State Fiber: Let’s Ask the Right Questions

Whew! The state’s fiber assets make the front page of a daily newspaper in Louisiana run by it’s largest news organization. A state senator from north Louisiana, in effect, exclaims “Shazaam! This could be a good thing!” And the Governor says the state is going to use this fiber — one day — after more study is done and after we figure out how to let BellSouth and other phone companies make money on the deal.

This is, on the whole, positive news. The only negative is that, it is clear from reading the story, that the boys from BellSouth and other phone companies have been ‘working’ governmental leaders in an effort to underplay the potential that this fiber offers our state.

The fact is that there is so much fiber in the ground in Louisiana, owned by companies that are within a hare’s breath of bankruptcy court, that State Government could buy dark (unused) fiber along any of the many routes that criss cross the state at rates that would amount to little more than pennies on the dollars that it costs to construct those networks.

Among fiber, wireless technologies, and even satellite technologies (did you know that LPB owns a piece of a broadcast satellite in geosynchronous orbit?), there is no excuse for any Louisiana business, residence or public institution to be without broadband technology — and I’m not talking about residential grade DSL which is just an insult masquerading as bandwidth in the hands of phone companies.

About the only thing worse is to have ideology masquerading as public policy. That is precisely what is going on when the first concerns expressed are for the well-being of the phone companies, rather than for the businesses, residents and communities that could otherwise be served by the bandwidth that could be delivered via the fiber assets the state now owns and/or could cheaply purchase.

Why should the state be concerned about the fate of BellSouth? As the state’s primary telecom contractor, BellSouth has seen to it that the Office of Telecommunications Management (OTM) operates as little more than a wholly-owned subsidiary of that company. OTM sells telephone service to other state agencies. According to a series of reports by the Legislative Fiscal Auditor, OTM does not have the analytical tools at its disposal to determine if they are being (or have been) properly billed for services for which they paid the telecom companies.

Why this was allowed to take place becomes clear when you realize that OTM is funded exclusively by the profits it makes off of services it sells other state agencies. That is, the more they are charged, the more they can charge their ‘customers,’ and the more money OTM, in turn, makes. What is missing from this arrangement is ANY incentive to control or otherwise check costs.

A basic rule of life is that the status quo exists for the benefit of some; the identity of those beneficiaries can sometimes become known when the status quo is questioned or attacked.

The state is spending somewhere in the range of $60 million a year right now on voice, data and video services. Just about every penny of that money is going into the coffers of BellSouth and other investor-owned phone companies.

There are technologists out there who will tell you (as they told me three years ago) that, using this state fiber and soft-switch technology, the state could cut about 35 to 40 percent from its existing telecommunications bill — ANNUALLY. That is, the state could save about $20 million per year on its telecom services bill if only it would recognize the value of its assets, use some new technologies, and act in the best interests of itself and the tax payers of the state.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technology is at the core of this new telecom technology. As stories about increasing corporate adoption of VoIP technology show, not only are there straight dollar savings to be garnered, VoIP also delivers entirely new functionality and productivity to the desktop of users. So, thinking only in terms of the potential $20 million in annual savings vastly under estimates the potential impact of VoIP technology on the operation of state government. Not only could the state save money, but it could actually operate more efficiently.

I read somewhere recently that the state faces a $1 billion deficit about two years out from now. Gee! You would think that new cost-saving, productivity enhancing technologies such as VoIP would be getting a good look by state government.

You would be wrong.

The folks at OTM (that is, the folks who have the greatest stake in maintaining state government’s telecom status quo) have actually gone out of their way to prevent the potential of VoIP from becoming known in state government. OTM helped kill a VoIP pilot project at McNeese State University a little more than two years ago at a time when universities in other states were just beginning to garner headlines for their VoIP network success stories. Thanks to the obstinacy of OTM and its leadership, for a couple of years there was not a single state VoIP project afoot in Louisiana. I have not checked recently; that may have changed. I doubt it.

OTM later went so far as to have VoIP equipment removed from the list of approved technologies on the state telecom equipment bid list.

