How Not to Compound a Mistake

After failing to recognize and admit a mistake you’ve made, and then failing to try to correct that mistake, you’re in big trouble.

If you’ve never fallen into that trap, you probably don’t need to continue reading this piece.

On the other hand, if you have ever erred in that way, you may want to recall what happened and what you might have done differently and better. For example:

When a husband gets up in the middle of the night to pee and forgets to put the toilet seat up (and back down) and then goes right back to sleep, but then wakes again and remembers, what should he do?

Basically, he has two choices: get up and put the seat down, or wake the wife and warn her that it’s up. If he gets up again and puts the seat back down, the issue goes away, but if he later tells his wife what he did, she will likely ask with annoyance, “Why are you bothering to tell me that?”

On the other hand, if he simply wakes her to warn her that it’s still up, he might think it okay to claim credit for looking out for her welfare. However she is likely to complain that he ruined her sleep, whether or not she needed to pee.

So what is there to learn from this little parable?

Never, never forget to put the seat up and then down — read in whatever your example of a mistake might be. (Avoid a mistake in the first place if you can.)

If you fail to put the seat down before your wife discovers your mistake (or whatever you forgot in your example) beware the consequences. (There are consequences to not correcting a mistake.)

If you forget or fail to put the seat down (whatever it was you should have done) do not for a minute think any warning will suffice, and be careful of trying to claim credit for good intentions. Remember, the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. (After-the-fact warnings of your uncorrected mistake rarely help.)

You already no doubt can see how you can probably fit almost any mistake of yours into the paradigm of this little fable and draw some wisdom.

Remember also that good judgment is based on experience because experience is based on bad judgment.

Mistakes are essential to your growth in life, if you recognize them and correct them. Do not fear them — you need them.

Happy Landings!


Anomie in a World of Social Media

Facebook, Twitter and an almost fully-connected world of the Internet, computers, smartphones and cell phones have surely changed how people relate to the world around them and how they feel about themselves.

Some wired people feel reassured that they are part of an ever-larger, albeit synthetic, crowd of friends. Others strangely feel lonelier as they imagine that the legions of people they are connected to do not really “get” them.

More than 50 years ago (long before the Internet), French sociologist Emile Durkheim gave a name to that kind of crowd loneliness — “anomie.” That state of mind was believed to be often at the root of social unrest as well as describing disaffected people who are more than normally susceptible to being misled by misguided people.

So this condition is not altogether new, although the Internet may have amped it up a few notches.

In the late 1970s a youngish Russian couple came to live and work in Washington, D.C. The husband was a Soviet foreign policy expert who worked with a U.S. think tank. His wife was a language instructor. When asked how one could know where their real loyalty lay, she said, “You cannot know for sure. Therefore assume the worst and you can be safe.”

She went on to say that in the Soviet Union, at that time, few people had more than a couple of “good” friends. Her definition of a good friend was someone you could absolutely trust with your secrets. Ordinary friends could get you into serious trouble — even unintentionally — with the police. Accordingly, people had few friends and many acquaintances.

With today’s proliferation of Internet friends on Facebook particularly, things become seriously distorted. People routinely post the doings and pictures of their daily lives for their hundreds or even thousands of friends. It is quite common now for single people thousands of miles apart to “date” on the Internet — and even marry — and then meet, with the kind of spotty results one might expect.

Instead of old-fashioned “anomie” today, people are experiencing magnification of their sensibilities both positively and negatively. Human psychological balance is at the root of health, happiness and success. Both the amplitude and frequency of imbalance brought on by modern social media is, or should be, of concern.

No one serious is interested in having governmental rules for how people should manage their lives in the Internet age. That said, it might be a good idea for more reporting of how lives are becoming distorted and helped by the Internet, which might illuminate both risks and opportunities.

The ‘JOBS Act’ Is a Fraud on America

Who in their right mind could vote against a bill in Congress entitled the “JOBS Act”? The answer obviously is very few members of either house.

How many of those who voted for it knew what was in it? And how many of those who read it connected its provisions to the lessons of the last decade? The answer must be very few.

Critical provisions in the law remove SEC oversight and other obstacles to raising up to $50 million for small businesses. That is tantamount to putting up a sign saying “Swindlers Welcome.”

