Walmart with a grocery store inside. The parking lot is almost full. Wal-Mart restricts access to the store entrance to safely stagger customers. There are a lot of signs and tape on the floor to remind people to stay six feet back when waiting in line. Most people are wearing masks.

The chiropractor across the boulevard is temporarily closed. We elect state and local politicians who delegate the work of governing to office staff. A committee decided that people with pinched nerves in their necks and backs are not important. Can’t work because you are having muscle spasms? Too bad. Some bureaucrat has decided that your pain is not essential. Stay home and ease the pain with marijuana or alcohol. Those store are essential. It is a slap in the face to those with chronic pain.

A month ago, the mayor’s office of Denver issued a stay-at-home order that did not include liquor stores and pet stores as essential businesses. What will be closed next? By mid-afternoon, just two hours after the edict was issued, cars crowded the streets of Denver and adjoining counties. People lined up inside liquor stores. Two bottles of Seagram 7. A few quarts of vodka. Four cases of Bud. Panic buying or those looking to profit from the coming shutdown. Social media alerted the mayor’s office and they immediately amended the order.

In some office buildings, therapists cannot get into their office because the building is locked. They are non-essential. Where are their patient notes? In the locked building. Got problems? Try Zooming your therapist. Remember – your government committee is trying to keep you safe.

Therapists and chiropractors not essential. Oil and gas extraction is essential because, well, it just is. The drop in demand for gasoline has produced a glut in oil. Companies are storing the extra in super tankers on the world’s oceans. Got back problems? Rub some crude oil on it.  

President Trump suggested that “medical doctors” – not the other kind of doctors like PhD doctors – but medical doctors could inject disinfectant like Lysol into people infected with the coronavirus. It’s OK if medical doctors do it. The maker of Lysol was quick to issue a warning. Do not inject Lysol into your body, they warned.   

Mr. Trump has become the country’s voodoo doctor. The warm weather was going to kill the virus. Then it was a malaria drug. Now it is Lysol. Put on your voodoo doctor headdress, Mr. Trump. Get your cauldron fired up and cook us up one of your special potions. The folks at Fox News will endorse your medicine. 

The President is the visible menace. The folks who work in our state and local offices are the invisible threat. A select few decide which businesses are essential, whose pain gets treated and who is important. They decide who gets unemployment insurance and who does not.  Many small businesses will not recover. It can take ten years or more to build up enough savings to start a small business. A second mortgage on a house is often used to capitalize a business. A faceless committee in a government building says your business is not important. Bye-bye business. Bye-bye savings. You can give up your dream and find work somewhere. Hope you can keep your house. It’s not essential. You are not important.

If – when – businesses reopen, business owners have a lot of questions. Will the state exempt businesses from liability if a customer or employee gets sick? Does the state have that power, the governor asks. The state has the power to issue edicts that crush small businesses but not the power to help business owners recover. You are not important.

After three deaths due to corona virus, the health department shut down a Wal-Mart store in our area (Butzer, 2020). Wal-Mart has deep pockets and legions of lawyers. Will an insurance company insure a small business against a coronavirus lawsuit? How much extra premium will it cost? What is the protocol? Should a business owner hire someone to screen customers before they come into the establishment? Does anyone have an answer?

The supply chain is an invisible river of goods and services that enables local businesses to service their customers. Is that supply chain broken? We will find out. The pandemic has caused a surge in orders for computers, but China has shuttered computer factories (Brandom, 2020).

Let’s turn to the faces of those we elected. Congress hurriedly passed an 800-page bill to provide $350 billion in loans and grants to small businesses – the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). 28% of the funds were grabbed up by publicly held companies (Beltran, 2020).  The original provision in the bill was that any business with more than 500 employees was not eligible for the funds. Faceless lobbyists pressured the faceless staffs of lawmakers to make a small change. Just a few words. Change the wording to exclude companies with 500 employees at any one location. Done. No problem. The senator appreciates your support.

Senator Marco Rubio is the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. When the Wall St. Journal contacted his staff about large businesses scooping up the funds intended for small business, reporters were told they were mistaken. Mr. Rubio would not allow such language. The staff later admitted their error (The Journal, 2020). Lawmakers routinely vote for legislation without knowing what is in it. Prior to passage of the ACA (Obamacare) bill in 2010, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi replied that legislators wouldn’t know what was in the bill until it passed. Legislative sausage making by faceless staff and anonymous lobby groups. No, we’re not for sale, lawmakers insist. Yes, thank you for your support, they reply to the campaign contributions of the lobbyists.

The pandemic response of government has exposed our vulnerability. With great power and an incomprehension of the effect of their edicts, faceless legislative staff act as the executioners of the French Revolution.  Some small business owners must kneel down at the guillotine and await the fall of the blade.

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Notes:

Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash

Beltran, L. (2020, April 23). Restaurant Chains Received Many of the Biggest PPP Loans. Retrieved from https://www.barrons.com/articles/restaurant-chains-received-many-of-the-biggest-ppp-loans-51587573556

Brandom, R. (2020, March 27). Electronics companies are getting gridlocked by coronavirus lockdowns. Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2020/3/27/21195953/tech-manufacturing-companies-coronavirus-lockdown-apple-electronics-china

Butzer, S. (2020, April 24). Health department closes Aurora Walmart amid COVID-19 deaths, positive cases connected to store. KMGH. Retrieved from https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/coronavirus/health-department-closes-aurora-walmart-amid-covid-19-deaths-positive-cases-connected-to-store

The Journal. (2020, April 22). How Big Businesses Got Small Business Relief Money. [Audio, 21 mins]. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/podcasts/the-journal/how-big-businesses-got-small-business-relief-money/7C5DAB5C-71C0-4D50-9D13-9D9633E633AC

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