This was no accident. These unnecessarily exorbitant telecom bills that continue to burden the state are the deliberate result of a state bureaucracy that placed its own interests — and those of its corporate patrons — ahead of the best interests of the state and state taxpayers.

A few years ago, back in the early days of Mike Foster’s second term, the office of state Chief Information Officer (CIO) was created. A good man, Jim DuBos, was named to the post but decided he was financially secure enough that he did not have to put up with the smear campaigns that sometimes pass for legislative inquiries in our beloved state. So, he quit. The position, along with the Office of Information Technology, was created but it went unfilled for several critical months.

During that time, the office was transformed from that of being a “change agent” — as originally envisioned — to that of being a captive of the very bureaucracy it was designed to change. Opportunity squandered.

The office was ineffectually run during the remainder of Foster’s second term and has remained vacant for most of this first year of the first term of Governor Blanco.

The problem is that with this matter now garnering some interest, there is no one within state government who can articulate the right questions that need to be asked by the Governor and by legislators interested in tapping the potential of these network assets (currently owned and others within easy reach).

And, if you can’t ask the right questions, it is highly unlikely that you’ll get good answers.

Three years ago, I was contracted by the Division of Administration to conduct a review of the state’s fiber assets and outline the potential of those assets to state government. In the process of performing that work, I interviewed people at OTM about their operations and about the potential of the same state fiber assets that have now drawn the attention of the state’s leaders.

I was told point blank by a network manager at OTM that he doubted that the fiber had any value to the state; that he could get bandwidth pretty cheaply from BellSouth through trunk lines.

This is precisely the thinking behind the decisions to kill the VoIP project at McNeese. This is the kind of thinking behind the removal of VoIP equipment from the state bid list. And it is precisely the thinking that insists on putting the interests of incumbent phone and cable companies ahead of the interests of the communities of this state.

The right questions to ask are: How can this technology infrastructure transform state government? How can this technology infrastructure transform the businesses and institutions in communities across the state? How can this infrastructure be used to bring new community and economic development opportunities to all areas of our state, particularly rural areas?

Those are the right questions to ask. If there is a role for private sector telecom companies to play, then let’s give them the opportunity to identify that role and, if it is consistent with the answer to those first questions, let’s let them play. But, putting their interests first requires putting the interests of the state and our communities further down the line — and that’s exactly how we earned our reputation as an inefficient, technological backwater that we have lately been working so hard to shed!

Louisiana Broadband: Renewed Interest in State Fiber

From The Town Talk in Alexandria:

“Louisiana has a buried treasure, an untapped resource some state senators want to unearth.”

Indeed it does. The story, Buried treasure of fiber-optic cables excites La. officials, by veteran political commentator John Hill marks a new layer of interest in Louisiana’s fiber optic resources.

The story centers around fallout from the initial meeting of the Louisiana Broadband Council; an organization strongly supported by Kathleen Blanco whose purpose is to bring broadband to rural Louisiana. In a nutshell the story that Hill tells is one of a technology deal done right. Louisiana received rights to fiber optic cable in return for rights of way along the states major highways and interstates. That fiber has largely gone untapped with much of it still unlit and the rights to some unused portions even in dispute. State officials now see a huge potential for enhancing rural quality of life, Louisiana’s economic development and state cost-savings.

Go take a look, the story is well worth a close read in its entirety and Hill has a reputation for having his finger on the pulse of Louisiana politics.

But there is some backstory that might help put some of this in context…and help make some of the long-term implications clearer.

Backstory—Some Relevant Telecom History:

During the telecom boom everyone and his cousin was out frantically laying fiber in hoping of striking it rich in telecom getting rights-of-way turned into a huge deal for companies laying fiber on dreams but without much cash—cash being the traditional form of payment for rights to use public property. State did various things to encourage building fiber in their area but Louisiana apparently pioneered the idea of trading the rights to passage for rights of use. It gained a lot of attention but was far from the sure play that Hill’s informants make it retrospect. The telecom boom became the telecom bust and big chunks of the state fiber were owned by entities like the now bankrupt emblem of modern corporate corruption, Enron. The telecom bust came in part as a consequence of technologies that made made each strand of fiber capable of carrying more, much more, data than had been envisioned when the cable was first frantically laid. It was cheaper to rework the electronics on lit fiber than to light up new ones and much fiber from that era has never been made ready for use. That body of unlit, disconnected fiber is the famous “dark fiber” that has resulted in a glut of supply for “backhaul transport”—and that oversupply has aided in making telecom cheap in spite of a huge capital investment in new infrastructure.