Everyone is properly in favor of more jobs. Apparently there are some, however, who think that more capital in the hands of smaller businesses automatically translates into more jobs. How many such jobs are likely to result and how likely are they to be good, long-term jobs?

How soon and fast we forget! Madoff raked in somewhere between $20 and $60 billion and perhaps created 20 jobs.

The core of this new cynically and cleverly named Jobs Act is to remove obstacles to securing capital for smaller business. The idea is shameless.

The result will be like the last decade and the abuses in the housing finance markets.

In addition to a few legitimate practitioners, there will be open hunting season for every clever peddler of phony securities. The absolutely predictable result will be, a few years out, a major rash of fraud. Only this time it won’t be the big banks — it will be down-market bucket shops.

The president is being sold the Brooklyn Bridge to Hell. If that bill becomes law, it will be Obama’s biggest mistake of his presidency.

If Congress wants to pass it over his veto, it will be entirely their fault. The only good that could come of that would be a crisis that could be big enough to really address the basic problems in our political system.

An Ironic Spectacle in the Supreme Court

One can list only a dozen or so pivotal Supreme Court cases that really changed the course of citizens’ lives in U.S. history. For example, in recent years, Roe v. Wade in respect to women’s right of choice, and Brown v. Board of Education in respect to equality among the races for education.

Perhaps the most important case of all was Marbury v. Madison in 1803. Then-Chief Justice Marshall wrote to the effect that the commerce clause of the Constitution was the mortar that holds together the bulk of our federal system. The basic proposition of that case underpins the notion that virtually anything that constitutes “commerce” among and between the states is subject to the power of the U.S. Congress to be regulated for the benefit of all U.S. citizens in all the states.

Nothing, it seems to me, could still be more basic to the existence and health of our republic. For that reason alone Marshall ranks right after George Washington as one of the greatest founding fathers.

Today’s Supreme Court case challenging the constitutionality of Obamacare goes right to the heart of Marshall’s opinion. The key issue in that complex case is whether the mandate to require purchase of health insurance falls within the scope of the commerce clause and thus Congress’ power. Whether the commerce clause covers health care really is not a legal issue at all. It is fair and square a matter of fact and public policy.

Thus, going into the case, this Court is bringing its political philosophies into play, which is causing an ironic inversion of some of their treasured methodologies for deciding cases.

The Court today appears to have two factions of four justices and one swing justice. The faction of four who, based on past performance, favor the commerce clause covering a health care mandate were all nominated by Democratic presidents. The faction of four who apparently do not favor the commerce clause covering the health care mandate were all nominated by Republican presidents. The one swing justice was appointed by a Republican president, but has shown more flexibility than the others.

The Republican justices have repeatedly argued in opinions, speeches and articles for the need for judicial restraint and the importance of avoiding the Court’s substitution of its view of facts and public policy (as distinct from the law) for that of the Congress, whose province it is to express the views of the public at large.

On the other side, the Democrat Justices have long been the target of Republican criticism for having violated those judicial concepts.

Accordingly, everything in this case is noticeably upside down. The Republicans are reaching (perhaps overreaching) to exclude the commerce clause powers from the Congress with respect to health care. And, the Democrats are struggling to hold that single political swing vote from bringing down a carefully built house of cards that took 40 years to bring to and pass Congress.

It’s a challenge to figure how the Republican justices have juggled their minds to reach their apparent view. An interesting insight can be gleaned from a story about Milton Friedman, the long famous conservative economist, who, when challenged by fellow economists as to why he took a position in contravention of established economic theory and facts, said, “when all else fails I favor whatever path leads to less government; it’s that simple.”

It appears now that the Republican Justices are about to seize that amazingly simple minded solution to such an important and fundamental public policy issue.

Hopefully, before it is too late, all the justices may wake up to a very simple and appropriate solution to this case, which is demanding a judicial solution to a public policy question. As we all know, almost too well!, there are elections scheduled for this November in which virtually all of the candidates on both sides of the health care issues are already campaigning for and against legislative repeal of Obamacare.

The simplest, smartest move by today’s Supreme Court, to avoid the trap that awaits them, would be to let the American people, in effect, make the decision in this year’s elections.
By refraining from any decision now the Court would preserve its prestige and power and avoid confusion and anger as well as fundamental and serious damage to the economy and the basic physical health of the country.

Such a decision now would not preclude the Court from taking up the same questions later but the outcome of the elections this year would better inform the Court in such event.