Friday, August 31, 2007

Historical Cost

Here's a tough lesson in reality: Historical cost is irrelevant.

I've seen people trying to make business decisions who can't accept that reality. You tell them that, if they scrap their old equipment and buy a new piece of equipment for $2 million, they will make more money. If their response is "But I paid $1.5 million for that old equipment just two years ago," then they don't get it. The money they spent two years ago is gone. The only question now is how to make more money, and there are only two choices: (a) Continue to use the old equipment, or (b) Spend money to buy new equipment. Choice (a) costs nothing except a loss of productivity. Choice (b) requires you to spend money out of pocket, but increases productivity and future profits. If the benefits of choice (b) exceed the costs of choice (b), then choice (b) is the right decision, regardless of what the old equipment cost. Why? Because historical cost is irrelevant.

I've also seen people trying to make investment decisions who can't accept that reality. You tell them that they can make more by selling investment A (which they bought for $X and now is worth $Y less) and putting money into investment B. If their response is "But I paid $X for Investment A and if I sell it I have a $Y loss," then they don't get it. They already have a loss of $Y. Their only choice is when they are going to realize it. (I'm using the word "realize" in both the tax sense and the cognitive sense.)

It is very therefore very disturbing to see the same mistake applied to our continuing military presence in Iraq. The human lives that have been lost or damaged in Iraq, which is part of the price of "blood and treasure" that we have paid for our military adventure in Iraq, is being promoted as a reason to stay in Iraq.

For example, in one of the pro-war ads that have been running on television from "Freedom's Watch" a soldier who has lost both legs in Iraq says "I know what I lost. And I also know that if we pull out [of Iraq] now, everything that I have given and sacrificed will be mean nothing."

And President Bush has stated that "under his watch" he will "never allow our youngsters to die in vain" in Iraq. (4/13/2004) After the U.S. military death toll reached 3,000 in Iraq, the White House announced that President Bush "will ensure their sacrifice was not made in vain." (CNN 1/3/2007) At Fort Benning, the President declared that "it is important for us to succeed [in Iraq] so that comrades would not have died in vain." (1/11/2007)

A Google search of "Iraq vain" turns up about 93 hits, so these are not isolated slips of the tongue, but part of a deliberate public relations effort that relies on emotion and not reason or results.

The plea to leave more soldiers in harm's way, ensuring that more will be killed or injuried, merely because others have already been killed or injured, is a failure to recognize that historical cost is irrelevant. In deciding whether to send people into battle, the only relevant question is whether risking more lives is justified by the possible future benefit. The number of lives that have been spent in the past is, in the hard calculus of reality, unimportant.

Am I equating human lives with financial costs? Yes. Money spent is money gone. And dead is dead. Someone doesn't become less dead (or less maimed) just by spending more lives.

The President owes a debt to the living to spend their lives wisely, not a debt to the dead to justify their deaths.

Novak Keeps a Secret

Robert Novak, who publicly disclosed that Ambassador Joseph Wilson's wife, Valerie Pflame, was a CIA agent, and so helped the Bush Administration's efforts to undermine Wilson's criticism of the rationales for the invasion of Iraq, can keep a secret it seems. In his column in the August 30 Washington Post, Novak wrote:
I first met Gonzales in 2001 when, along with other conservative journalists, I went to the White House for a background briefing by presidential counsel Gonzales on the new president's judicial nominations. I was stunned by the incoherence of the briefer. When I checked with several Republican senators, I received the same verdict. Their judgment was that Gonzales was not qualified to hold a senior governmental position.

And he tells us this after more than six years?

So the identity of a CIA agent gets disclosed immediately, but the incompetence of the man serving as White House Counsel to the President, and later Attorney General of the United States, should be kept a secret?

Perhaps this is something that Novak should have mentioned when those "several Republican Senators" were about to confirm Gonzales as Attorney General.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

All the President's Enablers

With Alberto Gonzales now gone, Karl Rove gone, and most of the others who came to Washington with Bush also gone (e.g., Harriet Myers, Donald Rumsfeld, Daniel Bartlett, and Andrew Card, to name a few), who is going to continue to tell President Bush what he wants to hear?

Both in his public speeches and in published accounts of more private conversations (such as are recounted in Woodward's State of Denial), the President consistently presents himself as locked into his view of reality, indifferent to facts contradicting those views, and unappreciative of those who wish to present those adverse facts and alternate views.

George W. Bush has spent most of his career cultivating a dependable stable of sycophants and replacing them now may be difficult because, believe it or not, a successful career in politics and government service usually requires having some independent judgment. So, finding people who are (a) qualified, (b) willing to mindlessly support the President's tunnel visions, (c) likely to be confirmed by the Senate, is not going to be easy.

So Bush is going to have to begin dealing with bad news and conflicting views from new appointees within his administration. Either that, or he will further isolate himself from real political issues and make himself even more irrelevant than the usual lame duck President.

My guess is that it will be the latter, and I simply hope he doesn't hurt more people (such as American troops in Iraq) than he really needs to while he remains fixated in his righteousness.