Backstory: The Broadband Council enabling legislation

Another piece of interesting and ironic backstory concerns the law enabling the Broadband Council. That bill, in its early House incarnation was meant to parallel an identical bill introduced in the Senate. Introducing parallel bills is a common way of speeding the process and lowering the need for messy reconciliation conferences between slightly different versions of a bill that tend to result from introduction first in one house and then in another. Where this story went awry was that BellSouth, in a maneuver that confirms its legendary lobbying abilities, was allowed by the house sponsor (the “honorable” Noble Ellington) to hollow out the bill of everything but its docket number and replace it with a telecom bill that would have prevented Lafayette (or any other public agency, but it was deliberately aimed at Lafayette) from beginning a telecom utility. This move was made necessary because of Lafayette’s clever timing—they made their announcement after the deadline for introducing new bills in the legislature was past making the tortured legislative maneuver of gutting a pro-broadband bill with anti-broadband bill the only way out. Blanco’s intervention, a dramatic one apparently in which she is reported to have metaphorically “locked” the principals in a room until they came up with a “compromise” which met her specs resulted in the current less onerous bill which merely increases the cost of the project and imposes new regulatory schemes that are not borne by the incumbent providers. All in all national commentators have regarded this law as a victory for the municipal braodband movement; an opinion which I find difficult to share with much enthusiasm.

Hill’s story presents the original Broadband Council bill as an initiative of Blanco’s; a characterization that I have not heard before but which makes sense of her strong and swift reaction.

A tad bit more backstory: Backhaul

An important but obscure (because both technical and financial) part of this story is the role of “backhaul” costs in making the state’s fiber important. A major constraint on the state or municipalities or even local, civic-minded entrepreneurs bringing affordable broadband to Louisiana is the continuing cost of providing the link between the (essentially free) national internet backbone and the local provider. The onramps to the “national information superhighway” are owned. An analogy might be useful: it is as if in order to get from your local roads, say Evangeline Thruway, to the Interstate you had to pay a substantial toll to use the onramp. As crazy as it seems this is the situation that the citizens of Lafayette, should things unfold with LUS’ plan as we now expect them to, will face: they will be paying private providers a toll to go from a system they own (municipally) to a system they own (federally). The feds could help out here; if they were willing to defy the big telecom companies.

The consequence of this is to make it expensive for a local entity, be it EATEL, Kaplan Telecom, or LUS to provide even a small fraction the capacity that their fiber systems are capable of. Any new fiber system could provide 100 megs of bandwidth to each user out of the box. The local difference in cost between 5 and 10 and 100 megs would be all but nonexistent. Once it rides on the national backbone the differential costs to the provider would also be varnishingly small. The only reason not to provide users with practically unlimited bandwidth is the well-founded suspicion that it the providers did so then users would use it…And the cost of backhaul bandwidth, that toll, would shoot through the roof.

The state could help, through this potential network of state fiber, local governmental agencies like LUS reach cheaper access points. —And the feds, if they so chose, could make available a state and local portal onto the internet itself. With Utah and Iowa moving rapidly toward state-wide municipally-based fiber networks and Louisiana showing the potential to join them it might be politically possible to ask for such. (A rhetorical question: Would you as a presidential candidate want to go into the Iowa Caucases having failed to back a telecom measure backed by local pols in every small town in Iowa? It might be enough to bring Al Gore back onto the national stage.)

Backstory: Secondary Technologies

There has been a lot of chatter about “new technologies” in Lafayette’s fight for fiber. And in places where folks don’t have the institutional resources of Lafayette’s power-producing utility these new technologies may be the only possibility for bringing affordable broadband to citizens. The unacknowledged weakness of most of these technologies is that they are deeply, deeply dependent on having the sort of big broadband link that, practically speaking, only fiber can provide. An example: WiMax.

WiMax is supposed to provide miles of coverage at high bandwidth and is said by folks that fail to really understand to provide competition for the services that run over fiber. Leaving aside fantasies of unachieved but projected “breakthroughs,” using unlicensed spectrum as a basis for reliable provision, or finding enough of the sort licensed spectrum that will give WiMax the range its boosters claim, we’d be better off assuming only what we can do now with the technology and spectrum available now: make “cells” about twice the size of the current WiFi cells at somewhat higher bit rates. In that instance, to provide any sizeable number of folks through a single net access point (one point might serve several “towers” by having the towers relay data,) you would have to have fiber to the tower to carry away the backhaul data. Only in the very least populated areas would another method of carrying away the data be useful. (Microwave and point-to-point WiMax bridges are discussed as ways of getting to the fiber for very thinly settled rural areas.)

Fiber, cheap, accessible fiber is crucial to realizing all the other fantasies of providing access to rural and poor areas of urban centers. Louisiana’s potential fiber network could be the critical link that makes initiatives in those areas technically and fiscally conceivable

Add to this the immediate benefit of getting BellSouth out of the state’s pockets in the absolutely senseless provision of intrastate telephony (a point mentioned by Doug Menefee and long championed by my co-conspirator on this site here and elsewhere, Mike Stagg) and you have a compelling reason for the state to push ahead fast. The state could even use LUS’ telephone switch; an already planned purchase which LUS could conceivably make very robust if they thought that they could lease out the usage–for cash, or perhaps in trade for backhaul on the state fiber. Nice to think about, no? The only thing standing in the way is BellSouth and other incumbent providers. Considering Kathleen Blanco’s demonstrated courage in this area, I am hopeful.

I’ve championed on these pages the idea of a state-wide network of municipal providers a la Utah’s Utopia with Lafayette as the central node, providing the technical expertise and hardware to make the system go. Perhaps I’ve been thinking too small. Maybe the state government should join the party.

New Orleans: “Officials clash over fiber-optic network plans”

In fiber optic news from the big city across the basin we learn that New Orleans city politics and arcane system of interlocking boards of governance have disrupted a plan to run a municipal fiber ring in the business district as part of a federally mandated sewer upgrade. (A federally mandated sewer upgrade? Don’t ask me, I haven’t a clue.)

In New Orleans the Picayune’s story, Officials clash over fiber-optic network plans, has to focus on local politics but the throw-away line on municipal provision of telecom stories is worth repeating:

“Despite the political stalemate, industry analysts agree that the idea of taxpayers footing the bill for high-tech infrastructure is not only prudent, but forward-thinking — if the project is managed correctly.”

I don’t pretend to understand the unspoken intricacies of personal and institutional relationships that the long story focuses on—though my Louisiana sense of politics as a spectator sport is awakened by a story that involves sewers, high tech, and detailed reporting on the former associations of principals involved, the associated minority-owned company, and all of these folk’s contributions to political activities favored by Mayor Nagin. (Which seem rather minor, considering the nature of New Orlean’s machine politics.)

However, if you want to skip over the arcana, which I suspect is chiefly interesting to New Orleanian political junkies, and get to the meat of the matter go directly to the final segment of the story where we finally find that BellSouth is the apparently exclusive provider of fiber-based communications services in New Orlean’s business district. 18 companies have jumped on the mere possibility of evading BellSouth’s monopoly control in the business district and have signed agreements with the city to pull fiber in the new conduits should the test program ever get underway.

I know that examining the mayor’s ties to any infrastructure contract is de rigueur given New Orelan’s history but I recommend a similar sweep through the databases for links between BellSouth and those members of the City Council that have raised objections that have slowed down the project and, with federal deadlines looming, have resulted in a new version of the plan that sharply reduces the functionality of project. Wouldn’t it be entertaining to find that little Billy Tauzin, BellSouth lobbyist, current candidate for Congress, and son of current congressman Tauzin senior was somehow involved?

Louisiana, you gotta love her.

A Retrospective Sense of Deja Vu

In one of those deja vu moments I was cleaning up my virtual desktop and ran across a fragmant of text I had pulled off the internet and never done anything with. Googling back to the original source I found that it came from a post called Provo Moves Ahead with iProvo Project of the blog “Utah Politics.”

The entry, except for the fact that the author (Phil Windley) was talking about Provo, Utah sounded very familiar to someone who had attended the vote here.

Some points of similarity: the post explains that bonding will cheaper, much cheaper because it is “backdropped” by the monies from the electrical utility and not solely guaranteed by revenue, it notes that most people attending were in favor of the proposal (and the incumbents were not), the Cedar Falls/Waterloo, Iowa contrast was used to illustrate that cities with a fiber network do better than those without, that there would be later votes on issuing bonds, and the final vote took place at almost 11:00 and there was but one dissenting vote. Oh yeah, and Mayor Billings gave an impassioned speech in favor of the proposal. —That happened here too.

The original part of the post that attracted my attention is worth reproducing in full. History has a way of repeating itself:

“Jane Carlyle, a former member of the Provo City Council and a current member of the Energy Board spoke about the parallels between the formation of a municipal power utility in Provo and the iProvo project. She said that the municipal power utility was formed in 1936 and cited the following parallels:

* The City Council set up independent committee

* The study took 3.5 years to get from first idea to vote

* Polls showed 70% of citizens would support a public utility

* An ad campaign ran against the program by powerful outside interests

* Many people thought there’d be tax increases and there was not

* Outside interests used delay tactics after the vote

Jane called the municipal power project a study of great achievement in the face of uncertain risk and great odds. She concluded that moving forward with iProvo was ‘not a weighty decision.’ The hallmark of public power is that it is locally owned and locally controlled. Public broadband would share this legacy. ‘Remember that the main concern is Main Street not Wall Street.’

“Lobbyists try to kill Philly wireless plan”

Folks might remember that I’ve got a soft spot for Philly and considerable sympathy for the city attempting to provide its residents with cheaper wireless broadband (and in some neighborhoods just any access at all).

But Philly, according to an AP story, now has to contend with a new Verizon-sponsored piece of legislation with a familial resemblance to the one BellSouth introduced here as is noted in the text:

“In the past year, companies including Qwest Communications International Inc., Sprint Corp., BellSouth Corp., and Verizon Communications Inc. have pressed for legislation in Pennsylvania, Florida, Utah, and Louisiana that would extract concessions from public-sector telecommunications ventures.”

Eliminating your competition by legislation is turning into a regular practice of these big networking monopolies. It isn’t just the teleco’s; recall Cox’s fascinating little attempt to raise taxes on satellite providers in Arizona because (so unfairly!) they didn’t have to pay for rights-of-way that they, being satellite providers, don’t need. —Put’s a new perspective on “fair competition” acts that involve municipalities to know that it doesn’t matter who provides the competition, now doesn’t it?

Here’s to hoping that former Philly mayor Rendell has half the heart that our Governor Blanco showed during Lafayette’s fight and vetoes the bill.

Cowboys and Indians

Kevin Blanchard has a fun opinion piece in today’s Advocate called “Fiber-optics plan might not be safe from attack” which leans suggestively on the metaphor of a night time sneak attack by the (Incumbent) Indians on a band of (LUS) cowboys.

Given the history of the Battle of Lafayette to date it might be more appropriate to turn that metaphor around. If any group was caught off-guard by a well-planned move executed under the cover of darkness it was the incumbents, not LUS.

Be that as it may, the article reviews the road ahead for LUS’ new telecom utility and identifies places where the Indians might ambush the cattle drive. Most fun to be worried about is the possibility that the incumbents might yet decide to launch a petition drive to force a referendum. I’ve got a small (10¢) side bet going that won’t happen. I don’t think it even close to likely. This is one place where corporate mentality is likely to serve us. No executive will want to be the go-to guy on a venture all but sure to fail publicly, expensively, embarrassingly, and potentially dangerously.

Consider: The rules under which a petition drive would take place are daunting. Fifteen percent of the registered voters of Lafayette would have to sign a petition asking for a vote to discourage the city from providing them with a 20% break off their outrageous cable and phone bills. (Rest assured that this would be the interpretation LUS would trumpet.) The six month deadline would force them invest real money in a paid, door-to-door campaign to sign up voters—it’s not the sort of thing that you could hope to succeed at by setting up a table at the mall. Such a campaign would be an expensive undertaking as it would require large numbers of canvassers and a considerable overcount to survive the inevitable challenges to signatures. Shooting for at least 20% and more likely 25% of voting population would be a likely necessity. The media campaign that would have to be waged to give the referendum a hope of succeeding would have to be along the same lines as the one that has already failed in Lafayette and exposed a large amount of anti-incumbent sentiment.

Finally, I for one would be hesitant to stir up too much LUS anger. Those emerging alternative technologies that the incumbents have talked about incessantly in an attempt to introduce doubt about LUS’ plan really do not come close to threatening a plan built on fiber optic technologies. But the incumbents are familiar with the threat they do pose—to their own, considerably less capable, technologies. WiMax may not threaten fiber but it does compete rather easily with the more limited capacities of DSL. As I understand it a sheath of dark fiber runs down the railroad track beside the Evangeline Thruway on its way to New Orleans. On the way there it runs to within about three blocks of Broussard’s city hall. Toss up a couple of WiMax towers along Main street and Lafayette could help Mayor Langlinais cut internet costs for his constituents in half. A little Voice Over Internet Protocol Phone system wouldn’t be hard either. Several years of good revenue flow from that might make a little fiber build in Broussard quite attractive for a re-elected Mayor, don’t you think? Getting that sort of thing started as model for servicing the outlying municipalities might be bad for the cowboy’s business in career-destroying ways.

Don’t mess with the Indians. Remember Custer? All it took for him to march singing into Little Big Horn was a little arrogance and a plan that dismissed the real strengths of his opponents. I doubt the incumbents, having lost their initial skirmishes with our local Indians will make the same mistake. But it might be entertaining if they do.

“Competition ups expenses for LUS fiber optics plan”

The Advertiser also covers LUS’ expenses to date. (see Mike’s post below for the Advocate’s version). The lead-in paragraph makes for a clear summary:

“The LUS fiber-to-the-home project approved last week has already cost more than $451,000, three times what it would have cost without interference from private telecommunications companies, Director Terry Huval said Tuesday.”

Claire Taylor’s story has informative breakouts of the costs for additional public relations and legal costs as well a more detailed item by item list of costs. The biggest single cost is legal, and as Mike remarks, that cost is likely to rise as the process is extended by incumbent obstructionism. To Mike’s list of battles at the Public Service Commission you might want to add future expenses at bond hearings in Baton Rouge and negotiating with the state auditor’s office regarding the recently created regulatory powers that new law initially developed by BellSouth creates.

As the project advances a major, and not necessarily very visible cost may well be any successful delay managed by BellSouth and Cox. Even if there is actually little hope of successfully challenging LUS on specific points the incumbents realize that every day of delay raises the costs of the project in terms of interest paid and income delayed. This sort of simple obstructionism turned into an uncomfortable bump in the road for Bristol, Virginia’s project and we might well expect the same sort of thing here.

The Obstructionists channel Karen Carpenter

The Advocate has a story on Terry Huval‘s claim that the obstructionist tactics of BellSouth and Cox have already added costs to the LUS fiber to the home project.

While it is true (and regrettable), get ready for this to turn into a long-running performance.

Hell, this struggle has barely darkened the doorway of the Louisiana Public Service Commission. There will undoubtedly be lawsuits, too.

Having clearly lost the fight in the court of public opinion in Lafayette, BellSouth and Cox are preparing for protracted regulatory and legal fights.

Think Bill Oliver and Garry Cassard snarling a speed metal version of “We’ve Only Just Begun” through clenched teeth. That’s about where we are.

Sins of the Father: The Heartland Institute

The Sins of the Father: The Heartland Institute’s Heartless Ways

I’ve previously documented the ownership of “Expert Editorial, Inc.“—an experts-for-hire company servicing mostly the telecom industry—by the author of a recent “editorial” published in the November 23 edition of the Lafayette Advertiser. But that unacknowledged affiliation is only part of the question the author’s memberships raise. The one he acknowledges also leads to serious questions. (The editorial, unfortunately, does not appear on the Advertiser website. You can, instead, get it here.)

If openly soliciting the business of editorials for hire is not quite enough to raise questions about Titch and his essay, then his affiliation with the Heartland Institute should do the trick. The Institute is part of a the same interlocked band of far right-wing think tanks that include the Freedom and Progress Foundation that figured in our own “Academic Broadband Forum.” Not merely conservative, these organizations go considerably beyond what is considered mainstream even for conservative organizations today. For instance they document disagreements with very conservative Republicans over an issue that received a lot of play in Louisiana: Drug reimportation from Canada. Even Vitter, our recently elected senator whose hard right candidacy discomfited much of the “reform” branch of the state Republican party, made sure to be video taped in Canada looking for cheap drugs for Louisiana seniors. Increasing competition and allowing individuals to make their own choices is not a hard position for conservatives to make. But it is for the Heartless Institute who apparently believe that buying cheaper drugs abroad would infringe upon the rights of the sorts of large corporations that fund them to demand that sick Americans to pay more their medicines than do Canadians.

On the other hand where taking a libertarian position would favor large corporations they are all for it. Even when it involves a little junk science. Check out their strange and tortured logic in the “Smoker’s Lounge.” There we (try to) follow a logic that attempts to convince us that the chances of a smoker dying from smoking related causes is not really 1 in 3, as the surgeon general following the consensus view of scientists working in the field holds, but is instead only 1 in 12. Leaving aside the strange idea that the Heartless institute actually finds this reassuring, the method applied misuses in a serious way the way the statistical underpinnings of such medical research. You can get a reasonable critique of the research’s mistakes from a review at the American Council on Science and Health. A philosophical defense of allowing people to commit suicide in their own way I can understand—if not fully sympathize with. But minimizing the risk involved by citing junk science betrays a foundational dishonesty.

Occasionally the extremism of the underlying ideology peeks out as when the Institute confidently states that “Government schools are islands of socialism.” They mean the public schools of our country which are run by directly elected school boards and paid for out of taxes voted for that purpose by the people who are most intimately familiar with the needs of the community in which they live. Socialism? Hardly. But the idea that schools, and consequently spending money on schools, are evil permeates the selection of the so-called research found on this site. One glaring example, and an issue that is under discussion here in Lafayette, is the way they discuss class size. As a former professor of education I assure you that the research on benefits of class size is rock-solid. The lengths to which the commentary here goes to throw doubt on this simple, well researched, and indeed obvious conclusion is amazing. Minimizing what is simply true in order to discourage communities from spending money on public schools in ways that would benefit kids is beyond the pale. Real children will suffer if these distortions are taken seriously. It is heartless. Again, having an ideological objection to public schooling is a possible—if well outside the American tradition. (Or the tradition of any modern society, be it left, right, or center.) But willfully misusing the research strips your intellectual position of any credibility.

No, Titch does himself no favor by attempting to wrap himself in the credibility of the Heartland Institute. It has none.

Note to Readers: Sins Series Launches

Hah! Bet that title drew some attention. 😉

Seriously though: I’m trying something a little different in the blog based on last Sunday’s Advertorial in the Advertiser. I’ve long had it in mind to do a full-fledged “Fact Check” or “Disinformation” piece for the website on disinformation and how it works in particular instances but time, life, and the blog have tended to keep my attention focused elsewhere. The “editorial” published by the Advertiser so nicely lays out a wide range of disinformation tactics that it reminded me of that project. Taking it apart in detail will just about amount to a case study on the topic. If I had the time. So what I’m planning to do is let the blog work for getting the larger piece done instead of against it. I’ll post a shorter series of blog entries on the topic of the “sins” the article committs. (Sins of the fathers, of commission, of ommission) I’ll then take those pieces and rework them into the larger, better integrated piece with a more stable presence on the website.

As an added bit of laigniappe, this “draft” style will allow folks to correct me or let me know of ways to extend my points.

(Before I start I should acknowledge the help of the Collins’ who, as vetrans of the Tri-Cities fight mentioned in the advertorial have run into the fellows from the Heartland institute before and have been generous with their link lists.)